James Reaney Memorial Lecture 2022: Stan Dragland’s further thoughts on Reaney and grids of meaning

Thank you for joining us at Wordsfest on November 6th to hear author Terry Griggs read the late Stan Dragland’s essay on his forthcoming book James Reaney On the Grid. We were honoured to have Terry give voice to Stan’s words and illuminate his thoughts on James Reaney.

Many thanks to Wordsfest for hosting the lecture and to Josh Lambier and Greg de Souza for their help in launching the presentation.

The text for Stan Dragland’s essay is available here, and an archived recording of the lecture will be available later.

Stan Dragland (1942-2022)
Stan Dragland’s book James Reaney on the Grid will be published in 2023

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
2020: Stephen Holowitz and Oliver Whitehead on James Reaney Words and Music
2021: Kydra Ryan and Adam Corrigan-Holowitz on Tales for a Reaney Day: Two Great Writers, Three Short Stories

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).

“Near Fraserburg” Watercolour painting by James Reaney, Fall 1985
September 1975: James Reaney at the Nihilist Picnic, Poplar Hill, Ontario

October and November events for James Reaney

There are two events celebrating the work of dramatist James Reaney this month and next:

Patricia Nacamoto as Mattie Medal in Gyroscope: “Is it true, Gregory La Selva, is it true that one of the conditions of your marriage was that, were that you were never, never to read her stuff?”

October 28-30 and November 4-6: James Reaney’s play Gyroscope, directed by Adam Corrigan Holowitz and presented by AlvegoRoot Theatre.

Buy tickets here: https://www.alvegoroottheatre.com/gyroscope.html

All performances at Manor Park Memorial Hall, 11 Briscoe Street, London, Ontario.

( ( 0 ) ) Listen to an interview with Adam Corrigan Holowitz and Janis Nickleson (who played Hilda La Selva in the 1981 production of Gyroscope!): Gyroscope Conversations on Soundcloud

November 6 at 12:00 noon at Wordsfest: The James Reaney Memorial Lecture at Museum London. Terry Griggs, author and former student of the late Stan Dragland (1942-2022), will present  “James Reaney Off the Grid”, the lecture Stan had planned to give.

Wordsfest is at Museum London, 421 Ridout Street North, London, Ontario.

Registration is free for this in-person and webinar presentation. See the Events page at Wordsfest for the link: http://wordsfest.ca/events/2022/james-reaney-off-the-grid

Stan Dragland (1942-2022)

James Reaney in 1972 courtesy Talonbooks

James Reaney Memorial Lecture: Terry Griggs presents for Stan Dragland

Sunday November 6 at 12:00 pm EDT Join us in-person or by webinar at Wordsfest for the 13th Annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture. We are honoured to have Terry Griggs, author and former student of the late Stan Dragland, present “James Reaney Off the Grid”, the lecture Stan had planned to give.

Stan Dragland (1942-2022)

For Dragland, the lecture he gave at Wordsfest in 2019 only scratched the surface of what he wanted to say about James Reaney’s work. “In my previous lecture I pointed out that he was only sometimes limited as an artist by the grids he so loved. Today I want to stress the Reaney who knew how important it is to be able to pry or bounce one’s mind outside of inherited, imprisoning systems, who knew how to improvise, who could make plays out of the simplest things he found in his own environment.”

When: Sunday November 6 at 12:00 pm
Where: Wordsfest at Museum London, 421 Ridout Street North, London, Ontario

Registration is free for this in-person and webinar presentation. See the Events page at Wordsfest for the link: http://wordsfest.ca/events/2022/james-reaney-off-the-grid

James Reaney on the Grid, an expanded version of Stan Dragland’s 2019 lecture, is forthcoming from The Porcupine’s Quill.

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. 

Stan Dragland (1942-2022)

We were saddened to learn of writer, editor, and literary critic Stan Dragland’s passing earlier this month. Stan Dragland was a colleague of James Reaney’s at Western University (1970-1989) and a mentor and champion to writers and poets across Canada.

