Another Round


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Why do poets drink so much? Does it help them write better poems?
– Nick S.


I’m not so sure drinking and writing poetry go hand in hand these days as they used to. Most poets write at the top of the morning while their wits are sharpest, maybe while drinking coffee, which I’m pretty sure is not the “drink” you are implying. As far as alcohol being able to help poets write better poems, I can only say that it doesn’t help me. Maybe it can lead to experiences that will wind up somehow in one of my poems, but I can’t say for sure. Indeed, alcohol helps me do a lot of things, but writing good poems is not one of them.

I doubt that poets drink any more than anyone else in the Americas or Europe. You have to remember that poets make lousy closet alcoholics. They’ll tell you if they have an alcohol habit. Or if they don’t realize it, others will certainly take note. Maybe a certain poet will be canonized in literature, someone will write a biography and interview a bartender, discovering once and for all that, yes, Poet X was a heavy drinker. We know that John Berryman drank a lot. So did Frank O’Hara. So did Japanese poet Nishiyama Sōin; well, actually I don’t know for a fact that he had a habit of it, but he makes an interesting observation that could help answer your question:

While a shot of sake passes the throat, the moon appears.

Maybe — and I’m speculating — poets drink so much because they want to release control and just let the universe progress as it will. It’s amazing that the sun never forgets to rise and do its work while you’re still passed out on the couch. The sky is still blue, gravity stamps your feet to the earth, the wind rushes through the air in hot pursuit. While you were getting sloshed, someone was still taking care of business. Poets like realizations that bring them to their knees, and that’s a good one. So I say, Cheers to that! • 11 April 2011