Composer John Beckwith (1927-2022)

Canadian composer John Beckwith passed away on December 5, 2022. A longtime friend of James Reaney, they collaborated on several small ensemble musical collages to accompany Reaney’s poetry and also on four operas: Night Blooming Cereus, The Shivaree, Crazy to Kill, and Taptoo!.

For a full appreciation of John Beckwith’s life and music, see his son Larry Beckwith’s tribute in Opera Canada: https://operacanada.ca/march-9-1927-december-5-2022-canadian-composer-john-beckwith/

Composer John Beckwith (1927-2022)

More about John Beckwith

For more about John Beckwith’s life and career, see his autobiography Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer from 2012.

The John Beckwith Songbook concert was held in honour of his 94th birthday in March 2021.

John Beckwith on “James Reaney and Music”, November 5, 2016 at Museum London.

((( 0 ))) You can stream archived recordings of John Beckwith’s music at the Canadian Music Centre:
https://collections.cmccanada.org/final/Portal/Composer-Showcase.aspx?lang=en-CA

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. 

AlvegoRoot Theatre presents James Reaney’s play Gyroscope October 28 to November 6

October 28 to November 6 — Don’t miss AlvegoRoot Theatre‘s production of James Reaney’s play Gyroscope later this month. For Director Adam Corrigan Horowitz, this play is “a shape-shifting comedy of marriage, art and passion!”

About the play: When poet Hilda La Selva got married, she made her husband Greg swear to never read any of her poetry, a vow he inevitably fails to keep. As their relationship lists and tilts, they are pursued by an intrepid PhD student intent on putting their marriage under the microscope. 

The performers are Kydra RyanSteven Barber, Patricia NacamotoElizabeth Durand, and Dan Ebbs.

For more about the play and an excerpt from a key scene, see “James Reaney’s play Gyroscope from 1981”.

Content Advisory: Gyroscope contains sensitive content including references of suicide. If you would like more information before purchasing a ticket please contact AlvegoRoot.

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

October 28 at 7:30 pm
October 29 at 7:30 pm
October 30 at 4:00 pm
November 4 at 7:30 pm
November 5 7:30 pm
November 6 at 4:00 pm

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

James Reaney’s poem Ice Cream

Ice Cream

The local poet is riding his bike uptown
On a fairly hot summer day
Bent on Jumbo’s Ice Cream booth
Before mailing a poem to Chimaera at the Post Office
At Jumbo’s Ice Cream booth there are
Thirty flavours available including—
Licorice, fudge, lemon, orange, apple, grape,
Banana, chocolate, cherry, Maple Walnut (my favourite)
Vanilla, of course, peppermint, strawberry, raspberry—
Weren’t there some vegetable ones? Do I remember—
Onion ice cream?
And this pair of double dip skim milk flavours
Cost only a nickel each!
And the ceiling was of pressed tin!
So, I plunk down a nickel for a Maple Walnut!
And so out the door bent on making the cone
Last till I reach the Post Office door—
The Post Office is French Provincial with 4 clocks.
The poet holds his bicycle up with his left hand.
Walks slowly licking as he proceeds.
Two little girls say scornfully: “He’s acting
Just like a little kid!”
But he thinks— “Isn’t this what life is all about?”

James Reaney, 2005

September 1975: James Reaney at the Nihilist Picnic, Poplar Hill, Ontario.

“Ice Cream” is from Souwesto Home (2005) and available from Brick Books.

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 and Colleen Thibaudeau’s short stories at Wordsfest 2021

Saturday November 6, 2021– Thank you all for joining us at Wordsfest via Zoom for the 12th Annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture — Tales for a Reaney Day: Two Great Writers, Three Short Stories. You can view an archived version of the event here: https://www.facebook.com/wordsfest/videos/james-reaney-memorial-lecture-2021-tales-for-a-reaney-day/188114376812875/?__so__=permalink&__rv__=related_videos

Colleen Thibaudeau and James Reaney, 1949

Congratulations to Kydra Ryan and Adam Corrigan Holowitz of Alvego Root Theatre for your encore performances of James Reaney’s short stories “The Box Social” and “The Bully” and for the first performance of Colleen Thibaudeau’s short story “Wild Turkeys” — thank you so much for bringing these early works by Reaney and Thibaudeau to life.

