4 Poetic Cocktails for National Poetry Month

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By: 
A.J. Rathbun
national poetry month a.j. rathbun cocktail recipes and poems

You’ve probably been reading poems out loud to friends and loved ones (and potential loved ones) all this month, in celebration of National Poetry Month, and have worked up a powerful thirst. To quench the thirst and continue the poetry, here are four poetic cocktails, each matched up with a few lines from a poet in my 2010 collection: In Their Cups: An Anthology of Poems About Drinking Places, Drinks, and Drinkers. These poets, young and old, also have books of their own available at my favorite Seattle bookstore, Open Books.

1. Poet: Ed Skoog. Poem: “The Last Saturn Bar.” Cocktail: The Last Word.
Former Hugo House writer-in-residence Skoog still seems an intricate part of Seattle, though “The Last Saturn Bar” harkens to his time in New Orleans when he was a regular at the legendary Saturn Bar:

Theirs are the dreams we enter,
entering the Saturn Bar’s owly heat re-tooled for unlovely
loss, the rattled corner leaning away from Chartreuse, neat,
and when I’m able to dream jukebox damaged warbling,
a Saturn-like-thing opens within me . . .

The correct cocktail to have with this poem is The Last Word: Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add 3/4 ounce gin, 3/4 ounce maraschino, 3/4 ounce Chartreuse, and 3/4 ounce lime juice. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass.

2. Poet: Allen Braden. Poem: “Both Portraits.” Cocktail: The Artist’s Special.
Written by the always musical and bubbly Braden, a Washington poet who is also a revered teacher at Tacoma Community College, this poem of memory, loss and regret needs a strong drink as accompaniment.

Loss is like a bluebottle fly
buzzing around in a mug of bourbon.
She’ll come back. Any minute,
he keeps telling himself.

As you read this poem, I suggest sipping The Artist’s Special from Dark Spirits: Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add 2 ounces bourbon, 1-1/2 ounces dry sherry, 1/2 ounce freshly-squeezed lemon juice, and 1/2 ounce grenadine. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass.

3. Poet: Emily Dickenson. Poem: “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed.” Cocktail: Underlined Passages.
While she has a reputation as a bit of a shut-in, this particular poem from the legendary Emily Dickenson has more of a convivial feel – ideal for reading with one particular friend when enjoying a perfect sunshine-y day. It starts:

I taste a liquor never brewed,
From tankards scooped in pearl;
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!

Try it with The Underlined Passages recipe from Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz: Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add 1-1/2 ounces brandy, 1 ounce Navan vanilla liqueur, 1/2 ounce Dumante Verdenoce pistachio liqueur, and an egg white. Shake exceptionally well. Strain into a cocktail glass.

4. Poet: William Olsen. Poem: “The Dead Monkey.” Cocktail: Gaslight Tiger.
Perhaps the most influential poet on me, Olsen has won enough awards that most of his drinks are purchased for him. His poems like this one never lose their ability to talk about big things in a voice that is familiar and friendly, magical and memorable:

If that sounds a bit dramatic, blame it
on sweet bourbon, this is just what he said,
being just lucid enough to mix up life and death
and stupid enough to want to share in their confusion.

Have a Gaslight Tiger when reading one of his books, using this recipe from Dark Spirits: Pour 1/4 ounce Pernod into an Old Fashioned glass. Swirl it around, so it completely coats the inside of the glass. Fill the glass three-quarters up with ice cubes. Add 3 ounces bourbon and 1 ounce Dubonnet blanc. Stir well. Twist a lemon twist over the glass, then let it fall on in.

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