“Elderberry Cottage” by James Reaney

“Elderberry Cottage” by James Reaney

Elderberry Cottage

’s windows, last night, rain wrote upon,
And Bobdog, while we slept, was miles away,
Beating the bounds, our frontier nose-spy
Reporting back at dawn.
We reward him for knowing about
Quarrels in lover’s lane,
Thieves on the prowl and other such
Nightwalkers.
Canny protector, I pray you:
Bark always when strangers come nigh.
Yes, we cannot smell trespass
Nor hear it, as you can.
Piss a ring of fire round our house,
Our curtilage, my land,, my concessional lot.
Lead me safety at last
Under this township to my last cot,
And when Elderberry is a ruin,
Guard my grave from the academic wolf,
The curious professor
With his fine wire-brush
Who would dig me up again
From my happiness, your kingdom.

James Reaney, 2005

“Elderberry Cottage” is from Souwesto Home, a collection of James Reaney’s poems from 2005 and published by Brick Books.

Listen to Jeff Culbert perform “Elderberry Cottage” here.

Souwesto Home by James Reaney, 2005

Souwesto Home by James Reaney, 2005

 

Elizabeth Cooke (James Reaney's mother) with Bob dog at Elderberry Cottage, March 1976. Photo by Wilma McCaig.

Elizabeth Cooke (James Reaney’s mother) with Bob dog at Elderberry Cottage, March 1976. Photo by Wilma McCaig.

James Reaney’s A Suit of Nettles: April

James Reaney’s A Suit of Nettles: April

To celebrate National Poetry Month, here is the “April” eclogue from James Reaney’s long poem A Suit of Nettles.

April

ARGUMENT: With Duncan as judge the geese hold a bardic contest in honour of Spring.

[DUNCAN  RAYMOND  VALANCY]

Here is a kernel of the hardest winter wheat
Found in the yard delicious for to eat.
It I will give to that most poetic gander
Who this season sings as well as swam Leander.
The white geese with their orange feet on the green
Grass that grew around the pond’s glassy sheen
Chose then Valancy and Raymond to sing
And to hear them gathered about in a ring.

RAYMOND

I speak I speak of the arable earth,
Black sow goddess huge with birth;
Cry cry killdeers in her fields.

Black ogress ate her glacier lover
When the sun killed him for her;
The white owl to the dark crow yields.

Caw caw whir whir bark bark
We’re fresh out of Noah’s Ark;
Wild geese come in arrowheads

Shot from birds dead long ago
Buried in your negro snow;
Long water down the river sleds.

Black begum of a thousand dugs,
A nation at each fountain tugs;
The forests plug their gaps with leaves.

Whet whet scrape and sharpen
Hoes and rakes and plows of iron;
The farmer sows his sheaves.

Mr Sword or Mr Plow
Can settle in your haymow,
All is the same to Mother Ground.

Great goddess I from you have come,
Killdeer crow geese ditch leaf plowman
From you have come, to you return
In endless laughing weeping round.

VALANCY

Your limbs are the rivers of Eden.
From the dead we see you return and arise,
Fair girl; lost daughter:
The swallows stream through the skies,
Down dipping water,
Skimming ground, and from chimney’s foul dusk
Their cousins the swifts tumble up as the tusk
Of roar day
In bright May
Scatters them gliding from darkness to sun-cusp.

Your face unlocks the bear from his den.
The world has come in to the arms of the sun.
What now sulky earth?
All winter you lay with your face like a nun,
But now bring forth
From river up boxdrain underground
Fish crawling up that dark street without sound
To spawn
In our pond
Young suckers and sunfish within its deep round.

Your body is a bethlehem.
Come near the sun that ripened you from earth
Pushing south winds
Through lands without belief till its pretty birth
The faithful finds:
Fanatic doves, believing wrens and orioles
Devoted redwinged blackbirds with their calls,
Archilochus alexandri,
Melospiza georgiana,
All surround you with arched cries of Love’s triumphals.

