The Poets’ Birds: Flight

White-faced ibis (Plegadis chihi) ~ Brazoria County, Texas
(Click image for more detail)

Despite his prolific output and the award of a Nobel Prize in 1971, I’ve only recently come to appreciate the work of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Despite decades of acclaim for his poetry, publications in English represent only a small portion of his oeuvre, apparently due in part to the difficulties of translation;  I simply hadn’t come across them until I found them on the internet.

The details of Neruda’s life are fascinating. A committed Communist and political activist, he returned to Chile in 1953, following some years in exile. Eventually, he began producing less ideologically influenced love poetry, as well as nature poetry celebrating every aspect of the world in which we live.

 In their book Earth Tones: The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, Manuel Duran and Margery Safir note that Neruda began trying to speak to everyday people simply and clearly, on a level that anyone could understand.  In his examination of quite common, everyday things, they say, “Neruda gives us time to examine a particular plant, a stone, a flower, a bird, an aspect of modern life, at leisure. We look at the object, handle it, turn it around, all the sides are examined with love, care, attention. This is, in many ways, Neruda at his best.”

In his poem “Bird,” he offers his attention to their flight in a remarkable and wholly memorable way.

It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.
The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through which the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air –
and there, night came in.
When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography –
I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;
I saw it all from my green sky.
I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
which dances out of the pollen.

“Caía de un pájaro a otro
todo lo que el día trae,
iba de flauta en flauta el día,
iba vestido de verdura
con vuelos que abrían un túnel,
y por allí pasaba el viento
por donde las aves abrían
el aire compacto y azul:
por allí entraba la noche.
Cuando volví de tantos viajes
me quedé suspendido y verde
entre el sol y la geografía:
vi còmo trabajan las alas,
còmo se transmite el perfume
por un telégrafo emplumado
y desde arriba vi el camino,
los manantiales, las tejas,
los pescadores a pescar,
los pantalones de la espuma,
todo desde mi cielo verde.
No tenía más alfabeto
que el viaje de las golondrinas,
el agua pura y pequeñita
del pequeño pájero ardiendo
que baila saliendo del polen.”

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more biographical details of Neruda’s life and politics, the Wikipedia page is useful.
For a history of his development as a poet and critique of his work, see the entry at The Poetry Foundation website.

 

Turning Toward the Morning

“Hawkins on the Wentworth” ~ Bronze casting, Gordon Bok

Woodworker, carver, sailor, and musician Gordon Bok is an American treasure. When I find myself pondering the maelstrom of changes currently sweeping through our lives, I often return to his music as to a touchstone, grateful that, in an earlier time, the graciousness of a reader introduced me to his life and his seemingly unbounded creativity.

Al and I had been exchanging thoughts on music. In an emailed post-script to our discussion he added, “I can’t think of a better song than Gordon Bok’s “Turning Toward the Morning.Pointing me toward Albany, New York’s WAMC and their Saturday night broadcasts of the “Hudson River Sampler” he said, “I can almost guarantee you’ll hear something by Bok: if not this Saturday, then next Saturday, for sure. And something by Stan Rogers, as well. But you’ll also hear songs you’ve never heard before, and will want to hear again.”

He was right. Having been introduced to Bok and his fellow musicians, Ed Trickett and Ann Mayo Muir, I couldn’t help wanting to hear more from their rich repertoire. Drawn from an historic sea-faring culture, redolent of seaweed and salt, their net-hauling songs and ballads of the Maine coast evoke a world whose broad outlines would be recognizable even to Gulf coast shrimpers.  It’s a world that informs Bok’s original compositions, as well as his retelling of folk tales rooted in cultures from around the world.

Listening to his music, I’ve wondered at Bok’s pathway through life, and been touched by his simplicity and kindness. I’ve even laughed at certain similarities between us. “I didn’t understand what my father did because he worked in an office,” Bok once said. “There was nothing that came out of it that I could feel – you couldn’t put a coat of varnish on it.”

After much reading and listening, I still agree with my friend. Good songs continue to be written, and the great songs endure, but there’s no better song than Turning Toward the Morning. Like a small-boat day on the water, it’s easy and rhythmic, perfectly designed to soothe away preoccupations and care.

