Archives: Canadian literature

Tom Smart on James Reaney’s visual art at Words Festival

Tom Smart on James Reaney’s visual art at Words Festival

Thank you all for coming to Museum London on Sunday November 5 to hear Tom Smart speak on “James Reaney’s Visual Art: Iconographies of His Imagination.”

In his talk, Smart placed James Reaney in the tradition of poet-painters William Blake (1757-1827) and David Jones (1895-1974), who extended the expression of their literary ideas into their visual art.

James Reaney’s watercolour painting “David Willson Meets an Angel in the Forest”, 1962 (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

Smart also mentioned Reaney’s interest in children’s art and the work of psychologist and educator Rhoda Kellogg, who analyzed thousands of drawings by children to show the evolution of their early non-pictorial work, or scribbling, to pictorial drawing. The child-like lone figure or “playful witness” is also a device that Reaney uses in many of his drawings and paintings.

Water colour drawing by James Reaney from “The Boy Who Lived in the Sun” (1961)

Mandala created by Rhoda Kellogg showing the evolution of children’s non-pictorial into pictorial drawing (What Children Scribble and Why [1955])

Reaney also admired Huron County farmer George Laithwaite’s folkloric concrete sculptures, created between 1912-1952.

Near Goderich, Ontario, “Moses” sculpture by George Laithwaite (1871-1956). (Photo by JS Reaney)

Gallery director and author Tom Smart was Director at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2006-2010, and organized an exhibition of James Reaney’s visual art and writings called “The Iconography of the Imagination: The Art of James Reaney” in 2008.

See also Jean McKay’s 2006 article “What on earth are you doing, Sir?” in Artcscape magazine, and James Reaney’s The Boy Who Lived in the Sun (1961).

Our thanks to our hosts Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support in organizing this event, and to Western Archives for their display.

A video of the lecture is available here: https://vimeo.com/244934223

The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.

November 5, 2017 — Western Archives display of James Reaney’s paintings and drawings prepared by archivist Amanda Jamieson from the James Reaney fonds (AFC 18).

 

James Reaney (Photo courtesy Talonbooks)

James Reaney Memorial Lecture November 5 at Museum London

James Reaney Memorial Lecture November 5 at Museum London

Join us on Sunday November 5 at 5:30 pm at Museum London to hear curator and author Tom Smart speak about “James Reaney’s Visual Art: Iconographies of his Imagination.”

Throughout his literary career, poet and dramatist James Reaney also produced sketches, drawings, and paintings to explore the ideas in his writing. Common themes in Reaney’s visual art are play, home, regionalism, symbolism, and the interplay between text and image.*

James Reaney’s watercolur painting “David Willson Meets an Angel in the Forest”, 1962 (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

When: Sunday November 5 at 5:30 pm

Where: Museum London, 421 Ridout Street North, London, Ontario

Admission is free; James Stewart Reaney, James Reaney’s son, will introduce the speaker.

Gallery director and author Tom Smart was Director at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2006-2010, and organized an exhibition of James Reaney’s visual art and writings called “The Iconography of the Imagination: The Art of James Reaney” in 2008.

Watercolour by James Reaney, East Zorra, Oxford County, Near Cassel Mennonite Church, September 2, 1978

Our thanks to Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support of this event. The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.

*See the Spring Exhibitions invitation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, April 17, 2008.

“The Artist & Table” by James Reaney, watercolour, ink, and graphite on paper, 1992 (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

James Reaney, 1979. Photo credit: Les Kohalmi)

James Reaney, 1979 (Photo by Les Kohalmi)

The Box Social and Other Stories

The Box Social and Other Stories

On May 30, 1996, “An Evening with James Reaney & Friends” was held  at the G.A. Wheable Adult Education Centre in London, Ontario to celebrate the publication of The Box Social and Other Stories, a collection of James Reaney’s short fiction.

