James McIntyre

James McIntyre Poems

James McIntyre Biography

James McIntyre was a Scottish-born, Canadian poet who became well known as “The Cheese Poet” due to the fact that he lived in, and wrote about, that area of the country famous for its dairy produce.  His work was often met with derision but he was never discouraged from writing, despite a lack of genuine literary talent.

He was born in Forres, in the north of Scotland, sometime during May 1828.  Little is known about his early years, and the date of his emigration to Canada is unclear.  What is known, however, was that he tried a number of trades before settling down to become a writer.  He began as a hired hand wherever anyone needed his labour and then, at various times, he was a cabinet maker, undertaker and furniture salesman.  The latter business was in St Catharine’s, Ontario and he settled here for some time, marrying and starting a family.

He was probably in his early thirties when he became an established member of the Ingersoll Literary Society, based in southwestern Ontario.  This was situated in Oxford County, then the centre of the dairy industry.  He concentrated on poems about cheese with quirky titles such as Father Ranney, the Cheese Pioneer and Lines Read at a Dairymen’s Supper.  He found an outlet for some of his work in the Toronto Post newspaper.  He also carried on in the furniture manufacture and retail business.

McIntyre was a popular member of the community and much in demand as a public speaker at social functions and the like.  He loved the area and was inspired enough to write about not only the dairy industry but also about the natural beauty of the country.  One of his most famous poems is the charming Oxford Cheese Ode.  Here are the opening two verses and then the final verse:
As evidenced above, McIntyre wrote in a simple, almost lyrical form.  His work was occasionally criticised by the literary world while, at the same time, it was enjoyed by the reading public who appreciated his easy-to-read style.  Many also supported him in his idealistic view of the region’s superlative dairy output.  He produced at least two collections of poetry.  In 1884 he wrote Musings on the banks of the Canadian Thames which included a lot of material about Britain and other parts of Europe, along with his quirky thoughts about American and British poets.  Five years later his Poems of James McIntyre was published which contained a great deal of work on his pet subject: cheese, and other dairy products of course.

McIntyre was, most certainly, a man who was never discouraged by bad reviews or newspapers taking his work and using it for comic relief rather than as serious literature.  Following his death in 1906 he was forgotten for a while until, in 1927, the literary editor of the Toronto Mail and Empire started printing his work again and a resurgence of interest occurred.  Much later his work was anthologised (quite unkindly, in fact) in a 1997 book called Very Bad Poetry although this inclusion actually boosted his fame.  It included one of his best pieces, a poem called Ode on the Mammoth Cheese Weighing Over 7,000 Pounds.  This was written about a real cheese which was exhibited around the world and here are the opening verses:
James McIntyre died on the 31st March 1906, aged 77.