The lunatic, the lover, and the poet: Shakespeare, Gioia, and a dash of Rimbaud


Greg Gioia can whip up one mean drink. Dana Gioia‘s new book, Pity the Beautiful, was fêted by a capacity crowd at Kepler’s last night.  One of the memorable highlights of the evening was Dana’s kid bro making a libation of his own invention, called “The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet.”

I watched him make it.  Parts of something that looked like Campari (but wasn’t Campari), then absinthe, and a few other ingredients, with a twist of orange for garnish.  “The lover,” Greg told me, was the quick spray of rosewater on top.  “The lunatic” was, obviously, the absinthe.

And “the poet”?  Greg told me the drink was a variation of one called “Arthur Rimbaud.”  But it also hearkens back to a line from William Shakespeares A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

It’s also – for a third association – the title of a love poem in Dana’s new collection. Muriel Rukeyser famously said, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”  Dana agrees:  We live by the stories we tell about ourselves, he said.  People who are “stuck” in their lives are in fact enmeshed in a particular narrative about their lives.  Then he read the poem.

It’s so lovely I’ll quote it in full, taking full advantage of Dana’s kind permission to do so:

The tales we tell are either false or true,
But neither purpose is the point. We weave
The fabric of our own existence out of words,
And the right story tells us who we are.
Perhaps it is the words that summon us.
The tale is often wiser than the teller.
There is no naked truth but what we wear.

So let me bring this story to our bed.
The world, I say, depends upon a spell
Spoken each night by lovers unaware
Of their own sorcery. In innocence
Or agony the same words must be said,
Or the raging moon will darken in the sky.
The night grows still. The winds of dawn expire.

And if I’m wrong, it cannot be by much.
We know our own existence came from touch,
The new soul summoned into life by lust.
And love’s shy tongue awakens in such fire –
Flesh against flesh and midnight whispering –
As if the only purpose of desire
Were to express its infinite unfolding.

And so, my love, we are two lunatics,
Secretaries to the wordless moon,
Lying awake, together or apart,
Transcribing every touch or aching absence
Into our endless, intimate palaver,
Body to body, naked to the night,
Appareled only in our utterance.

I think it’s one of his finest (I love the turn in the second stanza) – though I must admit that at some point the liquid form of the “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet,” began to take hold, and everything in the room was illuminated in a sort of roseate glow.  It had been a long week, and I had been fighting off illness.  Before I had a chance to go up for a refill of Greg’s potion, the initial euphoria faded, and I realized that it had only been the tension of a tight schedule that had been holding me together.  Suddenly my bones ached and my head throbbed.

I took Dana’s advice. A dash out the back door into the silence of the cool twilight and then homeward – as Dana suggested, I brought this particular story to bed.

Postscript on 5/6:  If you want Greg’s recipe, it’s here, on “Sidecar Cocktail Blog,”  the blog he’s been running for nine years.  That’s six longer than the Book Haven – whew!  how does he do it?   It’s a pretty good blog, too – clearly, writing talent runs in the family.  Brother Ted Gioia, occasionally mentioned on this blog, is a noted jazz scholar (I’ve written about him here).  His The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire will be out with Oxford University Press next month.  Congratulations to all Gioias!

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One Response to “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet: Shakespeare, Gioia, and a dash of Rimbaud”

  1. Sidecar Cocktail Blog » The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet Says:

    […] crowd of locals and luminaries. I even spotted Tobias Wolff in the back row. Here’s a link to an online review of the reading that appeared the following day. I’m a little embarrassed by how much she focused on my drink […]