But “Turning Toward the Morning” is more than easy listening for an easy afternoon. It’s a poet’s way of stating an inviolable truth: that in the face of all that life imposes in the way of difficulties, chaos, and fear, life itself goes on. As Bok tells it, the song was born of personal experience:

“One of the things that provoked this song was a letter last November from a friend who’d had a very difficult year and was looking for the courage to keep on plowing into it. Those times, you lift your eyes unto the hills, as they say, but the hills of Northern New England in November can be about as much comfort as a cold crowbar.
You have to look ahead a bit then, and realize that all the hills and trees and flowers will still be there come Spring, usually more permanent than your troubles. And if your courage occasionally fails, that’s okay, too. Nobody expects you to be as strong as the land.”

In this time when political wrangling, deep division, fearfulness, lack of trust, and generalized crass nastiness increasingly characterize our society, Bok’s song affirms what faith proclaims and what hearts dare hope: that despite appearances, despite the coming darkness of our winter-shortened days, the world continues to turn. And always, no matter the depth of darkness, it is turning toward the morning.

When the deer has bedded down
and the bear has gone to ground
and the Northern goose has wandered off
to warmer bay and sound,
it’s so easy in the cold
to feel the darkness of the year
and the heart is growing lonely for the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy as they did so long ago.
And if I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.
Now, October’s growin’ thin
and November’s comin’ home,
you’ll be thinkin’ of the season
and the sad things that you’ve seen.
And you hear that old wind walkin’,
hear him singin’ high and thin,
you could swear he’s out there singin’ of his sorrow.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
If I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.
When the darkness falls around you
and the north wind comes to blow
and you hear him call your name out
as he walks the brittle snow.
That old wind don’t mean you trouble,
he don’t care or even know,
he’s just walking down the darkness toward the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
If I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.
It’s a pity we don’t know
what the little flowers know
they can’t face the cold November,
they can’t take the wind and snow.
They put their glories all behind them,
bow their heads and let it go,
but you know they’ll be there shining in the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swinging slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
And if I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.
O, my Joanie don’t you know
that the day is rollin’ slow
and the winter’s walkin’ easy, as it did so long ago,
and if that wind should come and ask you
“Why’s my Joanie weepin’ so?”
won’t you tell him that you’re weeping for the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
And if I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

I Hear That Train A-Comin’

I’ve never before posted a public service announcement, but that’s precisely what this is.  UP4014, the Union Pacific “Big Boy” locomotive that recently re-entered service in tandem with UP844, is back on the rails, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad’s completion with a last run through several states, called The Great Race Across the Southwest.

After a tour through the midwest, the engine returned to the Union Pacific Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming for maintenance. Currently located in Los Angeles, it will move on tomorrow to Beaumont, Indio, and Niland, California. For the next month and a half, it will make stops in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado before returning to Cheyenne at the end of November.

The complete schedule can be seen here. My own plans are to see it arrive in Hondo, Texas with friends, catch it on the move between Flatonia and Eagle Lake, and then make a stop at Houston’s Washington Avenue Station for an up-close-and-personal look at a bit of living history.

Many of you will have read my previous post about UP4014 and UP844 titled “Double-heading to Cheyenne.”  This fine video, showing a portion of the current tour, is only one of many produced by people who already have had the privilege of seeing the locomotive at work. I wish all of you could see it in person, but for those who live anywhere near the route, I suspect even the briefest glimpse will be worthwhile.

Comments always are welcome.
To follow the progress of UP4014 both graphically and by Twitter posts, please visit the convenient Union Pacific tracking page.

 

The Poets’ Birds: Dabblers

Whether Kenneth Grahame meant The Wind in the Willows to be for children or adults has been debated, but the timeless tale of animal friends and their adventures along the Thames, in the Wild Wood, or on the Open Road has enchanted readers since the book’s publication in 1908.

I missed meeting the main characters — Ratty, Mole, Badger, and Mr. Toad of Toad Hall — as a child, but once I began sailing, I discovered one quotation from the book appearing on nearly every boat: embroidered on salon pillows, hanging on bulkheads, incised over companionways, or silk-screened onto tee-shirts. Taken from the first chapter of the book, the saying’s appeal to sailors seemed universal:

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Eventually I read on, and found equally memorable passages to enjoy. After being introduced to the entertaining dabbling ducks at various refuge ponds — the mallards, northern shovelers, teals, and pintails that tip tail as they forage for food — the sight of their antics evoked one of the book’s most charming exchanges, between Ratty and Mole.

