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Poets of Franklin County

Poets of Franklin County: Poetry loves cocktails

Mix equal amounts gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and freshly pressed lime juice. Shake with ice and strain: You’ve just made a pale green cocktail called a “Last Word,” a Prohibition-era drink originally made with bathtub gin. This, and other unusual cocktails make their way into the poems in Boston poet Jill McDonough’s second collection, “Where You Live,” published in 2012 by the British pressSalt.

McDonough, twice a Pushcart Prize winner and the recipient of many awards including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, teaches in the MFA Writing Program at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She also directs “24 Pearl Street,” the Fine Arts Work Center’s Online Writing Workshops.

McDonough’s wife, Josey Packard, has made a name for herself as a bartender at Drink, a renowned “craft cocktail” bar in South Boston. There’s no doubt that Packard’s work provides inspiration for McDonough’s. In one poem, “After Hours in the Alembic,” McDonough describes helping Packard to close up at a San Francisco bar, then tasting and finding adjectives for “the beers she needs to learn.”

In McDonough’s poem, “Parties,” plenty of alcohol is consumed but that’s not really the point. The point is that, despite what a friend’s mother might have said back in 1989, life is fun:

“… I drink a Mexican/ cane-sugar Coke from a glass bottle/ at a clean Formica table. That’s a party,” McDonough writes.

This is the spirit Ashfield event organizer Dre Rawlings plans to bring to the Hope & Olive, 9 p.m., Wednesday, March 13. Rawlings, who has hosted lavish, theatrical parties in the Greenfield area to introduce new lines of her Tiny Crush Society’s women’s fashions, has put together what she hopes will be, “a cool collaboration.”

The event, titled, “Poetry Loves Cocktails,” will be part poetry reading, part cocktail party, with McDonough as the honored guest. Instead of making McDonough do all the work, as in a traditional poetry reading, Rawlings has invited members of the community to read McDonough’s poems to her. And Packard, whom Rawlings described as a “super star,” will be “shaking the cocktails right on the corner of the bar,” Rawlings said.

Rawlings won’t divulge the names of the readers but she did say, “They represent an interesting cross section of the community.” Some of the readers are poets but others might be “community elders,” yoga instructors or small business owners.

“I didn’t pick any wallflowers,” Rawlings said.

Rawlings hopes to give the audience, “a range and flavor” of McDonough’s book: in addition to the cocktail poems, readers will present love poems and poems based on McDonough’s experiences teaching writing in prisons.

By phone from Boston, McDonough said that she is excited about the event. “Being able to be on the other side of it with a drink in my hand will be more fun for me,” she said. McDonough will already be in the area because she is reading in at the Poetry Center at Smith College’s reading series on Tuesday, March 12, 7:30 p.m., in Stoddard Hall Auditorium, Northampton.

McDonough said that Rawlings had planned the party for the launch of “Where You Live,” and, “It was astonishing … My students lost their minds over how glamorous it was.” In the poetry world, “We’re not used to getting that glamorous treatment,” McDonough said.

Rawlings, who has put aside her fashion line to focus more on events, says that Poetry Loves Cocktails is exactly the kind of event she wants to produce: “creative, unique, inventive and original.”

But the last words on the event belong to McDonough: “I’m happy to be involved in anything that upends our expectation that poetry is academic and boring. And I love a good party!”

“Parties”

“Life is not one big party that starts right after school.”

— Kora Manheimer’s mother, 1989

We couldn’t have imagined it, but she couldn’t

have been more wrong. Sometimes

after I take off the knee pads and the house

smells like Murphy’s Oil, I drink a Mexican

cane-sugar Coke from a glass bottle

at a clean Formica table. That’s a party. I make

a nice supper, we have weekend guests, grill, light

the tiki torches. Cheese plate. Box of chocolates.

Crudite, crackers, cornichons. Galvanized buckets

of champagne, iced hours before the guests

come. Keg of Murphy’s or Labatt’s

and everyone we know. I warned you: if anybody shows up

with coke, I’m snorting it. No one does. Unless

they’re hiding it from me. No weed in the house: it smells

like boring. But carry a cocktail, a cigarette, from room

to room, witty asides thrown over your shoulder. Break

out the cleavage, all the jewels you own.

My sister’s telling again how I tripped on her leg

in the road, Paul wipes tears of laughter with his new silk tie,

Jenny gives a good slow kick and hollers HA! Bob’s running

back and forth calling Near! then calling Far! I hear Susan’s

shout of laughter from the porch. Miller’s slow dancing,

mumbling Brady, Brady, Brady. Strangers make out

in the pile of coats; somebody sobs on the stairs.

A boot and rally breaks the hush of the snow-covered, moonlit yard.

You are on fire, making Torontos, Last Words,

making everybody drunk. Cue the ice scoop, shaker, East

German dance music, Lauren shotgunning a Schlitz.

O, remembered Mrs. Manheimer! Cue the sparklers, smoked

striper. Cue the strippers, laughing on the kitchen floor at dawn.

— Jill McDonough,

published in “jai alai”

Trish Crapo is seeking published poets for her column. She’s interested in books written by a Franklin County poet and/or published by a Franklin County press.

To submit a book, mail it to Franklin County Poets, The Recorder, P.O. Box 1367, Greenfield, MA 01302, attention, Adam Orth. Or, drop it off at our office, 14 Hope St., Greenfield. If you have readings coming up, please tell us. Questions? (413) 772-0261,
Ext. 276, or e-mail features@recorder.com

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