jamesreaneyJames Reaney, Canadian poet and playwright, was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario, on September 1, 1926. He grew up to become one of Canada's best-known poets and dramatists, enjoying literary success over a period of seven decades.

His contributions to the imaginative life of the nation spanned literary genres, ranging from short stories, poetry, libretti, and historical drama, to plays and novels for children, along with insightful critical essays on literary practice.

Read more about James Reaney.

News / Upcoming events

“Gifts” by James Reaney

Posted September 16th, 2014

Gifts

Existence gives to me
What does he give to thee?

He gives to me:  a pebble
He gives to me:  a dewdrop
He gives to me:  a piece of string
He gives to me:  a straw

Pebble  dewdrop  piece of string  straw

The pebble is a huge dark hill I must climb
The dewdrop’s a great storm lake you must cross
The string was a road he could not find
The straw will be a sign whose meaning they forget

Hill  lake  road   sign

What was it that changed the scene
So desert fades into meadows green?

The answer is that they met a Tiger
The answer is that he met a Balloon,
A Prostitute of Snow, A Gorgeous Salesman
As well as a company of others such as
Sly Tod, Reverend Jones, Kitty Cradle and so on

Who was the Tiger?  Christ
Who was the Balloon?  Buddha
Emily Bronte and the Emperor Solomon
Who sang of his foot in the doorway.
All these met him. They were hopeful and faithful.

Now the mountain becomes  a pebble in my hand
The lake calms down   to a dewdrop in a flower
The weary road  is a string around your wrist
The mysterious sign  is a straw that whistles “Home”

Pebble  dewdrop  piece of string  straw

James Reaney, 1965

From Poems by James Reaney, New Press, 1972. “Gifts” also appears in James Reaney’s  play Colours in the Dark, which premiered at the Stratford Festival in 1967.

James Reaney (age 4) with his cousins, Elsie, Kathleen, and Mary, Summer 1930 near Stratford, Ontario.

James Reaney (far right) with his cousins, Elsie, Kathleen, and Mary, Summer 1930 near Stratford, Ontario.

James Reaney feeding the chickens (age 5) with his cousins Mary and Elsie (1931)

James Reaney feeding the chickens (age 5) with his cousins Mary and Elsie (1931)

 

James Reaney's childhood home near Stratford, Ontario

James Reaney’s childhood home near Stratford, Ontario

“Going for the Mail” by James Reaney

Posted September 1st, 2014

From the suite of poems The Young Traveller (1964)

 i)  Going for the Mail

After four, when home from school.
A boy down the farm walks,
To get the mail the mailman’s left
In the backroad mailbox.

Oh things to watch and things to think
As I walk down the lane
Between the elmtree and the fence
Things that are not plain.

For instance is the elmtree there
Still there when I am past it?
I jump about and there it is
Certain to all my wit.

But could it still not be
That when my back is turned
It disappears and nothing is?
Why not, I’ve still not learned.

There’s sedge in the marsh to look at
And dark brown curled dock.
Why do I love the weeds so
And examine every stalk?

Back at the house they tell him
   That although he was at the mailbox
He forgot to get the mail out
   So back again he walks.

The fields are dark, the sky dark gray
The farmhouse lights come on
And dimmer lights in barns,
One reflected in the pond.

This time there’s less to think upon
Since all the detail’s gone
But what news and what mail I get
To reflect upon —

The world in huge butterflies of paper —
(And here’s the comfort)
Will still not be as interesting
As walking twice for it.

 James Reaney, 1964

From Poems by James Reaney, New Press, 1972.

James Reaney age 9 at the farm near Stratford, Ontario, Spring 1937.

James Reaney (age 9) at the farm near Stratford, Ontario, Spring 1937.