“Ratty,” said the Mole suddenly, one bright summer morning, “if you please, I want to ask you a favour.”
The Rat was sitting on the river bank, singing a little song. He had just composed it himself, so he was very taken up with it, and would not pay proper attention to Mole or anything else.
Since early morning he had been swimming in the river, in company with his friends the ducks. And when the ducks stood on their heads suddenly, as ducks will, he would dive down and tickle their necks, just under where their chins would be if ducks had chins, till they were forced to come to the surface again in a hurry, spluttering and angry and shaking their feathers at him, for it is impossible to say quite all you feel when your head is under water.
At last they implored him to go away and attend to his own affairs and leave them to mind theirs. So the Rat went away, and sat on the river bank in the sun, and made up a song about them, which he called “The Ducks’ Ditty”:
All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!
Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!
Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roaches swim–
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.
Everyone for what he likes!
We like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!
High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call–
We are down a-dabbling
Up tails all!
“I don’t know that I think so very much of that little song, Rat,'” observed the Mole cautiously. He was no poet himself and didn’t care who knew it, and he had a candid nature.
“Nor don’t the ducks neither,'” replied the Rat cheerfully. “They say, ‘Why can’t fellows be allowed to do what they like when they like and as they like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching them all the time and making remarks and poetry and things about them? What nonsense it all is!’ That’s what the ducks say.”

However ambivalent the ducks may be about Ratty’s little song, for those of us who enjoy dabbling in poetry — or anything else — the ducks’ ditty is both amusing and instructive: a worthy combination. I’m glad Grahame recorded it.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

 

Between Peaches and Peppermint

From the tenor of their conversation, it seemed the woman placing her order had been a customer of the meat market for some time: at least long enough for the clerk to ask, “Do you want seven chicken breasts, or have the kids gone back to school?” After a moment’s thought, the woman said, “One’s still at home, but she doesn’t like chicken. Two will be enough.”

“What about a roast?” the clerk asked. “Are you ready for a nice pork loin, or some chuck?” The woman sighed. “No. Not yet. I can’t bring myself to turn on the oven in this heat. Besides, roasts are for winter.”

At that point, I smiled in recognition. I don’t crave pot roast in summer any more than I long for a nice bowl of gazpacho when I’m trying to thaw out in January. Some dishes appeal throughout the year, but certain foods, whether from habit or preference, remain confined to one season.

As I pondered my own list of seasonal foods, it occurred to me that ice cream manufacturers are in a tricky spot. It would be easy to associate ice cream only with warm weather: a refreshing treat for days when the temperatures soar. For decades, family afternoons spent churning homemade ice cream took place in the summer, as did traditional ice cream socials. To break the connection between ice cream and summer — and to make a profit even in the depths of winter — companies had to find new ways to attract customers.

One of the most effective methods has been the establishment of seasonal flavors, and Texas’s beloved Bluebell Creamery has mastered the technique. Aficionados of the brand have learned the ice cream calendar by heart: peppermint in December and January, Mardi Gras in March, homemade vanilla with peaches or strawberries in early summer, and Southern blackberry cobbler as August turns to September.

Fall deserves it’s own flavor, of course, and spiced pumpkin pecan is sheer perfection. When it appears on store shelves, in the weeks between summer’s peaches and holiday peppermint, everyone knows that falling leaves, crisp air, and pot roast can’t be far away. While we wait, we enjoy: waxing poetic over the virtues of a traditional and quite tasty treat.

 

  So
  little
  is needed.
A dish. A spoon.
  Even the carton
  will do in a pinch if
  no one is watching, no one
  complaining, no one advising
sweet moderation when offered the
chance to keep scooping and scooping away.

 

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more information on the Etheree, a syllabic poem that, in its basic form, contains ten lines and a total of fifty-five syllables, please click here .

