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May 6 Arts Gala at Stratford Central Secondary

On May 6 in Stratford, Ontario, Stratford Central Secondary School welcomed poet and playwright James Reaney as the first inductee to the school’s Arts Hall of Fame. James Reaney went to high school there from 1939-1944.

Reaney’s family, including his sister Wilma McCaig and his brother Ron Cooke, attended the induction ceremony at Central last week. In honour of the occasion, students staged the opening scene of James Reaney’s play, Colours in the Dark. James Stewart Reaney (James Reaney’s son) gave thanks on behalf of the Reaney family. “This kind of recognition, I know, would have touched Dad deeply,” he said.

James Stewart Reaney and Rick Cooke with the bicycle from Colours in the Dark.

Reaney Days in May

Here are three Reaney events in May:

On May 6 in Stratford, Ontario, Stratford Central Secondary School will host an arts gala evening to launch the school’s new Arts Hall of Fame and celebrate its first inductee, James Crerar Reaney, who went to high school there over 60 years ago. Over the years, James Reaney maintained ties with the school and led workshops there for two of his plays, King Whistle and Alice Through the Looking Glass.

May 6, 7, and 8, in Strathroy, Ontario, Evelyn D’Oria and the students of Strathroy District Collegiate Institute will present James Reaney’s adaptation of Alice Through the Looking Glass. There will be three evening performances of the play starting at 7:00 pm, and a matinee on Saturday at 2:00 pm.

On May 25 in London, Ontario, the new edition of James Reaney’s A Suit of Nettles will be launched at the London Central Library, 7:00 pm. This long poem won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1958. The new edition, published by The Porcupine’s Quill, is charmingly illustrated with woodcuts by Jim Westergard.

May Flowers by Leith Peterson

A Suit of Nettles: April

A new edition of A Suit of Nettles, James Reaney’s set of pastoral eclogues inspired by Edmund Spenser’s The Shephearde’s Calendar, is available from The Porcupine’s Quill. A book launch and reading to celebrate the new edition will be held in May.

From the April eclogue, here are Valancy’s lines from the bardic contest celebrating Spring.

April

VALANCY

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 the 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 into 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
To spawn
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 this pretty birth
The faithful finds:
Fanatic doves, believing wrens and orioles
Devoted redwinged blackbirds with their calls,
Archilocus alexandri,
Melospiza georgiana,
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
Humming
With cherubim
And her mind is a cloud of all young things, all children.

***

James Reaney, 1958

A Suit of Nettles won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1958.

Elizabeth Reaney visits the James Reaney Canadian Centre at Gujarat University

On April 6-7, Elizabeth Reaney, James Reaney’s granddaughter, visited the James Reaney Canadian Centre at Gujarat University in Ahmedabad, India. Elizabeth was able to see the Centre’s collection of Canadian literature donated by James Reaney in 1992, and meet some of the students who are using it in their studies.

Dr. Ranjana Harish, Director of the Centre, welcomed Elizabeth and assured her that the collection is  well maintained and a valuable resource for scholars and students studying Canadian literature. Elizabeth was pleased to see that the some of the books include her grandfather’s wry marginal comments.

James Reaney visited India in January 1996 and spoke at the Canadian Studies Conference at Kerala University in Trivandrum. He enjoyed a performance of his play, Wacousta, put on by students, and he also painted this watercolour of his visit to the beach near Trivandrum on the Indian Ocean.

A Flower Is A Star: photo by Marilyn Cornwell

A Flower Is A Star: photo by Marilyn Cornwell

Photographer Marilyn Cornwell remembers being in a production of James Reaney‘s play Colours in the Dark and being inspired by the line “A flower is a star”:

I was a student at Brock University from 1969-73 in the English Department with a Theatre Major in the Drama Division. I became familiar with James Reaney’s work at Brock, as the Drama Division was very committed to Canadian playwrights. In 1970, I was in a production of Colours in the Dark mounted by the Drama Division.

When I photographed this clematis, I immediately thought of that simple but powerful line in Colours in the Dark – A flower is a star.  This image is my  visual version of his metaphor.  I named it as a tribute to him and his work.

Thank you, Marilyn, for sharing your memory of the play and your beautiful photo.

