“Sixth Letter” from Twelve Letters To A Small Town

Illustration by James Reaney, 1962

SIXTH LETTER
A House on King William Street

Like the life here
The wallpaper repeats itself
Up and down go the roses
Similar blows struck out
By air-banging green fists:
A bright rose and a blue one
A pink blow and a blue one

The years have not changed their likeness
Except that those behind the sofa
Have kept their original blaze
And those opposite the window
Have turned yellow.

Aunt Henny says to Aunt Penny,
“Have you read She? Oh, a terrible book,
An awful book! Yes, it’s by
Haggard Rider Haggard.”

Aunt Lurkey says to Aunt Turkey:
“I nearly slipped today, I nearly
Slipped today.
We should put a piece of carpet
On that particular step
We should,”
Says Aunt Lurkey taking another should
Off the would pile.

No one remembers when
The wallpaper was new, except
The wallpaper itself
In the green smothered darkness behind 
The sofa and the cupboard.

And I, I their awkward fool
Board there while I go to school.

James Reaney, 1962

“Sixth Letter” is from Twelve Letters To A Small Town, a suite of poems commissioned by CBC Radio about the poet’s hometown, Stratford, Ontario, with music by John Beckwith. See also “The Music Lesson from Colours in the Dark” and “Eleventh Letter: Shakespearean Gardens”.

( ( 0 ) ) For more about James Reaney’s work with composer John Beckwith, see “James Reaney and Music” from November 5, 2016: https://jamesreaney.com/gallery/john-beckwith-on-james-reaney-and-music-november-5-2016-at-museum-london/

( ( 0 ) ) To listen to an archived sound recording of Twelve Letters To A Small Town from July 1961, visit the Composers Showcase at the Canadian Music Centre.

Illustration by E.K. Johnson from Rider Haggard’s She (1887) courtesy wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/She:_A_History_of_Adventure

Steady Theatre scores with Listen to the Wind

February 5, 2020 — Congratulations to Steady Theatre Collective and director Julia Schultz for your ingenious production of James Reaney’s 1966 play Listen to the Wind.

The production was staged at McCully House, an old Halifax mansion, allowing the audience to move through the house and through the play – Act I in the attic, down to the lower floor for Act II, and back up to the attic for Act III.

McCully House, 2507 Brunswick Street in Halifax, Nova Scotia
McCully House, 2507 Brunswick Street in Halifax, Nova Scotia

The web of actors, music, and intimate setting kept us close to the action and drew us into the world of Owen, Harriet, Ann, and Jenny, the four children who put on the play. Four chairs can be anything!

Producer: Kirsten Bruce
Director: Julia Schultz
Music: Edie Reaney Chunn
Stage Manager: Sophie Schade
Set and Costume Designer: Emma Roode
Fight Choreographer: Anika Riopel
Weathervane designed and crafted by Kelly Trout

Cast: Lou Campbell, Henricus Gielus, Kyle Gillis, Stepheny Hunter, Brittany Kamras, Michael Kamras, Rachel Lloyd, Briony Merritt, Noella Murphy, Peter Sarty, and Sam Vigneault

Act I Scene 2: Owen & Chorus: Let’s hear the North Wind. (Rehearsal photographs courtesy Steady Theatre)
Act III Scene 44: Sam Vigneault as Owen and Peter Sarty as Mitch

OWEN: … Mitch, sit down and talk to me.
MITCH: Will I do your favourite cartoon?
OWEN: Yes. Now you rock in the rocking chair and I say… (gets off the bed)
Grandma, how about  a dime so I can get an ice cream cone and cool myself off?
MITCH: Ah, I’ll tell you a ghost story instead son. It’ll freeze your bones and chill you off twice as fast. Listen!

More about Steady Theatre Collective and the play

Steady Theatre Collective’s Kirsten Bruce and Julia Schultz

Interview with Producer Kirsten Bruce and Director Julia Schultz in Halifax January 29, 2020:  https://globalnews.ca/video/6477010/steady-theatre-collective

What reviewers are saying:

The Coast: https://www.thecoast.ca/halifax/the-steady-theatre-co-steers-on/Content?oid=23416845

The Way I See It Theatre Blog: http://www.twisitheatreblog.com/take-a-moment-to-listen-to-the-wind/

For more about the play, see “James Reaney’s Listen to the Wind in Halifax February 4-9”: https://jamesreaney.com/2020/01/25/james-reaneys-listen-to-the-wind-in-halifax-february-4-9/

Listen to the Wind Act II: Rogue and Douglas
Listen to the Wind Act II: Angela, Arthur & Sir Edward
Listen to the Wind: Lower floor McCully House
Listen to the Wind: Front of house reception area
At McCully House: James Reaney’s children’s story “The Boy Who Lived in the Sun” on view for audience members

James Reaney’s Listen to the Wind in Halifax February 4-9

On February 4-9 in Halifax, Steady Theatre will present Listen to the Wind, a play by James Reaney.

