Last week, we were out at the Iowa River Landing (IRL) and saw a giant chicken. It’s actually a metal sculpture entitled Iowa Blue: The Urbane Chicken, 2013, one of 11 such works (all installed in 2013) of art making up the Iowa River Landing Sculpture Walk, located in the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.
All of them are linked to literary works by authors associated with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. The artist is Amber O’Harrow’s and her statement about the chicken is:
“I have created a sculpture of the noble chicken, as described in the poem by David B. Axelrod. The Iowa Blue Chicken is the only breed of chicken that was created in the state of Iowa and bred to survive Iowa’s harsh winters and its hot summers.”
The literary reference is to David B. Axelrod’s poem, The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken.
The chicken is made from cast aluminum and is taller than I am.
This set me off on an internet journey to find out more about the Iowa Blue chicken breed and Axelrod’s poem. It took a while, because there’s a lot to know.
If you’re a poultry enthusiast and an Iowan, then you know the story about the Iowa Blue Chicken Club (IBCC), not to be confused with the sandwich of the same name which doesn’t yet exist but should. The IBCC is an organization dedicated to making sure that the public at large realizes that the sculpture’s name is Betsy and that there is a big effort to get the breed recognized officially by the American Poultry Association (APA). So far, the APA has deferred, but the IBCC is not giving up.
The story of the origin of the Iowa Blue is somewhat apocryphal in that the breed was said to arise from the union of a White Leghorn (or Red depending on what you’ve been drinking) and a pheasant, which serves to explain the chestnut to striped colors of the feathers and certain behaviors of the chicks, which includes antics like crouching, fast fleeing, and something called “popping” which apparently means a kind of hopping which resembles popcorn popping. I gather this is typical for pheasant chicks.
Iowa Blue roosters will fight hawks, even slapping them with their wings and crowing challenges like “Have some of that!” or “You got something on your face, dude!” They’ll fight just about any critter: opossums, raccoons, snakes, rats, cats, congressmen.
Iowa Blue chickens are bred to thrive in Iowa’s harsh winters and oppressive summers. When the barnyard gets snowed in, they just grab little ergonomic shovels and scoop their way out—they just flip the bird at snow blowers.
Visit the IBCC web site to see photos of these beautiful birds.
Turning to Axelrod’s poem, The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken, the web search got a little complicated. For the longest time, I couldn’t find it. All I wanted to do was read it. Heck, you can look up Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken in half a second at the Poetry Foundation web site.
I finally stumbled on it at a web site (the poetrydoctor) the owner of which I eventually found out was Axelrod himself! I found the chicken poem but the title was The Man Who Fell in Love with His Chicken. Now, I realize that even he says there are typos in the extremely long list of his works which you cannot search by the way, even though the author says there is a search box. The book of his poetry of the same name is 16 pages long and the title is The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken, which you can order through Amazon.
Interestingly, one publisher, Cross-Cultural Communications, says the book is “humorous poetry playing on poultry puns.”
This makes me wonder about O’Harrow’s description above including the phrase “…the noble chicken as described in the poem by David B. Axelrod.”
I can’t copy the poem here because that would be copyright violation (despite Axelrod’s making it available on his website—I guess he can do anything he wants with his own work). On the other hand, I think I can say that the poem does, in fact, contain several chicken puns and the man eventually does something to the chicken which is something less than noble and could involve lettuce, tomato, and possibly secret sauce.
The poem is dedicated to someone named Russell Edson, who I learned was called the “grandfather of the prose poem in America.” Edson wrote a few whimsical poems which could have been very much like Axelrod’s poem about the love affair with a chicken. One of them, Let Us Consider, was about a “farmer who makes his straw hat his sweetheart” and “an old woman who makes a floor lamp her son.” See the entry about him at the web site Poetry Foundation—where Axelrod entries can’t be found.
Well, that was my journey through the web about the Iowa Blue chicken sculpture. I’m next to clueless about chickens, unless their roasted, barbecued, fried, or what have you and I’m a terrible poet, as you can see from my video, Pseudobulbar Affect Top Ten—which somehow gets more views than almost anything else on my YouTube Channel.