 

 

A Certain Slant of Light

Morning on Alazan Bayou ~ Nacogdoches County, Texas

Hopes for a perfect autumn respite — color-filled days, cooler nights, woodsmoke scented air – had washed away before a flood of interminable, days-long rains. While sodden squirrels sheltered and sulked, nightbirds huddled among the dripping oaks, hickories, and pines of the east Texas forest: invisible, unwilling to take flight. Only occasional hints of frog-song rippled across the silence: soft, hesitant trills that sluiced into consciousness as gently as the shush of footsteps along the sandy trails.

Resigned as much to the rain as to the next day’s unavoidable departure, I retired early, falling asleep to the insistent patter of raindrops. Awakened before dawn by unexpected birdsong, I made coffee, then stepped outside to gauge the weather. Improbably, the rain had stopped. Bits of blue shimmered above the treetops, and what darkness remained served only as a foil for the shafts of sunlight piercing the green canopy.

Even the most casual skywatcher has seen the sort of rays that greeted me that morning. The word used to describe them — ‘crepuscular’ — refers to twilight, and crepuscular rays occur primarily during sunrise or sunset twilight. When they appear, streaks of light seem to radiate directly from the sun, shining through breaks in the clouds or past objects arrayed along an irregular horizon, such as mountain tops.

While the shadowed areas between the rays are formed by obstructions,  the light itself is scattered by airborne dust, water droplets, or even air molecules, providing a visible contrast between shadowed and illuminated parts of the sky.

On this particular morning, days of rain had led to significant ground fog, heavy enough to scatter the light into particularly vivid and well-defined rays. As I watched, the initially monochromatic, almost white, rays began taking on color.

Despite the color, the phenomenon clearly wasn’t a rainbow. Seeing the images, sky-savvy friends suggested the possibility of a double effect: crepuscular rays combined with a corona.

Coronae, produced by the diffraction of light, often appear when thin clouds partially obscure the sun or the moon, but tiny droplets of fog or mist can produce the effect under other conditions. Sometimes, the droplets need not be transparent or even spherical; small ice crystals, pollen grains, and large dust particles also can lead to the formation of coronae.

In a corona, the intensely bright central aureole almost always is white, surrounded by a fringe of yellows and reds. Occasionally, one or more successively fainter, more softly-colored rings will surround the aureole, ranging from blue on the inside through greens and yellows to the outermost red.

With the colors more subtly mixed than in a rainbow, blues and greens can be especially hard to see, but in this photo, at least a hint of them seems to exist just below the sun.

While physicists speak of diffraction and droplets, English-language poets have attempted to describe these experiences of sunlight in quite different terms. More than a few, confounded by the inadequacy of language, have invented their own words.

In the poem “Fern Hill,” Dylan Thomas turned to ‘windfall light’ as his image of choice: a phrase that evokes apple-green light tumbling to the ground.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, who can pile up adjectives with the best of them, turned to the thirteenth-century word shivemeaning a thin piece sliced off from a larger —  to create shivelight for  his poem, “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire…”:

Wherever an elm arches,
shivelights and shadowtackle in long ‘lashes lace, lance, and pair.

C.S. Lewis regularly turned to the sun as a metaphor in his work. When such familiar comparisons as “shafts of delicious sunlight” didn’t seem adequate, he turned to “Godlight,” as in his Letters to Malcolm:

Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are patches of Godlight in the woods of our experience.

Despite the best efforts of the poets, none of these words has caught on, perhaps because they seem to describe the light without expressing the aesthetic pleasure that accompanies watching light playing among the trees.

One word that does seem to combine aesthetics with the experience of nature is the nearly untranslatable Japanese word komorebi.

Komorebi (木漏れ日) consists of three kanji and the hiragana particle れ. The kanji 木 means ‘tree’ or ‘trees‘;  漏 refers to ‘leaking through’ or ‘escape’; 日, is ‘light‘ or ‘sun‘. Because no simple English translation exists, phrases such as ‘sunshine filtering through leaves’ or ‘dappled light’ sometimes are used, although ‘the interplay between light and leaves when sunlight shines through trees’ seems especially apt.

