Archives: Brick Books

“Elderberry Cottage” by James Reaney

“Elderberry Cottage” by James Reaney

Elderberry Cottage

’s windows, last night, rain wrote upon,
And Bobdog, while we slept, was miles away,
Beating the bounds, our frontier nose-spy
Reporting back at dawn.
We reward him for knowing about
Quarrels in lover’s lane,
Thieves on the prowl and other such
Canny protector, I pray you:
Bark always when strangers come nigh.
Yes, we cannot smell trespass
Nor hear it, as you can.
Piss a ring of fire round our house,
Our curtilage, my land,, my concessional lot.
Lead me safely at last
Under this township to my last cot,
And when Elderberry is a ruin,
Guard my grave from the academic wolf,
The curious professor
With his fine wire-brush
Who would dig me up again
From my happiness, your kingdom.

James Reaney, 2005

“Elderberry Cottage” is from Souwesto Home, a collection of James Reaney’s poems from 2005 and published by Brick Books.

Listen to Jeff Culbert perform “Elderberry Cottage” here.

Souwesto Home by James Reaney, 2005

Souwesto Home by James Reaney, 2005


Elizabeth Cooke (James Reaney's mother) with Bob dog at Elderberry Cottage, March 1976. Photo by Wilma McCaig.

Elizabeth Cooke (James Reaney’s mother) with Bob dog at Elderberry Cottage, March 1976. Photo by Wilma McCaig.

James Reaney’s “The Fan”

James Reaney’s “The Fan”

Colleen Reaney, Katelynd Chamberlin Franken, and James Reaney at the farm near Stratford, Ontario, July 1985. Photo by Wilma McCaig.

The Fan

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
Huge, winnowing!
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

James Reaney, age 1, with his father, James Nexbitt Reaney. Photo by Elizabeth Crerar Reaney, 1927..

James Reaney (age 8 months) with his father, James Nesbitt Reaney, Spring 1927.


“The Fan” is from James Reaney’s book of poems Souwesto Home,

available from Brick Books.


James Reaney’s “Brush Strokes Decorating a Fan”

In celebration of Brick Books 40th anniversary, here is one of the 26 stanzas from James Reaney’s poem “Brush Strokes Decorating a Fan”.

A Useful List:
Useful for what?

Well, I don’t quite know yet,
But I swear that as an infant,
Born near the Little Lakes,
I met them.
Every morning in our house,
Vesta used to light the stove

 James Reaney, 2005


James Reaney, age 1 1/2 years, on his front porch, January 1928.

James Reaney at home, age 1 1/2 years, January 1928.

“Brush Strokes Decorating a Fan” is from James Reaney’s book of poems Souwesto Home (2005), available from Brick Books. For more about the poem, see Celebration of Poetry: Week 1 James Reaney.

Ten of the stanzas from “Brush Strokes Decorating a Fan” (including “(u) A Useful List”) were set to music by Oliver Whitehead and Stephen Holowitz and performed by the Antler River Project in 2008.

Souwesto Home by James Reaney, 2005, Brick Books.

Souwesto Home by James Reaney, 2005, Brick Books.

James Reaney’s “Maps” from Souwesto Home


To go where I first saw maps
Is almost too simple perhaps.
Find Pork Street or Hessestrasse
And come up McKone’s sideroad past Cardwell’s
Till you hit Elmhurst School
Where time is reckoned by a Pequenaut clock
Manufactured in Kitchener, alias Berlin.
And space is taught by gray green windows
Unrolled from their special “map” cupboard
And hung upon the wall with us looking up
At continents Mercatorized,
Anything British vermilionized,
With funny stripes for Palestine
And Egypt, Iraq, Persia and Danzig,
Places only half imperialized,
Or spheres of influence;
However, just over the map cupboard,
Was a wall of continuous windows
That contained my uncle’s fields,
When school was over
Basically my way home landscape.
It was a map too!
Its scale was an inch to an inch,
A mile to a mile.
There was no map to guide me home
Save this one and a path.
Teaching itself, white with snow, gray sky,
Blurred tree sticks, ditch, swamp,
Forest, meadow, yard, home.
Inside my school — the whole world
In a round globe, or flat maps;
Outside our school — a part of the world
Too big to be taught.

James Reaney, 2005

 “Maps” is from Souwesto Home, a collection of James Reaney’s poems from 2005 and published by Brick Books. Listen to Jeff Culbert perform “Maps” here.

The Elmhurst School mentioned in “Maps” was a one-room schoolhouse where James Reaney attended elementary school from 1932-1939. Elmhurst School was northeast of Stratford, Ontario, and about one mile from the farm where James Reaney grew up. In his autobiography (1992), James Reaney describes his walk to school:

“To go to school, I left the house by its formal front door, not much used, going by a hall dresser whose combination chest with seat-lid was filled with powerfully sweet-smelling grass seed. The way to public school lay first through the relic of a Victorian dooryard, uncut locust hedge reaching up farther every year, four apple trees shaded by big maples where once, very early (1870) had been a garden. Then, the gables of the house still visible behind me, a field, the edge of a bush [woods] and swamp, Cardwell’s flats — difficult to cross with high water after floods — and a ditch across which my father had sort of established a floating, single log bridge.”