Authors Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson, and Colleen Thibaudeau attended, and Margaret Atwood spoke about her discovery of James Reaney’s writing in her college days:

I was a student at the University of Toronto in the last years of the 1950s, and James Reaney — who had been cutting an odd swath there several years before — was still an oral tradition. He was known as an enfant terrible who’d published a scandalous story called “The Box Social,” which dealt with gynecological matters unmentionable at that time, and dealt with them in a shocking fashion. (Inside the box of the title — supposed to contain a lunch — there was a fetus.) Nobody seemed to know where this story could actually be read, so its reputation was in consequence tremendous. (I’m happy to say it has now finally been republished.) Reaney was also remembered as having staged  a production of Beowulf in which Beowulf himself turned out to be the monster who was murdering and eating his own faithful followers. The more you think about that, the more plausible it becomes.

I was in the Honours English course, and as a consequence we read almost no Canadian literature; but my older brother was in Honours Biology, which included a Canadian literature course. You may ponder the logic of that — why them and not us? Maybe the biologists took CanLit because it was thought to have a lot of animals in it. However, I was in the habit of reading my brother’s books, and it was in the first Robert Weaver short-story anthology that I came across Reaney’s story “The Bully.” 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. I went on to read all of Reaney’s poetry available at the time: here was a fresh, brilliant, and quirky literary landscape in the process of being formed and, I should say, against considerable odds…. [Excerpted from Margaret Atwood, “Remembering James Reaney”, Brick Issue 82 (Winter 2009), page 160.]

Note from Susan Reaney: The event was part of the For the Love of Literacy Writers Festival organized by London educator Win Schell to bring local writers to the school.  (James Reaney: Listening to the Wind, a film biography of James Reaney produced by Nancy Johnson of Lockwood Films, was to have had its premiere that night, but had to be delayed to the fall.)

After the introduction by Margaret Atwood, James Reaney had planned to read “The Box Social” for the audience, but decided not to and read “The Bully” instead. We were disappointed that he did not give voice to the long-lost story, but a friend from school days said that “The Bully” was an entirely appropriate story to read in a high school.

See also “Southern Ontario Gothic and James Reaney” from June 2015.

 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.

The Box Social and Other Stories gathers together nine of James Reaney’s early and more recent short stories and is available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

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

May 30, 1996 in London, Ontario — Writers Colleen Thibaudeau, James Reaney, Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson, and producer Nancy Johnson of Lockwood Films.

James Reaney’s Colours in the Dark in Halifax March 29 to April 1

James Reaney’s Colours in the Dark in Halifax March 29 to April 1

March 29, 2017 — Congratulations to the King’s Theatrical Society of King’s University College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for their wonderful production of James Reaney’s 1967 play Colours in the Dark.

Thank you cast members Alex McVittie, Caleb Sher, Ella MacDonald, Frances Grace Fyfe, Jack Lewis, Jacob Hermant, Jeremy Earley, Julia Hancock-Song, Julia Schultz, Maxim Makarov, and Robert Sapp for your spirited performances.

Colours in the Dark was directed by James Reaney’s granddaughter, Edie Reaney Chunn, who also wrote original music for the play: “This process has been wonderful, in part because of hearing my own voice in my grandfather’s writing, but also because of the new things I have learned to do, and learned that I love doing.”

Colours in the Dark by James Reaney

Here are pictures from the play taken by Producer Erica Guy:


Colours in the Dark cast members: Maxim Makarov, Jacob Hermant, Jeremy Earley, Caleb Sher, Frances Grace Fyfe, Julia Schultz, Jack Lewis, Alex McVittie, Julia Hancock-Song, Robert Sapp, and Ella MacDonald. Photo by Erica Guy.

Julia Hancock-Song, Julia Schultz, Caleb Sher, Frances Grace Fyfe, and Jeremy Earley: Act I Scene 1, A Family Game and a Birthday Party
Photo by Erica Guy

From Act I Scene 1: KIDS: Read our palms. Guess who we are.

Act I Scene 10 with Jacob Hermant and Frances Grace Fyfe: SON: Oh, Sally, whatever is it now?

Act II Scene 2, A Visit to a Sculptor Hermit: Frances Grace Fyfe, Maxim Makarov, and Julia Hancock-Song

Mr. Winemeyer’s cement sculptures

Act II Scene 5, The Music Lesson with Robert Sapp and Alex McVittie: TEACHER: What shall I set the metronome at? PUPIL: Set it at summer and pink and white and yellow bricks sunlight with blue sky and white feather dumpling clouds.

