August 23-29, 1965 in Leith, Ontario — Family friend Leith Peterson shares this Polaroid photo taken by her mother, Jay Peterson (1920-1976), who invited James Reaney and family up to her cottage at Leith to create the marionettes for James Reaney’s children’s play Apple Butter.
Here are the Reaney children (James, John, and Susan) and Jay’s niece Elizabeth Tinker with new-made marionette Apple Butter, soon to make his stage debut at the Western Fair in London (September 3-12, 1965).
In The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, James Reaney notes that “what follows here is an account of the events that culminated in the killing of the ‘somewhat notorious Donnelly family’ [4 February 1880] and what happened to the survivors, William and Robert Donnelly, up to their departure from Lucan in 1883. Indeed, subsequent events merit another volume: their arrival in their new home in Glencoe; the fact that the Donnelly brothers retained their father’s farm in Biddulph; that in 1905, Robert came back to live in Lucan, along with his nephew, James Michael, son of the ill-fated Michael Donnelly…” (See The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, page xv.)
Here is an excerpt from Act II, Scenes 3 and 4, where the two boys visit the old hermit, Mr. Winemeyer, and see his sculptures.
BOY 1: Where’d you get the peacock feather, Mr. Winemeyer?
HERMIT: Had a pet peacock once when I was a boy. A big old sow we had had a peeve about it – and one day caught it in the orchard and devoured it. This – was all that was left of my beautiful bird. Sticking out of that beast’s mouth.
BOY 1: holding the feather And nothing else has happened to you lately?
HERMIT: Well – yes – this happened. I happened to be out in the yard scraping out my frying pan when coming down through the air I saw – a falling star.
It does. It is yellow.
BOY 2: What are you going to do with this falling star, Mr. Winemeyer?
4. CEMENT SCULPTURES
SCREEN: Actual slides of the Goderich, Ontario, primitive sculptor Laithwaite – his cement figures.
HERMIT: Come out with me to the orchard and see my latest cement sculptures.
On cue, the sculpture slides appear. They could also be mimed by the Company.
Now here’s Sir John A. at the plow!
Here’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That’s the only film I’ve ever seen and the only one I’ll ever see. You can’t go any higher than that in film art.
BOY 2: Who’s this?
HERMIT: That’s the infant Riel suckled by the buffalo Manitoba.
BOY 1: What’s this one doing, Mr. Winemeyer?
HERMIT: I finished that last April — that’s Mackenzie King cultivating the rows of compromise. Now – here is where I’m using this falling star. Here’s Good – in a terrible combat with his brother Evil – over – this.
He places the star between the statue-actor’s hands. The star has now become a lump of rock.
BOY 2: Could I have a piece of that star?
HERMIT: Why sure. These two projecting knobs will never be missed. Both have a piece.
BOYS: Gee, thank you, Mr. Winemeyer.
We hear music. The Windlady appears with her Rain Doll.
HERMIT: Now there’s a good subject for a piece of sculpture.
BOYS: What, Mr. Winemeyer?
HERMIT: The Wind and the Rain.
He and his statues fade slowly. BOY 1 starts playing the bicycle spokes. BOY 2 goes back and says:
BOY 2: Mr. Winemeyer – was the pig your brother? Were you the peacock?
♦ For a delightful tour of George Laithwaite’s sculptures (summer and winter!), see Harrison Engle’s film “Legacy” (1960?), which features commentary by Laithwaite’s family and J.H. Neill, then Curator of the Huron County Pioneer Museum.
Colours in the Dark by James Reaney is available fromTalonbooks.
Congratulations to the students of R.H. King and Agincourt Secondary Schools and students from the University of Toronto Scarborough for their wonderful outdoor performance of “The Donnelly Project”, a special adaptation of three scenes from James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys Part I.
Adapted by Tarragon Theatre’s Playwright-in-ResidenceKat Sandler, “The Donnelly Project” gives drama students from Scarborough the chance to explore an early Tarragon Theatre script. The Tarragon Theatre celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, and James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys Part I was first performed there on November 24, 1973.
’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
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.
To celebrateNational Poetry Month, here is the “April” eclogue from James Reaney’s long poem A Suit of Nettles.
