Last Saturday night, Chicago Detours brought together a fabulous combination: writers and drinking at the historic Berghoff Bar. AWP award winners joined local artists and novelists to read a selection of Chicago Drinking poems that we at Chicago Detours dug up from library archives and old anthologies. Readers shouted out the poems amid clinking glasses and welcome cheers for this sold-out event, which was free but due to limited space had to be capped at 70 guests.
Chris Bower started off the night with a poem by Nelson Algren, from the 1941 issue of POETRY Magazine. Becca Roberts and Amy Ganser, co-founding editors of the local Chicago literary magazine and reading series, Two With Water were among the cadre of quality readers. Becca did a wonderful rendering of a little University Club drinking song, bellowing, “Saloon, Saloon, Saloon, It runs through my brain like a tune…” While Amy read a poem that celebrated Etheridge Knight, one of the major figures (along with Gwendolyn Brooks) of the Black Arts Movement. Chicagoan Hannah Pittard, a professor at Depaul University and author of, The Fates Will Find Their Way, read “After the Unexpected Answer,” a poem she commented may be more about love than drinking. But hey, you can get drunk on love, right?
Elizabeth Tieri, editor in chief of “the deadline.” read an airy little poem about being hung over. Douglas Light, a New York novelist and screenwriter, took a break from the AWP Conference to join our ranks and with great gravitas, recited “Baptism of Firewater, Fire and Water,” by Jorge Sanchez.
Denese Neu, author of Chicago by the Pint, elucidated the audience on the origins of the phrase to “slip someone a Mickey,” and the historical significance of The Berghoff to Chicago. Then the M.C. of the night, Chicago Detours Executive Director Amanda Scotese, engaged the audience in a game with questions, like “Who can finish this line of poetry? ‘We sing sin, we thin…’
“Gin!” someone yelled, and she chucked a City Caramel in the direction of the voice. “What’s the Chicago liquor also known as ‘Northern Discomfort?'” she asked?
“Malort!” someone yelled.
Writers Steven Flores and Sophie Grimes read two goofy poems from the Newberry Library’s Dill Pickle Archives: “The Ballad of North Side Sue,” and “Disgrace on the ‘Pickle’ Floor”. Then award winning novelist, Mandy Keifetz took the stage. “We’re vodkaquiet. Vodkadeliquescent,” she yelled. A little Ernie doll on her finger contributed some of the lines, too. And finally Chris Bower finished the night with a boisterous drinking song. “Some incline to gin or wine, and some to mountain dew — but I want stuff with an amber hue!” He roared to the crowd and concluded, fittingly, with “Clink! Drink together — Till all the world goes dry!”
The Lost Chicago Drinking Poems event, which was a featured event in the A.V. Club, Crain’s Chicago, WhereChicago and New York Daily News, had a grand turnout and grand fun, so all in all was a grand success.
If you can’t get enough of the history of Chicago’s bars and nightlife, you’re in luck! Chicago Detours offers a Good Times Historic Bar Tour starting April 1. Also, Lost Chicago Drinking Poems was such a jolly success that some suggested we should continue it annually. We’ve got all sorts of plans up our sleeve, so follow us on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe to the blog (enter your email on the right of the screen) to keep up with another Drinking Poems night, as well as other exciting Chicago events and happenings.
— Sophie Grimes, Editorial Intern