do you grow pigs in a new country?
As Martin Heidegger has said (or would have, if he had
thought of it), there is in being a being in and
a being of. So it is with pigs.
The voice of the pig. There is no voice of the pig,
only the voice of the pig. That isn’t what I mean.
Already the metaphor of sex, uneasily, intrudes. We
conceive of the male space as pig, female space as poke.
The male, seeking to retain his autonomy, stubbornly
resists becoming a pig in a poke.
Growing up male on a pig farm, I was a boy. My mother
would call to me, “get the piglets,” and
I would enter that ambiguous, ungendered world of the
When I came across the Mackenzie Pig Catalogue of the
Alberta Pork Congress in the Glenbow Archives, I knew
that the voices of my ancestors were demanding I write
their poem. And so I wrote Pig Catalogue:
176—The York-Landrace Sow: A new addition to
this country! Cross-breeding has resulted in an unusually
prolific sow. First year weight between 240 and 250
pounds, with an average litter of nearly fourteen.
The offspring have minimal backfat, and have the shortest
days-to-market of any commercial breed. A welcome
addition to any barn with their perky ears and upturned
I had to write to tell you of our success with your
sow. When we mated her with a Hampshire-Duroc boar we
had a first litter of 26! The 16 that lived were all
between 3 and 4 pounds, with none of the coloring usually
associated with the hampshire breed. We anticipate at
least 25-30 weaners per year from her!
Did you wash your ears?
You could raise pigs in those ears.
is what happened.
We were slopping the hogs.
You’ve got to understand this.
I was catching the pig.
The pig was greased.
I fell off.
do you make love to a pig in a new country?
of my ancestors—and my publisher—demanded
my poem of me, and so then I wrote “How I Joined
a loud snort a throaty grunt:
It was the rutting season the
wind was low, the smell high the
luminous eyes a young yearling sow
she had soft bristles on her back
a delicate snout. slipping off my shoes
the effect was immediate I learned
to let my body give to wallow in
the mud curling my stockinged toes
do you make a good—a really good—pork roast
in a new country?
ossified jaw-bone of a pig in the fields of my father’s
farm (did I mention that I grew up on a farm?), I realized
that the pig demanded its poem, too. And so then I wrote
“The Pork Roast Poem”:
became a side
of pork, this roast
of stone (no, stone
is the color of this
pork roast—uh, no, this
is the color of
. . . well, you get
poem demanded my poem of me, and that poem demanded
the poem of the pig. Curiously, no-one and nothing demanded
“Sketches of a Porker” of me, yet I wrote
went and looked at Gelett Burgess’s poem
on cows. If cows can be
cows, I reasoned, by a kind of analogy,
pigs can, I suppose, be pigs.
was not the case.
a very strong desire
to kiss a pig.
No one was watching.
I kissed a pig.
So much for that.
So much for that, indeed.
Mrs. Buchanan. Mrs. Walter Buchanan. Mary Buchanan.
Mary. Mrs. Wally Buchanan. Mrs. B. The B-meister. Mary,
Mary, quite contrary. Mary, Mary, Bo-bary, Banana-fana
Fo-fary, Fe Fi Fo—Mary!
I once thought it was the task of the poet to name.
Then I thought the task of the poet was to un-name.
Now I know that the task of the poet is to re-name,
a naming over and over, a metonymy of monikers.
Like most of us, I can hardly think of pigs without
thinking of sex (did I mention I grew up on a farm?).
Of Mary Buchanan’s husband—like F.P. Grove,
Tom Thomson, Albert Johnson, Brian Mulroney, and that
guy, you know, that guy I can never quite remember his
name, Jeez—we can say only that in his invisibility
lies his chance for survival. His almost complete absence
from Mary’s existence is a typically male-Canadian
response to the female, leaving behind only his name
and thereby obscuring hers. What might her name have
been? The avenues of mystery are endless and labyrinthine.
Might she have been a Smith, a Jones? A Crawford, a
Lampman, a Scott? An Atwood, a Laurence, a Munro? A
Bowering, an Ondaatje, a Krouch? (If the last, then
I’d have to write a poem about fucking her.) The
point is, of course, that we don’t / can’t
know, and that it doesn’t really matter. Mr. Walter
Buchanan submerged himself in anonymity and emerged.
. . wet? The one surviving picture of Mary Buchanan,
opposite the epigraph of Country Breezes from Breezy
Brae, her sole volume (one picture, one volume,
yet many names—there are no truths, only correspondences),
offers no clue to her husband’s dis/appearance.
