I’m working on some behind-the-scenes activities relating to the blog (& some other projects), so it’ll be a short post today. But, #nationalpoetrymonth continues, and there is still plenty food poetry to share!
Back in 2011, Special Collections collaborated on an amazing musical event: “Vegetable Verselets: A Vegetarian Song Cycle!” You can read about the book that inspired it, and a bit about the collaboration in a blog post from the time. Not long after that, I (your archivist/blogger Kira) had an opportunity to give a presentation about that collaboration, which also gave me motivation to scan some more pages from the book. Now seems a good day to share a few more of Margaret Hays’ vegetable poems.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you want to hear the musical performance itself, we just happen to have a copy of “Vegetable Verselets: A Vegetarian Song Cycle!” on our shelves. You’re welcome to visit us and have a listen!
I know that I said this week was going to be a post of poetry relating to invitations to dine and the act of eating. But, as it turns out, while there are many poems on those topics, there aren’t so many of them on our shelves. So, we have a little of that, and then a poetical food tangent…
“Inviting a Friend to Supper” by Ben Jonson
This comes from Poems of Ben Jonson, edited with an introduction by George Burke Johnston, 1955. This one is an extra special find, since Johnston, the editor, was on the faculty at VPI and signed this copy!
Then I came across a short poem, really only four lines, by Robert Burns. It wasn’t so much an invitation as is it declining an invitation (it’s the first of two pieces titled “To Mr. S**E”):
I added the second page, since it included another four lines to the same Mr. Syme about a gift of beer and another four lines which were a reply to an invite to a tavern. Burns, it seems, enjoyed using poetry to say “yes” or “no” to a good invitation.
At this point, while I had some leads, I couldn’t find matching volumes on our shelves for things like Sylvia Plath’s “Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper,” W. H. Auden’s “Tonight at 7:30,” or any of the occasional poems written by Oliver Wendell Holmes at dinner events. But I was still holding Robert Burns’ poetry in my hands and a glance at the table of contents reminded me of his “Scotch Drink,” an ode to, well, scotch whisky. And, like life in the world of archival research often goes, I found myself changing my focus to the food poems of Burns. So, while Jonson invited us to dine, Burns will supply the main course?
I should probably have saved “Scotch Drink” for next week, when I *plan* to talk about poetry about wine, beer, and spirits. (That shouldn’t be too hard to stay on topic!) But Burns had me hooked by now. Of course, I saved the best for last. Though I guess that should be qualified. “Best” may depend largely on your thoughts about haggis…Burns, of course, is firmly in it’s camp:
I couldn’t resist. It’s not often a dish that creates such mixed reactions in people gets such a lyrical, epic poem. Next week, we’ll have fewer lines about “gushing entrails bright” and a lot less dialect, but Burns does have a rather famous cocktail named after him, so this is some sort of segue. 🙂
Our National Poetry Month series continues next week, when we look at some poetry to the things that fill our glasses and make us say “cheers!”
April is National Poetry Month. I know, you’re probably asking why I’m even bringing that up a blog devoted to culinary history materials. The truth is, it might just surprise you how much poetry there is on the subject of food, eating, and everything that goes along with it. Or maybe you aren’t–after all, food is so much a part of our lives. And we have touched on this subject before, with specific, culinary-focused literary items. Whether you’re surprised or not, for a couple of posts this month, I thought we would look at some poetry from other publications in our collections that somehow involve food. (And not just because both of those things have a special place in my heart.)
When it comes to the topic of fruit, there are a lot of poems. Seriously, a LOT. While looking for a specific on by D. H. Lawrence, I found five other ones, each dedicated to a specific fruit. The pomegranate has a long history as a symbol and plays a part of many-a-poem (and story), so it seemed a good place to start.
from The Collected Poems of D. H. Lawrence, v.2, 1928.
Lawrence talks briefly about pomegranates growing on trees, which got me thinking about Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking.” Although it does describe apples, it also focuses on the act of acquiring them from their trees.
from Collected Poems of Robert Frost, c.1930
From pomegranates and apples, we’re switching to stone fruits for our final poems. Wallace Stevens’ “A Dish of Peaches in Russia,” peaches are repeatedly tied to images of places for the speaker.
from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, c.1954
Last up for this week is probably the most well-known of this group. These days, you’re likely to find it used on the Internet as a meme, but William Carlos Williams’ poem about plums has been iconic for a long time!
from The Collected Earlier Poems of William Carlos Williams, c.1951
In our next post, we’ll look at what do to once you have some food gathered (in other words, poetry about invitations to dine and the act of eating).
Although we don’t have a copy in our collection, my favorite poem laden with fruit imagery is Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” which part poem, part instructive lesson for young women in the Victorian era. It’s more than a little creepy as the poem continues, but the first part reads like a trip through the produce section! Did I miss your favorite “fruit” poem? Feel free to share in the comments!
If you missed the Special Collections Open House on September 3rd, don’t worry! You still have three more chances to visit us, see a selection of materials, talk with our staff, and even take a tour behind the scenes! Our next evening is scheduled for next Tuesday, October 1st, from 5-7pm. Come on by!
Last week’s almanac post got me thinking about serial culinary publications (aka food magazines). These days, they come in a variety of formats and with a wide range of emphases. Looking back at previous generations, you’ll see the same kind of variety, even in the same publication. While we don’t focus on collecting culinary magazines, per se, we do have some neat items on our shelves–i.e. What To Eat. What to Eat was Minneapolis based magazine from 1896-1908. (It later changed names and ran for a while as National Food Magazine). Sadly, we don’t have a complete run, but we have the issues from 1897.
