The Struggle for Pork in Real Canadian Poetry:
the Example of Mrs. Buchanan*

by Starling Mattresss


As I have stated correctly elsewhere in my just struggle for a real expression of true consciousness in the proper terms of our people’s social being, almost all Canadian poets have been conditioned by the swine in power to express ideas that champion the predator class in this country in order to serve the interests of a foreign hegemony situated in an anarchistic imperial power that has major territorial proximity to Canada. Those poets which endeavour to create a true consciousness of the class struggle by shifting the mirror of poetic investigation to the shores of our unique roots have always been savagely suppressed by the comprador interests dedicated to colonial rule and individualist fragmentation. An obvious and undeniable example is the suppression of the heroic verse drama written by members of the Arnprior chapter of the Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria Society in the mid-seventies. In a very real sense the exploiting class, in the persons of the editors of every newspaper and magazine in Ontario and eventually the other provinces, suppressed this example of real independent Canadian literature by closing ranks and refusing to publish it in their pages, those pages habitually covered with the false consciousness perpetrated by the imperialist elite whose rulers are safely ensconced in the cockpit of the U.S. stock exchange.
     Meanwhile, hundreds of poems and plays are produced in Canada by the unwitting or fawning pawns of foreign editors and writers and critics who are employed by the U.S. State department to infiltrate our culture and plant the seeds of anarchism, driving out our necessary drama of unique history.
     We must, however, be aware of our literature, flawed as it might be, because our literature is the absolute expression of our consciousness as a people. In such U.S. beachheads as Vancouver, B.C., the majority of citizens travel to work with the anarchistic individualist verses of U.S. poets running through their heads. In fact the city of Vancouver is occupied by U.S. poets and recent “immigrants” who go from house to house instructing Vancouverites in the imperialist expansionist rhetoric of U.S. poetry. In a very real sense the battleground is the streets of Vancouver and the other Canadian cities threatened by the lyrical falange of U.S. foreign policy. We must bring the struggle to the streets of cities such as Vancouver. Before we can bring the agents of U.S. poetry to the people’s courts where they belong, we must bring the poetry of birthright Canadians to the people of our metropolises and rural enclaves. Flawed as are the verses of Mrs. Walter Buchanan, for instance, we must see to it that Vancouverites, Haligonians and Thunderbayers hear poems such as Piggy passing through their heads as they travel to work, be it menial or intellectual.
     But a consciousness of our unique cultural production does not preclude a necessary sociological and class-conscious critical analysis of the writings that our cultural workers have left to us. For as I have correctly stated elsewhere, to understand our poetry is to understand the ruling ideology of the time in which it found expression. Mrs. Walter Buchanan, like every Ontario housewife of her time, was in many ways the willing spokeswoman of both major colonialisms vying for political and poetical power over Canada. Yet she was at the same time the possessor of true Canadian aspirations and spirit. Real literary critics in our own time can both appreciate an often suppressed example of Canadian expression and by reading the literature correctly defend our country against the expansionist ambitions of the giant dragon on the other side of the national demarcation situated midway between the shark-infested Caribbean Sea and the gentler and more noble waters of our far and true north.
     Though the vendu editors and critics in Canada have conspired to suppress the facts, Piggy is Mrs. Buchanan’s valiant response to an inferior but highly lauded U.S. poem, the often anthologized “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson, who was an agent of expansionist U.S. poetry from the time of the so-called Spanish-American War until his death during the Great Depression, an event brought on by the glut of bourgeois individualist poems in the boom years following the First World War, which was entered by Canada two years and more before U.S. involvement. In the Norton anthologies that celebrate hegemonic canons, Robinson is designated as a poet who “surpasses” all contemporary poets except Yeats. He attended Harvard University, as did many Black Mountain poets, such as Robert Creeley and Stephane Éscobigh.
     In “Richard Cory,” a little poem whose title character bears the same initials as the aforesaid Robert Creeley, Robinson, ten years before Mrs. Buchanan’s Piggy, unashamedly praises the type of U.S. anarchic individualism. Richard Cory is described as “imperially slim.” Furthermore, he “glittered when he walked,” an obvious reference to the “heroic” U.S. men of the “gilded age,” praised incessantly by the renowned U.S. writer Mark Twain. In the third stanza Robinson lauds his hero for being “rich—yes, richer than a king.” In other words Richard Cory personifies the U.S. ambition to replace British Imperialism with a U.S. brand, richer and completely free from the order of the British model. Cory is the epitome, though Robinson does not see this, of the falseness in the so-called American Revolution, by which the supposed revolutionaries became individualist exploiters of the duped workers who were manipulated into the delusion that each individual could rise to power: “In fine, we thought that he was everything / To make us wish that we were in his place.”
