The Poetry of a Perfect Cocktail

– Sam Slaughter

I’ve never been a poet. The closest I’ve come—“songs” about teen angst and the like—are in a few notebooks hidden in my childhood bedroom. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve opened those notebooks since I turned eighteen. I tried again as a creative writing major in college, but was told by my professor (my advisor at the time) that I shouldn’t write poetry. I was melodramatic. It wasn’t good. I nodded, smiled, and never wrote a line of poetry after that. In fact, I actively avoided poetry for a few years.

I didn’t read or write poetry for a few years. In that time, though, I kept doing something that I’d done since I was little. I kept cooking. I kept mixing drinks, too, though this type of art had come later in life.

And it was in this cooking and drink-making that I realized what poetry was for me. I may not have understood verse or the flow of words in the ways that the poets I’d read did, but I had my own poetry. My poetry was making flavors mesh together in different ways. It was opening peoples’ eyes to new ingredient combinations. It was the beauty of being able to create, create, create and not create for me, but for others.
Whenever I read poetry, I was and still am always impressed with the ways that poets are able to move the reader along, as if on a wave, from beginning to end. A good poem to feels like slipping into a warm tub, the kind where there’s no hesitation of it being too hot or too cold. Instead, it is good from beginning to end. That was and is what poetry does for me and I realized that I had the same thoughts and feelings when I made cocktails for others and watched their reactions.

Like with writing, the power in a perfect cocktail does not work on everyone. The satisfaction is not the same with a close friend or loved one as it is with a stranger or acquaintance. There’s no need for the stranger to pretend that a drink is good. If it is, though, if they take a sip and a smile crosses their face before a look like they’re lost in a memory takes over, then there is true power there. The cocktail has the power to transport a person to another time and place or to create a new set of memories. The flavors could trigger thoughts just as lines in a poem can. A cocktail has the potential to turn a night around, just as a poem can.

On the other hand, both cocktails and poems, I think, also contain the power to destroy, to wreak havoc on someone. There are the physiological dangers of alcohol, but also those in one’s head—the second guesses, the inner monologue that never stops doubting any and everything you’ve ever done. I have read poems that have shook me for how closely the thoughts and emotions have mirrored my own. Poems have tapped into memories I sought to ignore and purge from my memory.

This is how I’ve found power in poetry. I find it in ounces and shots instead of lines and verses. They are different measurements, but have the potential to do very similar things.

Sam Slaughter is the author of the chapbook When You Cross That Line (There Will Be Words, 2015), God in Neon (Lucky Bastard Press, 2016) and Dogs (Double Life Press, 2016). His work has been featured in a variety of other places, including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Midwestern Gothic. He serves as the Spirits Writer for The Manual, the Book Review Editor for Atticus Review, and was recently appointed the Managing Editor of Enclave. He can be found on his website, and on Twitter @slaughterwrites.

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