Twelve Letters to a Small Town

Here is the Eleventh Letter from Twelve Letters to a Small Town, a suite of poems James Reaney wrote for composer John Beckwith in 1962.

James Reaney’s Twelve Letters To A Small Town (1962)

ELEVENTH LETTER — Shakespearean Gardens

The Tempest The violet lightning of a March thunderstorm glaring the patches of ice still stuck to the streets.

Two Gentlemen of Verona On Wellington St. an elegant colonel-looking gentleman with waxed white moustachioes that came to tight little points.

Merry Wives of Windsor The Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Orange Lodge marched down the street in white dresses with orange bows on them.

Richard III At last all the children ran away from home and were brought up by an old spinster who lived down the street.

Henry VIII Mr. White’s second wife was the first Mrs. Brown and the first Mrs. White was the second Mrs. Brown.

Troilus  & Cressida “Well, I haven’t been to that old Festival yet but since it began I’ve had ten different boyfriends.”

Titus Andronicus Young Mr. Wood to-day lost his right hand in an accident at the lumber yards.

Romeo & Juliet Romeo & Juliet Streets.

Timon of Athens Old Miss Shipman lived alone in a weatherbeaten old cottage and could occasionally be seen out on the front lawn cutting the grass with a small sickle.

Julius Caesar Antony wore a wrist watch in the Normal School production although he never looked at it during the oration.

Macbeth Principal Burdoch’s often expressed opinion was that a great many people would kill a great many other people if they knew for certain they could get away with it.

Hamlet A girl at the bakery took out a boat on the river, tied candlesticks to her wrists and drowned herself.

King Lear Mr. Upas was a silver haired cranky old individual who complained that the meat was too tough at the boarding house.

Othello At the edge of town there stood a lonely white frame building—a deserted Negro church.

The Merchant of Venice When my cousin worked for the Silversteins she had her own private roll of baloney kept aside in the refrigerator for her.

Henry V The local armouries are made of the usual red brick with the usual limestone machicolation.

Twelve Letters to a Small Town was first published in 1962 by the Ryerson Press. In the Afterword to the 2002 facsimile edition, James Reaney wrote that after it was published, “Many Stratford residents said they saw on paper for the first time their memories of the town and wrote to me to say so.”

Among the shows currently on at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario are The Tempest, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and The Comedy of Errors.

Devil’s Artisan 82: Tom Smart on James Reaney’s visual art

Devil’s Artisan #82, Spring / Summer 2018

Issue 82 of Devil’s Artisan features gallery director Tom Smart‘s article “The Visual Art of James Reaney and the Iconography of His Imagination”. The article is an expanded discussion of Smart’s earlier lecture at Words Fest in November 2017.

“… The essence of Reaney’s visual art is his resounding respect for play as a catalyst to unlock creativity — his and ours — and to transform the world perpetually through metaphors that resonate mythically.” (Devil’s Artisan, Issue 82, page 53)

To order a copy or preview the issue, see the Devil’s Artisan page at the Porcupine’s Quillhttp://devilsartisan.ca/latest_issue.html

 

James Reaney (Photo courtesy Talonbooks)
“The Poet’s Typewriter” by James Reaney, 1997

 

♦ See also Tom Smart on James Reaney’s visual art at Words Festival and The Iconography of the Imagination: The Art of James Reaney.

 

 

James Reaney’s “The Sundogs”

The Sundogs

I saw the sundogs barking
On either side of the Sun
As he was making his usual will
And last testament
In a glorious vestment.
And the sundogs cried,
“Bow wow!
We’ll make a ring
Around the moon
And children, seeing it, will say:
Up there they play Farmer in the Dell
And the moon like the cheese stands still.
Bow wow!
We shall drown the crickets,
Set the killdeer birds crying,
Send shingles flying,
And pick all the apples
Ripe or not.
Our barking shall overturn
Hencoops and rabbit-hutches,
Shall topple over privies
With people inside them,
And burn with invisible,
Oh, very invisible!
Flames
In each frightened tree.
Whole branches we’ll bite off
And for the housewife’s sloth
In not taking them in
We’ll drag her sheets and pillow cases
Off the fence
And dress up in them
And wear them thin.
And people will say
Both in the country
And in the town
It falls in pails
Of iron nails.
We’ll blow the curses
Right back into the farmer’s mouths
As they curse our industry
And shake their fists,
For we will press the oats
Close to the ground,
Lodge the barley,
And rip open the wheat stooks.
We shall make great faces
Of dampness appear on ceilings
And blow down chimneys
Till the fire’s lame.
With the noise of a thousand typewriters
We shall gallop over the roofs of town.
We are the Sun’s animals.
We stand by him in the West
And ready to obey
His most auburn wish
For Rain, Wind and Storm