Elm trees along the north fence, 1937

Elm trees along the north fence, 1937

 

Alice Through the Looking-Glass at Stratford May 31 to October 12

Posted August 4th, 2014

James Reaney’s thoughts on putting on your own version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass:

Is There Life After Alice? That is, after you’ve seen the show, what do you do when you get home? … Once when I was eight, I had a parallel experience to the one you may have just had, of watching a professional production, authentically acted with exuberance and supported by sophisticated design and fabulous illusions and compelling direction. My theatrical experience wasn’t a play though. In those days, Stratford was not as lucky as it is nowadays, but what it was was my very first circus — Ringling Brothers — an absolutely enthralling show, unforgettably enchanting. The only reaction you could have was to go home and put on your own circus, in this case with my cousins and whatever the farm could muster. Cows as elephants? Of course, you couldn’t rival the production you had just seen, but what you could do was with your own simplicity rival its feeling, and the attempt turned me into an artist. I don’t see this as an improbable effect of the show you have just seen and I hope that the various first steps I have described in paralleling its effects and impacts may lead some of you to a lasting love of theatre and art…

—From Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass: Adapted for the stage by James Reaney, pages 133 and 141.

James Reaney leading an Alice workshop at Stratford Central Secondary School (Stratford Collegiate) in 1994. Photo by Scott Wishart, Stratford Beacon Herald.

James Reaney leading an Alice workshop at Stratford Central Secondary School (Stratford Collegiate) in 1994. Photo by Scott Wishart, Stratford Beacon Herald.

Jillian Keiley’s new production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass continues this summer at the Stratford Festival, May 31 to October 12. To buy tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca

Trish  Lindström as Alice in "Alice Through the Looking-Glass", May 31 to October 12 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

Trish Lindström as Alice in “Alice Through the Looking-Glass”, May 31 to October 12 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

"Alice's Dinner Party" scene from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Avon Thetare, Stratford, Ontario 2014. Photo courtesy The Stratford Festival.

“Alice’s Dinner Party” scene from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Avon Thetare, Stratford, Ontario 2014. Photo courtesy The Stratford Festival.

 

Win a copy of Alice Through the Looking-Glass!

Posted July 15th, 2014

To celebrate the new Stratford Festival production of James Reaney’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass, the Porcupine’s Quill is offering a chance to win a free copy of the book!

ATTLGcover

Illustration by James Reaney, 1994 (page 15)

Illustration by James Reaney, 1994 (page 15)

 

Jillian Keiley’s new production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass continues this summer at the Stratford Festival, May 31 to October 12. To buy tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca

 

Trish Lindstrõm as Alice in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, May 2014; Ruby Joy is the Alice Double. Photo by Cylia Von Tiedemann.

Trish Lindstrom as Alice in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, May 2014 (Ruby Joy is the Alice Double). Photo by Cylia Von Tiedemann.

"Alice's Dinner Party" scene from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Avon Thetare, Stratford, Ontario 2014. Photo courtesy The Stratford Festival.

“Alice’s Dinner Party” scene from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ontario 2014. Photo courtesy The Stratford Festival.

 

Alpha Centre 1967: Monday June 9 at 7pm

Posted June 5th, 2014

Join us on Monday June 9 at 7 pm at the London Public Library for a lecture by James Stewart Reaney (James Reaney’s son) about the founding of Alpha Centre, an arts space devoted to drama where many of James Reaney’s “Listeners’ Workshops” were held. James Reaney described the new space and the activities there in Issue 13 of Alphabet (June 1967):

“[...] Just out of range — that part of Talbot Street across Dundas where a newly painted green door has appeared leading to newly founded Alpha Centre — in part a fulfullment of the editorial for Alphabet (4) — devoted to drama in Canada. This is “the bare long room” up above a store — it’s an old Legion Hall. Here Listeners’ Theatre Workshop has been meeting with its new kind of play theatre — children and young people pretending to be mirrors chromosomes marionettes, trees, rivers, — the Victoria Boat Disaster. Here Jack Chambers has been working on his Viet Nam film [Hybrid (1966)] transposing images of roses with those of burnt children.  Here all of Paradise Lost and all of Blake’s Jerusalem were read at a sitting — experiences that showed me new depths in these poems….” [Alphabet Issue 13, June 1967, Editorial, page 2]

