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The Essential James Reaney (Essential Poets (Ecco) #4)

The Essential James Reaney (Essential Poets (Ecco) #4)

Current price: $12.95
Publication Date: November 1st, 2009
Porcupine's Quill


Despite his amply deserved reputation as the father of Southwestern Ontario Gothic, James Reaney was one of the most playful and buoyant Canadian poets publishing in the 1940s and a50s. "The Essential James Reaney" presents an affordable, pocket-sized selection of the poetas very best work.

About the Author

At James Reaney's funeral on June 14, 2008, his son's tribute recalled his father as many things: poet, playwright, puppeteer, director, painter, historian, regionalist, scholar, student, wit, visionary, patriot, organic farmer, long-distance cyclist, shivaree-maker, dragon-slayer, and conversationalist (and that list is incomplete, giving less than half the terms used by Reaney's son). In an energetic life that lasted almost eighty-two years, James Reaney had a major impact on the people and culture of southwestern Ontario, and that impact has been felt across Canada by those attuned to his poetry, his plays and his other achievements.Born in 1926 on a farm near Stratford, Ontario, James (Jamie) Crerar Reaney was the only child of James Nesbitt Reaney and Elizabeth (n?e Crerar) Reaney. His mother's ancestors were Highland Scots; his father's were from Ulster. Once in Ontario, the families were variously Presbyterians, Plymouth Brethren, and Independent Gospel Hallers. Reaney's father suffered from bouts of poor physical and mental health; years later, Reaney recalled how he let me moon about the house, read books and practise music'. Reaney went to a one-room school in Elmhurst, Stratford Collegiate and Vocational Institute, and University College at the University of Toronto, achieving some freedom from his evangelical upbringing and receiving a B.A. in 1948, then an M.A. the following year. While in Toronto, he gained notoriety for his short story The Box-Social', in particular for its image of an aborted fetus. (Though as a student he published several stories in a rural or small-town Gothic vein, these wouldn't be gathered into a book until 1996). Also in 1949, at the young age of 23, he won the first of his three Governor General's Awards, for his first poetry collection, "The Red Heart," and began to teach English at the University of Manitoba. Two years later he married Colleen Thibaudeau, a former classmate and another poet, who would go on to publish memorable, innovative poetry collections such as "The Martha Landscapes" and "The Artemesia Book." Their two sons, James Stewart and John, were born in 1952 and '54. During his eleven years based in Manitoba, Reaney took a leave of absence to do a Ph.D. back at the University of Toronto, completing a dissertation, The Influence of Spenser on Yeats'. While in Toronto, he finished his satirical and lyrical tour-de-force "A Suit of Nettles." His and Colleen's daughter, Susan, was born in 1959, the year before the family moved back permanently to Ontario. In the fall he started teaching at the University of Western Ontario -- where he remained until his retirement in 1989 -- Reaney published the first issue of his magazine "Alphabet" A Semi-Annual Devoted to the Iconography of the Imagination. As an editor he published poets such as Jay Macpherson, Al Purdy, Milton Acorn, Margaret Atwood, and bpNichol. For its eleven-year duration, in its focus on the mythological aspects of literature, the magazine showed the powerful influence of Reaney's teacher and mentor Northrop Frye. Through his teaching career Reaney was also dedicated to the culture and geography of his native region, devising courses such as An ABC to Ontario Literature and Culture'. By the early 1960s Reaney was becoming recognized as a librettist (for "Night-Blooming Cereus," a John Beckwith opera performed on the CBC in 1959) and a playwright, author of "The Killdeer," "One-Man Masque," and "The Sun and the Moon." Tragedy struck the family in 1966 when Reaney's son John died of meningitis at age 12.Later in the decade and for the rest of his life, Reaney's passion for theatre overshadowed his writing of poetry, resulting in many plays such as "Colours in the Dark," "Listen to the Wind" and, most famously, "The Donnellys," a non-linear, poetically charged trilogy inspired by a 19th-century Ontario Irish family killed by a hostile community. Reaney's later theatrical creations and musical collaborations included two more projects with Beckwith: "The Shivaree" and -- including live action and eighteen five-foot-high puppets -- "Crazy to Kill: A Detective Opera"; the chamber opera "Serinette," with music by Harry Somers; and a stage adaptation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice Through the Looking-Glass." He was a vital, beloved force in theatre workshops and drama productions. His later poetry collections were published in 1990 and 2005. A few months before Reaney's death, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, mounted a show called The Iconography of the Imagination, comprised of fifty landscapes, drawings and sketches that Reaney had completed during his creatively rich life.