James Reaney, 1949

“The Sundogs” is from James Reaney’s first book of poems The Red Heart (1949), and it is also featured in Act I of his play Colours in the Dark from 1967. You can also find the poem in The Essential James Reaney (2009), available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

Barbara Bryne, Douglas Rain and Sandy Webster in Colours in the Dark, 1967 Photography by Peter Smith & Company (Courtesy Stratford Festival Archives. Reproduced with permission.)
“Sundogs” photo courtesy http://prairiesmokenotes.wordpress.com

Tom Smart on James Reaney’s visual art at Words Festival

Thank you all for coming to Museum London on Sunday November 5 to hear Tom Smart speak on “James Reaney’s Visual Art: Iconographies of His Imagination.”

In his talk, Smart placed James Reaney in the tradition of poet-painters William Blake (1757-1827) and David Jones (1895-1974), who extended the expression of their literary ideas into their visual art.

James Reaney’s watercolour painting “David Willson Meets an Angel in the Forest”, 1962 (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

Smart also mentioned Reaney’s interest in children’s art and the work of psychologist and educator Rhoda Kellogg, who analyzed thousands of drawings by children to show the evolution of their early non-pictorial work, or scribbling, to pictorial drawing. The child-like lone figure or “playful witness” is also a device that Reaney uses in many of his drawings and paintings.

Watercolour drawing by James Reaney from “The Boy Who Lived in the Sun” (1961)

Mandala created by Rhoda Kellogg showing the evolution of children’s non-pictorial into pictorial drawing (What Children Scribble and Why [1955])
Reaney also admired Huron County farmer George Laithwaite’s folkloric concrete sculptures, created between 1912-1952.

 

Near Goderich, Ontario, “Moses” sculpture by George Laithwaite (1871-1956). (Photo by JS Reaney)

Gallery director and author Tom Smart was Director at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2006-2010, and organized an exhibition of James Reaney’s visual art and writings called “The Iconography of the Imagination: The Art of James Reaney” in 2008.

See also Jean McKay’s 2006 article “What on earth are you doing, Sir?” in Artcscape magazine, and James Reaney’s The Boy Who Lived in the Sun (1961).

Our thanks to our hosts Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support in organizing this event, and to Western Archives for their display.

A video of the lecture is available here: https://vimeo.com/244934223

The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.

November 5, 2017 — Western Archives display of James Reaney’s paintings and drawings prepared by archivist Amanda Jamieson from the James Reaney fonds (AFC 18).

 

James Reaney Memorial Lecture November 5 at Museum London

Join us on Sunday November 5 at 5:30 pm at Museum London to hear curator and author Tom Smart speak about “James Reaney’s Visual Art: Iconographies of his Imagination.”

Throughout his literary career, poet and dramatist James Reaney also produced sketches, drawings, and paintings to explore the ideas in his writing. Common themes in Reaney’s visual art are play, home, regionalism, symbolism, and the interplay between text and image.*

James Reaney’s watercolour painting “David Willson Meets an Angel in the Forest”, 1962 (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

When: Sunday November 5 at 5:30 pm

Where: Museum London, 421 Ridout Street North, London, Ontario

Admission is free; James Stewart Reaney, James Reaney’s son, will introduce the speaker.

Gallery director and author Tom Smart was Director at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2006-2010, and organized an exhibition of James Reaney’s visual art and writings called “The Iconography of the Imagination: The Art of James Reaney” in 2008.

Watercolour by James Reaney, East Zorra, Oxford County, Near Cassel Mennonite Church, September 2, 1978

Our thanks to Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support of this event. The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.

*See the Spring Exhibitions invitation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, April 17, 2008.