Your mind is a nest of all young things, all children
Come to this meadow forest edge;
Put her together
From this squirrel corn dogtooth young sedge
And all this weather
Of the white bloodroots to be her skin
The wake robin to be her shin
Her thighs pockets
Of white violets
Her breasts the gleaming soft pearly everlasting.

For her limbs are the rivers of Eden;
Her face unlocks
The brown merry bear from his den,
From his box
The butterfly and her body is a bethlehem
Humming
With cherubim
And her mind is a cloud of all young things, all children.

The prize to this one goes cried eagerly some
And others cried that to Raymond it must come,
So that Duncan Goose turned to the plantain leaf
And chopped the prize in half with beak-thrust brief.

James Reaney, 1958

The third edition of A Suit of Nettles features charming illustrations by engraver Jim Westergard, available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

A Suit of Nettles (3rd edition) is available from the Porcupine's Quill.

A Suit of Nettles (3rd ed. 2010)

 

For more about A Suit of Nettles, see Germaine Warkentin‘s essay “Out of Spenser and the Common Tongue”: James Reaney’s A Suit of Nettles, and Richard Stingle‘s lecture “A learned poet writes A Suit of Nettles”.

"Geese" Photo by Elizabeth Cooke (James Reaney's mother), 1950 near Stratford, Ontario.

“Geese” Photo by Elizabeth Cooke (James Reaney’s mother), 1950 near Stratford, Ontario.

Butterfly decoration by James Reaney, September 1947 (ink on yellow paper)

Butterfly decoration by James Reaney, September 1947 (ink on yellow paper)

Alice Through the Looking-Glass in Edmonton February 27 to March 20

Alice Through the Looking-Glass in Edmonton February 27 to March 20

This month, Alice resumes her journey across Canada as James Reaney’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass opens at the Edmonton Citadel’s Shoctor Theatre on February 27 to March 20.

Christine Brubaker continues as the director of this Alice revival, and Ellie Heath plays Alice. The show was a hit at the 2014 Stratford Festival and has now toured across Canada in Ottawa, Charlottetown, and Winnipeg.

To purchase tickets, call 1-888-425-1820 (780-425-1820) or order online here.

 What reviewers are saying: Adults will love it. The eight-year-old sitting beside me was mesmerized by the whole experience.” — Colin Maclean in Gigcity.ca

An hilarious, over-the-top romp!” — John Richardson in Behind the Hedge

An all-star team of your favourite actors, Edmonton’s funniest.” — Liz Nicholls in The Edmonton Journal

Alice Through the Looking-Glass in Edmonton, February 27 to March 20, 2016.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass in Edmonton, February 27 to March 20, 2016.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass director Jillian Keiley with actors playing Alice across Canada: Gwendolyn Collins (Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre), Ellie Heath (Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre), Trish Lindström (the Stratford Festival) and, seated, Natasha Greenblatt (NAC and Charlottetown's Confederation Centre of the Arts). Photographed in the Palm Room of Spadina House, Toronto, June 2015.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass director Jillian Keiley with actors playing Alice across Canada: Gwendolyn Collins (Winnipeg), Ellie Heath (Edmonton), Trish Lindström (Stratford Festival) and, seated, Natasha Greenblatt (Ottawa and Charlottetown). Photographed in the Palm Room of Spadina House, Toronto, June 2015.

Ellie Heath as Alice in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Edmonton Citadel Theatre, February 27 to March 20, 2016

Ellie Heath as Alice in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Edmonton Citadel Theatre, February 27 to March 20, 2016

Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass: adapted for the stage by James Reaney is available from the Porcupine’s Quill.

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“The Windyard” by James Reaney

“The Windyard” by James Reaney

Front entrance to James Reaney's birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario, February 1954. Photo by Elizabeth Cooke (née Crearar).

Front entrance to James Reaney’s birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario, February 1954. Photo by Elizabeth Cooke (née Crerar).

The Windyard

I built a windyard for the wind;
The wind like a wild vast dog came up
To play with the weathervanes and corners
My keyholes and my chinks.

And for the sea I built a well;
The brookish tomcat gurgled in,
Waterfell and sprung about
Hunting throats and boots.

