Many Monday nights I climb the stairs to Harvard & Highland in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The bar sits above its sister institution Union Pig & Chicken, and you can order from UP&C's menu until 11pm. I teach until 9:30. They have barbequed tofu, mac n cheese, and greens. They also have an assortment of, I am told, delicious meat, but I am a vegetarian and that this comfort food is available to me post-classroom is almost as luscious as the space itself.
Harvard & Highland is a comfy urban bird's nest--snuggled up above the concrete. Streetlight glow trickling in through the big windows lets you settle in, stay a while. This isn't prime time for the bar of course, late Monday night. So it seems special. Friendly bartenders, beautiful cocktails. --Sherrie Flick
By Joy Katz
In my second year of grad school, I threw a party for the incoming MFAs. A party in my little apartment with something in a big pot, like chick pea stew. In strode a guy freshly shaven in a jacket and tie. He said he’d have a Manhattan. This was before cocktails made their comeback, a long while before the glamstalgic first episode of Mad Men, so the jacket, the well-brushed hair, the casual, confident demand utterly lacked context. I have beer and wine, I said, irritated, certain this guy was very insane. He eventually became a good friend.
I had my first martini sometime later that year, no idea what a martini was for or what was in it, just thought I’d order one, and I held it and sat watching my friends play pool at the sticky pool table in the Central West End of St. Louis. The guy who demanded a Manhattan now lives outside of Paris and does international security work he cannot discuss. I remember very well his short story in which the narrator is made of metal. Eventually, over the next decade, martinis became a regular part of my life. I love that they are made of metal, an icy shaker of bitter liquors.
A cocktail is part of my peaceful life. I have enough of a dark side just in my brain; I don’t drink much. But I have a weakness for the kind of places that have opened, even near my house, in Pittsburgh, the kind of bars I used to like to go to in New York, where you shout at your friend over an expanse of marble and order things from bartenders wearing vests and ties.
My students are friendly. They are respectful of each other. In certain moments they seem to me not quite real — made of something warmer than metal, definitely. Even though they are at this moment driving cars and writing checks and caring for pets. Some of them are married; some have kids. They are throwing parties in their apartments and ashing their cigarettes into the last dab of hummus.
My students work hard, they are serious. It’s time for midsemester feedback, I tell them in an email. Is there anything not working for you in 20th Century American Poetry? I ask as though I were, ridiculously, in sleeve-garters, ready to shake up an assignment out of ingredients they dream up. Someone brings candy corn to class. We talk about John Berryman. It is all so good. It is almost too sweet, my students, this story. I had better—quick—spit, lest the gods switch up my luck.
We talk about Berryman’s sequiny cocktails of poems, the Dream Songs. In them a man tries to hold together his elegant, ugly, hairy, sad, bored, brilliant, keening, awful, crude selves among the “tranquil hills, & gin.” At a party a few years ago in someone’s apartment here in Pittsburgh, the poet CA Conrad practically spit when Berryman came up. He said, I hate the Dream Songs. Really? a young woman poet asked, surprised. I hate suicide, Conrad said.
The mad artist is a myth; a poet shows up and does her work. This I tell my students. And: Let’s get back to the words.
This is just a chill little sour, but it can’t not taste of Theodore Roethke’s “crucifixion on barstools.” It has a tang of Elizabeth Bishop’s private corrosion, Larry Levis’ boozy, lyric staggering, Dorothy Parker’s disillusion, Howard Nemerov dragging his decrepit raincoat around the lovely side streets near Wash U., in St. Louis. The old story goes: one night Nemerov, walking home, was kicked out of his own gated neighborhood. I’m the Poet Laureate! Nemerov said. I don’t care if you’re the Pope, the cop said. Get out.