“The Artist & Table” by James Reaney, watercolour, ink, and graphite on paper, 1992 (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

 

James Reaney, 1979 (Photo by Les Kohalmi)

Literary Titans Revisited: James Reaney interviewed by Earle Toppings December 14, 1970

From 1969 to 1970, Earle Toppings, broadcaster and editor at the Ontario Institute for Education (OISE), organized a series of interviews and recordings with 16 Canadian authors for use as a resource in high schools and colleges.

Literary Titans Revisited: The Earle Toppings Interviews with CanLit Poets and Writers of the Sixties, edited by Professor Anne Urbancic, presents exact transcripts of Earle Toppings’s interviews with Canadian authors Margaret Laurence, Morley Callaghan, Hugh Garner, Hugh MacLennan, Mordecai Richler, Sinclair Ross, Dorothy Livesay, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Al Purdy, Earle Birney, F.R. Scott, Irving Layton, Miriam Waddington, Raymond Souster, Eli Mandel, and James Reaney.

James Reaney (Photo courtesy Talonbooks)

On December 14, 1970, James Reaney met interviewer Earle Toppings and asked that his recording session for the Canadian Poets on Tape series be recorded at a piano, and fortunately the basement studio of the OISE building in Toronto had one. Reaney then played musical excerpts (for example, “Beulah Land” and “The Maple Leaf Rag”) and also read poems from The Red Heart, A Suit of Nettles, Twelve Letters to a Small Town, Night Blooming Cereus, The Dance of Death at London, Ontario, One Man Masque, and Colours in the Dark. He begins this way:

[Reaney performs “Beulah Land,” a fragment of an old hymn, on the piano.]

That’s the first poem I ever heard, at an early denominational Sunday school. I’m sitting at a piano on Bloor Street near a subway that you’ll hear thundering by occasionally, and I’ve got… sort of… my collected works around me. I’m going to read from The Red Heart first of all, and I’m going to occasionally call forth from the piano pieces of music that really make a comment on the poems in a sort of way. […] [See pages 286-287.]

A special evening to launch the book will be held on October 5 from 6-8 pm at the EJ Pratt Library, 71 Queen’s Park Crescent East, Toronto, Ontario.

 Digital copies of Earle Toppings’s original recordings are available at the Victoria University Special Collections at the University of Toronto.

 Literary Titans Revisited: The Earle Toppings Interviews with CanLit Poets and Writers of the Sixties is available from Dundurn Press.

 

James Reaney’s poem “Klaxon”

Klaxon

All day cars mooed and shrieked,
Hollered and bellowed and wept
Upon the road.
They slid by with bits of fur attached,
Fox-tails and rabbit-legs,
The skulls and horns of deer,
Cars with yellow spectacles
Or motorcycle monocle,
Cars whose gold eyes burnt
With a too-rich battery,
Murderous cars and manslaughter cars,
Chariots from whose foreheads leapt
Silver women of ardent bosom.
Ownerless, passengerless, driverless,
They came to anyone
And with headlights full of tears
Begged for a master,
For someone to drive them
For the familiar chauffeur.
Limousines covered with pink slime
Of children’s blood
Turned into the open fields
And fell over into ditches,
The wheels kicking helplessly.
Taxis begged trees to step inside
Automobiles begged of posts
The whereabouts of their mother.
But no one wished to own them anymore,
Everyone wished to walk.

James Reaney, 1949

 

“Klaxon” is included in The Red Heart (1949), the first collection of James Reaney’s poems, and you can also find the poem in The Essential James Reaney, available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

((( • ))) Listen to James Reaney read “Klaxon” in Poets on Film No. 1 from the NFB’s animated film collection.

From “Klaxon”: “No one wished to own them anymore, // Everyone wished to walk.” (July 2017, Vancouver, BC)
La Cosecha Community Garden, Vancouver, BC

Colours in the Dark premiere July 25, 1967

July 25, 1967 — Fifty years ago today, James Reaney’s play Colours in the Dark had its first performance at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario, part of the Stratford Festival‘s 15th season. Described in the press as a “play box of colours and fantasies”, Colours in the Dark won favourable reviews and enjoyed a standing ovation on its opening night.

