Johnston, George

Canada, (1913-2004)

Ribs, Roasts, Chops, Bacon

  1. Two pigs in straw
  2. on the truck box floor
  3. we have come to deal with you
  4. in the way of our law,
  5. survival, we call it.
  6. Being under it too,
  7. the beauty of its sternness,
  8. beauty and dismay grown fast together,
  9. we share the ruth
  10. of this meeting.
  12. By one hind hoof you are lifted
  13. into an attitude you detest,
  14. heads down, throats addressed
  15. to our thin blade
  16. that first parts your fat
  17. then thrusts into your jugular;
  18. at once your blood comes bright
  19. and your despair gores the air.
  20. Your death hangs.
  21. A roaring flower of flame
  22. refines your surface:
  23. scraped down, scrubbed down, opened, emptied,
  24. your organs are kept,
  25. your bled flesh, divided acceptably,
  26. wrapped and consigned to frost.
  28. Some time friends come, or maybe
  29. sons and daughters, and our mood expands.
  30. You have b n fetched from frost
  31. in one of your parcels,
  32. your offering gratifies our feast
  33. with its mortal savour:
  34. we meet gain, and our moment
  35. is jovial.

© estate of George Johnston. Taking a Grip, Poems 1972-1978. Ottawa: Golden Dog Press (1978).

Editor’s Note:

In 1968 the Canadian poet, scholar, biographer and translator, George Whalley, reviewed his friend Johnston’s newest book of poetry, Home Free. Oxford University Press (1966). This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #35 (Winter 1968). In the review, Whalley first had this to say about Johnston’s previous book of poetry, The Cruising Auk:

…and although the Auk poems had been written over a period of ten years or more, the book had the strange consistency of a dream landscape in which figures appear and move with the ambiguous and impassive logic of a Chagall painting. If (for Chagall) pigs are apple-green and the sky mauve, a poet may assume a horizontal posture as wonderfully long and flat as the horizon and his eyes turned to the sky…

About the Poet:

George Benson Johnston (1913-2004) was a Canadian poet, translator, and academic. Johnston received his M.A. From the University of Toronto in 1946 and taught at Mount Allison University from 1947 to 1949. He then joined the English department at Carleton College in Ottawa (now Carleton University) in 1950 and taught there until retirement in 1979.

He also had an international reputation as a scholar and translator of the Icelandic Sagas, having learned Old Norse at the University of London. He began translating Norse sagas in 1957 and his first effort, The Saga of Gisli, has been in print since it first appeared in 1963. The Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation, edited by Charles Tomlinson, included seven of its translations.

Johnston’s first to books of poetry, The Cruising Auk (1959) and Home Free (1966) were formal and traditional, using stanza, meter and rhyme with great sophistication. His later verse, in at least six additional books, was markedly more contemporary in tone, though no less formally accomplished. He wrote of modest everyday subjects with a conversational casualness that masked his formal and technical virtuosity.

Subtle, varied and elegant, exact in their tuning, traditionally informed yet wholly original, Johnston’s poems have yet to find the wide readership they deserve. [DES-06/14]

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A random image of a pig, hog, boar or swine from the collection at Porkopolis.