With the help of their families and neighbours, four children put on The Saga of Caresfoot Court – a melodrama set in a old manorhouse.

“… We watch a double story: Owen fighting illness and trying to get his parents together again; Angela Caresfoot threading her way through a world of evil manorhouses and sinister Lady Eldreds. The two stories illuminate each other….” James Reaney, 1966 Program Notes

When & Where: February 4 to 8 at 7:00 pm at the Jonathan McCully Mansion, 2507 Brunswick Street, Halifax B3K 2Z5

February 9 at 6:00 pm at the Maritime Conservatory for the Performing Arts, 6199 Chebucto Road, Halifax B3L 1K7

Tickets: To order tickets and for details about accessibility at the two locations, see the TicketHalifax page: https://www.tickethalifax.com/events/104629667/listen-to-the-wind

James Reaney’s 1966 play Listen to the Wind is available from Talonbooks: https://talonbooks.com/books/listen-to-the-wind

James Reaney (Photo courtesy Talonbooks)

Songs of London Poetry and Painting with Serenata Music on January 18

Join us on Saturday January 18 at 8:00 pm at Western’s von Kuster Auditorium for a musical evening of “Songs of London Poetry and Painting” by local composers Oliver Whitehead (guitar) and Steve Holowitz (piano). 

Inspired by poems and art with a Southwestern Ontario connection, Whitehead and Holowitz have set to music poems from James Reaney’s Souwesto Home and Colleen Thibaudeau’s The Artemesia Book.

The performers are London musicians Sonja Gustafson, soprano, and Adam Iannetta, baritone, along with  Ingrid Crozman on flute and Patrick Theriault on cello (replacing Christine Newland). 

When & Where: Saturday January 18, 8:00 pm, von Kuster Auditorium, Don Wright Faculty of Music, Western University

Tickets are available at the door or online from the Grand Theatre Box Office and OnStageDirect. Students $20 and Adults $40

For more about upcoming concerts and events, visit Serenata Music: http://serenatamusic.com

Souwesto Home, Brick Books 2005
James Reaney and Colleen Thibaudeau near Stratford, Ontario, 1982.

Wordsfest 2019: Stan Dragland on “James Reaney on the grid”

Saturday November 2, 2019 — Thank you all for joining us at Wordsfest at Museum London for the Tenth Annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture, and thank you, Stan Dragland, for coming all the way from St. John’s, Newfoundland to share your thoughts on James Reaney’s use of structure or “grids of meaning.”

Stan Dragland’s lecture “James Reaney on the grid” November 2, 2019 at Wordsfest in London, Ontario.

In his lecture James Reaney on the grid, Stan Dragland explains how Reaney drew material from the local and particular and used archetypal patterns to link and clarify it:

What about the grids? “Grid” is not Reaney’s own word, of course. He picked it up from others at the long-liner’s conference [a 1984 conference on the Canadian long poem], and the literal meaning, with all those right angles, is not the best image for what he does. He’d be more likely to say pattern, or formula, or catalogue, or paradigm, or list. Also backbone. I’ll keep on with grid here, but really list is the better word.

“There is something about lists that hypnotizes me,” Reaney says, introducing the “Catalogue Poems” section of Performance Poems [1990]. Now watch how he slides disparate things together in metaphor as he goes on: “I think this fascination is connected with our joy in the rainbow’s week of colours, in the 92 element candle you see in a physics lab at school, but then see all around you like a segmented serpent we’re all tied together by. Our backbones, with their xylophone vertebrae, are such sentences; lists of symbolic objects in some sort of mysterious, overwhelming progression I have elsewhere called the backbones of whales, and indeed they are, for they are capable of becoming a paradigm . . . used as a secret structure.” His play, Canada Dash, Canada Dot [1965] is built on lists of various sorts. So is Colours in the Dark [1967]. In fact lists or catalogues are everywhere in his work…

A video of Stan Dragland’s lecture is available here, and the full text version is here.

About the speaker

Stan Dragland’s immersion in James Reaney’s work began in 1970 when he arrived in London to teach at the University of Western Ontario. One of the first courses he taught was English 138 Canadian Literature and Culture, a team-taught course designed by James Reaney. Stan Dragland is also a co-founder of Brick Books, a local poetry press now celebrating its 45th anniversary.

