Lighten Up and Show Us Your Purple Teeth

A mix of words (from writers who have graced the podium at Cheap Wine & Poetry readings), wine recommendations and off-the-cuff commentary that, we hope, helps you experience two misunderstood, age-old art forms (poetry and wine) in a new way.

The night before the very first Cheap Wine & Poetry in May 2005, I couldn’t sleep. I was having nightmares of mad, homeless winos overrunning the reading and clawing at the bartender like extras in Dawn of the Dead. What else would I expect serving plastic cups of wine for fifty cents apiece at a free poetry reading?

The next day, a standing-room-only crowd flooded Hugo House’s Cabaret to hear poetry (yes, poetry!), performed not by big names from New York but by locals with maybe a few chapbooks published. The reading raged until midnight and we ran out of wine.

Since then, CW&P has brought together poetry lovers and poetry virgins alike. At any given reading, you’ll find ladies in heels drinking chilled Sauvignon Blanc beside frat boys pounding shots of tequila. Then there are the students dutifully taking notes next to hipsters making that noise you hear at readings — the “poetry sigh.” We’ve had knitters demand we bring the lights up, so they could knit during the reading (we politely refused), and a group from a singles Web site making out near the merch table. That’s all before open mic, which follows the four featured readers and brings its own breed of purple-tongued mayhem.

From our host Charla Grenz’s crack-up introductions, to playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with Asian Jesus, to our readers, who have brought chocolate cake and handmade wooden dildos to take their performances to the next level — at CW&P, literature is made fun.

Anyone can swill cheap wine for less than the cost of a latte, and hear one poem or story that sticks to the ribs. Something you can recall a line or two of as you lie in bed later, slipping into a dream…without the fear of zombie winos. — Brian McGuigan, series co-founder and curator



by Elizabeth Austen

If you test negative
if your credit check is clear
if you refrain from displaying
crude, annoying or idiosyncratic
habits, if you continue to grant me
on demand, solitude, company or sex
if you don’t gain weight, go bald
or grow hair on your back
if your pecker stays stiff and your mother
never moves in, if you’re solvent, employed
continent, and whole
then you can count
on me coming home
at the end of the day

Our wine experts respond:

“For this you need a wine you can come home with — or if you have a crappy day. In this case, I think it’s The Boxer, a Shiraz from Mollydooker winery run by Sarah and Sparky Marquis in Australia. Mollydookers in Australia are left-handed people [like our southpaws]; they’re called the ‘dookies.’ They are not always treated very well. The winemaker, Sparky, is left-handed; he made this wine so he can punch with his left! I think The Boxer is good — has a good punch, but I relate it to the poem because there’s a good team behind it: husband and wife. It goes for $29 a bottle — hey, sometimes you need an upgrade.”  — Jens Strecker, owner, Portalis Wine Shop + Bar, Ballard

“So we all know what epithalamion means, right? Well, admittedly, I had to look it up but after I did, the choice was clear — NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut, Washington State; $11 — sparkling wine for the bride and groom! This is a delightfully well-made sparkling wine at an attractive price. I will even bet you that the bubbles in your glass will last longer than this relationship!” —Dawn Smith



The Cheney Correspondence (Selected)

by Cody Walker

Dear Dick Cheney,
    Today I could barely leave the house. I flipped through magazines; I ate crackers; I checked my email (a lot). Do you sometimes feel that things are both important and unimportant? Now I’m at a coffee shop, but the day’s basically over. Imagine being forty, but still feeling like a character in a sketch. Hope all’s well with you.
    Yours truly,
    Cody Walker

Dear Dick Cheney,
    When I was younger I wanted to be a baseball player. But I can’t remember whether I loved baseball, or whether I just wanted everyone to love me. A confession, then: I still want everyone to love me—blindly, entirely, without sense or reason. Even you, whom I’ve regularly excoriated.
    Cody Walker

Dear Dick Cheney,
    I’m going a bit bald. Other than what it portends—dotage, death—it doesn’t bother me. I’m also getting fat, which does bother me. Have I told you how beautiful I find most women, especially from a distance? I keep circling back to this line from Whitman: “What real happiness have you had one single hour through your whole life?” I hope you won’t be too offended if I say that I have difficulty picturing you making love to Lynne, or to anyone, but I can easily picture you in a bathroom at three in the morning. I don’t know how people picture me. Maybe with a pen, and a clutch of flowers, and bile in my throat.
    Warm regards to you and your family,
    Cody Walker


Our wine experts respond:

“I have the perfect bottle for this: a Viña Salceda Rioja. When you open this, at first it’s really insipid. It doesn’t taste like anything. When I brought a bottle home, I thought I would just have about an inch of it and then cook with it for the rest of the week. But when I tasted it the next day, it was really good. And then in following days, it got better and better. It started to taste like a $20 wine even though it’s like $6 on the shelf. So I associate it with this poem because of this festering relationship that seems to develop — especially after you open up the relationship. Dick Cheney, who is like a bad year politician, who is still around in our politics and policies — you can’t get rid of the guy! But at least you can drink the wine later and the drinking gets less painful as time goes by.” — Doug Nufer, owner, European Vine Selections, Capitol Hill