I stood a house up for the earth;
The mappy girl came in
With rut and footstep path
That wind the traveler up.

A stove I hammered for the sun;
In flew the golden oriole
To crackle the sticks of time
And sing the loaves of space.

Come girl well yard and stove,
Come Flesh Heart Mind and Lyre,
Come Earth Water Wind and Fire.
Well, when they came
Barking, meowing, talking and caroling,
I stepped above both house and yard
Into myself.

James Reaney, 1956

 

“The Windyard” is from The Essential James Reaney and available from The Porcupine’s Quill. The poem also appears in Poems by James Reaney, New Press, 1972.

James Reaney’s emblem poems:

In his recent book The Emblems of James Reaney, Thomas Gerry notes the connection between “The Windyard” and a later emblem poem “Windlady” from 1970:

"Windlady" by James Reaney. First published in Armadillo 2 1970.

“Windlady” by James Reaney. First published in Armadillo 2 1970.

“‘Windlady’ magnetically attracts two in particular of Reaney’s other works: the 1956 poem ‘Windyard’ and the play Listen to the Wind, first performed in 1966.” − Thomas Gerry in The Emblems of James Reaney, page 130, The Porcupine’s Quill, 2013.

“Hark! Who knocks at our door so late?” Watercolour sketch by James Reaney, undated. (Possibly from 2001 and perhaps based on a childhood drawing or an illustration for a story. The old house, the tree, and the windmill are like the farmhouse near Stratford where James Reaney grew up.)

“Hark! Who knocks at our door so late?” Watercolour sketch by James Reaney, undated. (Possibly from 2001 and perhaps based on a childhood drawing or an illustration for a story. The old house, the tree, and the windmill are like the farmhouse near Stratford where James Reaney grew up.)

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

The snow fence drawing and the poem appeared on the December 1960 Christmas card designed by James Reaney.

The snow fence drawing and the poem appeared on the December 1960 Christmas card designed by James Reaney.

Beside the road the snow fence stands
And holds the snow in slatty hands.
Once our humanity did hold
A dove of white, a boy of gold.

James Reaney, 1960

James Reaney and Ian Chunn (son-in-law) with granddaughter Edie Reaney Chunn, December 25, 1996 in London, Ontario.

James Reaney and Ian Chunn (son-in-law) with granddaughter Edie Reaney Chunn, December 25, 1996 in London, Ontario.

James Reaney on a winter walk with his son James Stewart Reaney, December 25, 1996.

James Reaney on a winter walk with his son James Stewart Reaney, December 25, 1996.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass in Winnipeg November 25 to December 19

Alice Through the Looking-Glass in Winnipeg November 25 to December 19

James Reaney’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass opens at the Manitoba Theatre Centre at the John Hirsch Mainstage this month on November 25 to December 19.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass at the Manitoba Theatre Centre, November 28 to December 19, 2015

Alice Through the Looking-Glass at the Manitoba Theatre Centre, November 25 to December 19, 2015

Originally directed by Jillian Keiley, this production was a hit at last summer’s Stratford Festival and  has now played in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre and in Charlottetown at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.

Christine Brubaker is the director of the Manitoba Theatre Centre’s production. After Winnipeg, Alice’s next stop is the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, February 27 to March 20, 2016.

To purchase tickets, call 1-877-446-4500 (204-942-6537) or order online here.

 Not to be missed! Special “Monday Mix” pre-show chat on December 7

“Talkback” post-show Q&A on December 1, 8, 15, and 16

 What reviewers are saying:Manitoba actors and brilliant visuals make it a must to visit Alice!” — Randall King in The Winnipeg Free Press

Gwendolyn Collins on playing Alice: I think Alice has rubbed off on me a little.The Winnipeg Free Press

Gwendolyn Collins as Alice, Tristan Carlucci as Tweedledum, and Aaron Pridham as Tweedledee in Alice Through the Looking-Glass. (Photo courtesy Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre)

Gwendolyn Collins as Alice, Tristan Carlucci as Tweedledum, and Aaron Pridham as Tweedledee in Alice Through the Looking-Glass. (Photo courtesy Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre)

Sunday September 26, 2015 in Winnipeg: Special guests play chess with Alice (Gwendolyn Collins) down at The Forks (Culture Days 2015).

