Remember our lovely friend, James McIntyre (1827-1906), The Cheese Poet of Oxford County? Now that you’ve had time to digest and ruminate (please pardon any inadvertent bovine references) The Cheese Poet’s verses, I thought I should tell you about the Oxford County Library’s James McIntyre Poetry Contest, “Our annual poetry contest for poets living in Oxford County, Ontario, Canada, and nearby areas.” The contest has been held annually since the year of its inception, 1997. It culminates in the very popular “James McIntyre Poetry Evening – an evening of poetry to honour the winners of the James McIntyre Poetry Contest and to celebrate Ingersoll’s unique poetic heritage.” (Ingersoll, you might recollect, is very well known for cheese production and “was home to the first such factory in Canada.”)

Visit some very lovely photos of the Sixth Annual McIntyre Poetry Evening (2002) here. There’s an especially nice portrait of the Cheese Poet Laureate of Ingersoll, Shirley Lovell. The title was conferred upon her in 1997 and she has since performed scores of important poetical dairy undertakings. I know you might wonder about Shirley’s Cheese Poet Laureate credentials (perhaps because of the controversial combination of the modest jumper and the extravagant brooch in that photo). Rest easy – Shirley Lovell is “uncommonly qualified to be Cheese Poet Laureate of Ingersoll.”

Please read on: Not only is she a life-long resident of the area and a witty poet, she is also the Curator of the Ingersoll Cheese Factory Museum and an experienced cheesemaker. This former teacher and proud grandmother is also active in her church and church choir. Her love of history and heritage has been expressed not only in her award-winning museum work, but also in her involvement in the Ingersoll and District Historical Society and the raising of her beloved Canadian horses.

Here’s something that disturbed me about the Annual Oxford County Library’s James McIntyre Poetry Contest. You’d think it would be an orgy of cheese-inspired verse. But though the contest honors The Cheese Poet, the subject matter is not limited to dairy products alone. Here are the suggested subjects:

  • cheese poems and dairy odes,
  • the town of Ingersoll,
  • the history of Ingersoll,
  • famous people of Ingersoll,
  • any other subject.

Ah, yes, “any other subject.” I was particularly struck by the specificity of that one. There is the “Cheese Poet Laureate’s Award: Best Dairy Ode,” but the rest of the poems are pretty much about whatever. Bless Shirley Lovell for her Cheesy Goodness. Here are a couple of Shirley Lovell’s poems from the first year of the contest:

Gone A-Whey
By Shirley Lovell

Our town was quite famous they say

For making the curds and the whey

But the factories closed down

And there’s none left aroun’

‘Cause all of the cows MOO-ved away

(Grade 9 to adult – Limerick First Prize)

Cheese – Don’t Go Home Without It
By Shirley Lovell

Some folks like cheese with macaroni.

While others eat it with bologne.

Pizza topped with cheese is neat.

And cheese cake is a tasty treat.

A special cheese must go with wine.

When you perchance go out to dine.

Squeaky curd is sure to please.

And what’s fondue without the cheese?

Cheese with apple pie is nice,

Delicious too just as a slice.

It’s good for you because it’s from

The cheese we get our calcium.

But best of all it’s great, old chap,

To lure a mouse into a trap.

(Grade 9 to adult – rhyming verse Second prize)

I omit her “Cheese Poet Laureate” poem, “Just in Time,” because it’s about intrigue and danger and the War of 1812 and ale and a cow and just too much of an cerebral challenge for a Monday.

I sense that those of you who don’t dwell in lovely Oxford County, Ontario are feeling wistful that you don’t qualify to enter the James McIntyre Poetry Contest. But wait – in 2001 those clever Ingersoll Canucks (or “snookums,” as I sometimes call them – but that’s a story for another time) came up with The Oxford County Library’s Online Dairy Ode Competition. Yes, indeed, all about cheese and dairy delights and open to EVERYONE! It seems 2002 was a rather good year. Here’s a classic:

A Cheese Poem
by Cheesespeare

Based roughly on Shakespeare’s Sonnet LXXXVI
Was it the proud full udder of Susie’s great purse,
Bouncing and swaying it’s full way to me,
Who cringes and shudders fearing a burst,
That has taken my heart away from for me
Was it her chewing consuming the too quiet night?
Gum smacking noise stopping me dead?
No, neither she, nor her sisters by night,
Could conjure these pictures of cheese in my head.
For the cheese set before me is more than they are:
This creation of bovine udder secreations[sic],
This gift of my lovely cow that you are,
Rising my taste buds to udder elation.
But when your great udder filled up my sight,
It was then that I met the love of my life.

I think I’ll just leave it at that. But if you do find yourself filled with dairy poetic aspirations, you can submit entries for the contest here.