(This excerpt is from James Crerar Reaney, Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 15, page 297, Gale Research Inc., Detroit, 1992.)

James Reaney off to Elmhurst School in 1936

James Reaney off to Elmhurst School in 1936


Pupils of Elmhurst School in 1936, near Stratford, Ontario. Miss Helen Coveney is the teacher; James Reaney (age 10) is in the top row, third from the left.

The pupils of Elmhurst School with their teacher, Miss Helen Coveney, in 1936. James Reaney (age 10) is in the top row, third from the left.



James Reaney’s Department Store Jesus

Department Store Jesus

May I help you? You want a Jesus?
We have a different style for each of our four
Floors, for
Example, in the basement we stock the demonic Jesus
with the hardware & the mousetraps and the col
-chicum bulbs & the rat poison.
Demonic Jesus, yes—
As portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s film where Christ giggles,
An efficient young carpenter apprenticed to his dad,
Helps his father make crosses for the Romans to use.
As portrayed in a Handmade film bankrolled by one of the Beatles
He says: “Blessed are the Cheesemakers”
And his much more attractive rival is a well-endowed male,
Amiable, but not too interested in changing the world,
Named Brian.

Now, let’s take the escalator
To the First Floor where you may prefer
Christ as He really was,
Classified with Kodak film, notions, perfumes,
Stationery & Men’s Wear.
This historical Jesus is made up of verifiable only facts,
Of which there are practically none;
Do you know there is a serious doubt that he even existed,
But finding his grave would help.
They’ve just found that of Caiaphas, the Chief Priest of his time.
The archeologists are busy.
Water-walker, speed baker & fisher? Virgin birth?
We’ve scrubbed him clean of all that midrash rubbish.
After all, can you cure leprosy, blindness & death
That easily?
Meanwhile, a monastery in Turkey has coughed up
A rather interesting Gnostic scrap with regard to
A hitherto obscure passage—Mark IX: 51, 52.
At last our suspicions about his sexuality may be—

Let us take the Elevator to the Second Floor
Where the Christ of the creeds & the New Testament
Is still available
(Buyers, not many lately)
Among the patterned china, the records for gramophones,
The furniture & dining room suites.
Now this model was born to a Virgin, raised the dead,
Often corpses not so recently deceased,
Bent reality with his magic, died,
Then, like Snow White, came alive again:
Dared to be a crucified wretch on a cross;
Somehow destroyed & renewed a large empire,
Is, no doubt, our only hope for translating us out of here.
But, you know, we get a lot of returns
And customers asking for something really true this time,
Not so exciting & poetic, more real.

A man who walks on rain
Is too great a stretch for their brain.
Others say they are more than happy, but you can tell
They’re not by the funny look in their eyes,
And, of course, we provide a booklet, one of many,
Just in case your difficulty is, say, the Ascension,
Speaking of which, let us climb these stairs
Up to the roof of this Department Store.

On the roof of this Department Store
Having a cigarette on his break,
I saw a young floorwalker
Leaning against the elevator shaft.
By the sudden flash, I recognized Him,
Yes, by the moment glimpse
Of the nailmarks
On His hands.

James Reaney, 2005

“Department Store Jesus” is from Souwesto Home, a collection of James Reaney’s poems from 2005 and published by Brick Books. Listen to Jeff Culbert perform “Department Store Jesus” here.

James Reaney, 1995 in London, Ontario. Photo by Marian Johnson.

James Reaney, 1995
Photo by Marion Johnson



Jeff Culbert reads poems from Souwesto Home and One-man Masque

Thanks to Brick Books, you can now hear Jeff Culbert reading poems by  James Reaney from Souwesto Home (2005) and One-man Masque (1960).


One-man Masque (1960) is available in Two Plays by James Reaney, as well as Gentle Rain Food Co-op (1997), published by Ergo Books in 2003.

Listen to Jeff Culbert read a selection of poems here:

One-man Masque on YouTube

Souwesto Home on YouTube

Choose individual poems here:

One-man Masque

Souwesto Home

Actor and director Jeff Culbert performed One-man Masque and directed James Reaney’s 1997 play Gentle Rain Food Co-op on November 21-30, 2002 at the Grand Theatre (McManus Studio) in London, Ontario. In the preface to his book, Two Plays, James Reaney shared his enthusiasm for Jeff Culbert: “His superb work as both director and performer moved the audiences at seven performances… to stand-ups, tears, laughter, and exclamations. There were even screams for the last image of One-man Masque when Jeff took a tray of five candles, lit them, and balanced the tray on his head! It was electrifying.”