Directed by John Hirsch, the actors were Sandy Webster, Barbara Bryne, Douglas Rain, Martha Henry, Heath Lamberts, and Mary Hitch along with 12 Stratford children and four singers. Eoin Sprott designed the projected images used to create the set, and Alan Laing wrote and performed the music.

Douglas Rain as the Father, Martha Henry as the Mother and Heath Lamberts as the Son in the 1967 production of Colours in the Dark. Photography by Peter Smith (Courtesy Stratford Festival Archives. Reproduced with permission.)
Barbara Bryne, Douglas Rain and Sandy Webster in Colours in the Dark, 1967
Photography by Peter Smith & Company
(Courtesy Stratford Festival Archives. Reproduced with permission.)

Carol Johnson of the Stratford Beacon Herald interviewed Elizabeth Cooke, James Reaney’s mother, and Wilma McCaig, his sister, about the play and about the notion that the play is like a “play box” from his past and the past of the Stratford District:

“There’s a big chest upstairs that comes from Ireland. It has his first manuscripts and his first puppets in it. I don’t know if that’s what he calls his play box.

He didn’t have measles as a child. The experience in the play was like my experience with measles, except I didn’t see colours in the dark. I kept books under my pillow… I read when I wasn’t supposed to.

He used to listen to the radio all the time. Little Orphan Annie, that’s in the play, was one of his favourite programs… the Singing Lady, that was another one. And one early space program that used to make the windows shake.

[…] Flying kites, parades, puppets, glass Easter eggs, drawings, bicycles, Sunday School pictures — all of the things his mother and sister spoke of in James Reaney’s past, they placed in his work today, most in Colours in the Dark.

Jamie wasn’t a religious boy. He’d sit in church in one of the back pews. Someone told me once, there was Jamie reading while the minister was preaching.

He’s always painted. You’d call him for dinner and he’d be upstairs painting water colour portraits on the whitewash.

He’s made puppets since high school.  In Red Riding Hood he was the wolf, a plastic bag, who eats the grandmother, who’s a teapot.

James Reaney writes about the things he knows from his childhood, the way he knows them as a man.”

[Source: Excerpted from Carol Johnson’s article “James Reaney’s ‘play-box’ mother talks about his childhood”, Stratford Beacon Herald, July 28, 1967, page 7.]

 

Note from Susan Reaney: Elizabeth Cooke (née Crerar) did indeed keep books under her pillow; see “Her reviews were pithy” by James Stewart Reaney in the London Free Press.

Allan Stratton tells us that James Reaney’s marionette plays Apple Butter and an adaptation of Red Riding Hood were performed July 3-15, 1967 at the Stratford Arena before Colours in the Dark opened, so this might be where Elizabeth Cooke had the chance to see them.

The Alphabet Players with the marionettes from Apple Butter, Stratford, Ontario, July 1967. James Reaney (centre, seated) is holding some of the Red Riding Hood marionettes. Allan Stratton (far right) is holding Apple Butter, and James Stewart Reaney (second in on the left) is holding Solomon Spoilrod.

 

For more about Colours in the Dark, see “The Music Lesson from Colours in the Dark”, “Colours in the Dark and Mr. Winemeyer”, and the March 2017 production by the King’s Theatrical Society.

For more about James Reaney’s childhood influences, see “James Reaney: Reflections on Food, Shelter, and ‘When the Great Were Small'”.

Grateful thanks to the Stratford Festival Archives for permission to reproduce the photos from the 1967 production of Colours in the Dark, and also to the Canadian Theatre Collection at the University of Guelph Archives for reviews and articles about the play.

Colours in the Dark by James Reaney is available from Talonbooks.

 

 

 

The Music Lesson from Colours in the Dark

March 2017 in Halifax: King’s Theatrical Society’s production of James Reaney’s Colours in the Dark. (Photo by Erica Guy)

The Music Lesson scene in James Reaney’s 1967 play Colours in the Dark (Act II Scene 5) borrows from an earlier poetic cycle about Stratford, Ontario: Twelve Letters to a Small Town (1962).

Pages 6 and 7 from Twelve Letters To A Small Town (1962). Drawings by James Reaney.

CBC Radio commissioned Twelve Letters to a Small Town and John Beckwith composed music to accompany the poems. In the Eighth Letter (subtitled “The Music Lesson”), James Reaney pays tribute to his Stratford piano teacher Cora B. Ahrens.