Sunday September 26, 2015 in Winnipeg: Special guests play chess with Alice (Gwendolyn Collins) down at The Forks (Culture Days 2015).

Alice Through the Looking-Glass costume designs by Bretta Gerecke, courtesy Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass costume designs by Bretta Gerecke, courtesy Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

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November 3, 2015: The cast of Alice Through the Looking-Glass, courtesy Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

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Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass: adapted for the stage by James Reaney is available from the Porcupine’s Quill.

The 2015 James Reaney Memorial Lecture with Thomas Gerry

The 2015 James Reaney Memorial Lecture with Thomas Gerry

Thank you all for coming to the Stratford Public Library on Sunday October 18 to hear Thomas Gerry speak on “Theatrical Features of James Reaney’s Emblem Poems”. Professor Gerry focused in particular on the metaphor of perspective in James Reaney’s “Egypt” emblem poem.

“When we were taught [as children] to draw railway tracks as meeting at a point, our world views shrank and were subjected to artificial limits. This analysis of perspective explains for readers of  Reaney’s emblems a good deal about the emblems’ style. They require their readers to ‘make a visionary correction’, and to see the world, in Blake‘s word, as ‘infinite’. — Thomas Gerry in The Emblems of James Reaney, page 73.

“Egypt” by James Reaney. First published in Poetry (Chicago) 115.3, December 1969.

“Egypt” by James Reaney. First published in Poetry (Chicago) 115.3, December 1969.

Professor Gerry explained the tradition of the emblem poem in literature and its use of allegorical meaning to rouse the faculties. He also compared the pyramid structure from “Egypt” to the “family tree pyramid” poem that appears in James Reaney’s play Colours in the Dark:

It takes
Two parents
Four Grandparents
Eight Great grandparents
Sixteen Great great grandparents
Thirty-two Great great great grandparents
Sixty-four Great great great great grandparents
One hundred and twenty-eight Great great great great great grandparents
Two hundred and fifty-six Great great great great great great grandparents
Five hundred and twelve Great great great great great great great grandparents
One thousand and twenty-four Great great great great great great great great grandparents

  He then led us in performing the poem and explained how “the pyramid shape recurs as an emblematic feature of the play” (The Emblems of James Reaney, page 84).

October 18, 2015, Stratford Public Library Auditorium (1)

October 18, 2015, Stratford Public Library Auditorium (1)

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October 18, 2015, Stratford Public Library Auditorium (2)

Thank you, Thomas Gerry, for your spirited lecture, and thank you also to the staff of the Stratford Public Library — Sally Hengeveld, Julia Merritt, Krista Robinson, and Robyn Godfrey for your support of this event.

October 18, 2015 -- Susan Reaney, Susan Wallace, Thomas Gerry, and James Stewart Reaney (photo by Elizabeth Reaney)

October 18, 2015 — Susan Reaney, Susan Wallace, Thomas Gerry, and James Stewart Reaney (Photo by Elizabeth Reaney)

♦&◊◊&♦

Next year’s speaker will be John Beckwith, composer, who collaborated with James Reaney on many musical works. The annual lecture is a project developed by The Stratford Public Library and Poetry Stratford, and features a talk by a person who is knowledgeable about the life and work of Stratford poet and playwright James Reaney and of writing in the Southwestern Ontario region, which is such a strong element in Reaney’s writing.

Here are photographs from our happy afternoon near Stratford, courtesy Elizabeth Reaney:

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JROct1803

 

Thomas Gerry on The Emblems of  James Reaney — October 18 in Stratford

Thomas Gerry on The Emblems of James Reaney — October 18 in Stratford

The Emblems of James Reaney by Thomas Gerry (2013). Published by The Porcupine's Quill.

The Emblems of James Reaney by Thomas Gerry (2013). Published by The Porcupine’s Quill.

