Friday, April 2, 2010

Salem Beer for National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month! To celebrate it, Capital Taps will have a few more installments of beer poetry. Some of it will be good, some of it bad!

In the years before Prohibition, the Salem Brewery Association advertised with acrostic poems, in which the first letter of each line spells out a word or phrase.

Here's one from May, 1911.
Sure to please the lovers of a wholesome beverage,
Always an invigorating, pure and delightful drink.
Lends strength to the weak and wearied physique,
Effects a soothing cure for the nervous ills of life,
Makes life more pleasant and cheers the heavy heart.
Brings good fellowship to all who partake in moderation,
Enlivens the spirit of the downcast and disheartened,
Endows existence with hopes and aspirations,
Restores man to fulness of strength and activity.

At this time several communities had invoked the "local option" to go dry, and some of the rhetoric around beer sought to differentiate it from other forms of beverage alcohol as more nourishing or wholesome. The language occasionally borrowed from medicine or medical texts. Here it draws especially on notions around neurasthenia, which was often linked to the incipient industrial capitalism of the gilded age. In Before Freud: Neurasthenia and the American medical community, 1870-1910, Francis George Gosling writes that
Physicians frequently used metaphors of "nervous bankruptcy" to explain the limitations of psychological strength: such figurative language...equated the disease with the spirit of American capitalism, which was thought to have contributed to its prevalence. In an address on neurasthenia in 1883, J.S. Greene...[said that] individuals who consistently "overdrew on their savings" risked nervous bankruptcy.
Commerce and nervousness danced a tense tango, and advertisers worked the seam between underscoring anxiety and promising solutions for it.

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