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

James Reaney’s “Maps” from Souwesto Home

Posted January 8th, 2014

Maps

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.

 

 

Merry Christmas!

Posted December 18th, 2013
"Winter Sky" design by James Reaney, 1989

“Winter Sunset” design by James Reaney, 1989

Winter Sunset
Fading slow.
Dark trees, red sun
White snow.

Short the days
And long the nights
Until our earth
Sets things to rights

All the best for the holidays and for 2014

December 25, 1985 in London, Ontario: James Reaney at the piano accompanied by his granddaughter, Elizabeth Reaney, and his son, James Stewart Reaney. Photo by Susan Wallace.

December 25, 1985 in London, Ontario: James Reaney at the piano accompanied by his granddaughter, Elizabeth Reaney, and his son, James Stewart Reaney. Photo by Susan Wallace.

Video link to David Ferry’s lecture on Directing Reaney

Posted December 3rd, 2013

Thank you all for joining us on October 20 for the Fourth Annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture to hear David Ferry’s talk on “Directing Reaney: From Black Feet to Main Street.” (If you missed David’s presentation, a video link is available on genienet.ca.)

Forty years ago on October 20, 1973, David Ferry began rehearsals for the Tarragon Theatre’s production of James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys Part I. Earlier that summer, director Keith Turnbull and James Reaney workshopped the play in Halifax with actors David Ferry, Patricia Ludwick, and Jerry Franken, along with other actors from the Neptune Theatre.

David spoke about his experiences both acting in and directing the Donnelly trilogy, including The St. Nicholas Hotel and Handcuffs. Questions from the audience included what attracts actors to the plays, what are the prospects for future professional productions, and whether each play truly stands alone outside of the trilogy.

 

David Ferry's lecture on James Reaney, October 20, 2013 at the Stratford Public Library

David Ferry’s lecture on James Reaney, October 20, 2013 at the Stratford Public Library

Charles Maidment has posted a video recording of David Ferry’s lecture on genienet.ca. Thank you, Charles! (Be advised that this video is 58 minutes long and takes about four minutes to load. To boost the volume, click on the audio button at the bottom of the viewing screen.)

Many thanks to the organizers of the lecture at the Stratford Public LibraryCharles Mountford, Anne Marie Heckman, and Sam Coghlan — for your continued support of this event.

Next year’s speaker will be Tim Inkster, publisher at Porcupine’s Quill. See you then!

Here are photos David Ferry shared from his production of Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University in March 2013.

 

March 2013: Set for Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 2013: Set for Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

 

 

The Emblems of James Reaney: October 17 at the London Public Library

Posted October 10th, 2013

On October 17 at the London Public Library (7:00 pm), Thomas Gerry will speak on his new book The Emblems of James 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 Tree" by James Reaney.  First published in Poetry (Chicago) 115.3, December 1969.

“The Tree” by James Reaney. First published in Poetry (Chicago) 115.3, December 1969.

"The Riddle" by James Reaney.  First published in Armadillo 2 1970.

“The Riddle” by James Reaney. First published in Armadillo 2 1970.

On the same evening, Tom Smart, author and former executive director of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, will read from his new book Jack Chambers’ Red and Green. Red and Green is a collection Jack Chambers (1931-1978) made of hundreds of quotations that set out his ideas on art and the nature of reality.

Both The Emblems of James Reaney and Jack Chambers’ Red and Green are available from The Porcupine’s Quill.

TS and TG

 For more about the book launch, see JBNBlog‘s review.

James Reaney Memorial Lecture October 20 in Stratford

Posted October 2nd, 2013

Join us on Sunday, October 2o at 2:30 pm at The Stratford Public Library Auditorium in Stratford, Ontario, for a talk by actor and director David Ferry on “Directing Reaney.”

David Ferry was one of the original cast members of James Reaney’s The Donnellys Part I, Sticks and Stones, which was first performed in 1973 at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, Ontario.  He has won Dora Mavor Moore Awards for both his acting and directing, and recently directed James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University in March 2013.

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.

The Stratford Public Library is located at

 19 St. Andrew Street,

 Stratford, Ontario

 N5A 1A2.

James Reaney’s Department Store Jesus

Posted September 9th, 2013

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—
Explained.

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

 

 

James Reaney’s “Grand Bend” from The Great Lakes Suite

Posted August 2nd, 2013

Grand Bend

It is the rutting season
At Grand Bend
And the young men and the women
Explode in each other’s arms
While no chaperons attend.
By this furious activity
Of the loin
No children are conceived
For they have avoided this.
While the sun
Sprays everyone with iodine
And old men sit
Upon the dirty beach
With great bellies big
Not with child
But with creamed asparagus
And to somewhat more disgust
Someone has spilt a bottle of scent.
Crazily the cheap sweetness
Leaps through the air
Making some think of something decaying
And others of stenographers in the rain
And another to say giddily,
“How violent, at Grand Bend this year,
How violent the violets are!”