Komorebi can refer to an assortment of phenomena: not only crepuscular rays and coronae but also the larger patches of shimmering, movable light produced when sunlight meets fog and rain. The Irish poet Caitríona O’Reilly captures the magic beautifully in her poem, “Komorebi”:

Between the world and the word
are three small shapes,
the signs for ‘‘tree,’’ ‘‘escape,’’ and ‘‘sun.’’
I watch how the light leaks through them,
casting a shade in both directions
in the late year, on the russet path
barred with the shadows of trees.
I love how it exults, like any escapee,
on the lake in slow reflective waves,
in radiant bands ascending the birch trunks
according to some unknown frequency,
and in the cormorant extending his wet wings to it
in a messianic gesture,
as if dazzled to absolute
by the word and the world’s beauty.  

Scientists seek precision; poets seek metaphor. Meanwhile, komorebi drifts through the woodlands and down the streams, always beyond our grasp. Perhaps no English equivalent for the kanji is needed. Sometimes, an encounter with escaped sunlight filtering through leaves is quite enough.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more information about poet Caitríona O’Reilly, please click here.

Updating a Classic

When it comes to American icons, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. I love the Statue of Liberty, the Corn Palace, bluegrass, and blue jeans. I love cheeseburgers, in Paradise or otherwise, and I’ve always appreciated Norman Rockwell’s illustrations: particularly his portrayal of Rosie the Riveter.

When Rosie appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, my parents were living in the Quad Cities. Dad worked at John Deere; my mother spent her days helping the war effort by riveting aircraft. She enjoyed the work, trusted her partner, and regaled us for years with her stories of Hellcats, nose cones, and turrets.

When she was feeling especially nostalgic, she’d pull out her recording of “Rosie the Riveter,” a song composed by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and released in 1943 by Paramount Music Corporation of New York.

Even after my parents moved back to Iowa, Mom kept a cherished copy of Rockwell’s Post cover in her cedar chest, and a torn-out image of his Rosie tucked between some books in the den. When Hillary Clinton adapted the better-known “We can Do It” poster for her Presidential campaign, Mom wasn’t happy. “That’s not right, for them to call her Rosie,” she’d say. “That’s not the real Rosie. I’ve got Rosie’s picture in my closet.”

As it happened, Mom was both wrong and right. The “We Can Do It!” poster, produced a year earlier than Rockwell’s cover, did become the most iconic of the Rosie images. On the other hand, as Westinghouse historian Ed Reis noted in 2003:

For the past 60 years, the popular image of the World War II-era female worker in the “We Can Do It” poster has evoked strength and empowerment. The American public identified the image as “Rosie the Riveter,” named for the women who were popping rivets on the West Coast, making bombers and fighters for aeronautical companies like Boeing.
But history tells a different story. In 1942, the Westinghouse Corporation, in conjunction with the War Production Coordinating Committee, commissioned J. Howard Miller, a Pittsburgh artist, to create a series of posters for the war effort. He based his “We Can Do It!” poster on a United Press photograph taken of Michigan factory worker Geraldine Hoff Doyle.
It was to be displayed for only two weeks in Westinghouse factories in the Midwest where women were making helmet liners. They made 13 million plastic helmet liners out of a material called Mycarta, the predecessor to Formica (which means “formerly Mycarta”). So, more aptly named, this woman is Molly the Mycarta Molder, or Helen the Helmet Liner Maker.

Historical complexities aside, Rockwell’s Rosie — modeled after Mary Doyle Keefe of Arlington, Vermont — always has been my favorite. Today, I admire her air of insoucience, her obvious competence and strength. As a child, astonished by her brilliant red hair, I envied her freedom to roll up her sleeves and eat with a dirty face, and I hardly could believe that no one made her cut the sandwich she was clutching into lady-like halves.

In my child’s mind, that sandwich became our point of connection. Accustomed to grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly, one of my greatest treats was a “Spamwich” — SPAM® sliced thin and fried crisp, served on white bread with a little mayo. I couldn’t imagine anyone refusing a Spamwich, and and I imagined that Rosie would have preferred a Spamwich, too, even though the role of SPAM® in World War II left many veterans distinctly ambivalent about the product, and I don’t remember anyone saying, “Hey! C’mon over and we’ll fry up some SPAM®!”