Join us on Sunday, October 18 at 2:30 pm at The Stratford Public Library Auditorium in Stratford, Ontario, for a talk by Thomas Gerry on his new book The Emblems of James Reaney.

Former doctoral student of James Reaney’s and now professor of literature at Laurentian University, Thomas Gerry explores the history of the literary emblem, and explains the meanings behind ten of James Reaney’s emblem poems.

“The Tree” and “The Riddle” are two of Reaney’s emblem poems featured in The Emblems of James Reaney:

"The Riddle" by James Reaney. First published in Armadillo 2 1970.

“The Riddle” by James Reaney. First published in Armadillo 2 1970.

"The Tree" by James Reaney. First published in Poetry (Chicago) 115.3, December 1969.

“The Tree” by James Reaney. First published in Poetry (Chicago) 115.3, December 1969.

The Stratford Public Library is located at

19 St. Andrew Street,

Stratford, Ontario

N5A 1A2.

 

The Emblems of James Reaney is available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

The annual lecture is a project developed by The Stratford Public Library and Poetry Stratford, and features a talk by a person who is knowledgeable about the life and work of Stratford poet and playwright James Reaney and of writing in the Southwestern Ontario region, which is such a strong element in Reaney’s writing.

Composer John Beckwith’s music at the Canadian Music Centre

Composer John Beckwith’s music at the Canadian Music Centre

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James Reaney was fortunate to have composer John Beckwith set many of his poems to music: The Great Lakes Suite, A Message to Winnipeg, and Twelve Letters to a Small Town. Beckwith and Reaney also collaborated on longer operas Night-blooming Cereus, The Shivaree, and Crazy to Kill.

To listen to original recordings of Beckwith-Reaney works, visit the Canadian Music Centre‘s Composer Showcase and  set up an account – it’s free!

James Reaney and John Beckwith, Summer 2003, in London, Ontario. Photo by Colleen Reaney.

James Reaney and John Beckwith, Summer 2003, in London, Ontario. Photo by Colleen Reaney.

 

Note from Susan Reaney: In his new memoir, Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer,  John Beckwith recalls his career as a composer, including his collaborations with James Reaney. The book is available from Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

James Reaney’s “The Fan”

James Reaney’s “The Fan”

July 1985, A lesson with the whetstone. James Reaney on the far right with Katelynd Chamberlin Franken (middle) and Collen Reaney (left), on the farm near Stratford, Ontario.

July 1985, A lesson with the whetstone. James Reaney on the far right with Katelynd Chamberlin Franken (middle) and Colleen Reaney (left), on the farm near Stratford, Ontario. Photo courtesy Wilma McCaig.

The Fan

A girl spent all day pleating a fan.
Either we have Verdun & Kursk
Or we have herbivorous people
As the she above
Who spend all day in their garden
Watching butterflies or playing with a kite
Or cutting out coloured paper
For a fan
Or a kite
Or balancing the reds of zinnias with those of amaranths,
For example that plant called Love Lies Bleeding.

 I saw a field of men playing football
With a criminal’s head.
I saw a field of sunflowers wiped out
By ten thousand tanks.
I saw Aunt Marjorie’s paint brush
Destroy a knight in armour
And even a villainous peasant!
I saw our hockey player break a Russian player’s ankle!

 And I saw the Fan! giant in the sky
Huge, winnowing!
I saw an armoured car drive up
To arrest an artist
Who was accounted hopelessly a- and un-political
Because he painted nothing but flowers & mice,
But of course was suddenly seen
As the most dangerous rebel in the republic.
And I saw the Fan — big, winnowing,
Make a rhapsody of a windy day,
Separate wheat from straw just like that,
And blow giants & battlefields like dead leaves away!

 James Reaney, 2005

James Reaney, age 1, with his father, James Nexbitt Reaney. Photo by Elizabeth Crerar Reaney, 1927..

James Reaney (age 8 months) with his father, James Nesbitt Reaney, Spring 1927.

 

“The Fan” is from James Reaney’s book of poems Souwesto Home,

available from Brick Books.

SouwestoHome

© 2016 James Reaney