By CHRISTINA LOVIN
Small Batch, an anthology of bourbon poetry
edited by Leigh Anne Hornfeldt and Teneice Durrant
Two of Cups Press, 2013
It’s said that there are more barrels of bourbon in Kentucky than there are people. Fact or fiction, Kentucky is certainly known for its bourbon. If Small Batch, an anthology of bourbon poetry, edited by Leigh Anne Hornfeldt and Teneice Durrant, is an example, then the “small batch” of fine poems written here, in adulation, shame, or blame of the potent liquid, has distilled into a rare vintage—smooth and heady. Carla Carlton (a.k.a. The Bourbon Babe) puts it best in the foreword to Small Batch: “… making bourbon is not unlike making poetry. Like all writers, poets start with the same 26 letters, the same words … but through their artistry, the words become something more.”
Poets from across the country have contributed their alcohol-soaked wisdom here. Some in search of what they might find in that potent high: “This want travels/back roads—bourbon capital/country smell of sour mash each/dream is full of silt—this takes its time” (Ellen Hagan, “Kentucky-You Be”). “We who bathe in bottomless bourbon, /wish our daddies loved us more” (Stacia Fleegal, “WSF Means Writing Spouse Forever”). “I break out the bourbon and hope it wards/off winter, war, whatever bad news calls/at inconvenient hours …” (Jeremy Glazier “Sonnet”).
Some of these poems seem steeped in a sort of amber regret: “My ears buzz harp and pedal steel, //lips hum a bourbon honey bee sting/but at the glass bottom, no fortune.” (Erin Keane, “Looking for Tea Leaves in Dry Glasses”). “Dancing and fighting, bourbon/and blood. Why they all/went together was the knot/of a problem I could not/untie … ” (Sherry Chandler, “Elegy for an Early Memory”). “There is no forgiveness/in empty bottles, the silent/teeth of blackouts on bourbon … ” (Erin Elizabeth Smith, “Drinking Poem”).
Liquor-soaked lovers (some lost, some yet to be found) call out with bourbon-heavy breath in some lines: “I don’t know if it is the blood/from a split lip or the bourbon/running over it that makes me/wonder if I might have to fight/a bitch over him one day.” (Bianca Spriggs,”Practice Round”). Or “Remember how you used to taste bourbon//on the tongue of a drunk lover who longed to forget/all the days before you and the moments just after.” (Amanda Johnston, “How to Drink Bourbon”).
Still there are those poems that sit around, passing the bottle in a toast to the touch and taste of fire, of home: “… until I acquired my burnt, bitter aftertaste/scraped from the charred inner walls/of a Kentucky white oak barrel. Only/then would I be ready for communion-sharing/in wide-mouthed jars embossed with Mason or Ball.” (Jay McCoy, “Old Wine in New Bottles”) and “… that beat of bourbon/in my heart like something/better than blood.” (Peter Fong, “A Thirsty Man Considers His Future”).
Even with a $10,000 reward, we may never know who stole that $26,000 worth of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon from Buffalo Trace. In the meantime, $12 will buy a book full of the corn-stoked, limestone-stroked, oak-smoke-barrel-soaked, and fretted over stuff in Small Batch: an anthology of bourbon poems.
Search it out. Lift it up. Drink it in. “Label it bluegrass still. Label it/fresh—still burning, still warm, /still home.” (Ellen Hagen, “Mint Julep”)
Christina Lovin is the author of ECHO, A Stirring in the Dark, Flesh, What We Burned for Warmth, and Little Fires. An award-winning poet, her work has been widely published and anthologized. She teaches English and Creative Writing courses at Eastern Kentucky University.