He is not in the picture, yet his absence is in itself
a palpable presence. She stands alone; her hair, closely
trimmed, is a vibrant gray. The simple clothes she wears
cannot conceal her burgeoning body; it is doubtful,
indeed, if anything short of a circus tent could. She
has, perhaps, failed to push herself away from the trough
once or twice too often.
maybe the picture offers a few clues, but I
still insist Mr. Buchanan is a provocative mystery.
do you turn yourself into a cultural icon in a new country?
When I wrote The Stud-Boar Man, I responded
to the discoveries of absence on the Prairie (did I
mention I grew up on a farm?), to that silence, by knowing
I had to make up a story. Our story. So it is with pigs.
do you write about pigs in a new country?
Mary Buchanan writes out of/into her own absence, the
void which is her name, her/self. Her poem is the crack
in the glaze that goes by the name of literature; in
it, I look into Homer’s blind eyes and kiss his
absent voice. It may be, yes, that motion signifies
life: but there is also the vast and complicated stillness
of living. Do not carry light into the darkness; stand
in the dark and learn. Of course, if you stand in the
dark like that for very long, people will start to talk.
And our endless talk is the ultimate poem of the prairies.
My endless talk, on the other hand, is the ultimate
poem of my cultural canonization.
do you enact a segue in a new country?
one more time.
To survive the loneliness which is existence in Canada,
we must, in the terms of the great Russian theorist
Mikhail Bakhtin, remain polyphonic, must enter the carnivalesque,
dialogic wor(l)ds, erect a tower of babble. And so it
is with pigs.
I have seven
random points to make. There are five of them. But I
can only remember three. When my book What the Pig
Said was published, several very good readers insisted
that I had failed to make my meaning clear. I’m
a postmodernist, I replied, I’m not supposed to
make sense. So it is with Mrs. Buchanan, who—much
like Sinclair Ross, Susanna Moodie, Adam Kidd, Isabella
Valancy Crawford, Frank Davey, Roch Voisine, Johnny
Wayne and Frank Shuster, and Thomas Chandler Haliburton—is
a postmodernist poet without knowing it herself. In
fact, without any-one but me knowing it. Her poem is
the unstable subject speaking its exquisite and erotic
becoming against the kangaroo courts of the poetic desire
machine. Mary, thou art.
do you stretch out a slight concept for a critical article
in a new country?
Mr. Buchanan’s invisibility sponsors an erotics
of absence in the poem, to which Mrs. Buchanan has clearly
responded with an erotics of presence. In particular,
the presence appears to have been that of young Sven
Grunwald, who had been hired on to help with
the pigs on the Buchanan farm on February 17, 1907.
He remained until late April, 1908, when he disappeared
from the area entirely. (The appended poem “Duckies”
[“soon, alas, comes ‘Thanksgiving,’
/ Off goes duckies heads”] appears to have been
composed after his exit; still, Mrs. Buchanan’s
bitterness cannot conceal her warm feelings: “Succulent
and sweet; / Duck is to me the very best / Of fowl there
is to eat.”) Sven’s goings and comings are
documented in the ledger of the Buchanan farm, which
was recently uncovered and which, surprisingly, demanded
of me a poem. And so then I wrote The Pig Ledger:
because they were neither
human nor useful
because Sven was neither
choosy nor fastidious
How do you make love to a pig in a new country,
especially with your husband sleeping in the house right
next to the barn?
Begin one last time.
Mary rhapsodizes over Sven’s own little pink pig,
“be he little or big.” His “snowy
lard” is similarly “sometimes soft, sometimes
hard.” The sexual intent of these lines is inescapable
(did I mention I grew up on a farm?), and there is a
long tradition in Canadian literature linking pigs and
sex. (Also milking machines and sex, as I show in What
the Pig Said). In my own first novel When Sick
with Trichinosis (as yet unpublished), there is
a lengthy scene yoking a pig-dressing with sexual tension.
And, of course, in my later novel The Stud-Boar
Man there is a similar scene. And. . . well, those
are the only examples I can call to mind at the moment,
but they tell the tale, I think. The sensual delight
Mrs. Walter (Walled/her?) Buchanan takes in her forbidden
passion for Sven is figured in many ways. “there’s
meat—juicy meat.” “he’s no beauty
[but] he always keeps doing his duty.” “The
pig is a gent, on mischief often bent.” He is
the “Brute” who will “thrive if we
give him attention / If his trough we but fill with
plenty of swill / And other good food I might
mention.” I might mention. I might
mention. Once more, the absence speaks above the presence,
the dialogic stress points of the hidden threatening
to become the unhidden. Canadian writing is, from its
inception, a shadowed writing in its deliberate employment
of concealment as a strategy. Mary Buchanan is bravely
effing the ineffable, tracking the intractable, violating
the inviolable, speaking the unspeakable, thinking the
unthinkable, eating the inedible, questioning the unquestionable,
employing the unemployable, flexing the inflexible,
visiting the invisible, honking the bobo, fatiguing
the indefatigable, believing the unbelievable, buttoning
the unbuttonable, corking the uncorkable, spanking the
monkey, electing the ineligible, spouting the endless
and unendurable blather and nonsense and. . . un, sorry—I
was thinking of someone else.