Over the years, SPAM® became a bit of a joke — shorthand for all that was low-brow, low-cost, and low-quality. Thanks to its extended shelf life, it continued to be tucked into hurricane supplies, stowed in the galleys of cruising boats, or stacked on the shelves of deer lease cabins, but it rarely was eaten. For all practical purposes, SPAM® disappeared from my life.

Then, I traveled to Minnesota.


In Minnesota, food and folklore mesh. The Jolly Green Giant lives in Blue Earth, a community surrounded by rich farmland and canneries devoted to beans, corn, and peas that bear the Giant’s likeness on their labels.

Just up the road in Bemidji, the Great Blue Ox named Babe still is hanging out with his friend, Paul Bunyan. I first met the pair when I was about ten years old and barely came up to Paul’s knee. The next morning, when I begged my parents to let me order the “Lumberjack Breakfast” at a local diner, a knowing waitress suggested one breakfast might do for us all. It did, although I suspect she added some extra bacon.

After a hearty breakfast, there’s no reason for today’s travelers not to head over to Austin, Minnesota and visit the SPAM® Museum. As their website puts it,

“Few experiences in life are as meaningful and meaty-filled as those you’ll have at the magnificent SPAM® Museum. Referred to by meat historians as The Guggenham, Porkopolis, or M.O.M.A. (Museum Of Meat-Themed Awesomeness), the SPAM® Museum is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of spiced pork artifacts.”

“Spiced pork artifacts” may be one of the most terrifying phrases in the English language, but they have a lovely building, and a nice sculpture out front pays tribute to those who gave their lives for the sake of potted meat.

Inside the museum, galleries of early photographs show the earliest days of the George Hormel “Provision Market.” Hormel entered the business world as a traveling wool and hide buyer. Eggs, wool, poultry, and hides helped to keep his company in business while their trade in meat products was being developed.

As the business grew, product lines expanded and the Hormel name was imprinted on far more than slabs of bacon and salt-cured hams.

Technological advances meant that new forms of processing and packaging soon were being sold along with the food itself.

As the business continued to grow, advertising campaigns became more sophisticated; Hormel was one of the first to seek out celebrities willing to endorse their products.

Over the years, SPAM® permeated Minnesota culture so deeply that even traditional handcrafts were adapted to help promote the product. What could be better than a quilt or wall hanging to remind you of the virtues of SPAM®?

After roaming the museum for an hour, I found myself wishing there had been a little café devoted to all things SPAM®. A sliced and fried spamwich is fine as far as it goes, but what about Chicken-fried SPAM®? SPAM® Flautas? Scalloped SPAM®? or the mysterious but strangely appealing SPAM®-alama-Ding-Dongs?

All these dishes and more were served at SPAMARAMA, a years-long tradition in Austin, Texas. Even The Smithsonian loved SPAMARAMA, sending videographers to catch the action for their series, America: Wild and Wacky.

After a twelve-year hiatus, SPAMARAMA returned to Austin last month as news swirled about the introduction of a new version of the canned meat: Pumpkin Spice SPAM®. Once publicized by Hormel as a joke, it’s no joke today; the product will be introduced on September 23 and, if the rumors are true, the advertising slogan will be, “Pumpkin Spice: If it’s good enough for STARBUCKS®, it’s good enough for SPAM®.”

Since my visit to the Museum, I haven’t begun serving up SPAM® on a regular basis. Still, since 1937 this quintessentially American food has continued to feed soldiers and kids, college students, cruisers and struggling families. I still keep it in my hurricane supplies, and one of these nights I might just fry up some slices, nice and crisp. I’ll use whatever bread I have, and add a dollop of mayo. In honor of Rosie, I might even forego slicing my spamwich in half.

I’m still not sure whether I’ll try Pumpkin Spice SPAM®, but I might. The company’s already given us jalapeno, garlic, chorizo, turkey, teriyaki, and Portuguese sausage varieties; this latest update might be as good as the classic.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For those who don’t know how SPAM® became ‘spam’, the bane of internet users, this video from Business Insider will help. In 1998, the New Oxford Dictionary of English, which previously defined “spam” only in relation to the trademarked food product, added a second definition to its entry for ‘spam’:  “Irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the internet to a large number of newsgroups or users.”