The Eighth Letter “…  depicts a piano lesson in which the student, after playing a few exercises and a set piece called ‘The Storm,’ is asked to display his progress on another piece called ‘A Year in the Town,’ by playing each of the four sections (representing the four seasons) first one hand at a time and then with both hands together. Both ‘The Storm’ and ‘A Year in the Town have appropriate spoken texts to which the music corresponds.” [Source: John Beckwith on “James Reaney and Music” November 5, 2016]

From Colours in the Dark (II v) The Music Lesson: PUPIL: Miss Miller. Tell me the truth. Are you really Mr. Winemeyer in disguise? Are men and women the same? (Photo by Erica Guy, King’s Theatrical Society)

 

5. THE MUSIC LESSON

(The GRANDMOTHER is the music teacher; the FATHER is her pupil.)

TEACHER: That will do for your scales. Now play me your piece. Play me “The Storm.” What shall I set the metronome at?

PUPIL: Set it at summer and pink and white and yellow bricks sunlight with blue sky and white feather dumpling clouds.

The cast enters and assists orally.

THE STORM

A cloud and a cloud and a cloud
Came into the blue afternoon room
A cloud and a cloud and a cloud
And a cloud and a cloud
a cloud
Mac Leod
A Cloud
And a cloud and a cloud
Down down down came the cloudy
With a windowpane shudder
And mirrors for your feet
People running into stores
Darkness in the library
Umbrellas blossom
Church is nearer through the rain.
A cloud and a cloud and a cloudy
Came out of the yellow garage
Joseph MacLeod in a many-coloured vest
Danced to the music dying in the west.

This whole piece should have the feeling of yellow and “Chansons sans Paroles” by Mendelssohn.

TEACHER: Why are you looking so sad?
PUPIL: I’ve lost something. I’ve lost a piece of the star Mr. Winemeyer gave me. I was trying to kick it all the way into town and it disappeared in the dirt.
TEACHER: Here – as a reward for playing “The Storm” so well.
She hands him the star.
PUPIL: But Miss Miller. How did you get hold of this? It’s my piece of the star… that I lost while kicking it into town.
She sits down at the piano and begins to play.
TEACHER: Now here’s the next piece of music I’d like you to learn.
She plays him the same piece of music the Hermit played, “On Wings of Song.”
PUPIL: Miss Miller. Tell me the truth. Are you really Mr. Winemeyer in disguise? Are men and women the same?
She smiles and continues playing. The light fades. The Wind and the rain doll pass with their branch shadows. The GRANDMOTHER exits. The GRANDFATHER, still playing the Hermit, crawls onstage. The BOYS run over to him.

((( ♦ ))) For more about “The Music Lesson” in the “Eighth Letter” section of Twelve Letters to a Small Town, see composer John Beckwith’s talk on “James Reaney and Music” at Words Fest 2016. 

((( ))) For more about the play, see Colours in the Dark and Mr. Winemeyer” and the March 2017 production by Edie Reaney Chunn and the King’s Theatrical Society.

John Beckwith at WordsFest in London, Ontario, November 5, 2016

Apple Butter at the Kingston Fringe

Congratulations to Helen Monroe and Jewel Weed Theatre Company for their successful adaptation of James Reaney’s children’s play Apple Butter at the Fringe Theatre Festival in Kingston, Ontario this week.

Originally conceived as a marionette play, this adaptation uses “actors, puppets, masks and a touch of magic” to bring the story of orphan Apple Butter and his sojourn at Hester Pinch’s farm to life.

Jennifer Brook designed the puppets and masks, and Peter Jarvis composed original songs for the play. The performers are  Nicola Atkinson, Adrian Beattie, Kayla Farris, Connor Marois, and Reanne Spitzer.

Part of this year’s Storefront Fringe Festival, the show runs from June 23 to July 1. Order tickets here.

Director Helen Monroe has shared these photos of designs from the play:

James Reaney’s play Applebutter at the Storefront Fringe in Kingston, Ontario, June 23- July 1, 2017.
“Tree Wuzzel” design by Jennifer Brook.

 

Design for “Moo Cow” mask by Jennifer Brook.

 

“Rawbone” puppet design by Jennifer Brook.