Wine and poetry might just be the perfect Valentine’s Day pairing. Roses might as well go the way of tired cliches. Believe me, my first job had me sweeping a floral arrangement boutique and shredding thorns off long imported stems for the reddest holiday of the year. Chocolate has cleverly edged its way out of a once pigeon-holed status of needing pink cellophane or red felt to adorn its outer packaging. People actually eat chocolate with increasing regularity.
But wine still carries with it a bit of fanfare even if the cause happens to be a delectable meal. Moreso, a bottle of sparkling wine typically gets uncorked for celebration and revelry. For many people, poetry has been sequestered to high school English classes or even funerals. Great lovers have always been poets (though their passion has sometimes exceeded their skill). Poems craft themselves from the world around them, clinging to the bits of our lives that exist in the untouchable ether. They do well to speak of things like love with its vagaries of expression from desperation to starry-eyed blindness.
Wine and poetry together make a party come together, even if it’s just a party of two. I teamed up with Jameson Fink, a friend who’s desire to demystify the aura of wine parallels my own aim to bring poetry back to the people who feel it does not fit their lives or hold any relevance. Jameson’s approach of “wine without worry” let us embark on a feat of pairing books of poetry with bottles of sparkling wine from the same country or state. To read his wine pairing recommendations and tasting notes, click on the names of the wines below. If you click on the book covers, you will be jettisoned to an online local bookseller to help procure the poetry portion of your Valentine’s pairing.
WINE: Roederer Estate Brut Rosé
POETRY: “Listening Long and Late” by Peter Everwine
Peter Everwine comes from a long tradition of storyteller poets in the central valley of California, joining the ranks of Larry Levis and Philip Levine. What defines this book is the music coursing through the poems and the humanity of the poems. He writes “the girl on the Bullard overpass / looks happy to be there, getting soaked” and continues musing whether she has a place to go even as he hopes “she’s there tomorrow.” His pacing awakens the expanse of space inside the reader: “Everything lies open before me: Days. Blue distances. / The song that will unlock the gates of paradise.” The poem, “in time” speaks of the kind of love that exists even after lovers have been separated by dementia as the husband asks his unknowing wife, again, “Sweetheart, who am I?” I can’t help but also keep coming back to his poem, “The Rag Rug,” one that speaks of the love of a son and mother and the lessons she imparts upon her son even after she is gone. This book pulls me in gently and is one I know I will turn to frequently as it’s gotten under my skin.
WINE: Jane Ventura Reserva de la Música Rosé
POETRY: “Panic Cure” edited and translated by Forrest Gander
After hearing Forrest Gander read a number of these poems at a recent reading in San Francisco, I snapped up the book wanting to see how these contemporary poems lay out on the page and also to read them in Spanish and in English. The title stems from the body of work within. The poems are the cure as they aim to break out of tradition and carve their own path of innovation resulting in panic. The cure for the panic is poetry. And, isn’t this true of love? Olvido Garcia Valdes packs into a tight poem on page 65 a scene taking place in a kitchen with two people who are barely speaking where, “[a]lmost nothing in common / but contradictions bind / and liken us,” where we can imagine how this scenario will play out because of its familiarity. This collection features gems like “Being in You” by Antonio Gamoneda, a poem perfect for Valentine’s Day that speaks of what love is and isn’t or his poem of marital expression, “Freedom in Bed” that laments leaving bed each day because he has to leave his partner. Olvido Garcia Valdes admonishes the reader, “ Give / your friends names, invoke soulmates. Don’t quit. Sunflowers / and crows stand watch over your heart.” Sandra Santana acknowledges the rift an argument can cause when she says, “It just ruptured our argumental / fabric, leaving an open / space for what might come.” Julia Piera crafts an ekphrastic poem written in response to a painting where, at the end, “THE LOVE THAT KEEPS ON GOING” can be tamed into words. Whatever season your relationship is in, “Panic Cure” has a poem for it.
WINE: Antech Cremant de Limoux “Emotion”
POETRY: “Illuminations” by Arthur Rimbaud, edited and translated by John Ashbery
If you have a fondness for surrealist art and count yourself a fan of Dali, Magritte or Frida Kahlo, you might find yourself pulled into the “intense and rapid dream” that is the “Illuminations” by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by John Ashbery. A collection of mostly prose poems, they contain bursts of enlightenment woven through a litany of seemingly disparate things. Rimbaud started writing at a young age and died at a young age of 37. During that short span of time, he sought to change poetry. The loose pages of what would become the “Illuminations” had an interesting start wherein Rimbaud passed them off to his ex-lover, poet Paul Verlaine, asking him to find a publisher for them. They also happened after he had formally taken his exit from writing poetry. Prepare to be whisked away while reading this collection composed of “crystalline jumble” that starts with “After the Flood” and ends with “Genie.” Considering these two poems play bookends to one another, they tend to speak to a deep hopefulness that the rest of the poems don’t readily follow. In “After the Flood,” the reader gets catapulted into the moving on into everyday life once the Flood had ended where “a hare paused amid the gorse and trembling / bellflowers and said its prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web.” That the collection starts with this poem seems to belie Rimbaud’s exit of poetry, but the “Illuminations” would prove to be his final manuscript as he sought a livelihood in textiles. In “Genie,” the protagonist described evokes the kind of Christ-love that is called agape, where “He has known us all and loved us all.” One line that stands out in this poem is the hopefulness founded in “the abolition of all resonant and surging / suffering in more intense music.” Some claim that “Genie” is the pivotal poem of his and the kind of love of which it speaks is one we could all do well to experience.
WINE: Santa Digna Estelado Rosé
POETRY: “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” by Pablo Neruda, translated by W.S. Merwin
Some people save the best for last, and in this case, I might amend it to mean the “obvious” choice for last. Pablo Neruda’s repute extends well beyond the poetry-reading world. We saw a movie that loosely incorporated him, Il Postino do quite well during its run at the Academy Awards. His is the poetry I think of when looking for a love poem. While many of the tropes present in the collection of “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” might seem familiar, he deftly used elements of the natural world to speak to te romantic one. Even the first poem, entitled, “Body of a Woman” begins directly enough: “Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs, / you look like a world lying in surrender.” Thus the “infinite ache” begins as the poems continue, some marked with eroticism like “I have gone marking the atlas of your body / with crosses of fire” or the admission “I want / to do with you what spring does with the cherry / trees.” Racy stuff. But, as you read further into the book, small lapses of regret or disappointment begin to appear almost unnoticeable at first until you head to the end of the collection where “[e]verything bears me farther away, as though you / were noon” finally approaching an unforgettable line that “[l]ove is so short, forgetting is so long.” Whether in need of poems describing the contours of the body, the depth of an awakened love or the devastation that comes when this kind of love ends, odds are high that you will find the poem you need in this collection.
Have you ever dedicated a poem to someone you love? Is there one you turn to with regularity?