Willy and the Poo:
A telling story of hogs, people, deceit and hope

Editor's NOTE

Willy and the Poo is a poetic (and delightfully illustrated) tale of how a factory farm changed hog production from being good for youth to being bad for whole community. It was written by Bill Weida and illustrated by Jo Langer. (Bill Weida is project director of the GRACE Project, and a professor of economics at The Colorado College.) You can find the entire poem and more illustrations, visit the Grace Factory Farm Project website.

Willy and the Poo:
A Musical Fable

Based on original text by Bill Weida, with additional lyrics and music by Joanne Forman.

"Each pig they produced was now raised in a stew
Of chemicals, medicines, and a lot of its poo,
Was identically sized with meat that was lean,
Efficient to slaughter, less hog than machine."

Willy comes to life in songs, dialogue

Not content with print and paint, composer Jo Forman transformed Bill Weida's wonderful poem, beautifully illustrated by Jo Langer, into a musical performance piece. Here's how Joanne Forman described the musical for us ...

The idyllic farming community of County Dundeen is situated in a green valley where young farmers set out generation after generation to raise pigs as their fathers have before them.

Yet Dundeen is mesmerized when the Snake Oil Man comes to town in his gilt-decorated red wagon. He promises them they'll all be rich—very rich – if only they will change their ways and build a big – very big -- factory for hogs.

"What about the poo?" asks young Willy, our thoughtful hero. "Oh, we take care of that in a lagoon," smiles Snake Oil.

Patricia Pig, Paulina Pig and Bobby Boar are skeptical, but dutifully pack their suitcases and move into the new factory farm. Disaster follows upon disaster: the winsome pigs are confined in cages so small they can't even turn around; Paulina's piglets are taken away; and their food is laced with nasty-tasting antibiotics.

Even Pablo the human attendant is sympathetic to the pigs. He is an undocumented worker whose hopes for a new life in the U.S. have been blighted by his experience in the confined quarters.

When Pablo quits, Willy takes over. His different management choices lead to a surprising – if bittersweet – ending.

The gentle humor of “Willy” is beguiling, but the fable explicates all the issues surrounding the controversial topic of factory animal farming. Clever characters and tuneful songs say it all. For example, the text of "A Seepy Lagoon" tell us in a sultry Latin beat that:

It's often the case when you talk of lagoons
The words that we use are of ducks, geese and loons ....
But where hog poo is stored it just isn't true...
it stinks to high heaven, it seeps through each crack
A seepy lagoon's not the pond of your dreams...

Pablo musically lists the antibiotics he gives to the pigs. In a dignified madrigal, the pigs explain that they used to be proud to feed the world, but now feel tainted as factory fare.

A balladeer ties it all together as he warns at the end:

On farms and in towns in County Dundeen
The folks have all learned that to keep water clean,
And to keep the air pure.
You must always remember some things are not for sale.

“Willy” is designed to be performed by church, school or community groups from junior high school age and up. It can be done by humans, puppets or a combination of the two.

(Joanne Forman is a composer/writer from Taos, N.M., who likes
to hike in the Sangre de Cristo mountains while she thinks up new musicals and operas as well as choral, orchestral or chamber music. She has been known to converse with pigs in the past.)