Potent Potable Poetry

By Steven Libowitz   |   April 23, 2020

If COVID-19 hadn’t caused everything to come to a close, and everyone to halt, suddenly in the middle of March, George Yatchisin would be hosting the sixth annual “Spirits in the Air: Potent Potable Poetry” reading at The Good Lion lounge this Friday, April 24, when the “Drinkable Landscape” columnist for Edible Santa Barbara and food writer for the Santa Barbara Independent would have been joined by a handful of invited poets to read work about libations of all sorts. The springtime soirée is a tribute to the fact that, as the event flyer boasts, “poets have found inspiration, solace, and yes, sometimes sickness in the bottle.”

Chryss Yost and George Yatchisin present “Spirits in the (Virtual) Air: Potent Potable Poetry” on Friday, April 27 on Zoom

Instead, the recitation of alcohol-infused verse has gone virtual, with the poets and readers confined to their homes, forced to read their own and others’ lines sans the clinking of glasses and the shaking of cocktails at the busy bar next door to the Granada Theatre.

While that might be cause for concern, the good news is that the event is one of the few surviving gatherings for 2020 Santa Barbara Poetry Month, held in conjunction with April National Poetry Month.

“We have a great bar scene in Santa Barbara and poets and bars have tended to go together for good or for ill throughout history,” Yatchisin said, explaining the origins of the event. “It’s fun to do a reading at an actual bar.”

The rules are that each invited poet has to write about some kind of spirit – beer, wine, mixed drinks – “or it can just be dropped in rather than the whole theme of the poem,” he said. “And it doesn’t have to be positive. There are a lot of great poems about the problems with alcohol.” Each poet reads one of their own pieces, and one by somebody else, because “spirits have been a rich vein for writers throughout history.”

But then COVID-19 crashed the party.

Yatchisin said he imagined he would have to shut it down in the face of shelter at home orders. But then he and his wife, former Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Chryss Yost, took part in a similar reading online for an anthology they both contributed to as part of Poetry Zone, and realized they could try that with Spirits in the Air.

“The great thing about Zoom is that people don’t have to be here, so you can read and listen from wherever you are,” Yatchisin said. “But I still wanted to keep it to the poets I would have had reading at the live event. I know lots of readers in Iowa and Tokyo, but I wanted to keep it local. But of course, people are more than welcome to tune in wherever they are.”

Featured readers for Friday include the host and Yost, the third Santa Barbara Poet Laureate David Starkey, and the current one Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Montecito writer Diana Raab, plus Susan Chiavelli, Linda Saccoccio, Emma Trelles, and Jace Turner.

Just as in the live event, the virtual reading will have a fast pace and something of a light heart despite the trying times, Yatchisin said. “The idea is to do a poetry reading that’s more entertaining and fun and not quite as dreary as they can often be. And we try to keep it moving. It’s not a complaint; we just wanted to do something lighter and more fun, something that would make you want to hoist your own cocktail and cheer rather than tear up, particularly given the times we’re in now. It’s nice to comfort people a tiny bit.”

The hoisting of spirits will come individually, of course, although people can still support The Good Lion, the usual host for the annual reading, by purchasing a to-go cocktail to enjoy at home while listening. (Order via shakermillsb.com on Friday, but no later than 4 pm for pickup at Shaker Mill, 418 State Street.)

As for Yatchisin, his cleverly-titled poem “An Ode to Ears” is about bourbon. “But even before that, it’s about corn, which you have to have to make the bourbon,” he said. “I wanted to get to the heart of the thing – the farm to table, farm to bottle feel. That’s where mine begins.”

He’ll also be reading Leonard Cohen’s “The Golden Gate,” from the singer-songwriter/poet’s final collection, The Flame. It’s set in San Francisco but for some reason he was drinking margaritas, of all things.

Perhaps Cohen was using the City by the Bay as a metaphor for Fiesta in Santa Barbara. Hard to tell with poets.

“Spirits in the (Virtual) Air: Potent Potable Poetry” takes place at 7 pm Friday, April 27, over Zoom at https://ucsb.zoom.us/j/94305572625. Admission is free.


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