“I told a fellow sommelier friend of mine about this opportunity and she asked to read the poems. ‘I am stuck on this one,’ I told her. ‘Grappa,’ she said. ‘Why?’ I said. ‘This poem is a little bit disturbing and you are going to need something stronger,’ she said. I agreed. For those of you unfamiliar with grappa it is a brandy made from the distilled skins and seeds of grapes left over from pressing the juice for wine production. Try Clear Creek “Grappa Moscato,” Mount Hood, Oregon ($24.95 for a 375ml bottle.) Not cheap, but if you factor in an alcoholic strength of 40 percent and a two-ounce serving size, the effects are inexpensive indeed.” —Dawn Smith, Wine Director, The Restaurants at Bellevue Tower



One of These Days

by JT Stewart

Wash his shorts
clip his toenails
fumigate his socks
throw out his beer bottles
lie about your black eye
thank him for the flowers
remind him to shave
get him a new elegant watch
tell him you still love him
lie about your swollen face
thank him for the flowers
wait on him in coffee shops
learn to watch bowl games on HDTV
iron his shorts and his T-shirts
threaten to move out
lie to your few remaining friends
break all the good dishes
hide most of his credit cards
look for something to burn
lie to your therapist
find a new cosmetic surgeon
buy more candles and incense
lie about your broken thumb
thank him for the flowers
take gourmet cooking classes
memorize exotic wine lists
find new homes for your cats
thank him for the flowers
buy a discreet handgun
lie to your therapist
sleep with your gun under your pillow
dream of your next confrontation
pull out your gun
stand with your back to the wall
aim for his head
aim for his heart
ask him once more
to explain himself
hear him say
You know I don’t mean it
you know I love you
tell him next time you’ll shoot
I will shoot you next time
lower the gun
wait for him to smile
put the gun away
wait for his flowers
lie to your therapist


Our wine experts respond:

“I thought this poem stood on its own without need or demand for anything else. That’s the sobering moment in it all: to remember that there are many aspects to literature and to poetry — and to wine.” — Flip Fortier, Wine Sales Representative, P&S Wine Company, Seattle

2007 O’Shea Scarborough “Cease and Desist” Riesling, Horse Heaven Hills, WA $20. “The wine says it all — knock it off already! A fabulous girl like you can do better…” — Dawn Smith, Wine Director, The Restaurants at Bellevue Towers



T.S. Eliot’s Lost Hip Hop Poem

by Jeremy Richards

Let us roll then, you and I,
the evening stretched out against the sky
like a punk ass I laid out with my phat rhymes.
The eternal footman is no one to fuck with.
Alas, he shall bring the ruckus.
You think that you can step to this,
and Lo, I hear your steps like Lazarus
echoing through my soul.
Bring the bass.
Straight out of Missouri,
Harvard University in your face.
I’ve got ladies in waiting all over
the place, singing each to each;
do I dare eat a peach?
You are damn right I’ll eat a peach.
Who shall stop me, with my hip-hop
non-stop, clippity clop, clippity clop-
I hear the horses carrying the wassailers!
I’m ready to impale their ears with my rhymes
rolling off of my parched tongue
like trousers rolling off my ankles.
I get it done better than John Donne.
Pound for pound, like Ezra Pound,
No other literati around can confound
the post-Victorian quickness
I bring to the microphone-
though I shall die alone.
But not before I rock the house.
Watch me douse you in my eternal flames
of a freaky-ass style. My crew has the know-how
with European tangent, Kto vahsh otsiets saychoss
the Russian for, Who’s your daddy now?
For I will tell you
That I have scuttled across the floors of silent clubs,
and yea, knowing that you may never return,
I will tell you this:
That I have been over to a friend’s house for dinner,
and lo, the food was not any good.
The macaroni, soggy. The peas, mushy.
And the chicken tasted of wood,
like the wooden coffin I’ve created for myself;
if this is going to be that sort of a party
I will stuff my desire into the mashed potatoes.
But I tell no lie, I will show you fear
in a handful of hip-hop,
making your body rock, your soul shudder,
your utter disbelief when the old school,
the ancient school, returns
from dusty book covers and scorned lovers
to reign again on the open poetry mic.
Bring the pathos! Bring the pathos!
You wannabe MCs just can’t stop…
…‘till human voices wake us,
and we back the fuck up
                into eternity.


Our wine experts respond:

“I like this poem because I have a feeling that T. S. Eliot is somewhere smiling and laughing his ass off. It juxtaposes with all that we would have as an interpretation about poetry — the properness of it — and it shakes it all up. All I could think about was a Lodi Zinfandel from California ($9 – $15 per bottle). [These grapes] are usually bold and full of spice. So, as you’re drinking you’re getting more into asking: ‘Why do I care about the formality about this?’ […] The pretension of wine needs be shot down like poets who think they can’t be messed with.” — Flip Fortier, Wine Sales Representative, P&S Wine Company, Seattle

2008 Long Shadows “Poet’s Leap” Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington ($20). “Long Shadows is a winery where some of the top talents in the winemaking world are invited to Washington State to create a wine, using Washington grapes, that is reflective of the wine that earned them their international reputations. Poet’s Leap is the wine of Armin Diel, an influential winemaker from Germany. Like Eliot, this wine is uniquely American but with European influence.” —Dawn Smith