Note from Susan Reaney: My brother James is the first speaker in the library’s new series of local talks — Terrific Tales of London and the Area. If you remember the green door at 389 Talbot Street, come to the Stevenson & Hunt Room at the London Public Library (Central Branch) on Monday June 9th at 7 pm to share your stories. (The Alphabet Press printing shop was not far from Alpha Centre on the second floor of the Dixon Building, 430 Talbot Street.)

 

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 Applebutter). Photo by Jay Peterson.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass opens on May 31st

Posted May 20th, 2014

Previews for the new production of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass, adapted for the stage by James Reaney, began earlier this month at the Stratford Festival. Director Jillian Keiley and designer Bretta Gerecke promise a lavish, child-inspired production:

“As children take inspiration from their own lives, Bretta and I have planned a world as created by the child Alice – full of bicycles and toy wagons, kites and chessboards,” says Ms Keiley. “But since this world is through the looking-glass, bicycles have giant trees growing out of the handlebars, red toy wagons inspire a flotilla for the Queen’s entrance, and the kings and queens of chessboards join all the characters from Alice’s mounds of books. Our goal is to tap into that wonderful world of seven-year-olds, where anything is not only possible but likely, and the only thing you can reasonably expect is the unexpected.”

The show runs May 31 to October 12 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario. For tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca

For a tantalizing glimpse of the production, see the “Alice Through the Looking-Glass” preview on YouTube.

Update June 2: What reviewers are saying: “Lufrednow. Or, from the other side of the looking glass: wonderful.”Laura Cudworth in The Beacon Herald
“This smashing production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass truly deserves it. If you don’t know a child, rent one for the afternoon and go see this show.” — Richard Ouzounian, The Toronto Star

For more about the Alice opening show, see JBNBlog.

 

Trish  Lindström as Alice in "Alice Through the Looking-Glass", May 31 to October 12 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

Trish Lindström as Alice in “Alice Through the Looking-Glass,” May 31 to October 12 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

 

Cynthia Dale as The Red Queen in "Alice Through the Looking-Glass", May 31 to October 12, 2014

Cynthia Dale as The Red Queen in “Alice Through the Looking-Glass,” May 31 to October 12, 2014

Flower from Alice Through the Looking-glass, April 5, 2014. Courtesy Stratford Beacon Herald.

Flower from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, April 5, 2014. Courtesy Stratford Beacon Herald.

“Alice” events at the Stratford Festival Forum

Several Forum events and activities offer a chance to explore Alice Through the Looking-Glass, including Alice Adventure Lunches, a themed meal and activity to ignite your child’s imagination before the magic unfolds on stage; Adapting Alice, a panel discussion including Jillian Keiley and Peter Hinton, playwright for the Shaw Festival; and Acting Up: Alice, a drama workshop in which 8- to 10-year-olds use costumes to explore scenes and characters from the play.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass is a Schulich Children’s Play presentation and produced in association with Canada’s National Arts Centre.

At the May 5, 2014 preview performance of Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Chris Spaleta from Seaforth, Ontario was presented with a lifetime pass for two for being the Stratford Festival’s 26 millionth patron! 

May 5, 2014: Chris Spaleta with the cast of Alice Through the Looking-Glass.

May 5, 2014: Chris Spaleta with the cast of Alice Through the Looking-Glass. Photo courtesy Stratford Beacon Herald.

James Reaney’s “The Baby”

Posted April 22nd, 2014

The Baby

Small babe, tell me
As you sat in your mother’s cave
What did you build there,
Little baby mine?

Sir, I made the tooth
    I invented the eye
I played out hair on a comb-harp
    I thought up the sigh.

