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James Reaney (James Crerar Reaney) Biography

(1926– ), (James Crerar Reaney), Alphabet, The Red Heart, A Suit of Nettles

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: David Rabe Biography to Rhinoceros (Rhinocéros)

Canadian poet and playwright, born in Ontario, educated at the University of Toronto. He worked under Northrop Frye for his doctorate, and shares his interest in the mythic dimension of poetry. From 1960 to 1971 he edited the magazine Alphabet, dedicated to the ‘iconography of the imagination’, and has retained a commitment to experimentation. His early poetry demonstrated a formidable range of both subject matter and technique, from dark satire to contemporary pastoral. The Red Heart (1949) was his highly acclaimed first volume of poetry; A Suit of Nettles (1959) employed a Spenserian mode, while Twelve Letters to a Small Town (1962) struck a tranquil note. Collected Poems appeared in 1973, and Selected Longer Poems in 1976. His best-known early play is The Killdeer, performed in 1960 (published in The Killdeer and Other Plays, 1962). Drama became Reaney's chief interest, and he achieved acclaim with his trilogy The Donnellys (produced 19735), published individually as Sticks and Stones (1975), The St Nicholas Hotel (1976), and Handcuffs (1977), and as a trilogy in 1988. These plays recreate the events of an 1880s murder in Ontario, and its repercussions over a 36-year period. Wacousta! (1979) and The Canadian Brothers (1984) were both melodramas based on early nineteenth-century works by Major John Richardson. A libretto for a murder mystery opera, Crazy to Kill, was published in 1989.

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