Thank you all for coming to the Stratford Public Library on Sunday October 18 to hear Thomas Gerry speak on “Theatrical Features of James Reaney’s Emblem Poems”. Professor Gerry focused in particular on the metaphor of perspective in James Reaney’s “Egypt” emblem poem.
“When we were taught [as children] to draw railway tracks as meeting at a point, our world views shrank and were subjected to artificial limits. This analysis of perspective explains for readers of Reaney’s emblems a good deal about the emblems’ style. They require their readers to ‘make a visionary correction’, and to see the world, in Blake‘s word, as ‘infinite’. — Thomas Gerry in The Emblems of James Reaney, page 73.
Professor Gerry explained the tradition of the emblem poem in literature and its use of allegorical meaning to rouse the faculties. He also compared the pyramid structure from “Egypt” to the “family tree pyramid” poem that appears in James Reaney’s play Colours in the Dark:
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
He then led us in performing the poem and explained how “the pyramid shape recurs as an emblematic feature of the play” (The Emblems of James Reaney, page 84).
Thank you, Thomas Gerry, for your spirited lecture, and thank you also to the staff of the Stratford Public Library — Sally Hengeveld, Julia Merritt, Krista Robinson, and Robyn Godfrey — for your support of this event.
Next year’s speaker will beJohn Beckwith, composer, who collaborated with James Reaney on many musical works. The annual lecture is a project developed by The Stratford Public Library and Poetry Stratford, and features a talk by a person who is knowledgeable about the life and work of Stratford poet and playwright James Reaney and of writing in the Southwestern Ontario region, which is such a strong element in Reaney’s writing.
Here are photographs from our happy afternoon near Stratford, courtesy Elizabeth Reaney:
Former doctoral student of James Reaney’s and now professor of literature at Laurentian University, Thomas Gerry explores the history of the literary emblem, and explains the meanings behind ten of James Reaney’s emblem poems.
“The Tree” and “The Riddle” are two of Reaney’s emblem poems featured in The Emblems of James Reaney:
The annual lecture is a project developed by The Stratford Public Library and Poetry Stratford, and features a talk by a person who is knowledgeable about the life and work of Stratford poet and playwright James Reaney and of writing in the Southwestern Ontario region, which is such a strong element in Reaney’s writing.
James Reaney was fortunate to have composer John Beckwith set many of his poems to music: The Great Lakes Suite, A Message to Winnipeg, and Twelve Letters to a Small Town. Beckwith and Reaney also collaborated on longer operas Night-blooming Cereus, The Shivaree, and Crazy to Kill.
To listen to original recordings of Beckwith-Reaney works, visit the Canadian Music Centre‘s Composer Showcase and set up an account – it’s free!
A girl spent all day pleating a fan.
Either we have Verdun & Kursk
Or we have herbivorous people
As the she above
Who spend all day in their garden
Watching butterflies or playing with a kite
Or cutting out coloured paper
For a fan
Or a kite
Or balancing the reds of zinnias with those of amaranths,
For example that plant called Love Lies Bleeding.
I saw a field of men playing football
With a criminal’s head.
I saw a field of sunflowers wiped out
By ten thousand tanks.
I saw Aunt Marjorie’s paint brush
Destroy a knight in armour
And even a villainous peasant!
I saw our hockey player break a Russian player’s ankle!
And I saw the Fan! giant in the sky
I saw an armoured car drive up
To arrest an artist
Who was accounted hopelessly a- and un-political
Because he painted nothing but flowers & mice,
But of course was suddenly seen
As the most dangerous rebel in the republic.
And I saw the Fan — big, winnowing,
Make a rhapsody of a windy day,
Separate wheat from straw just like that,
And blow giants & battlefields like dead leaves away!
James Reaney, 2005
“The Fan” is from James Reaney’s book of poems Souwesto Home,
This production of Alice is the Atlantic Canada premiere of last summer’s Stratford Festival hit. How fitting that Alice would journey to PEI — the home of Anne of Green Gables! Long ago Mark Twain called Anne Shirley “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.”
To purchase tickets, call 1-800-565-0278 (902-566-1267) or order onlinehere.
♦ Jane Urqhart: Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
♦ Monika Lee: The Donnellys by James Reaney
♦ Michael Hurley: Perpetual Motion by Graeme Gibson
♦ Shani Mootoo: All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
“James Reaney is one of our best Gothic writers from Southern Ontario, and he is one of the most influential. He’s had a huge impact on a lot of writers who are more famous than he is, like Alice Munro and Margret Atwood,” says Monika Lee, Professor of English Literature at Brescia College.
More about 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, pages 593-594. William Toye, Ed., Oxford University Press, 2011.