I pounded the darkness to
    Guts, Heart and Head:
America, Eurasia and Africa
    I out of chaos led.

I fought the goblins
    For the heart;
‘Twas a jewel they desired,
    But I held it.

I fought off the rats
    From the guts.
They nibbled but I
    Smashed the mutts.

I choked the bat so intent
    For the diamond of my mind;
I caught him in the ogre’s cellar
    The tub of blood behind.

And the darkness gave me
    Two boneless wands or swords:
I knew not their meaning then
    Whether traps or rewards.

One was the vorpal phallus
    Filled with jostling army,
Henhouse and palace
    Street crowds and history.

Two was the magic tongue
    Stuffed with names and numbers,
The string of song,
    The waker from fallen slumbers.

My mother opened her grave,
    I sprang out a giant
Into another cave
    Where I was a seed again.

Hapless and wriggly small
    As in my father’s groin:
My Shakespeare’s tongue a wawl
    And impotent my loin.

The sun-egg I must reach
    Was steeples far away,
The world that I must name
    Was shapeless, sneaky gray.

Is it wonder then I rage
    An old man one hour old,
A bridegroom come to a bride
    Careless, unready and cold.

My wedding cake’s still in the field;
    My bride is ninety and maggoty;
My groomsmen glaring hangmen;
    My bridal bed bouldery.

Small babe, tell me
    As you sit in your mother’s cave
What did you build there,
    Little baby mine?

James Reaney, 1959

“The Baby” is part of a sequence of poems from James Reaney’s play One-man Masque, first performed by the author on April 5-6, 1960 at the Hart House Theatre in Toronto. You can also find the poem in The Essential James Reaney (2009), available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

Listen to Jeff Culbert read “The Baby” here:

One-man Masque

Jeff Culbert in One-Man Masque, Grand Theatre McManus Studio, London, Ontario, 2002

Jeff Culbert in One-Man Masque, Grand Theatre McManus Studio, London, Ontario, 2002

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

James Reaney’s The Sundogs

Posted April 11th, 2014

The Sundogs

I saw the sundogs barking
On either side of the Sun
As he was making his usual will
And last testament
In a glorious vestment.
And the sundogs cried,
“Bow wow!
We’ll make a ring
Around the moon
And children, seeing it, will say:
Up there they play Farmer in the Dell
And the moon like the cheese stands still.
Bow wow!
We shall drown the crickets,
Set the killdeer birds crying,
Send shingles flying,
And pick all the apples
Ripe or not.
Our barking shall overturn
Hencoops and rabbit-hutches,
Shall topple over privies
With people inside them,
And burn with invisible,
Oh, very invisible!
Flames
In each frightened tree.
Whole branches we’ll bite off
And for the housewife’s sloth
In not taking them in
We’ll drag her sheets and pillow cases
Off the fence
And dress up in them
And wear them thin.
And people will say
Both in the country
And in the town
It falls in pails
Of iron nails.
We’ll blow the curses
Right back into the farmer’s mouths
As they curse our industry
And shake their fists,
For we will press the oats
Close to the ground,
Lodge the barley,
And rip open the wheat stooks.
We shall make great faces
Of dampness appear on ceilings
And blow down chimneys
Till the fire’s lame.
With the noise of a thousand typewriters
We shall gallop over the roofs of town.
We are the Sun’s animals.
We stand by him in the West
And ready to obey
His most auburn wish
For Rain, Wind and Storm

James Reaney, 1949

"Sundogs" photo courtesy http://prairiesmokenotes.wordpress.com

“Sundogs” photo courtesy http://prairiesmokenotes.wordpress.com

“The Sundogs” is from James Reaney’s first book of poems The Red Heart (1949). James Reaney uses it later in Act I of his play Colours in the Dark, which premiered at the Stratford Festival in 1967.  You can also find the poem in The Essential James Reaney (2009), available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

 

