Here is James Reaney’s poem “The Bicycle” — the Twelfth Letter from Twelve Letters to a Small Town, a suite of poems James Reaney wrote for composer John Beckwith in 1962.
Halfway between childhood & manhood,
More than a hoop but never a car,
The bicycle talks gravel and rain pavement
On the highway where the dead frogs are.
Like sharkfish the cars blur by,
Filled with the two-backed beast
One dreams of, yet knows not the word for,
The accumulating sexual yeast.
Past the house where the bees winter,
I climb on the stairs of my pedals
To school murmuring irregular verbs
Past the lion with legs like a table’s.
Autumn blows the windfalls down
With a twilight horn of dead leaves.
I pick them up in the fence of November
And burs on my sweater sleeves.
Where a secret robin is wintering
By the lake in the fir grove dark
Through the fresh new snow we stumble
That Winter has whistled sharp.
The March wind blows me ruts over,
Puddles past, under red maple buds,
Over culvert of streamling, under
White clouds and beside bluebirds.
Fireflies tell their blinking player
Piano hesitant tales
Down at the edge of the bridge through the swamp
Where the ogre clips his rusty nails.
Between the highschool & the farmhouse
In the country and the town
It was a world of love and of feeling
Continually floating down
On a soul whose only knowledge
Was that everything was something,
This was like that, that was like this–
In short, everything was
The bicycle of which I sing.
Twelve Letters to a Small Town was first published in 1962 by the Ryerson Press. The poems were specially written for composer John Beckwith, who then set them to music for broadcast on CBC Radio’s “Wednesday Night” program.
These photos are from September 1966, when painter and broadcaster William Ronald brought a CBC TV crew to London, Ontario to interview Greg Curnoe, Jack Chambers, and James Reaney for the arts magazine show “The Umbrella.” In ¨The Umbrella¨ segment on London, Ontario’s art scene, William Ronald praises James Reaney as “the best known bike rider in London.″
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