Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beer, Poetry & Happiness

Maine Beer Company combined two of my favorite things: beer and poetry. More specifically, really good beer and an iconic poem by one of my heavies, my all-time favorite writers, William Carlos Williams. Red Wheelbarrow Ale has climbed among the leaders in my favorite beer crew.

Beer and poetry are two things that I like to imbibe daily that spin my mind and soul a bit. They can reshuffle the deck, and spin the compass in myriad directions. "Red Wheelbarrow" the poem is short, simple and confounding. Check the technique:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I've written about Williams here before. He was a physician, who had a lifelong medical practice in Rutherford, New Jersey. He was not an ivory tower academic. He didn't much dig T.S. Eliot, who he felt was too stock in Europe--history, culture, tradition, allusion--and Williams looked to dial poetry back to more common, everyday language, and write about things and people that were more everyday life.

Some of his poetry, "Red Wheelbarrow" included is about the image it creates, like a still life painting. You can just sit with it, like you would a good beer on a deck in the sun on a spring evening, sun going down behind tall pine trees. It's a scene. You can also play with the Zen idea of the interconnectedness of the Universe. Hell, you can do just about anything you want--the thing about poetry, like beer, is not all tastes are the same, not all interpretations are the same, and you can sit and ponder that shit for a while.

I found good poetry before I found good beer. I'm not sure what the first "good" beer I drank was. But I do know that it was Carl Sandburg that slammed down the strong man mallet and lit the poetry neon sign up for me, when I was 15.

Sandburg dug and wrote about Chicago. So that became the first city I thought about when I thought about poetry. Dude, Chicago has their own poet; a cat that writes all about them and their people, the blue collar folks. Sandburg and Williams had that in common, the common.

Sandburg made his point for me, especially, in a poem called "Happiness:"

I ASKED professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
      me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
      thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
      I was trying to fool with them.
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
      the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
      their women and children and a keg of beer and an

Thank you, Carl. It's not the academics or philosophers who know happiness. It's not the business people, who are too clever to get caught in that game. It's the families, sitting along the river, with a keg and music.

When I think of Chicago today, I think of happiness. Not that Chicago is a happy city, but that image resonates. I think of a trip I took there and running along the lake, to Navy Point, going to the Field Museum, the Art Institute, the Adler Planetarium. I think about Wrigley Field and Soldier Field and digging the Bears after the Colts left Baltimore. But those are details, memories.

Today, it's beer, poetry and happiness.

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