Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Hooverized Xmas Greetings from the Poetry & Popular Culture Office

A year ago, the Poetry & Popular Culture Office took a look at the fine-art Christmas cards that Robert Frost and master printer Joseph Blumenthal made for friends and patrons for nearly thirty years from 1935 to 1962. Those cards are now the subject of an exhibition running from December 2-January 16 at Poets House library and literary center in New York. We wish we could be on hand to help celebrate.

Since we can't be there, we're going to offer a subject for next year's holiday exhibition at Poets House: the Hooverized Christmas card (pictured above). Printed on unrefined card stock and bound with a piece of twine, this 1918 product of New Jersey's Campbell Art Company satirizes Herbert Hoover not for anything Depression-related (that was still to come), but for Hoover's actions as Woodrow Wilson's head of the U.S. Food Administration during World War One. Believing that "food will win the war," Hoover led all sorts of efforts to curtail American food consumption and organized shipments of food to starving portions of Europe—acts that made him respected and even beloved around the world and that paved the way for his 58% to 40% shellacking of Al Smith in the 1928 Presidential election. (For more on the poetry of World War One food rationing, check out Chapter 4 of Mark W. Van Wienen's Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War.)

The rhyme on the Campbell Art Company's card (pictured to the left) is clever and timely, printed in the same red ink as the cover. In these lines, Hoover's plea to be economical finds expression not only in a scaled-back lifestyle but in the abbreviated language of the poem itself: the "+" instead of "and" used in line one, the "X" instead of "Christ" in "Xmas," the use of M.C. and H.N.Y., etc.:

I've Hooverized on Pork + Beans
And Butter cake and Bread
I've cut out Auto-riding
And now I walk instead.
I've Hooverized on Sugar,
On Coal and Light and Lard
And here's my Xmas Greeting
On a Hoover Xmas Card

I wish you a very
M.C. and a H.N.Y.

Ultimately, though, what's so funny about this card is its actual excess, which is perhaps a particularly American way of expressing anger at having to ration or cut back. Not only does the card use eight lines of poetry to explain the actual two-line holiday greeting, but its twine "binding" is entirely gratuitous, as the card—simply a piece of cardboard folded in half—has no immediate use for it. The Campbell Art Company doesn't stop there, however, but amplifies the joke by captioning the binding "Camouflaged Ribbon"—a Saussurian move that resonates with the red bird that is captioned "Bluebird" here and that also seems to anticipate Rene Magritte's famous pipe (The Treachery of Images) which wouldn't not be for another ten years.

With that said, then, H.H. from the entire P&PC Office, and B.W. for a H.N.Y.

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Can Santa Claus Make a Profit?

—Appeared in the Salem Statesman-Journal on December 21, 2009, the Tallahassee Democrat on December 24, 2009, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen on December 25, 2009

Early on in his career
he asked that question too—
hooked Rudolph up to a circuit board
until the red nose blew,

packaged reindeer meat for sale
and billed it as organic,
and had the elves work every day
in a constant state of panic.

He brought in scabs to break the unions
and raised insurance fees.
He said there needed to be more jobs
then sent them overseas.

Then he looked at himself in the mirror.
He was old and fat.
Making a profit had turned him grey
and the reindeer called him "Rat!"

During the stroke he saw the light
and vowed to take up giving.
He doesn't make a profit now.
Instead, he makes a living.