Next Line, Please

The Potency of Cocktails

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By David Lehman

November 22, 2016


 

 

Last week we set out to show how the names of cocktails—like the names of racehorses—can inspire the practicing poet. I asked everyone to write a poem or poems entitled “Blue Hurricane,” “Instant Urge,” “Maiden’s Prayer,” or “The Smoking Eruption.”

Millicent Caliban reverses the title of the last of these in her inspired poem, which incorporates all four titles in the final three lines.

Dormant Volcano
By Millicent Caliban

My husband mixes the drinks at our Tiki Bar.
Most nights I sit in a quiet corner at the back,
Sipping rum from a coconut and writing poetry.
He lets me name the cocktails like I name my poems:
Find the magic words to entice the drinker (reader).
Promising a transcendent transformation.
Take a few sips and you will no longer be the same.
The lilting sweetness has an undertow that delivers
A delayed punch, a hidden kick.
Whatever happens afterwards, the gods, not you, are responsible.
The Maiden’s Prayer will be answered but not as she expected.
The Blue Hurricane will set you spinning until you cannot resist
The Instant Urge followed by The Smoking Eruption.

For “The Smoking Eruption” I liked:

The Smoking Eruption
By Christine Rhein

There’s bitter
and then there’s BITTER.
But of course
careful measures are just
for wimps.
Pour! Stir! Concoct
like nobody’s
business! It’s easy to bank
on the laws
of combustion, to strike
one match
after another, to promise
volatile
entertainment. Why not
pretend
your hands aren’t shaking?
Why not fiddle
with a bright, torch flame

 

For the blue hurricane, I was drawn strongly to Linda Marie Hilton’s “How Blew a Hurricane.” The poem, with its invitingly unusual title, celebrates wordplay, obscure words (such as “caconymy,” an incorrect name for something) and an alliteration producing a “cacophony.”

How Blew a Hurricane
By Linda Marie Hilton

 

calling her a hurricane
is an example of caconymy
leaving all in her path
in a state called catatonic.
an economy of letters
would render her name wrath
unleashed in a a cacophony
of howling wind and drenching rain
followed by rioting beyond imagine
rendering all in her path
In a state of anomie.

 

Two “Instant Urges” that couldn’t be more different in style rewarded readers:

 

Instant Urge
By Paul Michelsen

 

Fine name for a drink
To be slurped up by some
Slob in a Hawaiian shirt
Or the other kind
The one who wears it well
There’s a fine line
(Or so I thought)
Between them

 

A price tag hanging
Off a cheap haircut
Like the one that hung
Off Minnie Pearl’s hat
Versus the one that hangs off
A well-coiffed skull
(The decimal point two places to the right
makes it one hundred ninety-eight dollars
instead of one dollar and ninety-eight cents)

 

Fine night for a duet
Between a slob and a gent
I’m the guy whose hair is cut in the shape
Of Minnie Pearl’s hat
Wearing a lei in lieu of actually getting laid
Sitting there drinking my Instant Urge
When in walks Robert Goulet
The orchestra kicks right into
“If Ever I Would Leave You”

 

All I know is two things as I edge
Closer to the grave each day
I was treated like a shmuck
Before I walked in that night
And I’ve been treated like a shmuck
Ever since I left
But when Lancelot himself
Handed me the mic
And I sang the line
“No, never could I leave you
At all”
Every single patron of the Supper Club wept.

 

Instant Urge
By Charise Hoge

 

Graffiti.
Otherwise something
at the roof of the mouth,
vociferous, ails.
Hail a blue hurricane
at the wall. Outline in black,
dark kohl to rim
the seeing, the searing lingo.
The hiss of fumes

 

As for “Maiden’s Prayer,” my own favorite of the four names of cocktails, the best are Angela Ball’s beautiful appeal to the fates and Sasha A. Palmer’s poignant poem in the manner of Emily Dickinson.

Maiden’s Prayer

By Angela Ball

 

Let me not always be lost in a group—
querulous voice vouching
for innocence—let me go to school
without handing me a pointer
and a piece of chalk—let me ride
a horse astride and not
fall off—allow me experience
do not call me “fallen”—do not
drape me with the banner
of your sentiments—dread sheen of police tape
blocking my sex.

Maiden’s Prayer
By Sasha A. Palmer

 

And if I’m not what you want, or what you need, I’ll heed,
I’ll be the ship, the wind, the sails, the blessed waves,
the endless sea I’ll be, and—pray for me—
you’ll sail away, away …

 


I believe we should take the week off, celebrate Thanksgiving, and, with that holiday in mind, write a brief poem (just eight lines or less) entitled either “Thanksgiving With Vegetarians” or “Europe Without Telephone,” two wonderful phrases that recently came up in conversations with friends.

Deadline: Midnight, December 4, any time zone.


David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.

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