Friday, April 12, 2013

What Beverage Goes Best with Poetry?

Celebrating National Poetry Month

What beverage is best enjoyed with poetry? you may ask. It depends upon whether you are reading poetry, writing poetry, or listening to poetry.  Poets have often used words such as “intoxicating,” or “elixir” when speaking of poetry and its inspiration.  If you are setting out to write a poem, however, I find that it is best to refrain from alcohol until after the poem is completed.  Celebrate a poem afterwards with champagne, if you will, but a bit of the bubbly taken before the task is done will more likely prompt you to nap rather than write. You can commune with a friend over wine, but the muse has no patience for the winebibber.

My personal preference is to be wide awake in the presence of poetry. Therefore, coffee or tea is better suited for the occasion. When writing poetry, however, you must realize that once you begin to write, any hot beverage will become cold before you know it. You see, time is of no consequence to the muse. She knows how to stretch time so that a moment inhabits the same space as an hour.  She can also do the reverse – she can wad time up into a ball, toss it around and wave it in front of you until you can hold eternity in an hour, as William Blake said. By then, your coffee is quite cold, but that doesn’t matter, because you forgot all about it. Your mind was quickened to the point that stimulants became passé. 

Cold beverages are suitable, but in a similar manner, ice melts in the presence of poetry leaving a lukewarm glass in front of you, and if you live in the humid South, there will also be condensation all over the glass which will soon be flowing in small eddies across the table. All of this could result in a wet manuscript if you still work with paper and pen. I suppose it could also short out your keyboard if you are not careful.  So if you are planning to write poetry, I would not recommend Coke, Pepsi, ice tea, or any other cold beverage.

So far we have ruled out alcoholic beverages, hot beverages, and all iced drinks.  If you must drink and write, tap water may be the best solution (pun not intended, but it works well now that I think of it).  That way you have libation at hand when you need it, it will not dull the senses nor will its essence be affected by room temperature.

If you are reading poetry, then any beverage will do, but here again there are a couple of mitigating factors. If you are reading quietly to yourself, then make your own choice and drink whatever you will. If you are reading aloud and in public, then there are some constraints.  Alcohol, at least in excess will not do you any good before an audience. I had a friend who was invited to read some of his poetry to a college class. He was a dedicated poet, but he had never had the opportunity to read his poems in public. He was excited about it, but the more he thought about it, the more nervous he became.  He decided to have a few drinks ahead of time to calm his nerves. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find the classroom until everyone had already gone – which turned out to be a good thing, because he was too sauced to manage a public reading at that point. I’m sorry, but as intoxicating as poetry can be, it should never require a designated driver.

When reading in public, you certainly may have a little water beforehand to moisten your lips so that you can enunciate clearly. You may even have a bit of water on hand if you think you will get nervous and dry-mouthed, just be careful how you manage it. After all, Senator Marco Rubio went from presidential hopeful to fodder for late night comedians the way he chugged water during a televised political speech. Poetry is much more important than politics, so don’t do that in a poetry reading – unless you are reading limericks and want to add some physical comedy.

Finally, if you are listening to poetry, by all means drink whatever you please (but please drink responsibly). In fact, often at public poetry readings there will be a variety of beverages and even some crackers and cheese available. Poets like for their audience to enjoy the evening even if attendees forget to listen and must resort to clapping politely and saying afterward, “What a gift you have!”

So there you have it. It is not as simple as one might imagine, planning what beverage to have with poetry. Just remember the distinctions between reading, listening and writing. And please, always keep the door open for the muse. Without her, you are just drinking for the sake of drinking.


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