A Flower Is A Star by Marilyn Cornwell

A Flower Is A Star by Marilyn Cornwell

Poetry Reading in Halifax on February 10

February 10, Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, 7 pm

Book Launch for The Essential James Reaney

Brian Bartlett gathered various Halifax poets and readers of poetry together to read and celebrate James Reaney’s poems, and to launch the newest book in The Porcupine’s Quill‘s “Essential” series – an entertaining choice of Reaney’s poetry written from the early 1940s to the 21st century. Zachariah Wells has posted an audio recording of the reading.

The Essential James Reaney

 

Antichrist as a Child

James Reaney’s poem “Antichrist as a Child” is the poem of the day on Poetry Daily, an online anthology of contemporary poetry. “Antichrist as a Child” can also be found in The Essential James Reaney, published by The Porcupine’s Quill.

Antichrist as a Child

When Antichrist was a child
He caught himself tracing
The capital letter A
On a window sill
And wondered why
Because his name contained no A.
And as he crookedly stood
In his mother’s flower-garden
He wondered why she looked so sadly
Out of an upstairs window at him.
He wondered why his father stared so
Whenever he saw his little son
Walking in his soot-coloured suit.
He wondered why the flowers
And even the ugliest weeds
Avoided his fingers and his touch.
And when his shoes began to hurt
Because his feet were becoming hooves
He did not let on to anyone
For fear they would shoot him for a monster.
He wondered why he more and more
Dreamed of eclipses of the sun,
Of sunsets, ruined towns and zeppelins,
And especially inverted, upside down churches.

James Reaney, 1949

Winter’s Tales by James Reaney, 1949

James Reaney's birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario, February 1954.

James Reaney’s birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario, February 1954.

Winter’s Tales

As planets love an ancient star
And move in far dances round its fire
So the farmer and his children sit
About their stove whose flamey wit
Giggles in red and yellow laughter
Like a small sun caught in iron armour.
When outside the winter winds are loud
Close by their summery stove they crowd.

Through the windows they may see
The cold wind herd a river of snow
Beneath the moon, across the land
All locked in Winter’s frog-cold hand.
And sometimes the wind does shove
Between the window sill and window
Beneath the door and across the floor
White whisks and brooms of snow.
Through every little crack
At the front door and the back
Came the soft white hands of snow
That, with its heat, the stove does smash
Into a harmless flat thin splash.
Then down the chimney the wind came
Till the fire seemed somewhat lame
Until someone poked at it
Or put on another stick
And it blazed up again.
The wind, the cold snow and the rain
Could not put that stove out
But in a furious dance
They kept a safe distance
Always beyond the window pane
So that the farmer and his children
By the stove sitting tight
Only heard the wind and never felt
Its sharp cold bite.
Then the farmer told them stories
That his father had told him
Of the massacre at Lucan
Where the neighbours killed all of the McKilligans dead
Except one little boy who crawled under a bed;
Of the little boy carried off by a bear
And, “a ball of fire leaped out of the earth
At him and vanished into thin air.
Your grandmother saw
Tecumseh’s head on a pole;
Had also dined with him once
And when she looked into her soup
At the bottom of the bowl
She saw a groundhog’s paw.
And Indian Sal who picked flax
And drank vinegar and had attacks
And Granny Crack
Who wandered the countryside
With seven petticoats to her back.
And Towser Smith who
When it rained for five days in a row
Went out and shook his fist at the sky,
His fist at God in the sky.
And how when I was a child
You stood at the table
And ate off a pie-tin
Not sit on chairs and eat off a plate
As you do now.
And how bricks and mortar
Couldn’t keep her from marrying him.”

Then the farmer and his children grow drowsy
With the heat of the fire so blowsy
And the stories their father tells them
Of the good and bad old days
Grow shorter and shorter
Till the fire alone seems to talk.
Its ripening red now seeming
A massive convulsive giant’s heart
A Robin’s red breast.
A sunset in summer,
The rising and large Harvest Moon
When she walks out of the east, –
All these things seems the fire
Which, with their father’s stories
Will long be remembered
And protect them from growing old.
Winter’s tales that like gold
In the purses of their hearts
Will ring and shine forever
Warming them in the long winter’s cold.

James Reaney, 1949

This poem first appeared in Contemporary Verse, 30, Winter 1949.

© 2017 James Reaney