Our grateful thanks to Carolyn Doyle, our wonderful host, and Joshua Lambier and Gregory De Souza at Wordsfest for helping us put this special presentation of stories by two great writers together.

For more about James Reaney’s and Colleen Thibaudeau’s short stories, see the October 20, 2021 post “Tales for a Reaney Day: Two great writers, three short stories at Wordsfest 2021”.

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

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.

We are honoured to dedicate the 2021 Memorial Lecture to the late Catherine Sheldrick Ross (1947-2021), a former Western University student and colleague of James Reaney’s.

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).

James Reaney 1972
Near Stratford, Ontario, October 2015

Tales for a Reaney Day: Two Great Writers, Three Short Stories at Wordsfest 2021

Sunday November 6 at 2:00 pm EDT — Join us at Wordsfest for this year’s James Reaney Memorial Lecture and celebrate the short stories of Southwestern Ontario writers James Reaney and Colleen Thibaudeau.

Kydra Ryan and Adam Corrigan Holowitz of London’s AlvegoRoot Theatre will perform two of James Reaney’s short stories“The Box Social” and “The Bully”, as well as Colleen Thibaudeau’s story “Wild Turkeys”.

Host Carolyn Doyle will lead a discussion of these three stories written when James Reaney and Colleen Thibaudeau were in their early twenties. 

Registration is free for this Zoom presentation: https://westernuniversity.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_1o-GLvU0RO2Atk8HAbdDig

Colleen Thibaudeau and James Reaney, 1949

More about James Reaney and Colleen Thibaudeau’s short stories

James Reaney and Colleen Thibaudeau met in 1945 at the University of Toronto and they both had poems and short stories published in The Undergrad, the University College magazine. Both had common background in coming from outside Toronto to attend university and having grown up in smaller communities. James Reaney grew up on a farm near Stratford, Ontario, and Colleen Thibaudeau grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario and also in Markdale, Ontario, where her father’s family had a farm.

Colleen Thibaudeau’s story “Wild Turkeys” was published in The Undergrad (II, 1946-47, pages 22-27). James Reaney’s story “The Box Social” also appeared in this issue (pages 30-31).

New to big-city life themselves, it is not surprising that their early writing features characters who struggle to move beyond the limits of rural society. Like the people they write about, they found solace and inspiration in the world they knew best.

All three stories (“Wild Turkeys” (1947), The Box Social” (1947), and “The Bully” (1950)) deal with family life in rural communities and the challenges social isolation brings to advancing one’s social and economic position. 

In Thibaudeau’s “Wild Turkeys”, Aunt Belle has the love and support of her family to guide her through her youthful romance in 1880s Grey County. Many years later she sees her niece trying to stay immersed in her university studies, and she shares the story of her heartbreak to help her niece gain a new perspective and a new resolve to put her own budding romance second.

Such open communication is not possible for the heroine of Reaney’s “The Box Social”, and she must go alone to the social event at the school to confront her former lover and make his betrayal public. The family in “The Bully” approves of the hero’s wish to be a teacher, but expects him to solve all the difficulties he faces as a shy newcomer in the unfamiliar environment of the high school.

“The Bully” and “The Box Social” have been called “the first examples of a modern tradition called Southern Ontario Gothic because of “their use of Gothic elements of the macabre.”[1] “What makes this locale so prone to Gothic tales is the failure of communication between family members or social groups. In the absence of communication, strange projections and psychological grotesqueries spring up and rapidly grow to unmanageable proportions.”[2]

For poet Jay Macpherson, Reaney’s “The Bully” “turns on the contrast between crushing reality and the liberating dream.”[3] It is the hero’s ability to dream his way out of his prison that saves him from being destroyed by having to withdraw from the school. The heroine of “The Box Social” also finds redemption by confronting her oppressor and realizing she can get past her hatred for him. 

