Since the late 1940’s, when James Reaney first distinguished himself as one of Canada’s most provocative writers, he has amassed an impressive list of publications in all areas of creative and scholarly writing. In addition to more than twenty-five plays produced on stage, radio, and television, Reaney has written four volumes of award-winning poetry (The Red Heart, 1949; A Suit of Nettles, 1958; Twelve Letters to a Small Town, 1962; The Dance of Death at London, Ontario, 1963). His individual pieces, published in a wide variety of literary magazines and academic journals, have been collected into three separate volumes by editor Germaine Warkentin (Poems, 1972; Selected Shorter Poems, 1975; Selected Longer Poems, 1976). With composer John Beckwith, Reaney developed skills as a librettist, setting his poetry to Beckwith’s music for radio broadcast in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
Like his drama, much of Reaney’s poetry concerns the power of language as a redemptive catalyst in a corrupt and evil world. Geographically set in his native region of southwestern Ontario, his poetry is essentially lyric pastoral with characters, situations, and the landscape transformed by the imagery and such diverse poetic structures as eclogues, dialogue, and prosaic narrative. Reaney’s poetry is a testament to his fascination with the musical patterns of rhyme and rhythm, demonstrating the author’s talent for iambic pentameter, doggerel, rhyming couplets, blank verse, and lyric stanzas.
Reaney’s short stories, written between 1946 and 1955, are also set in small-town Ontario. Young women with disturbing and unresolved emotional conflicts dominate the action of these stories. Beneath the calm, romantic façade of domesticity, Reaney’s heroines hide a passionate intensity, which is revealed in the often surprising climaxes to the stories. Two juvenile novels and a journal of the cross-country tour of the Donnelly trilogy fill out his creative dossier. As a highly respected professor of literature, Reaney has published works on a variety of scholarly and literary topics in numerous academic publications.