January 26, 2007

Poetry Friday: Burma-Shave

Not much time for Poetry Friday this week either but I've decided that if I choose something short and sweet, I can swing it. And so......

The Poetry of Burma-Shave:

Shaving brushes
You'll soon see 'em
Way down east
In some

To kiss
A mug
That's like a cactus
Takes more nerve
Than it does practice

We've sold
Six million others
We still can't sell
Those coughdrop

Prickly pears
Are picked
For pickles
No peach picks
A face that prickles

If you
Don't know
Whose signs
These are
You can't have
Driven very far.

This is not
A clever verse
I tried
And tried
But just
Got worse

For Benjamin Franklin types:
Early to bed
Early to rise
Was meant for those
Old fashioned guys
Who don't use

For Shakespeare types:
Said Juliet
To Romeo
If you
Won't shave
Go homeo

Some patriotic entries:
Hinky dinky
Parley voo
Cheer up face
The war
Is thru
Burma-Shave (1930)

Let's make Hitler
And Hirohito
Look as sick as
Old Benito
Buy defense bonds
Burma-Shave (1942)

Maybe you can't
Shoulder a gun
But you can shoulder
The cost of one
Buy defense bonds
Burma-Shave (1942)

More than a few warnings against drinking and driving:
If every sip
Fills you
With zip
Then your sipper
Needs a zipper

Sleep in a chair
Nothing to lose
But a nap
At the wheel
Is a permanent snooze

Don't lose
Your head
To gain a minute
You need your head
Your brains are in it

To car
Gates ajar

A girl
Should hold on
To her youth
But not
When he's driving

From Burma-Shave historian Frank Rowsome (see below), an unofficial entry, c1965:
Farewell, O verse
Along the road
How sad to
Know you're
Out of mode

And an appropriate way to end this, from the 1949 advertising campaign:
Just this once
And just for fun
We'll let you
What we've begun
? ? ?


For you youngsters, Burma-Shave was, at the time of its 1925 introduction, a newfangled brushless shaving cream developed by Clinton Odell's Burma-Vita Company. It was promoted with humorous verses on newfangled billboards, in staggered sequence, along newfangled highways for newfangled automobiles . But while the ad campaign was one of America's most memorable, and the company at one point the second most popular manufacturer of shaving cream, by the 1960s faster speeds on four-lane interstate highways did in the jingles and then, the company, which was sold to Phillip Morris in 1963, and then became an operating division of a subsidiary, American Safety Razor Products. Which for some reason now sells under the Burma-Shave label a soap-and-brush set. And this is progress? But I digress.

I found my rhymes in an old copy of Frank Rowsome, Jr.*'s The Verse by the Side of the Road: The Story of the Burma-Shave Signs and Jingles, still in print, hurray, hurray; You can buy the book or find all of the jingles online at this website, where you can even register for the jingle of the day. For more on the life and times of Burma-Shave, here are links to an NPR story (don't miss the picture of penguins in Antarctica perusing the signs), and another book, Burma-Shave: The Rhymes, the Signs, the Times by Bill Vossler.

Now if I could just figure out how to put a nickel in my computer and get out a piece of pie...

*The versatile Mr. Rowsome was Managing Editor of Popular Science Monthly, head of the Technical Publications section at NASA, and also wrote Trolley Car Treasury, They Laughed When I Sat Down: An Informal History of Advertising in Words and Pictures, and Think Small: The Story of Those Volkswagen Ads.


Susan at Chicken Spaghetti has today's Poetry Friday round-up. Thanks, Susan!

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