The Iconography of the Imagination: The Art of James Reaney

A Suit of Nettles book launch

Thank you all for coming to our launch for the new edition of A Suit of Nettles on May 25.

Special thanks to London actor Jeff Culbert, for capturing the spirit of the geese characters, and to Richard Stingle, long-time friend and colleague of James Reaney, for his thoughts about the poem and the poet.

Thanks also to our wonderful hosts, the London Public Library, who made us all feel at home.

From the January eclogue:

January

With the other geese within the goosehouse
There lived, I know not how, various kinds
Of geese: some like a cat, some like a mouse,
Some like a groundhog and some like lions,
Some like two straight parallel lines,
Others more circular in character,
Some shallow and some deep as mines,
Others than chaos far more muddier,
And whether you should parcel fast or loose
Some could not be but simply described ‘Goose’.

Jeff Culbert animates Branwell, George, and Dorcas from    A Suit of Nettles
Richard Stingle shares his thoughts on the poem.
Prize winners collect their Jim Westergard engraving from  A Suit of Nettles.

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.

 

 

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.

Watercolour sketch by James Reaney, January 1996 in Trivandrum

 

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

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