MOTHER: The Story of the Berry-Picking Child and the Bear.
SCREEN: A child’s drawing of a berry-picking woods.
PA: This happened early near the Little Lakes.
KIDS: Darting about with berry pails
Look at the raspberries Wild Gooseberries Huckleberries Over here! Look at the raspberries Wild currants. Don’t eat them. They’re poison. Bunch berries (ugh!)
One child is left busily picking. Her name is SADIE.
GRAMP: as a bear. Enters and lifts up a child. Child my cubs need nurse. I need your blood. SADIE: Wouldn’t blood-red berries do instead? GRAMP: No. Flesh must be my bread.
SADIE: Put me down Mr. Bear. I do thee dread.
Bear runs off with child, kids enter shrieking.
KIDS: A bear ran off with Sadie! A bear ran off with Sadie! And it takes a lot of people to produce one child.
They form a family tree pyramid with a reappearing Sadie.
It takes Two parents Four Grandparents Eight Great grandparents Sixteen Great great grandparents Thirty-two Great great great grandparents Sixty-four Great great great great grandparents One hundred and twenty-eight Great great great great great grandparents Two hundred and fifty-six Great great great great great great grandparents Five hundred and twelve Great great great great great great great grandparents One thousand and twenty-four Great great great great great great great great grandparents
It would take over a thousand people to do this scene: at Listeners’ Workshop we did it with thirty-two people: the children here are suggested by a triangle arrangement, the thousand ancestors behind each human being. Have one group of players in charge of chanting “Great great” & “grandparents”.
SADIE: Are you there 1,024 ancestors?
A feeble rustle
Are you there 512 Are you there 256
Are you there 128
Sound gets louder, less ghost-like and more human.
Are you there 64
Are you there 32
Are you there 16
More recent ancestors step forward and say firmly and clearly what we have only dimly heard: “We’re here.”
Are you there 8
Are you there 4
Are you there Mother and Father?
GRAMP, MA and PA step forward and establish the next scene as the kids fade away
For more about James Reaney’s use of shape poems or pattern poems as theatrical devices, see Thomas Gerry’s bookThe Emblems of James Reaney (2013) and Gerry’s article “Marvellous Playhouses The Emblems of James Reaney” in the Summer 2019 issue of Queen’s Quarterly.
In the summer of 1961, James Reaney wrote and illustrated a story for children called The Boy Who Lived in the Sun. He made 36 watercolour illustrations to go with the text, stitched them together, and for many years it was only shared with family and friends.
In the story, a boy who lives in the sun dreams of going to earth to meet other children. He discovers that it’s not easy for a luminary being to have contact with humans, and that the process of becoming human will require lengthy and celestial labour on his part.
Note from Susan Reaney: The Boy Who Lived in the Sun existed from my early childhood and was never published. I always thought of it as unfinished because I could not accept the ending. The boy returns to earth and is reunited with his family, but does he remember being a boy who lived in the sun? Now I think perhaps he does.
“… 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)
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.
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.*
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.
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.
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.
Thank you all for coming to the Fifth Annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture in Stratford to hear publisher Tim Inkster’s talk on “The Iconography of James Reaney: A Collector’s Manual.”
Inkster praised the excellence of the typography and graphic design in many of James Reaney’s published works, particularly Paul Arthur’s design for The Red Heart (1949) and Allan Fleming’s design for A Suit of Nettles (1958). Tim is also impressed by James Reaney’s work hand typesetting the early issues of his magazine Alphabet (1960-1971).
A full version of Tim Inkster’s lecture will appear in an upcoming issue of The Devil’s Artisan, a journal of the printing arts.
Our thanks also to Charles Mountford of Poetry Stratford and Robyn Godfrey of the Stratford Public Library for their help in organizing this event. Future speakers for the James Reaney Annual Memorial Lecture include Thomas Gerry and John Beckwith.
“In the spirit of Gutenberg, printing copies of the Bible for lay people to read, and of William Blake, infernally printing his own illustrated poems, Reaney hand-set Alphabet and printed it with a motorized Chandler & Price vertical platen press.”
We know James Reaney would appreciate this honour, and his deepest wish was that others would be inspired to write and publish their stories.
“Two years later (printing lessons, typesetting, waiting for t’s to come from Toronto, balancing trays of type on buses rolling in blizzards) here it is.” — James Reaney, July 1960, from the Editorial to Alphabet, Issue No. 1.
Four rural landscape paintings by James Reaney are part of the Pastorale exhibition at Museum London from July 16 to October 9, 2011. The paintings feature views of the Canadian farm and are chosen from the Museum’s permanent collection.