The front covers all feature large color illustrations. Some relate to the time of year; others related to a particular item of interest within the issue. And they certainly are eye-catching. Even the table of contents for each issue features themed illustrations. Many other culinary publications at the time didn’t contain much color and those that did were often advertisements. Speakings of which…
Not only to the same ads appear again and again in each issue, but they address a VERY clear audience: middle-and upper-class ladies who can afford travel (EVERY issue includes train travel ads), servants, and a variety of food goods, and, in most cases, are also caring for a family in some way. But the meat (pun intended) of these publications is what’s between the advertisements: essays, poems, stories, nutrition advice, testimonials, letters to the editor and more!
Sample essay (and part of series) about what famous people eat, predicting the kinds of magazines in the grocery store lines today!
Sample letters to the editor. These range from responses to articles, sharing menus, and testimonials for the journal.
What to Eat even travels to the Continent to share stories of other cultures. And it has a little fun with itself, sharing directions for reading tea leaves.
Most issues have a centerfold with a poem, sometimes about a food item, meal time, or person connected to food in some way.
Other common elements include seasonal menus and recipes.
The left page is the last part of an essay on a brother and sister spending three months of the summer visiting and “keeping house” in New York City. On the right is a poem that begged to be shared!
Quite cleverly, What to Eat has a little something for everyone to read, enjoy, and entertain (including one certain archivist 116 years later!). Although we only have one year’s worth of issues in our holdings, it can offer some great insight in the American woman of 1897 and how she was targeted by publishers and advertisers. What to Eat doesn’t appear to have been scanned by anyone yet, so thinking about stopping by. And you never know, we might even have a volume out at our next Open House. 🙂
In early October, Special Collections acquired four particularly interesting additions to our History of the American Cocktail Collection–two Spanish and two German books relating to punch and cocktails. This week, the focus is on the latter, while I (archivist/blogger Kira) take a little time to brush up on my Spanish translation skills. The German I can manage with one hand wrapped around a glass…
The first of the two books is Das Kidronsquellchen und andere trinksame Ubungen from 1913. Part cocktail book and part book of poetry about punch and other drinks, this little volume falls into a comfortable space–we’d be hard pressed not to agree that alcohol and poetry have long intertwined history of inspiration and trouble-making. The second is Hegenbarth’s Bowlen, Punsch-, und Kaffee-Haus-Getränkebuch: eine Sammlung zeitgemässer Vorschriften zur Herstellung von kalten, warmen und sonstigen Mischgetränken: Mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der in- und ausländischen Kaffeehaus-Getränke der “american drinks”, sowie Äpfel und sonstiger Frucht Bowlen und Punsche [that’s something to the effect of “Hegenbarth’s Punch and Coffee-house Drink Book: a collection of contemporary recipes for making cold, warm, and other mixed drinks: with particular attention to native and foreign coffee-house drinks, as well as apple and other fruit punches” in English] from 1903.
A few notes on punches, cocktails, and our new German publications:
1. There are entire books written on the history of punch, cocktails, specific cocktails and ingredients, etc. (I should know, as I have an ever-expanding personal collection at home.) While the evolution of the cocktail could be debated for hours, it does have at least part of its origins in the history of punch. So, the fact that German books about alcoholic drinks start with punch, a drink that would have be known and consumed in Germany, isn’t surprising.
2. The Germans are so cool when it comes to punches, they have two words for it: Punsch (hot punch) and Bowle (cold punch).
3. Hegenbarth’s book (an in particular, its publication date) shows us that, while the major evolution of the cocktail started American during the early 19th century, word and recipes spread to Europe well before 1900. In addition to hot and cold punches and wine drinks, it has sections on American-born cocktails and cobblers, iced mixed drinks, and a few French drinks thrown into the mix.
4. Meyer’s “Feuerzangenbowle a la Alfred Richard Meyer” poem above refers to a type of red wine punch popularized in Germany. It’s made by soaking or pouring rum on loaf sugar held over the punch by “feuerzange” (fire tongs), setting the sugar on fire, and letting it melt into the punch bowl. (Feuerzangenbowle have made their way into German film, song, and print!)
The whole point, of course, it that the cocktail isn’t a purely American concept, nor is punch a purely British one. Like food recipes and food cultures, cocktails and mixed drinks evolved over continents and oceans and continue to do so. They inspire us to write and sing…perhaps dabble in a bit of mixology ourselves.
Stay tuned for a look at our new Spanish acquisitions…but until then, ponder the joy of Bowle and Punsche. Prost!
Next week, there’s something exciting happening here on the Virginia Tech campus–the premiere of “Vegetable Verselets: A Vegetarian Song Cycle!” Inspired by a book from our own Culinary History Collection, the Sunday April 29th concert event sets to music a series of poems about vegetables. Following the concert, Special Collections will open its doors and share some of the Culinary History Collection during a reception in the library.
To whet your whistle, in celebration of the concern, the collection, and National Poetry Month,we have two themed exhibits in our display cases here at Special Collections. One is all about vegetables; the other is highlights poetry about food from our Rare Book Collection. There are a few pictures below, but if you’re in the area, you’ll want to stop by!
More information, including ticket prices and location, is available online. We hope to see you there!
For more about how this collaboration came about, check out the spotlight here–it includes a video preview.