James Reaney, 1949

Lake Huron near Grand Bend, Ontario, July 11, 2013

Lake Huron near Grand Bend, Ontario, July 10, 2013

“Grand Bend” is from The Great Lakes Suite, a series of poems James Reaney wrote in 1949 in The Red Heart, his first collection of poems. For more about the poem, see JBNBlog.

James Reaney’s The Boy Who Lived in the Sun

Posted July 2nd, 2013

In the summer of 1961, James Reaney wrote and illustrated a story for children called The Boy Who Lived in the Sun. He made 32 watercolour illustrations to go with the text, stitched them together, and for many years it was only shared with family and friends.

In the story, a boy who lives in the sun dreams of going to earth to meet other children. He discovers that it’s not easy for a luminary being to have contact with humans, and that the process of becoming human will require lengthy and celestial labour on his part.

Once there was a little boy who lived in the sun. (Illustration and text by James Reaney, 1961)

Once there was a little boy who lived in the Sun.     (Illustration and text by James Reaney, 1961)

Every morning he watched the earth get up.

Every morning he watched the earth get up

And all the other planets too -- even tiny Pluto.

and all the other planets too — even tiny, gray Pluto.

He liked earth sets best though.

He loved watching earth sets best though

He dreamed of walking on earth. Beneath trees!

He dreamed of walking on earth. Beneath trees!

No trees, no shadows on the sun! In the dream there

No trees, no shadows on the sun! In the dream there

were children picking berries in  lane. They looked at him as if they knew who he was.

were children picking berries in a lane. They looked at him as if they knew who he was.

Read the rest of the story here >>>

Devil’s Artisan 72: A new home for Alphabet’s Nolan proof press

Posted June 8th, 2013
Devil's Artisan Issue 72, Spring/Summer 2013

Devil’s Artisan Issue 72, Spring/Summer 2013

Issue 72 of Devil’s Artisan features Gasperau Press owner Andrew Steeves’ account of his journey in September 2012 from Black River, Nova Scotia to Linotype U, a symposium on the art of linotype printing, in Denmark, Iowa. On the way there and back he visited as many letterpress print shops as he could, including The Porcupine’s Quill in Erin, Ontario.

Tim [Inkster] took me over to the PQL warehouse (located in the basement of the building next door) to show me what he felt should be the first press photographed on my journey. Not his own Heidelberg KORD 64 offset press (the model also used at Coach House Books in Toronto and at Gaspereau Press), but rather a small Nolan proof press that once belonged to the poet James Reaney. Reaney is perhaps best known as the editor of Alphabet, an innovative literary journal he published in London, Ontario, between 1960 and 1971. Early issues of the publication were set and printed by Reaney himself, though it is doubtful that this particular little press was used in the production of the journal for anything besides proofing type. I was glad of Tim’s suggestion, for it would turn out that Nolan proof presses would keep popping up everywhere along my route.

James Reaney's Nolan proof press at The Porcupine's Quill in Erin, Ontario

James Reaney’s Nolan proof press at The Porcupine’s Quill in Erin, Ontario

Andrew Steeves is the co-owner of Gaspereau Press in Kentville, Nova Scotia. Tim Inkster of The Porcupine’s Quill is the publisher of several titles by  James Reaney, including A Suit of Nettles, The Box Social and Other Stories, and The Essential James Reaney.

 

Illustration by James Reaney from Twelve Letters to A Small Town (1962).

Illustration by James Reaney from Twelve Letters to A Small Town (1962)

 

Reaney on Reaney: The Easter Egg

Posted May 25th, 2013
Kim Kaitrell stars as Bethel in James Reaney's The Easter Egg

Kim Kaitell stars as Bethel in James Reaney’s The Easter Egg

By James Stewart Reaney, courtesy of lfpress.com

A new London production of The Easter Egg runs May 24 to June 1 in London, Ontario, produced by the Alvego Root Theatre Company and directed by Jason Rip. Here are James Stewart Reaney’s thoughts on his father’s play.

james reaney, London, Ontario. Photo by Deborah Tihanyi, courtesy lfpress.com

James Reaney (1926-2008), London, Ontario. Photo by Deborah Tihanyi, courtesy of lfpress.com

My father never really tired of hatching new ways to stay on message about The Easter Egg.

When James Reaney was given the chance to talk about the play, a 1962 comedy, he always worked in important details. The Easter Egg was a “neat, tidy” play with a few characters and it was relatively short.

