“A Carpapalooza: An American Anthem”

In celebration of American Archives Month, the National Archives is teaming up with the Academy of American Poets. Throughout the month we’ll be publishing original poems inspired by the holdings of the National Archives. To view the poets performing their original works, visit the National Archives YouTube Channel. 

Poster, "Eat the Carp!" 1911. (National Archives Identifier 5710027)

Poster, “Eat the Carp!”
1911. (National Archives Identifier 5710027)

Today’s poem, “A Carpapalooza: An American Anthem” by Regie Cabico, was inspired by documents from the National Archives exhibit “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam.”

The exhibit is currently traveling, and you can still see highlights online.

Using original documents from the nationwide holdings of the National Archives, the exhibit explored the Government’s efforts to inspire, influence, and control what Americans eat and the unexpected consequences, dismal failures, and life-saving successes of those efforts.

For example, this 1911 Bureau of Fisheries poster encouraged Americans to eat carp—a fish that was introduced to American waters in 1877 and quickly proliferated.

Documents like these trace the origins of government programs and legislation aimed at ensuring that the American food supply is ample, safe, and nutritious. They also reflect the effects the Government has had on our food choices and preferences.

Sometimes comic and sometimes tragic, the records reveal the evolution of our beliefs and feelings about food.

A Carpapalooza: An American Anthem (Excerpt)

by Regie Cabico

I can write about colonialism,
Disney, riots and inoculations.
Centuries of American history

before me: Pocahontas’ bust,
Rosa Parks arrest records,
Elvis Presley meeting Nixon,

but with an hour to go before
recording a poem, i am
in the Starbucks struggling

with the most profound piece
of literature in the archives.
Eat The Carp. The Bureau

of Fisheries urges Americans
to Eat The Carp. This resilient
variety of fish that lolled

the tea gardens of Japan &
became the staple for gefilte
to Jews is 43 million pounds

strong at the turn of the dawn
of the 20th century. We were
to eat carp croquettes,

jelly and caviar. Before there were
Mcnuggets, there was the Carp.
These oversized gold fish

that multiplied from Carolina
to California with the force
of horseless carriages pounding

through our streams. I was going
to write haikus to the Carp.
Neruda like odes to the Carp.

Howl Allen Ginsberg style
to the Carp. Create a Jackson
Pollock Splatter of concrete

poetry all over our marbled
Capital City to the Carp. I even
wanted to write a Filipino riddle

to the Carp with lemon grass
and soy sauce. Ultimately,
this poem was supposed to be

a carpe diem poem to the carp,
to live and roam the continent free
as the carp. So seize the carp, roast the carp,
till the carp fisheries are lit in flames
becoming us into a new dawn
Oh Lord, give me carp, the power
to go on and pay my student loans
and find a boyfriend on ok cupid.
Give me carp crispy-fried in Crisco
Roasted and well done. Oh Lord
serve me a sweltering sausage of carp,
with sriracha and mustard
on a whole wheat bun

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