From the author
Film fans and those of my generation are probably familiar with the 1972 Sydney Pollack film, Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford as a mid-19th century trapper and hunter trying to survive in the harsh landscape of the mountainous North American West—a character based on an historical and semi-legendary figure with the imposing name of John “Liver-Eating” Johnson. It is one of the “old movies” my children didn’t want to watch, but quickly became a family favourite.
The historical “Liver-Eating” Johnson was known for eating the organs of his sworn enemies, the Crow, a habit the film chooses not to depict. Our 21st century Johnson is not known to be a consumer of enemy livers, but he is nonetheless filled with bile. Sporting a common surname, derived from every European language with a John, Jan, Jens, Johan or Johannes, this “son of John” is a very common kind of man trying to survive and make do in our contemporary society a century and a half after Jeremiah Johnson and more than two millennia after the original Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” of the Old Testament, who prophesied Jerusalem’s destruction and from whose name the term “jeremiad” derives.
These poems are Johnson’s bilious jeremiad, his prolonged lamentation, complaint, screed, rant, cautionary tale and harangue—by turns irascible, peevish, chastened and accepting. While “Liver-Eating” Johnson somehow survived into his seventies, the fictional Jeremiah Johnson, after making peace with the Crow, likely met his lonely demise fording a river in midwinter or in the crush of an avalanche. This century’s Johnson may suffer a heart attack in the company breakroom a week before his retirement or keel over shovelling snow from the end of his driveway. Hopefully his jeremiad will linger for a season or two.