It starts, as so many stories do, with a bottle of bourbon. The brand is Angels Envy, and our friend Deni says it should be the title of a poem. We know, by the end of the night, our other friend Roy will write it. For the time, though, as we sit around a table in Roy and Gloria’s kitchen with Sherry, and Deni and her husband Mark, and my wife Cathy, we tell stories. It’s a rainy autumn afternoon, a perfect day for bourbon and stories and the talk talked between old friends.
Roy tells a story of youthful indiscretion. His poem, when he writes it, will start with that story, the poem’s title, “Angels Envy,” leading into the first few lines:
isn’t only a good whisky rescued from the
liquor store in the Kroger in Pataskala, Ohio.
It’s also a story of me drunk and passed out
by the curb in front of the L & K restaurant,
so close to concrete I confess that I smelled it.
I apologize to Roy if the formatting of this blog has wreaked havoc with his line breaks and spacing, but lordy, aren’t the words wonderful, no matter the form? That detail, “a good whisky,” has led Roy to this memory from youth. The poem then sets the context—the telling of the story to this group of friends—which leads to the connection between the bourbon and the telling of stories by which “we refill our glass.” Follow the leaps and associations of the poem: from a bourbon called Angels Envy to the telling of stories, an act the cherubs, seraphs, and archangels must envy, a similar envy to the one Roy felt the night he saw a high school football player run a kick-off back 87 yards, to the hope Roy has that we, his witnesses, will be able to say, “Whatever else, Roy was happy that particular day,” back to more information about the story of youthful discretion that started everything, to the final lines of the poem:
this is what we have around tables in Ohio in autumn.
Deni gave me the title to this poem. Big-heartedness
angels may have remarked on ghosting around us.
A multi-layered poem made possible by Roy’s openness to the associations unloosed by that bottle of Angels Envy, the story it invited, and all the destinations it made possible.
This is the way a writer works, no matter the genre, opening out and opening out, trusting the leaps and the connections, refusing to settle for the first thought, or the simple one. Where we begin is not where we end. Let the first step onto the page give rise to the ones you didn’t know you’d make. Create a textured world. Our living is too large to deny it its reach and breadth and depth. No matter what you’re writing—poetry, prose, play, screenplay, song—embrace the world, dive down through its layers. Immediately do the following:
Start simply. Any detail will do. A bottle of bourbon called Angels Envy, the rain-slicked streets, the scent of wood smoke. Anything at all.
Recall a memory that the detail causes to surface.
Call forth other memories.
Make leaps unannounced. Trust the air you fly through to hold you up. If you crash, leap again.
Or announce your associations. The angels must envy us the way I envied the speed of Ed Laurienzo on the football field.
Make your metaphors. The bonding of friends over drinks and stories must be something so special even the angels envy us as they hover over us at that table, “faces lit by rain-dreary Licking County afternoon.”
Make your statement: “. . .it occurs to me this is how we refill our glass.”
One thing is never solitary. It’s merely an invitation to connect. If we accept that invitation, we can travel deeper into the lived life and find all sorts of things we didn’t know were waiting for us to arrive.