Remembering Stan Dragland

Writer and editor Stan Dragland, who co-founded poetry press Brick Books, dies at 79: https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2022/08/08/writer-and-editor-stan-dragland-who-co-founded-poetry-press-brick-books-dies-at-79.html

Newfoundland writer Stan Dragland, co-founder of poetry press Brick Books, dead at 79: https://www.cbc.ca/books/newfoundland-writer-stan-dragland-co-founder-of-poetry-press-brick-books-dead-at-79-1.6546798

Western mourns passing of Professor Emeritus Stan Dragland: https://www.uwo.ca/arts/news/2022/08_dragland_text.html

Brick Books 2015: Celebrating 40 years of Publishing Canadian Poetry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qclaYEWuN3A

Forthcoming book from Porcupine’s Quill

James Reaney on the Grid, an expanded version of Stan Dragland’s 2019 James Reaney Memorial Lecture, will be available later this fall from The Porcupine’s Quill

From the Introductory section:
This started out as the tenth annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture. It was delivered in London, Ontario, on November 2, 2019. That version turns out to have only scratched the surface of what I’ve been finding to say about Reaney’s literary career. As the talk grew into what it is now, it became ever clearer to me that Reaney’s legacy includes one unmistakable masterpiece, the Donnelly trilogy, a play in three parts so magnificent that it stands, or ought to stand, with the work of literary greats anywhere. But there are many other works of real importance, plus a few that may perhaps be worth reading only to someone like me, interested in all of Reaney, because of what all of it has to say about the best of his work […]

Stan Dragland at the Tenth Annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture, November 2, 2019
“Near Fraserburg” Watercolour painting by James Reaney, Fall 1985.

James Reaney’s translation of Pierre Falcon’s The Battle of Seven Oaks

James Reaney’s translation of Pierre Falcon’s “The Battle of Seven Oaks” (“La Chanson de la Grenouillère”) can be found in Margaret Arnett MacLeod’s 1960 book Songs of Old Manitoba.  

Pierre Falcon (1793-1876) was a celebrated Métis balladeer and North West Company clerk. “He had a feeling for words, a sense of rhythm, and a love of a rollicking tune. He was strongly dramatic, and his idea of the importance of the Métis Nation may have been more right than his English contemporaries were ready to concede [.…]” (MacLeod, p. 2)

Pierre Falcon’s 1816 ballad commemorating the Métis victory at the Battle of Seven Oaks
(Songs of Old Manitoba, p.5)

James Reaney offers these notes on his approach to translating the song: “This translation can be sung to Pierre Falcon’s original tune with some stretching, but no more than to sing his own words requires. In making this translation I have followed Ezra Pound’s practice. Since there can be no translation so inaccurate as that which sticks closely and literally to the surface of a song, I have attempted to make only an English equivalent of Falcon’s ballad and so translate the really important thing – its high spirits.” (MacLeod, p. 9)

1.  Would you like to hear me sing
Of a true and recent thing?
It was June 19, the band of Bois-Brûlés
Arrived that day,
Oh the brave warriors they!

2.  We took three foreigners prisoners when
We came to the place called Frog, Frog Plain.
There were men who’d come from Orkney,
Who’d come, you see,
To rob our country.

3.  Well we were just about to unhorse
When we heard two of us give, give voice.
Two of our men cried, “Hey! Look back, look back!
The Anglo-Sack
Coming for to attack.”

4.  Right away smartly we veered about
Galloping at them with a shout!
You know we did trap all, all those Grenadiers!
They could not move
Those horseless cavaliers.

5.  Now we like honourable men did act,
Sent an ambassador – yes, in fact!
“Monsieur Governor! Would you like to stay?
A moment spare — 
There’s something we’d like to say.”

6.  Governor, Governor, full of ire.
“Soldiers!” he cries, “Fire! Fire.”
So they fire first and their muskets roar!
They almost kill
Our ambassador!

7.  Governor thought himself a king.
He wished an iron rod to swing.
Like a lofty lord he tries to act.
Bad luck, old chap!
A bit too hard you whacked!

8.  When we went galloping, galloping by
Governor thought that he would try
For to chase and frighten us Bois-Brûlés.
Catastrophe!
Dead on the ground he lay.

9.  Dead on the ground lots of grenadiers too.
Plenty of grenadiers, a whole slew.
We’ve almost stamped out his whole army.
Of so many
Five or four left there be.

