Whisky Wind-down, 29: Form

[Note: If you’re new, catch up at the 2017 Whisky Wind-down Primer.] 

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Books on poetic form rest on a table next to a filled Glencairn glass and a bottle of whisky, all in front of a bookcase holding academic tomes.

Today’s dram: Atlanta Spirit Works, Ameireaganach, Huddled Mashes No. 1

Today’s tasting notes: I learned of Atlanta Spirit Works when a friend brought their single malt rye to a party last year. I’ve since had the opportunity to try several of their other offerings, including this one, which was released about a month ago.

Although Atlanta Spirit Works is young, the company uses ancient techniques, including classic Scottish-style double copper pot distillation. From there they often deviate from tradition, or switch traditions. This bottling, for example, was aged on new charred American oak. So, basically what you’ve got here is a whisky that’s Scottish by distillation style finished with an American aging method. (I’m not getting into the grain bill; suffice to say it’s mostly classic malt varieties for a Scotch-style whisky.)

The result is a warm whisky with a bit of bite, smooth enough to be pleasing but stout enough (at 92 proof) to encourage sipping. It finishes clean, with an aroma of honey over fresh bread.

Today’s thoughts: At university, I knew a guy who could not write free verse poetry. He was killer at any form of sonnet, loved classics like anaphora and terza rima, and became almost physically aroused by villanelles.

But he had an aversion to free verse that I can only describe as writer’s agoraphobia — all that open space on the page terrified him.

And so he wrote around it by building form into formless assignments.

The technical term for that is a nonce form. Created for the occasion. Not a recognized form, maybe not even one you would ever come back to. Or possibly a variation on a recognized form.

Sometimes nonce forms stick and become something. Shakespearean sonnets, for example, began as nonce variations on the English sonnet. Sure, now that’s a classic form onto itself, but when he penned the first one, Bill’s peers probably thought him a wee bit pretentious.

Trouble is, we had several assignments that were meant to be written as true free verse, not nonce. They should be formless and flowing exercises of pure language, unconstrained by stanza patterns, line lengths, or syllable emphasis.

After my classmate turned in a couple of “free verse” assignments that actually contained fairly noticeable patterns, the professor called him out and threatened to fail him the next time he incorporated so much as a whiff of pattern in his work.

We were pretty sure the guy was cooked, but the next week he turned up with a proper free verse poem. You’ll forgive me if I don’t recall the specifics after two decades, but it was thirty or so lines of varying length, beautiful language, not a trace of form.

Praise and an A for him.

After class, when just a few of us were left, slow to file out, he confessed: There’d been a hidden form. It was subtle, but there was a pattern to the opening and closing words of each line.

Upon hearing this, I wasn’t disappointed. Rather, impressed. He’d found a way to be comfortable enough to make the words flow.

Today’s relevant numbers: Two down, 28 to go.

Today’s toast: Here’s to old what’s-his-name, whose pattern I forget; to someday meet again, in rhythm quite legit.

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