Any Wonder We Tried Gin
“Wystan Hugh Auden took the martini seriously,” wrote Rosie Schaap for the Poetry Foundation a few weeks ago. Yeah! That’s an Auden I can get behind! The kind who would write, “We must drink a lot of gin or die,” and then later change it to “We must drink a lot of gin and die,” before finally settling on, “This guy right here…this guy’s…YOU DON’T KNOW ME, YOU DON’T EVEN”
Anyway, Schaap’s search for the Auden martini set me to thinkin’: what other poets have had trademark martinis? I found the answer in What Other Poets Have Had Trademark Martinis?: A Book Which Answers The Question That We Asked in the Main Part of the Title, Before The Colon (FSG, 1987). This book totally exists, so fact-checking me on it would be a pitiable waste of your time. Below are just a small sample of the more intriguing entries, though if you have any others, you should post them. I mean, why wouldn’t you trust poets to give you alcohol-related recommendations? That would be like not trusting poets to give you divorce lawyer-related recommendations! Crazy!
Philip Levine: Levine, the poet laureate of the American working class who are currently living cities which get set on fire around Halloween and following victories or losses by their hometown professional sports teams, also submits a martini recipe. It’s pretty much a standard martini, except that dry vermouth is replaced with “the sweat of industrial workers.” At the end of the recipe, Levine writes, “I hope you choke on it, college boy!” And if you make this drink, Levine will actually open the door to your house, glare at you, and scream, “I hope you choke on it, college boy!” He is small and elderly, but surprisingly agile and intimidating. Levine once famously wrote about gin, in a poem the name of which I cannot remember.
T. S. Eliot: Eliot, apparently, did not favor the martini, as he suspected that all gin manufacturers were secretly owned by the Rothschilds, and that all vermouth concerns are run by “a cabal of European bankers.” The last one sounds like a euphemism, but I can’t imagine what that could…oh. Oh.
Adrienne Rich: Do you actually want a martini, or have you just been conditioned by the American media and culture to want one? Maybe you want a whiskey sour! (You don’t.) Rich ruminates about compulsory martiniality for a while, but eventually gives a recipe that involves name-brand chocolate liqueur and flavored vodka. It is kind of “girly,” and she is just waiting for you to say that. She is standing with her arms folded, just waiting for you to talk shit about her. Don’t do it. She will fuck you up.
W. S. Merwin: Merwin’s original recipe for the martini was punctuated by lemon zest, but he later revised it, and now it is punctuated by nothing.
Li-Young Lee: The secret ingredient is…love.
Billy Collins: His martini seems really nice! Just, you know, approachable, and warm. But I don’t entirely get why it’s so popular. Nothing against it, you know, because nice! But still. Just not…just not entirely sure what happened there. He tried to get it served to all American public schoolchildren, every day of the year. Didn’t work out.
Anyway, there you go. All this talk makes me actually want a martini, which is lucky, because I live in Portland, Oregon, where there are more varieties of handcrafted gin than, you know, jobs. (I am pretty sure that is literally true.) That’s why I’m lobbying to have HTMLGiCon’10 held here! One of you can crash on my couch, if you buy me alcohol, and drugs.