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James McIntyre

James McIntyre (1827-1906), called The Cheese Poet, was a Canadian poet.

McIntyre was born in Forres, Scotland and came to Canada in 1841 at the age of 14. He worked as a hired hand to begin with, performing pioneer chores that formed the basis of a number of his works. Later, he settled in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he dealt in furniture. There he married and had a daughter and son.

He later moved to Ingersoll, Ontario, then a town of 5,000 on the banks of the Thames in Oxford County, the heart of Canadian dairy country. He opened up a furniture factory on the river and a store selling furniture along with such items as pianos and coffins.

He was never wealthy, but was well-loved in the community from which he often received aid in hard times. This was partly due to his poesy and other oratorical skills; he was called upon to speak at every kind of social gathering in Ingersoll. The region seems to have inspired him, and it was in celebration of the proud history of Canada, the natural beauty and industry of the region, and especially (as noted above) its cheese, that the majority of his oeuvre was written.

The ancient poets ne'er did dream
That Canada was land of cream,
They ne'er imagined it could flow
In this cold land of ice and snow,
Where everything did solid freeze
They ne'er hoped or looked for cheese.
from "Oxford Cheese Ode" [1]

Like many persons of enterprise, he was not inhibited by minor shortcomings such as a lack of literary skills. The Toronto Globe ran his pieces as comic relief, and the New York Tribune expressed amusement, but neither mockery from these nor from the Ingersoll youth did he permit to dampen his rhyming enthusiasm, and he presumably continued to write until his death in 1906.

He published two volumes of poetry:

Musings on the Canadian Thames (1884);
Poems of James McIntyre (1889).

He was forgotten after his death for a number of years, until his work was rediscovered and reprinted by William Arthur Deacon, literary editor of the Toronto Mail and Empire and its successor the Globe and Mail, in his book The Four Jameses (1927).

In recent years a volume of his work, Oh! Queen of Cheese: Selections from James McIntyre, the Cheese Poet (ed. Roy A Abramson; Toronto: Cherry Tree, 1979) has collected his poems together with a variety of cheese recipes and anecdotes. However, perhaps the greatest boost to his fame came from a number of his poems being anthologized in the collection Very Bad Poetry, edited by Ross and Kathryn Petras (Vintage, 1997). This included his masterpiece and possibly best-known poem, "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese," written about an actual cheese produced in Ingersoll in 1866 and sent to exhibitions in Toronto, New York, and Britain:

We have seen thee, Queen of Cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze;
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed, soon you'll go
To the provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.
from "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese" [1]

McIntyre is well known for his many odes to cheese, and is widely regarded as the worst poet in all of Canadian literature. People criticize his work for having the recurrent theme of cheese, which, to them, doesn't seem like much of a poetic topic. People who like his poetry say that the poem isn't really about cheese, rather cheese is just a vehicle for his more poetic thoughts. His poetry also shows to these people that beauty can be found anywhere, even cheese.

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