ARGUMENT: With Duncan as judge the geese hold a bardic contest in honour of Spring.
[DUNCAN RAYMOND VALANCY]
Here is a kernel of the hardest winter wheat
Found in the yard delicious for to eat.
It I will give to that most poetic gander
Who this season sings as well as swam Leander.
The white geese with their orange feet on the green
Grass that grew around the pond’s glassy sheen
Chose then Valancy and Raymond to sing
And to hear them gathered about in a ring.
I speak I speak of the arable earth,
Black sow goddess huge with birth;
Cry cry killdeers in her fields.
Black ogress ate her glacier lover
When the sun killed him for her;
The white owl to the dark crow yields.
Caw caw whir whir bark bark
We’re fresh out of Noah’s Ark;
Wild geese come in arrowheads
Shot from birds dead long ago
Buried in your negro snow;
Long water down the river sleds.
Black begum of a thousand dugs,
A nation at each fountain tugs;
The forests plug their gaps with leaves.
Whet whet scrape and sharpen
Hoes and rakes and plows of iron;
The farmer sows his sheaves.
Mr Sword or Mr Plow
Can settle in your haymow,
All is the same to Mother Ground.
Great goddess I from you have come,
Killdeer crow geese ditch leaf plowman
From you have come, to you return
In endless laughing weeping round.
Your limbs are the rivers of Eden.
From the dead we see you return and arise,
Fair girl; lost daughter:
The swallows stream through the skies,
Down dipping water,
Skimming ground, and from chimney’s foul dusk
Their cousins the swifts tumble up as the tusk
Of roar day
In bright May
Scatters them gliding from darkness to sun-cusp.
Your face unlocks the bear from his den.
The world has come in to the arms of the sun.
What now sulky earth?
All winter you lay with your face like a nun,
But now bring forth
From river up boxdrain underground
Fish crawling up that dark street without sound
In our pond
Young suckers and sunfish within its deep round.
Your body is a bethlehem.
Come near the sun that ripened you from earth
Pushing south winds
Through lands without belief till its pretty birth
The faithful finds:
Fanatic doves, believing wrens and orioles
Devoted redwinged blackbirds with their calls,
All surround you with arched cries of Love’s triumphals.
Your mind is a nest of all young things, all children
Come to this meadow forest edge;
Put her together
From this squirrel corn dogtooth young sedge
And all this weather
Of the white bloodroots to be her skin
The wake robin to be her shin
Her thighs pockets
Of white violets
Her breasts the gleaming soft pearly everlasting.
For her limbs are the rivers of Eden;
Her face unlocks
The brown merry bear from his den,
From his box
The butterfly and her body is a bethlehem
And her mind is a cloud of all young things, all children.
The prize to this one goes cried eagerly some
And others cried that to Raymond it must come,
So that Duncan Goose turned to the plantain leaf
And chopped the prize in half with beak-thrust brief.
James Reaney, 1958
The third edition of A Suit of Nettles features charming illustrations by engraver Jim Westergard, available fromThe Porcupine’s Quill.
This month, Alice resumes her journey across Canada as James Reaney’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass opens at the Edmonton Citadel’s Shoctor Theatre on February 27 to March 20.
I built a windyard for the wind;
The wind like a wild vast dog came up
To play with the weathervanes and corners
My keyholes and my chinks.
And for the sea I built a well;
The brookish tomcat gurgled in,
Waterfell and sprung about
Hunting throats and boots.
I stood a house up for the earth;
The mappy girl came in
With rut and footstep path
That wind the traveler up.
A stove I hammered for the sun;
In flew the golden oriole
To crackle the sticks of time
And sing the loaves of space.
Come girl well yard and stove,
Come Flesh Heart Mind and Lyre,
Come Earth Water Wind and Fire.
Well, when they came
Barking, meowing, talking and caroling,
I stepped above both house and yard
In his recent book The Emblems of James Reaney, Thomas Gerry notes the connection between “The Windyard” and a later emblem poem“Windlady” from 1970:
“‘Windlady’ magnetically attracts two in particular of Reaney’s other works: the 1956 poem ‘Windyard’ and the play Listen to the Wind, first performed in 1966.” − Thomas Gerry in The Emblems of James Reaney, page 130, The Porcupine’s Quill, 2013.