No wonder, then, that Canadians long so eagerly to read
what they so fervently believe cannot be written, that
Mary longs to experience what cannot be lived. The namelessness
is the name, but must be written even to be nameless—but
cannot remain nameless if written.
How do you grow a poet in a new country—Mary,
Mary, what does your garden grow?
Begin one last time. (I really mean it this time.)
In matters of poetic form, Mrs. Buchanan is ever more
the postmodernist. With her 32 lines, she comes tantalizingly
close to 28 lines, which would, of course, be exactly
twice what one would expect of a sonnet. The rhyme scheme,
too, suggests a doubled sonnet, lacking only a final,
concluding couplet. The permanent deferral of this eternally
absent closure represents most clearly Mary’s
ludic response to the demands of the patriarchal poetic
tradition, just as her visceral response to Sven figures
her rejection of her (absent) h(o)us(e)/ band’s
patriarchal control over her sexuality. That swine.
How do you end an essay that has no real structure
in a new country?
Begin (I swear—this is really true now!)
for the last time.
Mary writes, “we will repent and lose many a cent
/ If we ever go back on the porker.” The delicious
ambiguity of “go back on”—to turn
one’s back on / to mount again—is epistemologically,
hermeneutically, even ontologically, appropriate. She
is—as a woman, as a Canadian, as a pig farmer—necessarily
beset by ambiguity and ambivalence. For how could it
be otherwise? I certainly don’t know.
How do you finish this up so that we can all
go home in a new country?
Begin (okay, okay: I was lying last time—but
I’m not now!) just this one last time.
Mary writes, “the pig is a friend that will last
to the end / Altho’ as I’ve said he’s
no beauty.” Canada, too, is no beauty, no prettified
Miss America. Rather, it is a pig—one has to come
to love it for its inelegance, its uncomeliness (did
I mention I grew up on a farm?). Canada, like the pig,
refuses to speak, refuses letting itself be known.
The trick is to hear a pub. One day, or maybe for several
days in a row, sit in a pub from noon til closing. Listen
to the tales of the pig farmers. Buy them beers. Let
them buy you beers. Then let them buy you some more
beers. Drinking beer is a ritual act, a sharing with
each other of values, of aspirations, of suffering.
There is a profound truth in the old saying, “You
don’t buy beer, you rent it.” It is, nonetheless,
a beginning. In the talk of pig farmers, of Mrs. Buchanan,
we talk our way towards Voice: the ex-centric conversation
of a couple of hard-ass A-1 Northern bullshitters sitting
around the cracker-barrel chewing the fat, so to speak.
Two would-be lovers. They meet in the tongue. It is
the voice of the body, of the poet, of the new country,
of Mary Buchanan.
Just don’t tell Walter.
Krouch, Robert. “The Exploding Porcine: Violence Against
Pigs in the English-Canadian Novel.” The Tricky
Lechery of Words 108-116.
———. “The Fear of Prairie in Women’s
Fiction: An Erotics of Dirt.” The Tricky Lechery
of Words 73-83.
———. Field Pokes: The Collected Poetry
of Robert Krouch. Toronto: Beporkt Books, 1981.
———. “Heidegger, Bakhtin, and Barthes:
Where They Went Wrong.” Implausible Stretches.
Ed. Smaro Neuman, et al. Vancouver: Boar’s Head
Press, 1992. 194-242.
———. The Pig Ledger. Field Pokes
———. “On Being an Alberta Hog-Farmer
(Did I Mention I Grew Up on a Farm?).” The
Tricky Lechery of Words. 117-134.
———. Pig Catalogue. Field Pokes
———. “The Pork Roast Poem.”
Field Pokes 5-12.
———. “The Sad Pig-malian.”
Field Pokes 27-39.
———. “Sketches of a Porker.”
Field Pokes 47-52.
———. The Stud-Boar Man. New York:
Wayne and Schuster, 1970.
———. The Tricky Lechery of Words:
Essays Selected and New. Toronto: Hoggsford UP,
———. What the Pig Said. Don Swills:
General Publishing, 1978.
———. When Sick with Trichinosis.
Diss. University of Iowa, 1961.
———. The Words of My Snorting.
London: MacSwillan, 1966.