Toast National Poetry Month with Five Cocktail and Poem Pairings

By: 
A.J. Rathbun

Poetry should be celebrated year round, but it’s good, I think, to have one month of focused celebration, where we can gather with friends (and a glass in hand) and toast poets near and far, new and old, tall and short, formalist and free-verse. But what cocktails are appropriate when honoring poets? I recommend the following.

Of course, you should also be reading the work of a good poet during said celebration. So I’ve suggested readings to pair with each libation. Need a copy of the book? Stop by Open Books, Seattle’s only all-poetry bookstore, and tip a cap to the friendly and talented owners John and Christine while you’re there.

Bobby Burns
The jury is still out on whether this drink was actually named for the Scottish poet Robert Burns (it may have actually been named for a cigar salesman hanging out at the Waldorf-Astoria way back when). But its combination of scotch, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine definitely complements his poems divinely. Enjoy one at MacLeod’s (5200 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.687.7115; macleodsballard.com), while sitting under the picture of Burns on the back wall and reading from his Collected Works, particularly the poem “Scotch Drink.”

Ellipse
This effervescent mix has a wonderful herb-y layered nature that goes smashingly alongside the poems of local genius poet Ed Skoog, particularly those in his book Mister Skylight. Don’t believe me? Well, Mr. Skoog actually came up with this very drink himself. Follow the recipe from Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz: Add 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram leaves to a cocktail shaker and muddle gently with a wooden spoon or muddler. Fill the cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes, add 2 ounces Strega, and shake well. Strain (using a fine strainer) into a flute glass and top with chilled Prosecco. Garnish with a fresh marjoram sprig.

Grappa Sour
Visit the friendly and convivial bartenders and cozy bar at Artusi (1535 14th Ave.; 206.251.7673; artusibar.com) with a volume by Italian poet Cesare Pavese (Disaffections: Complete Poems, translated by Geofrrey Brock is the way to go, in my opinion) and revel in reading the poem “Grappa in September” while sipping a Grappa Sour. The drink’s socializing of grappa, lime, salted muscavado syrup and Angostura bitters and the poem’s starkly lovely images will make for a memorable afternoon.

Maibowle
April means spring is here, so whip up a Maibowle (or “May Wine”). Follow this recipe from Wine Cocktails: Combine 1/4 cup fresh strawberries, chopped, and 1/2 ounce Simple Syrup in a cocktail shaker. Muddle well. Fill the shaker halfway full with ice cubes and add 1-1/2 ounces vodka and 2 ounces Moselle. Make a small slice in two strawberries and balance them (using the slice) a cocktail glass’ edge. Strain the mix into the glass. Drink while reading (out loud) Mark Halliday’s book Tasker Street, starting with the inviting poem “Springtime For You.”

Mr. New Yorker
A modernist (yet classic) mingling of gin, oloroso sherry, dry vermouth and Cointreau, enjoy this cocktail while wearing a top hat and reading Wallace Stevens' poem “Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself,” which matches the drink’s dry wit. Have it at the Rob Roy (2332 2nd Ave.; 206.956.8423; robroyseattle.com) when bar manager Bryn Lumsden is tending, as he’ll be happy to both make the drink perfectly and discuss the many finer points of Stevens with you while you sit at the bar.

For more cocktail-worthy poems, check out In Their Cups: An Anthology of Poems about Drinking Places, Drinks, and Drinkers.