Some price tags over-reach the substance of what they’re affixed to.  I rather feel that way about both Hennessy VS and Frederick Seidel.

I held off purchasing what I’d consider an expensive brandy until I’d sampled a reasonable variety of entry-level products. Expensive brandy…excuse me, Cognac!….seemed like something of an aspiration purchase.  I wanted to work up to it so that I’d appreciate it.  Hennessy VS carries a price tag approximately twice that of other brandies I’ve sampled.  Setting aside my own blending of commercial products, I that includes six brandies from 5 countries.  I was ready to be impressed.

But I wasn’t.

The Hennessy VS website states:

The world’s most popular Cognac, Hennessy V.S is the modern-day equivalent of the original Hennessy 3-Star. It is an expression of expertise and consistency, centuries in the making.

On the website they also talk about heritage, legacy and even a Hennessy Academy, within which you may track your rise.  Wow.  That’s an interesting bit of fetishization going on there!

Here’s what Cognac Expert Blog says about Hennessy VS:

 if you want to have cognac neat, and like it smooth, you might want to pick a different cognac bottle.

Agreed.  I didn’t find this stuff smooth. Sure, it is smoother than the Dujardin or St. Remy, I tried.  But not twice as smooth.  The blog goes on to indicate that this cognac is more of a mix, that it is “sharp” and that much of what is being paid for is the brand heritage.

Damn.  I wanted some good tasting brandy, not a vapour-thin brand association!

I might liken all of this to comparing a Suzuki SV,  a Ducati Monster and a Ducati 916.  Which brings me to Frederick Seidel.  Also over-priced in his own way.

Like the Hennessy VS, Seidel is a bit sharp. A bit harsh.  Probably better mixed.  There’s lots of heritage and history behind the product and so there is also some craftsmanship in the development. For example, Seidel offered editorial comments to Ezra Pound.  And they were accepted.

I really wanted to like reading Seidel.  I’d come across him via The Bughouse by Daniel Swift.  Seidel seemed to offer several interesting options, not least a passion for motorcycles.  But Seidel’s passion for motorcycles and great (shall we be pompous and use the word “bespoke“!) clothing are the results of the inherited wealth rather than aspirational pursuits.  They are received, not achieved.

Doing an internet search of Seidel, I found this quote attributed to him “Write beautifully  what people don’t want to hear.”  Seidel achieves this occasionally.  Not frequently.  I read the collection 1959-2009 which, I presume, collects all of his most essential writing.  Of the 528 pages, a hundred or so are tolerable (without being repetitive; add in the repetitive bits and it swells to about two hundred), and a handful of poems are admirable.

Seidel’s poetry is worth sampling, but not worth studying.  His poetry is a reasonable portion of poetic education – he really can’t be faulted for his technical abilities.  Seidel is able to take sharp metaphorical turns.  Perhaps it is a proclivity he learned from his favoured Ducati 916.  He is also able to generate some very effective images.  Like Hennessy VS, he’s obviously a very comfortable jet-setter. New York. Paris. Tokyo.  The world is at the disposal of those with heritage, isn’t it?

Addressing the notion that writing prettily what others “don’t want to hear it” is a poetic ideal: I disagree. That is not an ideal, it is a perversion of motivation. Being offensive is not, of itself, a valid poetic or aesthetic objective. It can only take second place to some other prime mover.  A number of options come to mind. Perhaps Seidel never came up with one.

To take something worthwhile away from Seidel’s poetry, consider White Butterflies, The Final Hour, some of the Cosmos Trilogy Poems or much of the Going Fast collection.  There is nothing I really care to repeat here.

Yeah, I tried Seidel’s poetry and the Hennessy VS.  Drank the whole bottle.  And probably won’t need to try it again.