“All I was trying to do, at the time, was create a short, little play with only a few characters.” he told former Free Press colleague Noel Gallagher decades after the play’s premiere at Toronto.

The occasion was the 2002 revival of The Easter Egg by a Toronto company. Their production came to London the next year.

Back in the 1970s, he had used that “neat, tidy” phrase to describe the play he wanted to write for a favourite director and collaborator, the late Pamela Terry.

Once, when we talked about it, he said he had wanted to answer critics who said he could only write a drama on the long and epic scale of The Killdeer, his first major play. Still, short in stage time meant coming in at 113 minutes — by his count — Easter Egg intermissions not included. He also wanted to write something absurdist, where “things just happened.”

These thoughts, and more, have been swirling around on the eve of a new London production of The Easter Egg. The AlvegoRoot company staging opens May 24.

Eagerly anticipated in My London, the 2013 production follows at least two other Easter Eggs here. The Free Press reviewer in 1967, Helen Wallace said: “The Summer Theatre production . . . tells a story, on its most superficial level, of a mentally disturbed boy (Kenneth Ralph) hidden away so his stepmother (Bethel Henry) can claim his inheritance . . . the psychiatric tangle of a 20th-century Cinderella theme is twisted against the secret Victorian shame of a ‘different’ child who has to be hidden away.”

Adam Corrigan Holowitz and Maya Wong as Polly in The Alvego Root production of The Easter Egg

Adam Corrigan Holowitz as Kenneth and Maya Wong as Polly in The Alvego Root production of The Easter Egg

That perceptive comment accounts for the play’s basic conflict. On Kenneth’s side are Bethel’s stepdaughter Pollex (Polly) Henry and Dr. Ira Hill, who is pursuing Bethel. Tending to ally himself with stepmonsterish Bethel is the Rev. George Sloan. The faith leader really should be standing by Polly because they’re engaged, more or less. The cruel and weak Sloan is probably overwhelmed by the endlessly comic caustic chatter from the tireless schemer Bethel.

Demis Odanga as George Sloan and Kim Kaitell as Bethel

Demis Odanga as George Sloan and Kim Kaitell as Bethel

“Among other mysterious elements in the mix are the bat (‘a flying mouse’) that stalks the house; a young girl’s ghost haunting the garden; a cat’s skeleton and a metal box containing a glass Easter egg,” Gallagher wrote in his review of a 2003 production. True — and it was an Easter egg from my father’s beloved collection which served as a prop all the way back in the Terry-helmed 1962 debut.

Chris McAuley as Ira Hill with Adam Corrigan Holowitz, Maya Wong, and Kim Kaitell in The Easter Egg

Chris McAuley as Ira Hill with Adam Corrigan Holowitz, Maya Wong, and Kim Kaitell in The Easter Egg

Re-reading Gallagher’s story from 2002 makes me smile because, as an interviewer, he drew out charming and characteristic details.

Easter Egg’s still one of my favourite plays because it mentions Paradise, Manitoba, which is where my father once worked as a farmhand,” my father said at one point.

Then, there was his loyal salute to the play’s successful world premiere at Toronto’s Alumnae Theatre in 1962. Just as typical and true to my father’s character was his brusque dismissal of an Ottawa production soon after as “a dreadful failure.” That comment carries the eye-watering sting of burned-bridge aroma No. 1 — guaranteed to linger forever.

Best of all is his praise, wearing the mask of the practical playwright, for the 1964 version staged by a United Church group in Woodstock. “They were raising money to build a gymnasium and The Easter Egg helped them reach their goal,” my father said.

What: Revival of The Easter Egg by London poet and playwright James Reaney (1926-2008) by AlvegoRoot Theatre Company.

Adam Korrigan Holowitz appears as Kenneth in The Easter Egg

Adam Korrigan Holowitz as Kenneth

“A Canadian Classic. The Easter Egg starts with Gothic darkness and builds to a beautiful conclusion of new beginnings.” — AlvegoRoot

When: Opens Friday, 8 pm and continues to June 1.

Where: The Arts Project, 203 Dundas St.

Tickets: Call The Arts Project box office at 519-642-2767.
Adults $15 and $10 seniors/students

Here’s a selected look at past presentations of The Easter Egg in London:

March 2, 1962: Rehearsed reading by Western staff and students.

July 4-7, 1967: Production directed by Pamela Terry at then-new Talbot College stage.

Jan. 17-19, 2003: Staged by TH&B Company, directed by David Eden at Grand’s McManus Studio Theatre.

For more about the 1967 production of The Easter Egg at Talbot College, see JBNBlog. For a review of AlvegoRoot’s The Easter Egg, see The Beat Magazine.