“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 safely 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.

Canadian Opera Anthology includes Daisy’s Aria from The Shivaree

Daisy’s Aria from John Beckwith and James Reaney’s 1982 opera The Shivaree is now part of a two-volume anthology of soprano arias from Canadian operas produced by Counterpoint Music Library Services.

Based on the work of soprano Dr. Stephanie Nakagawa, the two-volume anthology is a resource for singers and performance companies and features selections from 21 Canadian operas

In collaboration with the Canadian Music Centre, Dr. Nakagawa plans to create anthologies for each voice type. 

UBC Public Scholar Dr. Stephanie Nakagawa performs “I Need You Guillaume” from Victor Davies and Maureen Hunter’s 2007 opera Transit of Venus, one of the arias from her collection of music from Canadian operas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRulssBwJXw

Daisy’s Aria from The Shivaree

Caralyn Tomlin (Daisy) and Avo Kittask (Quartz) in The Shivaree, Comus Music Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre, Toronto, 1982.

In The Shivaree, Daisy is abandoned by her lover Jonathan and accepts the marriage proposal of a much older man, William Quartz. The story gives a Canadian rural setting to the Greek myth of Persephone borne off by Hades. In the aria, Daisy regrets marrying Mr. Quartz and longs for Jonathan to rescue her.

Daisy: Oh Jonathan, why have you forsaken me? Is there still time – to take me away?

ARIA
Jonathan, you were a strange young man.
You never could decide if I was yours,
So Jonathan, I tried to make you decide
By letting Mr. Quartz keep company with me.
But if flowers and leaves keep company with winter,
They soon find they’re stabbed with an icy splinter.
My heart’s like the lane and the fields in fall,
Rusting and stiffening with cold until all
Lies buried in colourless snow,
Jonathan!
Walk above the snow
Where the garden was —
Walk above the snow
That covers me up,
Jonathan!
That covers me o’er.

Cover for James Reaney’s ibretto for The Shivaree, which premiered at the St. Lawrence Centre on April 3, 1982.

The John Beckwith Songbook on March 7

Join us on Sunday March 7 for The John Beckwith Songbook — a concert celebrating the music of Canadian composer John Beckwith in honour of his 94th birthday.

Presented on the Confluence Concerts You Tube Channel, this celebration of John Beckwith’s song repertoire features three programs encompassing nearly all of his music for solo voice, including folksongs and songs set to poems by ee cummings, Miriam Waddington, and Colleen Thibaudeau.

The programs premiere at 2:00, 5:00, and 8:00 pm EST on March 7 and will be available on YouTube until March 21: https://www.youtube.com/c/ConfluenceConcerts

John Beckwith also collaborated with James Reaney on four operas: Night Blooming Cereus, The Shivaree, Crazy to Kill, and Taptoo!.

For more about the concert and John Beckwith’s music, see William Littler’s article in The Peterborough Examiner. John Beckwith shared this story about collaborating with James Reaney:

“Jamie lived in London and I lived in Toronto so our collaboration was almost exclusively through correspondence,” he recalls. The composer Richard Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal carried on their famous collaboration much the same way. And like Strauss and Hofmannsthal, Beckwith and Reaney had their disagreements: “I wanted the leading character in our first opera to have a cat,” recalls Beckwith. Reaney replied tersely: “Cut the cat.”

Advice for potential opera composers? “You have to get a good book or you won’t have an opera. I’ve had students come up to me asking ‘What should I do for words?’ I tell them to get to know some writers.”

( o )  See also John Beckwith’s lecture on “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/

Page from Reaney’s draft of the libretto for Night Blooming Cereus (see John Beckwith’s 1997 book, Music Papers: Articles and Talks by a Canadian Composer, page 219)

“Fifth Letter” from Twelve Letters To A Small Town

FIFTH LETTER
The Cloakroom at the High School

The high school is the palace of Merlin and Cheiron
Where governors and governesses teach
The young Achilles and young Arthurs of the town.

The radiators teach the rule of monotony
Cheep cheep cheeping in the winter classroom
Timid fingers learn to turn a fire on.

A stuffed hummingbird and a stuffed Sandhill Crane.
In the dusty looking glass of grammar,
Number, the young see the shape of their brain.

But what and where did I learn most from?
High, dark, narrow as its single window
In the old high school there was a cloakroom—

A cloakroom! In winter stuffed with cloaks
Soft with outside things inside
Burs, mud, dead leaves on some of the coats.

At four o’clock there are forty-nine bare hooks
As a hundred hands reach up
And I, lingering rearranging my books

See sweeping face peer in of janitor
Alone in the winter twilight
The old janitor! An image to ponder over.

Of course I learnt snow dripping windows
Corridors of words, cobwebs of character,
The ninety-two elements in a long row,
But most I learnt

The insoluble mystery of the cloakroom
And the curious question of the janitor
In some ways so centre and core
January man and cloakroom
From which the moon each month unlocks upon the wave
A white bird.

James Reaney, 1962

James Reaney at home, age 1 1/2 years, January 1928.

“Fifth 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”, “Sixth Letter: A House on King WIlliam Street” 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 1961, visit the Composers Showcase at the Canadian Music Centre.


