Back in grad school I took a course called “On Beauty,” where we read theory and fiction and poems and talked about aesthetics and deep/superficial things like that. I was a fierce champion of non-visual beauty, and wrote a final paper that talked about numerous fictional characters experiences eating and drinking and touching things. It got real: I quoted Helen Keller and Jean Genet in the same sentence. I was proud of it. Until now it was probably the most unrepentantly pretentious thing I’d done.
I bemoaned that while sight and hearing have huge amounts of critical work devoted to their aesthetics, taste and smell seemed to be plopped into a ghetto of “commercial” (IE restaurant) reviews. I wondered, if a painting can use one element (paint) to represent the range of human experience visually, can’t we have an equivalent for smell? Where my perfume critics at?
Then I moved to California and started going to wine tastings. And there it was.
Wine is made from yeast, grapes, and in some cases, wood. Making it is a both an art and a craft, by most accounts, which I can’t really get into because I don’t know enough about it. Through a glass of wine, our senses of smell, touch, and taste can create a landscape of memory and feeling that you have to dig into to discover. Chemical products of the fermentation and aging process bring an unpredictable palate of flavors and odors that can evoke everything from fruit to upholstery to the green beans they used to serve in your elementary school cafeteria (all in oddly pleasant ways). It’s a learning process. It’s rewarding. It gets you drunk if you do it enough.
So I did the newest most pretentious thing I’ve ever done. After three or four pours in a flight, I start writing poems about it.
I never studied poetry. It intimidates me. Poets seem to have a firm idea of what makes a poem, and what makes a good poem, and I’ve never felt confident arguing with them or really having an opinion, at all, beyond generally liking to read the stuff. But combine liquid courage with a desire to express (not completely seriously, guys) what a particular wine feels like, aesthetically, and you’ve got this: The Wine Poems.
It’s important to embarrass oneself every so often, right?