James Reaney’s The Chough

Posted April 2nd, 2014

The Chough

The chough, said a dictionary,
Is a relation of the raven
And a relative of the crow.
It’s nearly extinct,
But lingers yet
In the forests about Oporto.
So read I as a little child
And saw a young Chough in its nest,
Its very yellow beak already tasting
The delicious eyes
Of missionaries and dead soldiers;
Its wicked mind already thinking
Of how it would line its frowsy nest
With the gold fillings of dead men’s teeth.
When I grew older I learned
That the chough, the raven and the crow
That rise like a key signature of black sharps
In the staves and music of a scarlet sunset
Are not to be feared so much
As that carrion bird, within the brain,
Whose name is Devouring Years,
Who gobbles up and rends
All odds and ends
Of memory, good thoughts and recollections
That one has stored up between one’s ears
And whose feet come out round either eye.

James Reaney, 1949

The Yellow-billed or Alpine Chough and the Red-billed Chough of the Corvidae family of birds. Illustration by Johann Friedrich Naumann (1780–1857) courtesy Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chough

The Yellow-billed or Alpine Chough and the Red-billed Chough of the Corvidae family. Illustration by Johann Friedrich Naumann (1780–1857) courtesy Wikipedia.

 

“The Chough” is from James Reaney’s first book of poems The Red Heart (1949), and it also appears in The Essential James Reaney (2009), available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass at Stratford Festival May 31 to October 12

Posted January 19th, 2014

This spring the Stratford Festival will present James Reaney’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

Alice will be directed by Jillian Keiley, an award-winning director from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Cast members include Trish Lindström as Alice, Cynthia Dale as the Red Queen, Dion Johnstone as the White King, Tom McCamus as the March Hare, and Brian Tree as Humpty Dumpty.

To purchase tickets, call 1-800-567-1600 or order online here.

Dion Johnstone, Trish Lindstrom, and Cynthia Dale in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, May 31- October 12, 2014 in Stratford, Ontario.

Dion Johnstone, Trish Lindstrom, and Cynthia Dale in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, May 31- October 12, 2014 in Stratford, Ontario.

 

Notes on James Reaney’s adaptation

In 1991, David William, then Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival, commissioned James Reaney to adapt Alice Through the Looking-Glass for the stage.  James Reaney recalls the many months writing and rewriting the play and attending workshops:

“So, as the preparatory workshop with the Young Company started in the fall of 1992, my adaptation had pretty well shaken down into its present shape except that a great deal of my commentary and suggestions were kept as part of the rehearsed reading shown to Richard Monette and David William and invited guests so that I myself actually read my mental landscapes of Looking-glass in fear and trembling since the many rewrites and keeping this and dropping that produced landmines for cues […]

Mr Monette took to the story as played that night in late October and also to its trajectory away from the Third Stage to the Avon with a cast [that included] Douglas Rain as Humpty and Barbara Bryne as the White Queen, both actors who had in 1967 appeared in my first Stratford play, Colours in the Dark.”

—From the Foreword to Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass: adapted for the stage by James Reaney, pages 12-14, The Porcupine’s Quill, 1994.

James Reaney’s adaptation of Alice Through the Looking-Glass premiered at the Stratford Festival in 1994 and was revived in 1996. The play is available in Reaney Days in the West Room: Plays of James Reaney, David Ferry, ed., Playwrights Canada Press, 2008.

Illustration by James Reaney, 1994. "I am very proud to have helped with such a delightful show with designers, magician, composer, actors, director, and backstage staff who have seen to it that Carroll's magic text and verbal wit is made all the more powerful." James Reaney, Foreword, 1994, page 15.

Illustration by James Reaney, 1994. “I am very proud to have helped with such a delightful show with designers, magician, composer, actors, director, and backstage staff who have seen to it that Carroll’s magic text and verbal wit is made all the more powerful.” James Reaney, Foreword, 1994, page 15.