Souwesto Home by James Reaney, 2005, Brick Books.

The James Reaney Memorial Lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet and dramatist James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario and found a creative home in London, Ontario.

Our thanks to Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support of the lecture series, and to Poetry Stratford and the Stratford Public Library for their support in hosting the earlier lectures (2010-2015).

2010: Colleen Thibaudeau
2011: Marion Johnson and Peter Denny
2012: Jean McKay
2013: David Ferry
2014: Tim Inkster
2015: Thomas Gerry
2016: John Beckwith
2017: Tom Smart
2018: James Stewart Reaney
2019: Stan Dragland

James Reaney Memorial Lecture: November 2 at Wordsfest

James Reaney at the farm near Stratford, Ontario, Summer 1979. (Photo by Les Kohalmi)

Join us at Wordsfest on November 2, 2019 at 12:00 pm at Museum London’s Lecture Theatre for the 10th annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture.

Stan Dragland, poet, novelist, and literary critic, will speak on James Reaney’s love of lists and how he uses them to express his vision, particularly in plays like The Donnellys.

Styling his lecture as “James Reaney on the grid”, Dragland explores how Reaney’s immersion in his local environment brings forth the universal in his art.

James Reaney’s The Donnellys: Sticks and Stones Act I
Mr Donnelly: And this earth in my hand, the earth of my farm
That I fought for and was smashed and burnt for
(Jerry Franken as Mr Donnelly, Tarragon Theatre, 1973)

When: Saturday November 2 at 12:00 pm
Where: Wordsfest at Museum London, 421 Ridout Street, London, Ontario
Admission is free.

Earlier Wordsfest lectures on James Reaney:

2016: John Beckwith on James Reaney and Music
2017: Tom Smart on James Reaney: The Iconography of His Imagination
2018: James Stewart Reaney on James Reaney’s Plays for Children

The James Reaney Memorial Lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet and dramatist James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario and found a creative home in London, Ontario.

Our thanks to Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support of the lecture series, and to Poetry Stratford and the Stratford Public Library for their support in hosting the earlier lectures (2010-2015).

Souwesto Home by James Reaney, 2005, Brick Books.

James Reaney’s The Boy Who Lived in the Sun

(Reposted from July 2, 2013)

In the summer of 1961, James Reaney wrote and illustrated a story for children called The Boy Who Lived in the Sun. He made 36 watercolour illustrations to go with the text, stitched them together, and for many years it was only shared with family and friends.

In the story, a boy who lives in the sun dreams of going to earth to meet other children. He discovers that it’s not easy for a luminary being to have contact with humans, and that the process of becoming human will require lengthy and celestial labour on his part.

Once there was a little boy who lived in the Sun.     (Illustration and text by James Reaney, 1961)

Every morning he watched the earth get up

(page 3 illustration)

and all the other planets — even tiny, gray Pluto

He loved watching earthsets best though

He dreamed of walking on earth. Beneath trees!

No trees, no shadows on the sun! In the dream, there were

were children picking berries in a lane. They looked at him as if they knew who he was

So the boy wanted very much to live on the earth, to pick berries, to meet the children in his dream. He wanted to be a little boy who lived on the earth.
“Do you,” said the Archangel of the sun when he went to see him. “[I] wonder. It’s a very slow process. You can go to earth but first you must go to Pluto and then to….”

“No,” stamped the boy. “I wish to go right now.” “Then go,” laughed the Archangel. “[I] think it may do you some good.” And

and down to earth went the boy — right through a big rainstorm.

It was night & a large moth pursued him all over. Since he was a child of the sun he glowed in the dark

He hid in a hollow tree at last but did not sleep. He did not need to. He did not know how to.

A bough of green apples ripened at one glance from him!

A farmgirl threw a pitcher of milk at him.

He melted the ice beneath skaters!

He caused a thistle and a butterfly to come out although it was snowing

In a minute a little baby he paused to talk to grew up into a woman & then down into a very old lady.

He could make no contact with earth-people. To them he was often just a sunbeam in the corner of the room.

There were no children picking berries and the leaves had fallen off the trees

Next he saw a crowd of people. He must have been in a city. The boy was discovering that he often had very little control over where he was. He was not human yet and so bounced about like a flash of light.

One day he went back to the sun. It was harder to go to earth than he had thought.