Act II Scene 8, From Stratford to Toronto: Tour of the University

Act II Scene 9, The Lecture of Dr. Button

Act II Scene 16, The Babysitter and The Baby    (PA: I have no love to spare. I can’t bear sickness and pain in myself or others.)

From Act I, Ella MacDonald as Granny Crack: I was the mother of your sun / I was the sister of your moon

End of Act II: … 8 great grandparents, 4 grandparents, 2 parents, one child.

The King’s Theatrical Society (KTS) is a student-run theatrical organization, and every year students propose ideas for plays. The KTS Winter Season for 2017 also featured The Woman in Black by Stephen Malatratt (directed by Jessica MacIsaac), and Bone Cage by Catherine Banks (directed by Miranda Bowron). Here’s to more great plays next season!

For more about the play, see Ophelia Stone’s review in Watch Magazine.

Stratford Literary Walking Tour 2016

Stratford Literary Walking Tour 2016

Come celebrate Stratford Ontario’s literary heritage and take the Stratford Literary Walking Tour — James Reaney’s old high school Stratford Central Secondary School is one of ten stops on the way.

James Reaney was born and raised on a farm three miles east of Stratford in South Easthope Township, and he bicycled to and from high school every day for five years (1939-1944).

Between the highschool & the farmhouse
In the country and the town
It was a world of love and of feeling
Continually floating down
— From James Reaney’s poem “The Bicycle” (1962)

"The Bicycle" illustration by James Reaney from Twelve Letters to A Small Town (1962)

“The Bicycle” illustration by James Reaney from Twelve Letters to A Small Town (1962)

 

For more of James Reaney’s Stratford and Perth County inspired writing, see the links below:

Plays:

 Colours in the Dark (1967)

Short stories:

The Box Social and Other Stories (1996)

Poems:

“The Royal Visit” (1949)

“The Windyard” (1956)

 From Twelve Letters To A Small Town, “The Bicycle” (1962) and “Shakespearean Gardens” (1962)

 “Going for the Mail” (1964)

 “Gifts” (1965)

 “Maps” (2005)

 “Brush Strokes Decorating a Fan” (2005)

 “The Fan” (2005)

 “Elderberry Cottage” (2005)

Perth County history:

 The Story of North Easthope (1982)

August 2010 -- James Reaney's birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario.

August 2010 — James Reaney’s birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario. The farmhouse was built in 1875 and demolished in 2015.

 

Apple Butter off to the Western Fair Summer 1965

Apple Butter off to the Western Fair Summer 1965

August 23-29, 1965 in Leith, Ontario — Family friend Leith Peterson shares this Polaroid photo taken by her mother, Jay Peterson (1920-1976), who invited James Reaney and family up to her cottage at Leith to create the marionettes for James Reaney’s children’s play Apple Butter.

Here are the Reaney children (James, John, and Susan) and Jay’s niece Elizabeth Tinker with new-made marionette Apple Butter, soon to make his stage debut at the Western Fair in London (September 3-12, 1965).

August 1965 in Leith, Ontario: The Reaney children with new-made marionette Apple Butter just before his September debut at the Western fair in London. From left to right: Susan Reaney (age 6), James Stewart Reaney (age 13) holding Elizabeth Tinker (age 2), and John Andrew Reaney (age 11). (Photo by Jay Peterson courtesy Leith Peterson.)

August 1965 in Leith, Ontario: From left to right: Susan Reaney (age 6), James Stewart Reaney (age 12 1/2) holding Elizabeth Tinker (age 16 months), and John Andrew Reaney (age 11). James Reaney (age 38) holds Apple Butter. (Photo by Jay Peterson courtesy Leith Peterson.)

For more about Jay Peterson and her role in commissioning the marionette plays and helping create the marionettes, see Leith Peterson’s article, “Jamie and Jay Peterson’s 1965 Apple Butter Collaboration”.

  ♦◊♦

James Reaney and family in 1965 in Leith, Ontario. Standing left to right are the adults: Colleen Reaney, Wilma McCaig (Jamie's sister), and James Reaney. The children are John Andrew Reaney, James Stewart Reaney, and Susan Reaney (beside Applebutter). Photo by Jay Peterson.