     Finally, Richard Cory, the self-made man, hero of the narrator who speaks for his fellow citizens, and hero too of Edwin Arlington Robinson, goes home and commits suicide, the ultimate act of individualism, and he does it with a pistol, the emblem of U.S. rugged individualism in a thousand stories of western expansionism. U.S. readers, and the international hostages of exported U.S. culture, are instructed to admire authors who kill themselves rather than learning to live in a peaceful community. Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath and Hart Crane (whose poem “Cape Hatteras” takes place only a few miles from Black Mountain), are but three or four examples.
     As I have correctly indicated earlier, Mrs. Buchanan’s Piggy is an unambiguous response to the U.S. author Robinson’s poem, which would have found its way to her farmhouse within a year or two of its publication, among the trainloads of U.S. poetry that were imported by the Canadian lackeys of their masters in New York and Boston and rural North Carolina.
     On the one hand one can see the attempt by Mrs. Buchanan, whose last name is identical to that of an idle rich woman who loves and adulates the title character in U.S. novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (who was named after the poet who wrote the imperialist “Star Spangled Banner”) The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s kowtowing after the powerful bourgeoisie can be seen in his choice of title. In this way he is only another in a long line of U.S. writers, such as Edwin Arlington Robinson, content to idolize the robber barons who typify the aspirations of the American “Revolution.”
     Mrs. Buchanan, obviously calling upon her native ability to differentiate the true Canadian consciousness from the U.S. Imperialist ethos, produces the details that will mark her protagonist off from the foreign model. Where Richard Cory is elevated to more than royal proportions, the Canadian hero will be correctly praised “be he little or big.” While Cory “was a gentleman from sole to crown, / Clean favoured,” the Canadian benefactor “cares not a fig to be neat or trig,” and indeed often wears the soil of honest labour. As we have seen, the well-dressed U.S. poseur is “imperially slim,” but his Canadian rival carries on his working class body “meat—juicy meat.”
     And although the U.S. ideal ends alone, turning his back on his fellow citizens for his own anarchistic purposes with his beloved pistol, “the pig is a friend that will last to the end.” Mrs. Buchanan does not relax in her demonstration of the inherent Canadian desire to seek harmonious community with emphasis on a whole people rather than on individualists. We see in the over-praised U.S. poem that its hero “went without the meat, and cursed the bread” during his pursuit of glitter and “crown,” but Piggy will respond to the needs of his community “[i]f his trough we but fill with plenty of swill.” Unlike the self-absorbed U.S. hero, “the pig nobly shares, and our burden oft bears.”
     Such a trenchant challenge to the canon imposed by the ruling liberals of Canadian politics and culture, shaped as it is by their foreign masters, was bound to be suppressed and censored by the satraps in the country’s academic elite. That is why our students will not find the works of Mrs. Walter Buchanan in such anthologies as liberal Gary Geddes’s Fifteen Poets Times Twenty, in which a patriot will look unsuccessfully for my own epic, for instance, nor encounter them in the few paltry courses devoted to “Canadian” literature in our universities. An equal to Mrs. Buchanan’s challenge will not be met in Earle Birney’s sycophantic approval of U.S. highway billboards, or E.J. Pratt’s deification of the U.S. robber barons who were hired by the arch continentalist John A. Macdonald to build a falsely Canadian railroad to the west coast.
     Perhaps the finest moment of Mrs. Buchanan’s poem comes at the moment that it begins its second half. That positioning itself perhaps serves as a wry attack upon the U.S. reverence for the exploitative frontier. Here the Canadian poet exposes the grandiosity of the U.S. culture of banditry and piracy by introducing the only moment at which her juicy protagonist shows any tendency to larceny. It is a masterstroke to superimpose the pig’s looting of her garden against the far greater threat of U.S. designs upon our entire country. In a very real sense this is a very real comparison. At the same time the poet suggests the busy creature as the model for true Canadian scholars and artists: “[h]e may dig, he may root.” Not only do those verbs rhyme correctly with “pig” and “loot,” unlike the anarchic poetry imported of late from the administrative offices of Black Mountain, but they present images of earth and roots, a beacon for following generations of labourers at the loom of our history and literature.

* This Magazine Is About Stools 69 (Summer 1993): 93-99. [back]

Works Cited

Buchanan, Mrs. Walter. Piggy. Ed. Susan Bailey and D.M.R. Bentley. London: Canardian Poetry P, 1991.

Robinson, Edwin Arlington. “Richard Cory.” The Norton Anthology of Poems about Capitalist Pigs. Ed. T.M. “Ham” Brooks. Toronto: W.W. Norton, 1989. 162.