In Thibaudeau’s story “Wild Turkeys”, the passage of time helps Aunt Belle overcome her sadness about her schoolteacher suitor moving on. “After all I had been raised barefoot in a log house, but there was no need to make things harder for us all. I learned the millinery and then your uncle Peter Martin came along. He had a new barn and three hundred acres…” (WT 26) She looks back on her life on the farm as idyllic despite all the chores and racing after the errant turkey hen: “In the old days it seemed as if all the mornings were like the first morning of the world, and I could have run forever through the tall grass. Run and not wearied….” (WT 25).

In a later story “The City Underground” (1949), Thibaudeau does have a theme of a child’s imaginary world helping him realize the need to fight against bullies in the real world, but it does not have the uncanniness and distortions that Reaney’s characters experience. [4]

Notes and references

[1] The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, page 511. William Toye, Ed., Oxford University Press, 2011.
[2] Michael Hurley and Allan Hepburn in The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, pages 593-594. William Toye, Ed., Oxford University Press, 2011. (For more about Southern Ontario Gothic and James Reaney’s neo-gothic stories, see the September 3, 2021 post on Tales for a Reaney Day.)
[3] Jay Macpherson, The Spirit of Solitude: Conventions and Continuities in Late Romance, Yale University Press, 1982, pages 262-263. (See also James Reaney’s article on Macpherson’s poetry: “The Third Eye: Jay Macpherson’s The Boatman in Canadian Literature, No. 3 (1960), pages 23-34.)
[4] Colleen Thibaudeau, “The City Underground”, Canadian Short Stories, Robert Weaver and Helen James, Eds., 1952, Oxford University Press, Toronto. (“The City Underground” was also broadcast in 1950 on the CBC radio programme Canadian Short Stories.)

“The Box Social” was originally published in 1947 in The Undergrad at the University of Toronto, and then in the popular magazine The New Liberty. Here’s what James Reaney had to say about why he wrote the story in his autobiography from 1992:

“Out of the deep past it somehow came to me, I think from my mother talking about the way men treated women in our neighbourhood. They never struck back; well, in my story one of them did.” (James Crerar Reaney, Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 15, page 304.)

“The Bully” was broadcast in 1950 on CBC Radio and later published in Canadian Short Stories (1952) edited by Robert Weaver. While at university in the late 1950s, Margaret Atwood remembers discovering “The Bully” in Weaver’s anthology. “It made a big impression on me — it seemed a way of writing about Canadian reality that did not confine itself to the strict social realism that was mostly the fashion then. [Excerpted from Margaret Atwood, “Remembering James Reaney”, Brick Issue 82 (Winter 2009), page 160.]

“The Bully”is included in The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English, Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1996. It is also collected in James Reaney’s The Box Social and Other Stories (1996), published by 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.

We are honoured to dedicate the 2021 Memorial Lecture to the late Catherine Sheldrick Ross (1947-2021), a former Western University student and colleague of James Reaney’s.

Alvego Root Theatre presents Tales for a Reaney Day September 10-12

On September 10, 11, and 12th, Alvego Root Theatre will present Tales for a Reaney Day – a double bill featuring two of James Reaney’s short stories, “The Bully” and “The Box Social”. Adam Corrigan Holowitz and Kydra Ryan are the co-directors and performers.