James Reaney and family in 1965 in Leith, Ontario. Standing left to right are the adults: Colleen Reaney, Wilma McCaig (Jamie’s sister), and James Reaney. The children are John Andrew Reaney, James Stewart Reaney, and Susan Reaney (beside Apple Butter). Photo by Jay Peterson.

Colours in the Dark and Mr. Winemeyer

Colours in the Dark and Mr. Winemeyer

Goderich, Ontario -- Sculptures by George Laithwaite (1871-1956)

Goderich, Ontario — Sculptures by George Laithwaite (1871-1956)

In Act II of James Reaney’s play Colours in the Dark, two boys visit the mysterious Mr. Winemeyer, a sculptor hermit. George Laithwaite (1871-1956), a farmer near Goderich, Ontario, created cement sculptures around his farm and is the inspiration for the character Mr. Winemeyer.

Here is an excerpt from Act II, Scenes 3 and 4, where the two boys visit the old hermit, Mr. Winemeyer, and see his sculptures.

[…]

BOY 1: Where’d you get the peacock feather, Mr. Winemeyer?

HERMIT: Had a pet peacock once when I was a boy. A big old sow we had had a peeve about it – and one day caught it in the orchard and devoured it. This – was all that was left of my beautiful bird. Sticking out of that beast’s mouth.

BOY 1: holding the feather  And nothing else has happened to you lately?

HERMIT: Well – yes – this happened. I happened to be out in the yard scraping out my frying pan when coming down through the air I saw – a falling star.

It does. It is yellow.

BOY 2: What are you going to do with this falling star, Mr. Winemeyer?

June 2016 near Goderich, Ontario, "Moses" sculpture by George Laithwaite (1871-1956). (Photos courtesy JS Reaney.)

June 2016 near Goderich, Ontario, “Moses” sculpture by George Laithwaite (1871-1956). (Photos courtesy JS Reaney.)

4. CEMENT SCULPTURES

SCREEN: Actual slides of the Goderich, Ontario, primitive sculptor Laithwaite – his cement figures.

HERMIT: Come out with me to the orchard and see my latest cement sculptures.

On cue, the sculpture slides appear. They could also be mimed by the Company.

Now here’s Sir John A. at the plow!
Here’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That’s the only film I’ve ever seen and the only one I’ll ever see. You can’t go any higher than that in film art.

BOY 2: Who’s this?

HERMIT: That’s the infant Riel suckled by the buffalo Manitoba.

BOY 1: What’s this one doing, Mr. Winemeyer?

HERMIT: I finished that last April — that’s Mackenzie King cultivating the rows of compromise. Now – here is where I’m using this falling star. Here’s Good – in a terrible combat with his brother Evil – over – this.

He places the star between the statue-actor’s hands. The star has now become a lump of rock.

BOY 2: Could I have a piece of that star?
HERMIT: Why sure. These two projecting knobs will never be missed. Both have a piece.
BOYS: Gee, thank you, Mr. Winemeyer.

We hear music. The Windlady appears with her Rain Doll.

HERMIT: Now there’s a good subject for a piece of sculpture.
BOYS: What, Mr. Winemeyer?
HERMIT: The Wind and the Rain.

He and his statues fade slowly. BOY 1 starts playing the bicycle spokes. BOY 2 goes back and says:

BOY 2: Mr. Winemeyer – was the pig your brother? Were you the peacock?

Mr. Winemeyer shakes his head.

SCREEN: Centre panel shows a large star.

♦♦♦♦

♦ For more about James Reaney’s imaginative use of George Laithwaite’s sculptures, see James Stewart Reaney’s article, Concrete sculptures still ‘play’ well.

♦ For a delightful tour of George Laithwaite’s sculptures (summer and winter!), see Harrison Engle’s film “Legacy” (1960?), which features commentary by Laithwaite’s family and J.H. Neill, then Curator of the Huron County Pioneer Museum.

Colours in the Dark by James Reaney is available from Talonbooks.

