Archives: poem

Twelfth Letter: The Bicycle

Here is James Reaney’s poem “The Bicycle” — the Twelfth Letter from Twelve Letters to a Small Town, a suite of poems James Reaney wrote for composer John Beckwith in 1962.

 

The Bicycle

Halfway between childhood & manhood,
More than a hoop but never a car,
The bicycle talks gravel and rain pavement
On the highway where the dead frogs are.

Like sharkfish the cars blur by,
Filled with the two-backed beast
One dreams of, yet knows not the word for,
The accumulating sexual yeast.

Past the house where the bees winter,
I climb on the stairs of my pedals
To school murmuring irregular verbs
Past the lion with legs like a table’s.

Autumn blows the windfalls down
With a twilight horn of dead leaves.
I pick them up in the fence of November
And burs on my sweater sleeves.

Where a secret robin is wintering
By the lake in the fir grove dark
Through the fresh new snow we stumble
That Winter has whistled sharp.

The March wind blows me ruts over,
Puddles past, under red maple buds,
Over culvert of streamling, under
White clouds and beside bluebirds.

Fireflies tell their blinking player
Piano hesitant tales
Down at the edge of the bridge through the swamp
Where the ogre clips his rusty nails.

Between the highschool & the farmhouse
In the country and the town
It was a world of love and of feeling
Continually floating down

On a soul whose only knowledge
Was that everything was something,
This was like that, that was like this–
In short, everything was
The bicycle of which I sing.

September 1966: James Reaney on Richmond Street bicycling to Middlesex College (from William Ronald’s CBC arts magazine show “The Umbrella”)

September 1966: James Reaney bicycling to Middlesex College on the campus of the University of Western Ontario (from William Ronald’s CBC arts magazine show “The Umbrella”)

Twelve Letters to a Small Town was first published in 1962 by the Ryerson Press. The poems were specially written for composer John Beckwith, who then set them to music for broadcast on CBC Radio’s “Wednesday Night” program.

These photos are from September 1966, when painter and broadcaster William Ronald brought a CBC TV crew to London, Ontario to interview Greg Curnoe, Jack Chambers, and James Reaney for the arts magazine show “The Umbrella.”  In ¨The Umbrella¨ segment on London, Ontario’s art scene, William Ronald praises James Reaney as “the best known bike rider in London.″

James Reaney’s drawing for the poem “The Bicycle” from Twelve Letters to a Small Town (1962)


Colleen Thibaudeau’s “This Elastic Moment”

Many thanks to the editors of Brick (Issue 89, page 182) for printing this poem by Colleen Thibaudeau.

This Elastic Moment

Yes we are that too: we are everything who feel it.
Everything that has meaning has the same meaning as angels: these
hoverers and whirrers: occupied with us.
Men may be in the parkgrass sleeping: or be he who sits in his
shirtsleeves every blessed Sunday: rasping away at his child who
is catching some sunshine: from the sticky cloud hanging over the
Laura Secord factory: and teetering on the pales of the green
iron fence: higher up than the briary bushes.
I pass and make no sound: but the silver and whirr of my bicycle
going round: but must see them who don’t see: get their fit, man
and child: let this elastic moment stretch out in me: till that
point where they are inside and invisible.
It is not to afterward eat a candy: picket that factory: nor to
go by again and see that rickety child on the fence.
When the band of the moment breaks there will come angelic
recurrence.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1977

Also in Issue 89 of Brick, Stan Dragland  remembers Applegarth Follies, another London, Ontario publisher:

“… Colleen Thibaudeau’s Ten Letters, the first chapbook I published [under the forerunner of Brick Books], was printed offset by Mike Niederman at Applegarth Follies. I had set the text in the Baskerville type donated by James Reaney to The Belial Press at the university after he completed his ten-year run of Alphabet. One of Applegarth’s presses was the old foot-pumped jobber on which Reaney had printed his magazine. There was plenty of literary interconnection in London back then.”

 

Colleen Thibaudeau: My Granddaughters Are Combing Out Their Long Hair

By special request —
and in honour of mothers and grandmothers everywhere —
here is a poem by Colleen Thibaudeau.

