Joseph Mills, author of A Guide to North Carolina's Wineries and faculty member of the NC School of the Arts, recently released a book of wine poems titled Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers.
I was contacted by Mills, who asked if I'd be interested in writing a review of the new collection. It didn't take me long to say Yes, since
- my undergrad major was English Lit, and I really dig poetry (not a well-known fact about me, I suppose), and
- I really, really dig wine (hopefully you've caught onto that one already).
In the realm of wine poetry, Mills doesn't exactly have a ton of competition. Hafiz comes to mind, and I'm not sure 600+ year old verse is the best to go by for the purpose of comparative analysis. So, we'll just have to review Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers on its own poetic merits.
How does Mills' collection stand up?...
The Low Down
Dylan Thomas he's not, but Mills has a gift for creating interesting and accessible verse, often including a subversive and thought-provoking twist.
Take, for example, the poem Opening Up which starts (quite humorously) by putting the reader in a familiar position:
As the dinner progressed / people's comments / about each wine / became increasingly / ridiculous, and when / the woman beside me / praised the way a red / unfolded in the mouth, / I snorted so hard / I almost shot snot / onto my plate.
If we're lucky / as the years unfold / we open up / until we reach a point / we can appreciate / one another's complexities / and even the tart irony / of finding yourself / at the table's next seat, / taking seriously, / so many of those things / you once mocked.
Buy it - If you're into wine, you'll find something to like in Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers.
At their worst, Mills' poems read a bit too much like the short-hand from a personal journal. At their best, they're immediately accessible, clever, and offer nuggets of truth that are just dark enough to get you thinking.
I often found myself wishing Mills had ended a poem earlier to impart greater impact, rather than trying to tidy up his sentiment with an additional verse or two - it feels as though he sometimes errs on the side of playing it safe for the reader. In Sea Changes, Mills writes: "In college I read / the Iliad and Odessey, / and although I thought / they could be shorter, / overall they were better / than I expected" - I could apply the same critique to a number of the offerings in Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers.
But there's no doubting Mills' flair and cleverness, which alone make Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers a worthwhile read (preferably with a glass of interesting vino in one hand).
(images: fortscotch.files.wordpress.com, amazon.com, 24hourmuseum.org.uk)