Addonizio skillfully combines images of the past and present within ‘Wine Tasting,’ allowing readers to engage with various emotions and senses. She also uses figurative language and allusions to craft a personal and broadly relatable experience with wine and memory.
Explore Wine Tasting
In the first lines of ‘Wine Tasting,’ the speaker describes what memories come to mind while drinking wine. They are connected to the smell and taste of cracked leather and cherries. She moves on, bringing in the thoughts and experiences of Li Bai, a friend, and then again her own. The poem concludes with the speaker suggesting that the temporary nature of this kind of experience makes it all the more moving.
You can read the full poem here.
The Title “Wine Tasting”
The title of this piece, ‘Wine Tasting,’ is integral to a readers’ understanding of the poem, especially in the first lines. The poet brings the reader into the text in the middle of a wine tasting without explaining what’s going on. But, with the title’s information, the poem plays out clearly and effectively. The “tasting,” it should be noted, is just as temporary as the wine’s effects.
Addonizio engages primarily with the theme of memory in ‘Wine Tasting.’ The poet focuses on her speaker’s memories, which may be her own, and elaborates on them by including references to Li Bai and a friend named Susan. She focuses on the fact that emotional memories come and go and are connected to the present, even when they seem quite distant. In her conclusion, she depicts the speaker standing between two words, in the rain and out of the rain. She is at once in the past and the present, experiencing two things at once.
Structure and Form
‘Wine Tasting’ by Kim Addonizio is a six-stanza poem divided into sets of three lines, known as tercets. These tercets do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, meaning that the poem is written in free verse. Despite this, readers can still find numerous literary devices to analyze and delve into various aspects of the structure Addonizio did choose to use.
In regard to the latter, Addonizio chose to alternate between end-stopped lines, such as line one of the first stanza, and enjambed lines, such as line two of the third stanza. This choice allows some lines to flow more smoothly and quickly, while when end-stopped, the reader is asked to pause and consider the sentence in more detail. Such is the case with the first line of stanza four. This short phrase stands out at the start of the stanza and with a period in the end.
Addonizio makes use of several literary devices in ‘Wine Tasting.’ These include but are not limited to:
- Imagery: occurs throughout the poem when the poet uses particularly effective sensory descriptions. This piece focuses primarily on the sense of taste.
- Allusion: an allusion occurs when the poet references something but does not directly explain it. Some readers might understand the allusion, while others may have to take the time to look it up. In this case, Addonizio alludes to Li Po (also known as Li Bai), a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, in line two of the third stanza. He’s widely considered to be the best poet of his age and wrote the poem ‘Drinking Alone under the Moon.’ This piece is referenced in the third and fourth stanzas of ‘Wine Tasting.’
- Caesura: occurs when the poet pauses in the middle of a line. It can be seen through the use of punctuation or meter. The former can be seen in line one of the fifth stanza. It reads: “and childless. I’d like to taste.”
Stanzas One and Two
I think I detect cracked leather.
and the chlorine from my mother’s bathing cap.
And last winter’s kisses, like salt on black ice,
In the first stanza of ‘Wine Tasting,’ the speaker begins by making a simple statement. Without the context of the title, it would be hard (at first anyway) to understand what they’re referring to. They mention the fact that they “detect cracked leather.” The use of the word “detect” is an odd one, especially when “see cracked leather” would make a lot more sense. But, readers have the benefit of the title and therefore should realize quite quickly that Addonizio’s speaker is talking about wine. She’s smelling it and experiencing a wide variety of images come to mind. These include cracked leather and cherries.
These are stand-alone images, though. They’re directly related to her past, an ideal example of what imagery can accomplish. She’s thinking about the “Shirley Temple” her father bought her in 1959 and the “chlorine” from her mother’s “bathing cap.” Both of these things come to mind while she’s smelling the wine. The latter is a connected memory, not one that is directly conveyed through the smell of the wine.
The speaker goes on, referencing more images in the second stanza and adding in more contemporary memories from “last winter.” (Although it should be noted that “last winter” might be a metaphor for the past more broadly.) The simile in this stanza connects kiss and salt on black ice.
Stanzas Three and Four
like the moon slung away from the earth.
When my friend Susan drinks
she cries because she’s Irish
The third stanza alludes to Li Bai, a Tang Dynasty poet who wrote a poem titled ‘Drinking Alone under the Moon.’ The poet alludes to the imagery in this piece by connecting the simile at the end of the second stanza to the beginning of the third. She follows Li Bai, or Li Po as he was also known, as he dives into the river after the moon’s reflection. The wine affects him as it does the speaker and makes him taste “laughter.” This is a beautiful depiction of how memories and sense can combine and distort until one can see tastes and taste emotions.
The poet’s speaker also mentions “Susan,” a friend who cries when she drinks because she’s “Irish / and childless.” For her, it brings to mind the fundamentals of her life and makes her emotional in regard to her contemporary life.
Stanzas Five and Six
and childless. I’d like to taste,
one more time, the rain that arrived
alive in both worlds at once,
knowing it would end and not caring.
In the final two stanzas, the speaker brings the poem back around to her own life and how she’s like to taste “one more time, the rain that arrived.” This powerful image is continued into the last stanza. She stood, leaning her face into the rain, existing in two worlds at once. She brings this final metaphor into the poem to describe how one can live in the past and the present in two very different states, but it can’t last forever. The effects of the wine are temporary, but that doesn’t make them any less meaningful.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Wine Tasting’ should also consider reading some other Kim Addonizio poems. For example:
- ‘First Poem for You’ – explores intimacy and what’s temporary and permanent in one’s life.
Some other related poems include:
- ‘Before the Cask of Wine’ by Li Bai – a lyric poem that emphasizes enjoying one’s youth while it exists.
- ‘Smell is the Last Memory’ by Fatimah Asghar – explores the temporary nature of memories. Scent memories, the poet suggests, last the longest, though.