My Granddaughters Are Combing Out Their Long Hair

my granddaughters are combing out their long hair sitting at night
on the rocks in Venezuela       they have watched their babes
falling like white birds from the last of the treetop cradles
they have buried them in their hearts where they will never forget
to keep on singing them the old songs

brought down to earth they use twigs, flint scrapers acadian
their laughter underground makes the thyme flower in darkness

my granddaughters are thin as fishbones & hornfooted but they are
always beautiful under the stars: like little asian paperthings
they seem to open outward into their own waterbowl

mornings they waken to Light’s chink ricocheting
off an old Black’s Harbour sardinecan.

Reduce them the last evangelines make them part of the stars.

my granddaughters are coming out by night combing their burr
coloured hair by the rocks and streamtrickle in Venzuela
they are burnt out as falling stars but they laugh
and keep on singing them the old songs.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1977

Colleen Thibaudeau, Summer 1977 in London, Ontario

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

 

 

 

Jay Macpherson 1931-2012

We are sad to learn of the passing of Jay Macpherson, who was a longtime friend of James and Colleen Reaney and their family. Jay was a poet and University of Toronto professor who first came to know the Reaneys in the 1950s. She passed away on March 21, 2012.

Jay Macpherson, 1931-2012

Jay Macpherson will long be remembered for her kindness and intelligence, and her brilliant poetry. Here are two poems by Jay Macpherson that James Reaney published in the first issue of Alphabet in September 1960.

The Love-Song of Jenny Lear

Come along, my old king of the sea,
Don’t look so pathetic at me:
We’re off for a walk
And a horrid long talk
By the beautiful banks of the sea.

I’m not Arnold’s Margaret, the pearl
That gleamed and was lost in a whirl,
Who simpered in churches
And left him on porches,
But more of a hell of a girl.

Poor old fish, you’re no walker at all,
Can’t you spank up that elderly crawl?
I’ll teach you to hurdle,
Led on by my girdle,
With whalebone, elastic and all.

We’ll romp by the seashore, and when
You’ve enough, shut your eyes and count ten.
I’ll crunch down your bones,
Guts marrow and stones,
Then raise you up dancing again.

Love-Song II of Jenny Lear

Were I a Shakespearean daughter,
Safe restored through fire and water,
You the party in the crown
—Someone get the curtain down.

Jay Macpherson, 1960

“Six Toronto Poets”, Folkways Records, 1958

Jay Macpherson won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1957 for her book The Boatman. She can be heard reading her poem “The Boatman” on “Six Toronto Poets,” a recording made in 1958 on Folkways Records. (James Reaney also reads his work on this album, along with Margaret Avison, W.W. Eustace Ross, Raymond Souster, and Anne Wilkinson.)

Here is part of James Reaney’s appreciation of Jay Macpherson’s The Boatman from Canadian Literature No. 3, Winter 1960:

Perhaps the best way to conclude what should be said in praise of The Boatman is that it shows you how to get from “here to there”. If “here” is this world and “there” the world of Eternity, then this book of poems shows the reader all the necessary steps of the way. These are steps that I am sure an increasingly great number of readers and writers in Canada are going to find very exciting to take.

(Excerpted from James Reaney, “The Third Eye: Jay Macpherson’s The Boatman“, published in Canadian Literature, Issue No. 3, pages 24-24, Winter 1960, page 34.)

Colleen Thibaudeau Reaney, 1925-2012

Colleen Thibaudeau Reaney, poet and beloved wife of James Reaney, passed away on February 6, 2012 in London, Ontario. Colleen will long be remembered by her family, neighbours, and many friends.

Colleen’s poems and short stories have appeared in magazines and journals since 1945. Here is a poem Colleen wrote in 1984 in her book The Martha Landscapes.

 

The Star Over the House Quilt (Last night I dreamed…)

Last night I dreamed about you all under the Star Over the House Quilt;
I remember mother making it: the little squares of jonquil window lit
The doors, shutters often green. Your block has still the hollyhock (french knots)
Mine has the lilac (front yard), looking hard the lilacs still are blooming there,
The real ones down — time and town development don’t affect the quilt.

Each of us, house body, and the star, the star-filled head;
Each of us bedded down lifetime dreams the star-filled town
Waking goes walking the houses of our own making, talking the blocks away.
I might move into you taking on hollyhock            but it’s not
Me really just the dreaming of the star-filled head.

The Star Over the House Quilt she made it extra size;
Her eyes puzzled out each stitch; she declared her fingers to be all pricked
And she licked the blood from roofs, sidewalks, from the small yards
With the ever-blooming trees pointing to the stars
Of the Star Over the House Quilt.