James Reaney: Words and Music with Stephen Holowitz and Oliver Whitehead

Sunday November 15, 2020 – Thank you all for joining us at Wordsfest via Zoom for James Reaney: Words & Music. You can view an archived version of the event here: https://fb.watch/1NryVbGfTv/

Stephen Holowitz, Sonja Gustafson, Oliver Whitehead, and Ingrid Crozman at Aeolian Hall, October 18, 2020

A big thank you to Sonja Gustafson (soprano), Ingrid Crozman (flute), Stephen Holowitz (piano), and Oliver Whitehead (guitar) for your wonderful performances of selections from James Reaney’s poem “Brushstrokes Decorating a Fan” and Colleen Thibaudeau’s poems “Watermelon Summer” and “Lullaby of the Child for the Mother.”

Sonja Gustafson performs “Ernie’s Barber Salon Near the College” from “Brushstrokes Decorating a Fan”

And thank you, Carolyn Doyle, for being an excellent moderator and drawing forth the stories and recollections behind the music. Composers Stephen Holowitz and Oliver Whitehead first got the idea to set music to James Reaney’s “Brushstrokes Decorating a Fan” when they were asked to perform at his 81st birthday party on September 1, 2007. Their success with James Reaney’s work led to an appreciation for Colleen Thibaudeau’s poetry and composing the music for Adam Corrigan Holowitz‘s 2013 play Colleening.

Our grateful thanks to Joshua Lambier and Gregory De Souza at Wordsfest for helping us put James Reaney: Words & Music together. 

About the composers: Composers Stephen Holowitz and Oliver Whitehead are members of the London jazz group The Antler River Projecthttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hteyhpy3gcM

James Reaney’s Souwesto Home (2005) and Colleen Thibaudeau’s The Artemesia Book (1991) are available from Brick Books.

James Reaney and Colleen Thibaudeau at the farmhouse near Stratford in 1982.
Colleen Thibaudeau and James Reaney at the University of Toronto, 1950

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
2019: Stan Dragland on James Reaney on the grid

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).

Words and Music: James Reaney Memorial Lecture November 15 at Wordsfest

Sunday November 15 at 3:00 pm EST — Join us at Wordsfest via Zoom to hear James Reaney’s and Colleen Thibaudeau’s poems set to music by London composers Stephen Holowitz and Oliver Whitehead. Soprano Sonja Gustafson and flautist Ingrid Crozman are among the performers recorded earlier at Aeolian Hall for this online presentation.

Stephen Holowitz, Sonja Gustafson, Oliver Whitehead, and Ingrid Crozman at Aeolian Hall, October 18, 2020

Following the music, host Carolyn Doyle of the London Public Library will lead a discussion about the relationship between Words and Music, and the stories behind the poems. The theme of Words and Music plays off “Words & Music”, an old downtown London cultural outpost beloved by Colleen and Jamie when they moved to London in 1960.

((o)) Register here for the Zoom Webinar: 

https://westernuniversity.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_EqVD_KYHRq6bq2yHHg9myg

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. 

James Reaney’s “Clouds”

Clouds

These clouds are soft fat horses
That draw Weather in his wagon
Who bears in his old hands
Streaked whips and strokes of lightning.
The hooves of his cattle are made
Of limp water, that stamp
Upon the roof during a storm
And fall from dripping eaves;
Yet these hooves have worn away mountains
In their trotting over Earth.
And for manes these clouds
Have the soft and various winds
That still can push
A ship into the sea
And for neighs, the sable thunder.

James Reaney, 1949

“Clouds” is from The Red Heart (1949), James Reaney’s first book of poems.

Local history into fiction: James Reaney on Alice Munro

Alice Munro 2016

Alice Munro Country: Essays on Her Works and its companion Alice Munro Everlasting form a two-volume collection celebrating the work of Canadian writer Alice Munro.  Editor J.R. (Tim) Struthers has brought together critical appreciations from 34 contributors, including Catherine Sheldrick Ross, George Elliott Clarke, Jack Hodgins, Judith Thompson, Monika Lee, and James Reaney

Like James Reaney, Alice Munro grew up in Southwestern Ontario and many of her stories are set in Wingham, Ontario, in Huron County. Reaney’s essay, “An ABC to Ontario Literature and Culture,” outlines a graduate course he taught at the University of Western Ontario in the early 1970s. 

Alice Munro’s novel Lives of Girls and Women, along with Orlo Miller’s The Donnellys Must Die and Sara Jeanette Duncan’s The Imperialist, were essential texts for the eighth lecture:

JULY 18: VIII. Through the Years in West Nissouri, Miller, Duncan, Munro.
This was local history into fiction day since Alice Munro in Lives of Girls and Women has an historian uncle whose idea of writing is to pile up droplets from the parish pump (Who was the reeve in 1901? When did the school trustees put in cement platforms around the porch?) and never try to drive a line through them. Eventually, the tin box with his research in it is thoroughly drowned by the Maitland River in flood.

Since Sara Jeanette Duncan’s novel about Brantford is our first successful realist novel, you should read it to see how these things should be done; what is frequently depressing about the run-of-the-mill novel about us nowadays is the imprecision of viewpoint; all right, you’re not going to tell us much of a story, but could you have dug out some photographic details just a tiny bit less clichéd than these? [Volume I, page 54]

Alice Munro Country: Essays on Her Works and Alice Munro Everlasting: Essays on Her Works are available from Guernica Editions.

James Reaney’s “An ABC to Ontario Literature and Culture” originally appeared in Black Moss, Ser. 2, No. 3 (Spring 1977).

See also Stan Dragland’s Wordsfest lecture James Reaney on the grid (November 2, 2019) where Dragland recalls being part of an earlier team-taught version of the course when he first came to Western.

The Alice Munro Literary Garden in Wingham, Ontario

“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