Where: Somerville 630, 630 Dundas Street, London, Ontario

When: Friday September 10 at 7:30, Saturday September 11 at 7:30, and Sunday September 12 at 4:00

Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/tales-for-a-reaney-day-the-box-social-and-the-bully-by-james-reaney-tickets-167507534545?aff=erelpanelorg

More about James Reaney’s “neo-Gothic” short stories

“While an undergraduate at the University of Toronto [BA 1948, MA 1949], James Reaney published two stories, “The Bully” and “The Box Social,” that are not only classic Canadian short stories but are the first examples of a modern tradition called Southern Ontario Gothic (having its origin in the novels of John Richardson and some of the stories Susanna Moodie tells) that make use of Gothic elements of the macabre. In the four-page “The Box Social,” for example, a young man bids for a prettily wrapped shoe box, from a girl he made pregnant, that contains “the crabbed corpse of a stillborn child wreathed in bloody newspaper.” Margaret Atwood has remarked that “without ‘The Bully,’ my fiction would have followed other paths.” (The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, William Toye, Ed., Oxford University Press, 2011, page 511.)

“The Box Social” was originally published in 1947 in The Undergrad at the University of Toronto, and then in the popular magazine The New Liberty. Here’s what Reaney had to say about why he wrote the story in his autobiography from 1992:

“Out of the deep past it somehow came to me, I think from my mother talking about the way men treated women in our neighbourhood. They never struck back; well, in my story one of them did.” (James Crerar Reaney, Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 15, page 304.)

“The Bully” was broadcast in 1950 on CBC Radio and later published in Canadian Short Stories (1952) edited by Robert Weaver. While at university in the late 1950s, Margaret Atwood remembers discovering “The Bully” in Weaver’s anthology. “It made a big impression on me — it seemed a way of writing about Canadian reality that did not confine itself to the strict social realism that was mostly the fashion then.” (Excerpted from Margaret Atwood, “Remembering James Reaney”, Brick Issue 82 (Winter 2009), page 160.)

May 30, 1996 in London, Ontario — James Reaney with Margaret Atwood, “An Evening with James Reaney & Friends” (Photo courtesy London Free Press)

James Reaney and Southern Ontario Gothic

“James Reaney’s plays — Colours in the Dark (1969), Baldoon (1976), and The Donnellys (1974-7) — as well as his short stories “The Bully” and “The Box Social” (reprinted in The Box Social and Other Stories in 1996), also assume Gothic elements of the macabre rooted in nightmarish families and uncanny action. […]

What makes this locale so prone to Gothic tales is the failure of communication between family members or social groups. In the absence of communication, strange projections and psychological grotesqueries spring up and rapidly grow to unmanageable proportions. Malevolent fantasies are the source and sustenance of the Gothic tradition.” (Michael Hurley and Allan Hepburn in The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, William Toye, Ed., Oxford University Press, 2011, pages 593-594.)

What do you mean by Gothic?

“…It’s the spirit of solitude, the isolated person rattling around, usually in an old dark castle in the early Gothic novels, but then in Faulkner in an old plantation house. In Ontario we can’t afford plantation houses so we have a farmhouse or an apartment building that has a lot of empty rooms in it, as in The Edible Woman…. It’s filled with the nightmare of life, but it’s this isolation that is at the bottom of it, I think, because of science. The whole Gothic tradition is already in Hamlet.” (Interview with James Reaney from July 23, 1991 from In the Writers’ Words: Conversations with Eight Canadian Poets, Laurence Hutchman, Guernica Editions, 2011, pages 173-174.)

More on the tradition of Gothic fiction

Gothic fiction is a genre obsessively focused on the house. ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’ is the famous first sentence of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938). In some other kinds of stories, the house is a place of safety, a sanctuary from the world. But not in gothic fiction, where interior spaces become prisons for imperiled heroines or represent a domestic happiness from which the scarred male protagonist is excluded. Naturally the house in question is not just any house but sometimes a monastery, convent, prison, or insane asylum. In the female-centered gothic, the male owner of the castle is an older man with a piercing glance – aristocratic, obsessed, moody, and secretive, with qualities that mark him as a literary descendant of Satan in Paradise Lost….”(Catherine Sheldrick Ross, The Pleasures of Reading: A Booklover’s Alphabet, Libraries Unlimited, 2014, page 65.)

“The Bully” is included in The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in EnglishOxford University Press, Toronto, 1996. It is also collected in James Reaney’s The Box Social and Other Stories (1996), published by Porcupine’s Quill.