canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

In the Worshipful Company of Skinners

by Endre Farkas
The Muse’s Company, 2003

Reviewed by Janine Armin

In the Worshipful Company of Skinners is the poetic record of Canada’s first years of colonization. Perceived through an eighteenth century colonial filter it is a catalogue of opinion and event. Farkas, through faithful testament to the authentic journal of a real live fur trader, shows us the manipulative reality of Canada’s incarnation as a white populace. His research proves extremely detailed and horrifying in its brutal accuracy.

Farkas has given the most accurate account of the colonization of Canada by assuming the role of the oppressor; we are able to fully engage in the travesty of his actions.

Such opinions as "the worth of a man is his net profit" gives us incite into the root of corporate values in Canada.

Farkas helps elucidate exactly what "Canadian perspective" means. By acknowledging history we may acquire a foundation. This gory track record could account for Canadian guilt and as a collection, historically informed literature is a refreshing change to today’s literary trend of self-loathing and hesitant opinion.

Farkas knows how to use repetition in order to structure a poem and intone it with the idea latent in its content. In "Land," he presents us with this simple concept and then takes us around to another perspective so that we see how land is perceived differently. The excitement in this lies in the sudden juxtaposition of personal thought and that of another, and some kind of dislike for the narrator who forces us unwillingly to see through his completely racist eyes when he says "if only they were not such heathens."

The first poem introduces a solid historical position from which to read, "By any means we’ll skin you" (30).

Desultory twists run throughout the series. In "The Bourgeois Children," which follows "Perchance" we see the malicious mode of class in Canada’s incarnation. In "Perchance" (such tongue and cheek pompous vernacular expressed in the title) the narrator asserts the disgustingly synthetic value system of the bourgeois and their absolute recognition of the harm they stand for. In "The Bourgeois Children" he speaks from a more understanding stance of the perils of raising bourgeois children.

Farkas goes through a checklist of everything that occurred between the natives and the white men, including the dogs they used, the guides, and the half-breeds. It is anthropological in its notated content. In "The Buffalo," Farkas describes the majesty of these creatures, which from even the brute perspective of the British colonist cannot be avoided. He ends the poem with "And for sport, to the other side and back, from carcass to carcass, we walk." And with this reinstils the inhumanity with which the British regard species native to Canada, the reluctance from which this country grew.

In "The Savage Language" Farkas pays tribute to the purity of the native peoples through the naive and racist voice of the narrator and says "They have no writing to speak of. /

And all they have to read is the sky, / The lakes, the creatures and the land." Subtle differences are drawn between the half-breeds, plain Indians, savages and white Canadians by the white colonist who demeans all.

In "Civilization", Farkas says, "News of my arrival among these pale faces / spread more quickly than smallpox among the Savages."

At the end of the collection Farkas comments that "the repetition of these words or phrases is meant to signify the passage of time" which is consistent with what Farkas refers to as the "simple construct and rhythm" of the fur trader journals themselves. Farkas really gets down to the meaning of Canadian Identity, which is magnificently unglamorous "Trade is our creation myth." Essentially, we were born out of trade and aspire to be successful employees, hence the politeness and strategy in our peaceable gaze.

Janine Armin is a Toronto freelance writer who has contributed to Bookslut, Clamor Magazine, Nylon and The Village Voice. She edits the zine Hey Maurice.







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