SCAA 2009: Wanted Missing Coffee Poem


Apr 04, 2009


Did you know that the SCAA sponsors a poetry contest each year? It’s true. I only learned this fact on the last day of SCAA Atlanta, when I happened to overhear an announcement over the din, “Best Poem of 2009 to be awarded in 15 minutes.” [Note: Turns out the winner is only announced at SCAA, but the contest is sponsored by Roast Magazine.]

I have a weakness for poetry, for listening to poetry, for reading poetry, for seeking it out. It’s true that poetry lends itself to easy parody but it also lends itself to truth.

A girl I used to work with kept a copy of Ginsberg’s Howl in her desk.   She would memorize small snippets from it, sort of like learning a Word of the Day, then see if she could fit these into daily conversation, or even meetings.  The process was very entertaining to watch, but more important to her was the feeling that she was doing something to infuse real life with true art.

Since Howl is a Beat poem written in contemporary American (kind of), unlike say a Elizabethan sonnet, it seemed like it would be relatively easy to slide a few lines in here and there, without drawing too much attention to the fact.  However, as it turned out, nothing could be further from the truth.

It is actually extremely difficult to find a good time or place to say the things that Ginsberg wrote, which you may recall includes such chestnuts as, “Fuck you America and your atomic bomb” and the entire first half of the poem for that matter.  Howl is a work that takes no prisoners. It is poetical Shock and Awe.

Not surprisingly Howl was actually banned from American bookshelves for a number of years.  I am sure its still banned in some places.  Ginsberg was an outdoor cat big time.  Like the biographies of many artists, his is nasty and uncomfortable to read.

Not to go off topic too much further, I did find a strange postcard a while back showing a class room full of uniformed US military cadets from the 1960’s, all reading from the Howl with  complete earnestness and absolutely no irony in their faces. Maybe a little boredom.  So Howl must have been available at least on a limited basis, and even sanctioned.  Though maybe only at participating PX stores.

Anyhoo. . . as I was saying, SCAA sponsors a poetry contest each year.  And I was hoping to reprint this year’s poem in the Slayer blog.  But I couldn’t find the poem.   If anyone reading this has access to the 2009 poem and could send it to me I would be grateful indeed, and I will post it for all to enjoy.

In the meantime, my search did uncover a winning submission from the 2007 SCAA contest written by Nicolas Butler which  I am posting below.
This poem may not be a “perfect” work.  However, it is purpose-written for us, all of us who work in specialty coffee.

I like Roaster Finds a Ring because it highlights some valuable connections between the coffee we enjoy and the people who live their lives at origin. How often do we consider the real experiences and feelings of the people seen in photos posing among the trees, holding a big basket of ripe cherries and smiling obsequiously for a touring photographer who happens to be paying his respects to the plantation, coop, or farm deep in the Third World?

Roaster Finds a Ring is a nice vignette that touches on this theme, making the poem provocative and powerful–a kinder, gentler Howl in its own special way.  Nice work Nicolas

Hope you enjoy it.
Eric Perkunder

in Seattle
Roaster Finds a Ring

by Nicolas Butler

In the steel drum spinning like a prayer-wheel

It tumbles like a stray stone – invisible amid the bounty of beans,

a pebble of hail inside a brown blizzard

A nothing-noise.

Until the beans spill into the patient pan

and the smoke dissipates like a magician’s diversion

and the roaster’s hand running through the beans as a five-fingered rake

finds the ring.

There are always surprises inside the burlap.

Mysteries hatched when the beans turn green to brown.

Bullet-casings from bygone wars and nails from burned-out villages

there are twigs and there are stones too.

Mementos from around the world

but now he holds some woman’s wedding ring.

There are crude hearts engraved in the hot silver

and a name once etched, now smoothed away by the invisible oil of her skin.

Her fingers sorting beans some world away

moving with the speed of a harpist

counting secret abacuses.
Enrique, Enrique, Enriqu, E ri u…

The ring goes to the roaster’s wife

who dangles it from a leather cord knotted at her pale throat,

the ring too small for even her delicate fingers.

The ring goes on making strange echoes in the roastery

that the roaster counts like sad prayers,

runaway lullabies whispered to lost lovers.


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