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 Reeaney 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 will be available later.

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