Six Pack

Not long ago I went to Chapel Hill to hear Lawrence Ferlinghetti read (I couldn't find a good enough excuse not to. It's not that I don't appreciate the man's poetry or admire his contributions as a sponsor of creative expression—if I didn't, I wouldn't have gone at all—but I worried about letting the effete shittiness of the college reading circuit appropriate his poems from the rapturous shittiness of my life. Am I the only one to sense the irony of this man's election to academic darlingdom?

No matter, I went. Against my reservations, I hit the road with one for it and by the time the drink, the drive, and the poems were done, I was not disappointed. There was enough humor to hold my interest for the reading and enough wine to keep me for the reception. Damon was there too, so we stayed a while talking, drinking, ogling the females—I was warming up rather nicely to the whole affair when out of nowhere this guy Rob—walking time capsule from hipster days of yore, bless his heart—asked us if we wrote poetry. "We neeed moore pooe-wets," he said.

I wanted to agree, but I told him what I think we need first are more poetry readers. We need to wrangle, wherever possible, poetry out of the necrophagous hands of the "professionals"—boilerpot bombasts, Grub Street hucksters, demure dilettantes—and put it into hands that have nails with dirt under them, thumbs callused from steering wheels and TV remotes, knuckles scarred from breaking things. Maybe your hands have matched this description at one time in your life or another. I hope your lungs have taken air outside of the contraceptive miasma of ivory towers. I hope you don't know poetry, as long as you do know what you like. I hope, in short, that you know what Lyndon B. Johnson once called "the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad." Learning that the highways, bars, and park benches of this country are as full of poets and visionaries as its universities is an important lesson . . . one I hope we share, ladies and gentlemen.

The Dante Allen Coe's and William S. Shakespeare's of this country don't need no sticking manifestoes, obviously, and I hope not to stand accused of trying to write one for them. Manifestoes never fail to make for interesting literary biography and a lot of bad writing, it seems. Honestly, if I were given the choice of starting a "movement" right now and having one, I'd probably flip a coin. It's to hard to choose the least less important of the two. The way I see things, poets should be in the business of making toasts, not manifestoes. So with that, here's to love, nostalgia, poetry, everything that happens in the space between compulsion and rejection, between fondness and illness, in the brackish waters of the inevitable and the necessary. I'm all wet with them again, I guess.

It might seems infelicitous if not cliche to reinforce the association between inspiration and inebriation at a time like this, knowing them both so well, with Merle Haggard playing on the CD-ROM of all things and my hands flying from keyboard to cocktail. Fuck it. My voice is a whistle in a bottle, always has been. How many pages have I ruined into drink puddles? How many of your own have served, in the end, just as coasters to the drinks that attended them? Too many, certainly, but even when the writing's bad, it feels good when we get the words and the whiskey down together, and that's why we do it. Not because we're expecting Nan Talese to ring us up tomorrow and fly us out to New York to collect the advance on tomorrow night's sodden drivel. No one here presumes to lift the ponderous fardels of tradition on their scrawny literary back—we're just trying to pass along what we know as best we know how, and if someone else can take comfort in what we've done, so much the better.

Sure we might wake up tomorrow and promise ourselves we'll never do it again, but if you're like us, you'll come drowning back to the stuff that evening. You will drink until you are full and then you will drink until your are swollen and the veins stand out in your head like rivers seen from the moon. You might even think for a moment how your thirst must have no bottom while you regard that seventh drink as steadily, and as soberly it seems, as you did the first. "Why bother?" you'll ask yourself as we have, "Why do again what I've already mastered?" With every drink you'll run out of reasons for the next one because, really, the why to drinking vanishes once you really get good at it. Unfortunately, so does the why not. That's the bittersweet trap of every habit, whether for liquor, lyrics, or love—and try as you might to be through with them, they'll never be through with you. That is, if you're like us.

Let's all drink a drink to the next one, then. Why not, you know? I hear the "sin tax" is a lot higher where we're going.

—Chad Driscoll