Sheila and Colleen in St. Thomas, Ontario, 1942

 

Colleen Thibaudeau and James Reaney, 1950

 

 

James Reaney and Colleen Thibaudeau near Stratford, Ontario, 1982.

 

Update March 3, 2012:  In tribute to Colleen Thibaudeau and her work, the London Public Library, Brick Books, and Poetry London have commissioned a billboard with her poem “Balloon”. The billboard will go up sometime in the week of March 26, and there will be a a “Balloon” billboard launch on Saturday April 14 at 3:00 pm. The library is also printing postcards of “Balloon” to hand out during April, which is National Poetry Month.

 

Twelve Letters to a Small Town

Here is the Eleventh Letter from Twelve Letters to a Small Town, a suite of poems James Reaney wrote for composer John Beckwith in 1962.

ELEVENTH LETTER — Shakespearean Gardens

The Tempest The violet lightning of a March thunderstorm glaring the patches of ice still stuck to the streets.

Two Gentlemen of Verona On Wellington St. an elegant colonel-looking gentleman with waxed white moustachioes that came to tight little points.

Merry Wives of Windsor The Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Orange Lodge marched down the street in white dresses with orange bows on them.

Richard III At last all the children ran away from home and were brought up by an old spinster who lived down the street.

Henry VIII Mr. White’s second wife was the first Mrs. Brown and the first Mrs. White was the second Mrs. Brown.

Troilus  & Cressida “Well, I haven’t been to that old Festival yet but since it began I’ve had ten different boyfriends.”

Titus Andronicus Young Mr. Wood to-day lost his right hand in an accident at the lumber yards.

Romeo & Juliet Romeo & Juliet Streets.

Timon of Athens Old Miss Shipman lived alone in a weatherbeaten old cottage and could occasionally be seen out on the front lawn cutting the grass with a small sickle.

Julius Caesar Antony wore a wrist watch in the Normal School production although he never looked at it during the oration.

Macbeth Principal Burdoch’s often expressed opinion was that a great many people would kill a great many other people if they knew for certain they could get away with it.

Hamlet A girl at the bakery took out a boat on the river, tied candlesticks to her wrists and drowned herself.

King Lear Mr. Upas was a silver haired cranky old individual who complained that the meat was too tough at the boarding house.

Othello At the edge of town there stood a lonely white frame building—a deserted Negro church.

The Merchant of Venice When my cousin worked for the Silversteins she had her own private roll of baloney kept aside in the refrigerator for her.

Henry V The local armouries are made of the usual red brick with the usual limestone machicolation.

Twelve Letters to a Small Town was first published in 1962 by the Ryerson Press. In the Afterword to the 2002 facsimile edition, James Reaney wrote that after it was published, “Many Stratford residents said they saw on paper for the first time their memories of the town and wrote to me to say so.”

Among the shows currently on at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario are The Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, and Twelfth Night.


The Royal Visit

Here is a poem James Reaney wrote about the 1939 Royal Visit to Canada by Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

The Royal Visit

When the King and Queen came to Stratford
Everyone felt at once
How heavy the Crown must be.
The Mayor shook hands with their Majesties
And everyone presentable was presented
And those who weren’t have resented
It, and will
To their dying day.
Everyone had almost a religious experience
When the King and Queen came to visit us
(I wonder what they felt!)
And hydrants flowed water in the gutters
All day.
People put quarters on the railroad tracks
So as to get squashed by the Royal train
And some people up the line at Shakespeare
Stayed in Shakespeare, just in case—
They did stop too,
While thousands in Stratford
Didn’t even see them
Because the Engineer didn’t slow down
Enough in time.
And although,
But although we didn’t see them in any way
(I didn’t even catch the glimpse
The teacher who was taller did
Of a gracious pink figure)
I’ll remember it to my dying day.

Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on board the royal train, May 31, 1939.

For more about the 1939 Royal Visit, see the Special Trains page at Library and Archives Canada.

 

The Royal Visit is included in James Reaney’s first collection of poems The Red Heart (1949). The poem also appears in James Reaney’s 1967 play Colours in the Dark, where it follows an actual letter a child wrote to his father describing how the Royal train failed to slow down on that day (see Act I Scene 13).

Janitor

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

Janitor

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
Auditorium.
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.

© 2017 James Reaney