Why It’s a Good Idea to Recite Poetry at the Bar
Julia Klatt Singer
“Are you Finnish?” he asks, pointing towards the book on the bar. It is a
volume of Finnish short stories, titled Sampo, and an obvious give-away
to anyone who knows Finnish. Tells me he plays the violin in the orchestra, and
is embracing sadness. Leans in closer, asks if he can finish my beer, drinks it,
then continues—“it’s not valued here, sadness—we are supposed to be
happy, happy all the time.”
I am happy, more happy than
sad, most of the time, but say because I feel it, “Let’s be melancholy, but
not together—that would be too depressing. Better to brood alone.” The smile
he gives me implies that he is not glum. He is lit up and talking fast.
Molly walks by, reminds us that
the poetry recitation is next week, between sets. I am ready. Already know To
Celia by heart.
“I’d recite a
Keats,” he says—“now, he was a melancholy guy.”
“And a romantic
poet,” I add. There is no romance without misery, I fear, but do not tell
him—although he does not seem easily frightened. He has just told me a story
about a Finnish gypsy who approached him at a bar in Helsinki, said, she wanted
to eat him alive. And she did, he said.
Ben Johnson was jilted, and I
wonder if he tires of hearing his rejection repeated all these years. Makes me
think I should be careful—my words may haunt me, my failures march endlessly
past. But I love the first six lines of To Celia, and even though it
doesn’t work out, they are worth, I believe, all his misery.
He tells me he’ll be in New
York next week and will miss the recitation. Asks if I’ll recite for him now.
I begin, “Drink to me only
with thine eyes and I will pledge with mine, or leave a kiss but in the cup and
I’ll not look for wine. The thirst that from the soul doth rise doth ask a
drink divine…but might I of Jove’s nectar sup…” but find that I cannot
say these words with him gazing at me, pause and say, “this is where I get
“That’s my favorite
part.” he says, smiling. “The part where you get lost.”
I try to take comfort in
this—know I cannot hide a single emotion—hope if someone is watching me get
lost, that they might be able to find me, for I may not be able to find myself.
I frown, and say, “it’s the
small words that trip me up.”
We both frown, shrug, try
melancholy on for size.
“Be sad,” he says,
then, “but carefree.”
I realize he is talking to
himself now, as much as to me. And I realize, this is the definition of jilted.
I give him a sad smile, try my damnedest not to look happy that I finally
figured something out.