Colours in the Dark by James Reaney published by Talonbooks

Colours in the Dark by James Reaney published by Talonbooks

Goderich, Ontario -- Sir John A. Macdonald sculpture by George Laithwaite.

Goderich, Ontario — Sir John A. Macdonald sculpture by George Laithwaite.

Tarragon Theatre’s “The Donnelly Project” May 14 in Scarborough

Tarragon Theatre’s “The Donnelly Project” May 14 in Scarborough

Congratulations to the students of R.H. King and Agincourt Secondary Schools and students from the University of Toronto Scarborough for their wonderful outdoor performance of “The Donnelly Project”, a special adaptation of three scenes from James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys Part I.

Adapted by Tarragon Theatre’s Playwright-in-Residence Kat Sandler, “The Donnelly Project” gives drama students from Scarborough the chance to explore an early Tarragon Theatre script. The Tarragon Theatre celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, and James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys Part I was first performed there on November 24, 1973.

For more about the event, see “The Donnelly Project at Scarbrough Arts Park” and Eleanor Besly’s interview with co-director Zach McKendrick.

Photos courtesy Elizabeth Reaney, Saturday May 14 at the Scarborough Arts Park, 1859 Kingston Road, Scarborough, Ontario.

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

The Donnelly Project performers

The Donnelly Project performers

The Donnelly Project

The Donnelly Project (3)

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

“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
Nightwalkers.
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 A Suit of Nettles: April

James Reaney’s A Suit of Nettles: April

To celebrate National Poetry Month, here is the “April” eclogue from James Reaney’s long poem A Suit of Nettles.

April

ARGUMENT: With Duncan as judge the geese hold a bardic contest in honour of Spring.

[DUNCAN  RAYMOND  VALANCY]

Here is a kernel of the hardest winter wheat
Found in the yard delicious for to eat.
It I will give to that most poetic gander
Who this season sings as well as swam Leander.
The white geese with their orange feet on the green
Grass that grew around the pond’s glassy sheen
Chose then Valancy and Raymond to sing
And to hear them gathered about in a ring.

RAYMOND

I speak I speak of the arable earth,
Black sow goddess huge with birth;
Cry cry killdeers in her fields.

Black ogress ate her glacier lover
When the sun killed him for her;
The white owl to the dark crow yields.

Caw caw whir whir bark bark
We’re fresh out of Noah’s Ark;
Wild geese come in arrowheads

Shot from birds dead long ago
Buried in your negro snow;
Long water down the river sleds.

Black begum of a thousand dugs,
A nation at each fountain tugs;
The forests plug their gaps with leaves.

Whet whet scrape and sharpen
Hoes and rakes and plows of iron;
The farmer sows his sheaves.

Mr Sword or Mr Plow
Can settle in your haymow,
All is the same to Mother Ground.

Great goddess I from you have come,
Killdeer crow geese ditch leaf plowman
From you have come, to you return
In endless laughing weeping round.

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 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 in to 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 its pretty birth
The faithful finds:
Fanatic doves, believing wrens and orioles
Devoted redwinged blackbirds with their calls,
Archilochus 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.

The prize to this one goes cried eagerly some
And others cried that to Raymond it must come,
So that Duncan Goose turned to the plantain leaf
And chopped the prize in half with beak-thrust brief.

James Reaney, 1958

The third edition of A Suit of Nettles features charming illustrations by engraver Jim Westergard, available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

A Suit of Nettles (3rd edition) is available from the Porcupine's Quill.

A Suit of Nettles (3rd ed. 2010)

 

For more about A Suit of Nettles, see Germaine Warkentin‘s essay “Out of Spenser and the Common Tongue”: James Reaney’s A Suit of Nettles, and Richard Stingle‘s lecture “A learned poet writes A Suit of Nettles”.

"Geese" Photo by Elizabeth Cooke (James Reaney's mother), 1950 near Stratford, Ontario.

“Geese” Photo by Elizabeth Cooke (James Reaney’s mother), 1950 near Stratford, Ontario.

Butterfly decoration by James Reaney, September 1947 (ink on yellow paper)

Butterfly decoration by James Reaney, September 1947 (ink on yellow paper)

© 2017 James Reaney