Poetry Tasting

I thought I’d have a potluck poetry party, just an intimate little soirée for the big names in the industry; you know, the people who really matter. So I spread out a lavish buffet of poetic literature: we’d nibble on delightful small magazines, browse through a chapbook like a bowl of nuts for cracking, slowly chew each stringy stanza of an ancient epic, dine heavily on thick anthologies, enjoy creampuffs of light verse.

Limerick crudités, decorative haiku sushi, crisp sonnets spread with shrimp paste, and garlic cocktail-cracker cinquains nudged pretty little quatrains arranged in rows of petits fours. Small, dense poems glowered like wedges of hard cheese, with a high pronoun content. The sour criticisms were unfortunately not vine-ripened.

Gradually the guests began arriving and added their contributions to the banquet table. A poem whose author was never identified had a crusty, golden exterior, but the adjectives were awfully runny and exuded a strong odor of Ammoniacal cruelty. There was a clear Frosted punch, laced with bitters. 

Anne Carson brought a superb spicy red-meat dish from the Mediterranean-Peruvian takeaway down the street, but H.D.’s hand-me-down Graeco-Egyptian recipe was disappointing, for all its authenticity. Williams ate every one of his ice-cold plums himself,and then absconded with Campion’s ripe cherries. Wallace Stevens baked a thirteen-blackbird pie.

Eric Basso’s smoked viscera of puzzling deep-sea creatures swimming in hot black brine made everyone’s eyes water, as much as we enjoyed them. Charles Webb favored us with a lengthy dissection of his liver à l’orange. Nobody had the nerve to sample Emerson’ ominous version of Rocky Road: hemlock-cyanide sherbet studded with semi-precious stones and small beetles.

Don Paterson contributed a covered tureen of Victorian china painted with a railroad train  steaming through a slum. It contained a videotape of a drowning kitten. Yeats roasted a rough beast with the body of a lion—but no one touched its blackened, thorn-crowned head.

e.e. cummings’ scattered black minuscules skittered all over the tablecloth, some of them struggling to free themselves from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ towering white cathedral of sculpted lard, which eventually melted to drown Housman’s pale floral arrangement.

I had made a point of of omitting De La Mare from the guest list, but he found out about the festivities somehow. Fortunately, someone spotted him trotting up the drive, and we hastily turned out the lights  and hid until he gave up banging on the door and went away. Emily left early, in a carriage, with some guy in a red mask.

Finally Francis Thompson’s overly-determined Hound and Eliot’s too-friendly Dog knocked the table over, chasing Christopher Smart‘s Jeoffry, and the party went downhill from there. Coleridge and Ginsberg passed out against the sideboard after sharing a pipe.

Louis MacNiece and Omar and Baudelaire stayed late into the night, finishing off the last few bottles of red wine.

©2000 F.J. Bergmann

"Poetry Tasting" appeared in Big Toe Review, and was nominated for 2007 Best of the Web.

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