“As I was saying,” said the Archangel of the Sun. “In order to go to Earth first you must go to Pluto and be…

an old beggar man for 100 years

on Uranus harvest the enchanted hay

(Neptune with his sceptre)

sail the stormy seas of Neptune

On Mars you must lead the toy soldiers against the mad mice

You must be a madcap on the Moon for a full Leap Year

you must on Saturn think 1000 thoughts

On Mercury steal the ogress’ magic horn

on planet Venus find the tree whose leaves are flowers

And now that you have done these things go, for you are ready, Go to earth!

There he met the children of his dream who said that he was their brother. While berry picking they had lost sight of him in the forest. They were just going home to tell their parents that he was lost,

but now instead they would take him home.

Note from Susan Reaney: The Boy Who Lived in the Sun existed from my early childhood and was never published. I always thought of it as unfinished because I could not accept the ending. The boy returns to earth and is reunited with his family, but does he remember being a boy who lived in the sun? Now I think perhaps he does.

James Reaney at home, age 4. Summer 1930

Marvellous Playhouses — Thomas Gerry on James Reaney’s emblem poems

In the Summer 2019 issue of Queen’s Quarterly, Thomas Gerry’s article “Marvellous Playhouses” celebrates James Reaney’s emblem poems. For Gerry, the poems “put into play” Reaney’s artistic process, a “magnetic method” he developed for generating meaning through the use of wit.

The emblem poems are theatre-like devices that draw readers into the activity of making meaning. As with audiences for dramatic performances, emblem-readers’ participation is vital. [Queen’s Quarterly, Summer 2019, page 196]

James Reaney’s emblem poem “The Castle” first appeared in Poetry (Chicago) (1969). See Queen’s Quarterly, Summer 2019, page 197.
Summer 1979: James Reaney working in the garden near Stratford, Ontario
(Photo by Les Kohalmi)

For a full discussion of all ten emblem poems and James Reaney’s artistic process, see The Emblems of James Reaney, available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

See also Thomas Gerry‘s 2015 lecture on “Theatrical Features of James Reaney’s Emblem Poems”.

Village Opera presents The Great Lakes Suite May 4-5

May 4-5 in London, Ontario — In celebration of Canadian composers, the Village Opera directed by Adam Corrigan-Holowitz will present The Great Lakes Suite, which features six poems by James Reaney set to music by John Beckwith.

Reaney and Beckwith became friends when they were students at the University of Toronto in the late 1940s. The Great Lakes Suite is from The Red Heart (1949), James Reaney’s first poetry collection. Inspired by the poems, John Beckwith created a chamber cycle for two voices accompanied by a trio.

Along with John Beckwith, this presentation by the Village Opera also includes works by John Greer, London’s Matthew Emery, and two songs by Ontario composer Jeff Enns. The performers are Katy Clark, soprano, and Paul Grambo, baritone.

When: Saturday May 4 at 7:30 and Sunday May 5 at 3:00
Where: Elmwood Avenue Presbyterian Church, London, Ontario
Tickets: $25/$15 for students: https://villageopera.com/buy-tickets

James Reaney’s poem“Lake Superior” begins the suite:

Lake Superior

I am Lake Superior
Cold and gray.
I have no superior;
All other lakes
Haven’t got what it takes;
All are inferior.
I am Lake Superior
Cold and gray.
I am so cold
That because I chill them
The girls of Fort William
Can’t swim in me.
I am so deep
That when people drown in me
Their relatives weep
For they’ll never find them.
In me swims the fearsome
Great big sturgeon.
My shores are made of iron
Lined with tough, wizened trees.
No knife of a surgeon
Is sharper than these
Waves of mine
That glitter and shine
In the light of the Moon, my mother
In the light of the Sun, my grandmother.

James Reaney, 1949

For more about John Beckwith and James Reaney’s musical collaborations, see John Beckwith’s lecture on James Reaney and Music from November 2016: https://jamesreaney.com/gallery/john-beckwith-on-james-reaney-and-music-november-5-2016-at-museum-london/

For more about composer John Beckwith, see his 2012 autobiography Unheard of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer, available from Wilfrid Laurier University Press, and also the Canadian Music Centre’s Composer Showcase: http://www.musiccentre.ca/node/37279/showcase

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

James Reaney’s “The Crow”

The Crow

A fool once caught a crow
That flew too near even for his stone’s throw.
Alone beneath a tree
He examined the black flier
And found upon its sides
Two little black doors.
He opened both of them.
He expected to see into
Perhaps a little kitchen
With a stove, a chair,
A table and a dish
Upon that table.
But he only learned that crows
Know a better use for doors than to close
And open, and close and open
Into dreary, dull rooms.

 James Reaney, 1949

Crow near Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC.

“The Crow” is from The Red Heart (1949), James Reaney‘s first collection of poems.