Balloon by Colleen Thibaudeau and National Poetry Month

To honour poet Colleen Thibaudeau (1925-2012), Colleen’s poem “Balloon” is now on display on a billboard near Stanley Street and Wortley Road in London, Ontario. The billboard is a joint project of Poetry London, the London Public Library, and Brick Books, in celebration of National Poetry Month.

“Balloon” by Colleen Thibuadeau in London, Ontario.
Photo by Chrsitine Walde, 2012

Colleen knew about the plan to put her poem on a billboard earlier this year before she passed away and was thrilled to think that her poem would be writ large for all to see. Thank you so much!

“Balloon” is a concrete poem and was first published in 1965 in Colleen’s book Lozenges: Poems in the Shapes of Things by James Reaney’s Alphabet Press. For this month only, the London Public Library has free postcards of “Balloon.”

Colleen Thibaudeau Reaney, 1925-2012
Photo by Diane Thompson, 1997





“Janitor” is a poem from Souwesto Home, James Reaney’s recent collection of new poems, published by Brick Books in 2005.


I love gateways into farms & yards: even more
Do I love door-
ways (latches, their hooks, hinges, keyholes).
From my collegiate days
I remember the janitor,
Mr January,
Who lingered, with his blizzard broom
At the highschool’s entrance, tending
His garden of galoshes, rubbers, boots,
Mudmats, sleet mops, rainwhisks.
Awesomely quiet, brooding, puttering man,
He had, in his pockets, keys for all locks
Of classroom, gymnasium,
Even the mysterious cubby holes under stairs,
And the exits & entrances of the assembly
You shuffler & sweeper, who opened, who shut,
Kept the rain, wind, mud, snow, out,
And us, inside, warm & dry.
Doorkeeper, in some strange way,
You caretaker, though you were
Neither principal nor teacher,
You secretly governed the school.
We often dreamt of you,
Our most remembered educator.

James Reaney, 2005.

James Reaney attended Stratford Central Collegiate, now Stratford Central Secondary School, from 1939-1944. On November 26, 2010, the school held a celebration to rename the school’s old auditorium the James C. Reaney Auditorium in honour of his achievements as a poet and playwright.

James Reaney Memorial Lecture held on October 17 in Stratford

Thank you all for coming to the lecture on Sunday afternoon to hear Colleen Thibaudeau, James Reaney’s widow, talk about their early days together and read from some of his works.

For those of you who were unable to attend, Stratford Beacon Herald reporter Mike Beitz reports on Thibaudeau’s talk here and Charles Maidment has posted an audio recording here.

Our thanks also to the organizers of the lecture at the Stratford Public Library, Charles Mountford, Anne Marie Heckman, and Sam Coghlan. Colleen Thibaudeau especially appreciated all the help she has had from her family and others; she couldn’t have done it without you.

One of James Reaney’s poems that Colleen Thibaudeau read was “White Grumphies, white snow” from Souwesto Home, published by Brick Books.

“White Grumphies, white snow…”

The students of Agricultural Diploma, their fathers
Grow square miles of blue flowering flax near
Pilot Mound and square miles of yellow mustard which
I saw as I drove out from Minnesota,
Well knowing that in the fall, in the autumn,
We would be teaching them Robert Penn Warren’s
Understanding Poetry, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,
Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Emily Dickinson.

As I climbed the stairs to their classroom
Over the Rupertsland Agricultural Auditorium,
Prepared to teach them “I heard a fly buzz when I died,”
I heard them splitting desk into kindling
For a bonfire in a waste paper basket where they
Burnt the texts on the course one by one,
Rainbow-coloured poems and prose they burnt,
Book by book, as I taught them.
As verbal virgins they were tougher
Than such pastoral nymphs as Diana or urban ones
Such as Athena.

However, a day or two later, taking a random stroll
Across the winter campus, I saw,
Around the corner of the Swine Barn, a herd
Of white, white pigs being driven into the barn
By my Aggie Dip students each with
A very proper and even beautiful pig-driving stick.
Was it their mid-term test in pig-herding?
It must have been.

The whiteness of the piggies against the whiteness of the snow
Presented them with optical problems.
They had trouble seeing me as well.
In fact not one of them did, for I
Was wearing this poem.

James Reaney, 2005.

My editor, Stan Dragland, wishes me to explain “White Grumphies, white snow.” They are white pigs herded by agricultural students on a snowy day.


James Reaney and Colleen Thibaudeau in Stratford, 1980. Photo by C.H. Gervais.

Souwesto Home and Ice Cream

“Ice Cream” is a poem from Souwesto Home, James Reaney’s recent collection of new poems, published by Brick Books in 2005.

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

It was two years ago today that James Reaney passed away. His nephew, Scott Thibaudeau, read “Ice Cream”  at a celebration of James Reaney’s life held in early July at Aeolian Hall in London, Ontario. There was Maple Walnut ice cream for everyone at intermission. Dear Jamie, we remember you always!


James Reaney in the 1970s

© 2017 James Reaney