Why The New Poet Laureate Is Good For The World Of Wine

It’s probably not what you think, not what the title might lead you to believe.

As far as I know, Philip Levine is not a self-professed oenophile. I have no idea how big his wine cellar is, or if he has one at all. In fact, I don’t even know if he drinks wine, though I suspect it.

… This bar
is the house of silence, and we drink
to silence without raising our voices
in the old way. We drink to doors
that don’t open, to the four walls
that dose their eyes, hands that run,
fingers that count change, toes
that add up to ten. Suspended
as we are between our business
and our rest, we feel the sudden peace
of wine and the agony of stale bread …

So why is his appointment to serve as the new Poet Laureate of the United States good for the world of wine?

Because a vote for the work of Philip Levine is a vote for narrative, and for history; for integrity, sincerity, and authenticity. It is a vote for dedication, craftspersonship, and honesty. It is a vote for conviction and transparency; faith and emotion. It is a vote not for shameless trendifying, but sticking to one’s guns. It is a vote not for irony, but insistence. It is a vote not for clever-for-clever’s sake, but for good-for-goodness’ sake.

I am so tired of irony, so tired of convictionless cloaking, the masquerade of snarkiness when one is too chicken to take a stand.

The work of Philip Levine stands in full-blown defiance of this contemporary cowardice, and by embracing him, we embrace both a new artistic sensibility, and a moral one. In lauding him, we laud a return to the earth, to work, to our fellow human beings; to the primality of food, drink, love, labor, and family. We return to simplicity, and silence; contentment and peace — wanting nothing, we regain everything.

…In Havana I lived in a fourth-floor walk up
over a small cantina and across from a market.
I would listen to the radio for hours and lie
naked on my bed smoking cigarettes, cheap ones,
oval in shape, rolled in sweet paper. I wanted
for nothing. I had fresh milk in frosted bottles,
soft white bread in wrapped loaves, harsh black wine
come by ship all those hard miles from Alicante…

That our aesthetic culture could be turning away from shameless profiteering, snarky exploitation, transparent pandering, post po-mo cynicism, irony-laden and protectionary shallowness, and flat-out greed, can only be a good thing for anyone who cares about what they put in their brains, their hearts, and their mouths. We are what we digest.

…Whoever made this house
had no idea of beauty — it’s all gray —
and no idea of what a happy family
needs on a day in spring when tulips
shout from their brown beds in the yard.
Back there the rows are thick with weeds,
stickers, choke grass, the place has gone
to soggy mulch, and the tools are hanging
unused from their hooks in the tool room.
Think of a marriage taking place at one
in the afternoon on a Sunday in June
in the stuffy front room. The dining table
is set for twenty, and the tall glasses
filled with red wine, the silver sparkling.
But no one is going in or out, not even
a priest in his long white skirt, or a boy
in pressed shorts, or a plumber with a fat bag…

To leap, let me now state that I love Ridge wines.

I love them because of how they’re made, where they’re made, and by whom they’re made. Because Ridge wines are created like good, honest poems. They are built with respect, tenacity, patience, artistry, honesty, and depth. They are crafted with one eye to the past, and one eye to the future. They are built by mendicants at the altars of the earth. There is no irony in a Ridge wine. There is nothing “clever” or obfuscatory about a Ridge wine. They are built by believers, for believers. They are built as prayers to belief itself. To drink them is to digest a poetry of agriculture and imagination; a poetry of science and faith; a poetry of humanism and zen.

…What is it? It could be
another planet just after its birth
except that at the center the colors
are earth colors. It could be the cloud
that formed above the rivers of our blood,
the one that brought rain to a dry time
or took wine from a hungry one. It could
be my way of telling you that I too
burned and froze by turns and the face I
came to was more dirt than flame, it
could be the face I put on everything,
or it could be my way of saying
nothing and saying it perfectly…

I want to live in a world where people read Philip Levine, and drink Ridge wine. With Levine’s appointment, I am perhaps one step closer towards a dream come true.

…At last he slips the tire iron
gently from his father’s grip and kneels
down in the unstained snow and unbolts the wheel
while he sings of drinking a glass of wine,
the black common wine of Alicante,
in raw sunlight. Now the father joins in,
and the words rise between the falling flakes
only to be transformed into the music
spreading slowly over the oiled surface
of the river that runs through every child’s dreams…


(all the italicized selections above are taken from poems by Philip Levine)

Categories: Wine & Art, Wine & Health, Wine & Poetry


2 replies

  1. Oh, my.
    Thanks for sharing Levine’s words.

    And thanks for your own poetry, in this blog, of “agriculture and imagination.”

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