10.  You should have seen those Englishmen —
Bois-Brûlés chasing them, chasing them,
From bluff to bluff they stumbled that day
While the Bois-Brûlés
Shouted “Hurray!”

11.  Tell, oh tell me who made up this song?
Why it’s our own poet, Pierre Falcon.
Yes, she was written this song of praise
For the victory
We won this day.
Yes, she was written, this song of praise — 
Come sing the glory
Of the Bois-Brûlés.

( ( (0) ) ) Rufin Turcotte sings the original French version on this 1963 Smithsonian Folkways Recording “Folksongs of Saskatchewan”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yB1knUIOSH0

From Songs of Old Manitoba, Pierre Falcon’s original French lyrics (p. 6-7)

Note: James Reaney’s long poem “A Message to Winnipeg” (1960) includes this translation of Pierre Falcon’s 1816 song. For more about the June 19, 1816 Battle of Seven Oaks, see the entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia.

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.

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 early stories are set around 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

James Reaney Memorial Lecture: November 2 at Wordsfest

James Reaney at the farm near Stratford, Ontario, Summer 1979. (Photo by Les Kohalmi)

Join us at Wordsfest on November 2, 2019 at 12:00 pm at Museum London’s Lecture Theatre for the 10th annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture.

Stan Dragland, poet, novelist, and literary critic, will speak on James Reaney’s love of lists and how he uses them to express his vision, particularly in plays like The Donnellys.

Styling his lecture as “James Reaney on the grid”, Dragland explores how Reaney’s immersion in his local environment brings forth the universal in his art.

James Reaney’s The Donnellys: Sticks and Stones Act I
Mr Donnelly: And this earth in my hand, the earth of my farm
That I fought for and was smashed and burnt for
(Jerry Franken as Mr Donnelly, Tarragon Theatre, 1973)

When: Saturday November 2 at 12:00 pm
Where: Wordsfest at Museum London, 421 Ridout Street, London, Ontario
Admission is free.

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

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).

Souwesto Home by James Reaney, 2005, Brick Books.

Marvellous Playhouses — Thomas Gerry on James Reaney’s emblem poems

In the Summer 2019 issue of Queen’s Quarterly, Thomas Gerry’s article “Marvellous Playhouses” celebrates James Reaney’s emblem poems. For Gerry, the poems “put into play” Reaney’s artistic process, a “magnetic method” he developed for generating meaning through the use of wit.

The emblem poems are theatre-like devices that draw readers into the activity of making meaning. As with audiences for dramatic performances, emblem-readers’ participation is vital. [Queen’s Quarterly, Summer 2019, page 196]

James Reaney’s emblem poem “The Castle” first appeared in Poetry (Chicago) (1969). See Queen’s Quarterly, Summer 2019, page 197.
Summer 1979: James Reaney working in the garden near Stratford, Ontario
(Photo by Les Kohalmi)

For a full discussion of all ten emblem poems and James Reaney’s artistic process, see The Emblems of James Reaney, available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

See also Thomas Gerry‘s 2015 lecture on “Theatrical Features of James Reaney’s Emblem Poems”.

The Champlain Society’s The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta back in print

As part of its mission to increase public awareness of, and accessibility to, Canada’s rich store of historical records, The Champlain Society has reprinted The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, in a special paperback edition.

The monograph, edited and introduced by James Reaney, recounts the story of The Biddulph Tragedy of February 4, 1880, where “a body of men, blackened and masked, entered the dwelling of the somewhat notorious Donnelly family and murdered the inmates, the father, the mother, one son, and a girl, a niece”* in Biddulph Township near Lucan, Ontario.

James Reaney heard about the tragedy as a child: “The effect of my first hearing this story was paralyzing… It was my first glimpse of evil close to home.”**

***

*London Free Press Weekly, 12 February 1880 (See The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, page xv and page 118)

**From the Introduction to The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, page xxiv.

See also James Reaney’s entry for James Donnelly (1816-1880) in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/donnelly_james_10E.html

James Donnelly in 1863 courtesy the McCord Museum, Montreal, Quebec: https://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/