Wild Turkeys

Colleen Thibaudeau in 1947, Toronto, Ontario.

Colleen Thibaudeau’s short story “Wild Turkeys” draws on her great-aunt Bella’s memories of growing up on a farm in Grey County.

Thibaudeau wrote this “getting-of-wisdom” story in 1946 when she lived with her aunt while studying at the University of Toronto. The story was published in the University College magazine The Undergrad [II (1946-47), pages 22-27].

From “Wild Turkeys”: “… In the old days it seemed as if all the mornings were like the first morning of the world, and I could have run forever through the tall grass. Run and not wearied….”

Getting the High Bush Cranberries

Getting the High Bush Cranberries

I looked up suddenly and the sky
was full of them, sky
was on fire with them.

Following her directions I find
the purple maple
walk the mosslog
deeper into the bush
veer at the rushes
test for sinkholes
crawl the rabbitdropping undergrowth
straighten up
and the sky is full of them, sky
is on fire with them.

(got the fence up here
a long story
so it’s beginning
to look like Story Book Farm
after all
after a lot of work
also we’ve been laying in
crab-apple jelly
wild-grape jam
wild-cranberry & the like
and Arthur was into the chokecherries
for the wine also
I brandied some wild-plums
which I will never do again
as you have to pierce each
dratted little plum
with a needle
it’s so nice to be settled in
Do come & see us)

The Lake is directly in front of me but
High Bush Cranberries swaying muddle up
locations:   dis
mayme:      dis
turbme:      dis
locate

years of the instinctive glance
for bears over the shoulder
I begin picking, shouting
out to Burning Lake:

This is only Watergate Year
It’s not Year Whole World on Fire
Not that Year yet.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1974

“Getting the High Bush Cranberries” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

High bush cranberry photo courtesy Northern Ontario Plant Database: http://www.northernontarioflora.ca/description.cfm?speciesid=1005371

Il palloncino di Colleen Thibaudeau

Thrilled to discover this Italian version of Colleen Thibaudeu’s concrete poem “Balloon”!

“Il palloncino” is part of the online children’s collection of filastrocche.it: https://www.filastrocche.it/contenuti/il-palloncino-6/

(The poem first appeared in Italian in 2000 for the collection Tante rime per bambini published by Mondadori.)

“Balloon” is from Thibaudeau’s 1965 book of concrete poems Lozenges: Poems in the Shapes of Things.

“Balloon” celebrated in 2012

In April 2012, a giant version of “Balloon” was displayed on a billboard near Stanley Street and Wortley Road in London, Ontario. The billboard was a joint project of Poetry LondonLondon Public Library, and Brick Books, in celebration of National Poetry Month.

April 4, 2012: As big as ball, as round as sun…

“Balloon” also appears in
The Wind Has Wings: Poems From Canada (1968, Oxford University Press) and
A Poke In The I — A Collection of Concrete Poems (2001, Candlewick Press).

Going Straight Across the Lines then Down Each Column till it’s Finished

In this poem, Thibaudeau directs readers to read it in two ways to produce two unique poems:

(1)
One puddle in the lane looks clear down to Picardy
Sees worlds deep stones like red blood flowers white bones
Clear common brown drop lives washed (by) tears forever bones (in) Picardy.

(2)
One sees clear
puddle worlds common
in deep brown
the stones drop
lane like lives
looks red washed
clear blood (by) tears
down flowers forever
to white bones
Picardy bones (in) Picardy.

Markdale, Ontario in 1916: John Stewart Thibaudeau (Colleen’s father) with his mother, father, and youngest brother.

Written in 1968, “Going Straight Across the Lines then Down Each Column till it’s Finished” was first published in Air 13.14.15 in 1973 and then in The “Patricia” Album and other poems (1992), published by Moonstone Press.

Colleen Thibaudeau alludes to her father’s military service in France (1916-1919) in this note from The “Patricia” Album: “Not being from the Souwesto Region originally, I still see it as “other”. I am not surprised when I read in The London Free Press about “the men from Erieau”, some of whom would have been among those who looked down the lane to Picardy.”

Colleen Thibaudeau in Vancouver, BC, 1969. Photo by Pat Yeomans.

Thibaudeau’s use of free verse forms and concrete poetry came from her French literature studies at university. For example, French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) described the space around words and groupings of words in a free verse or prose poem as necessary separations that direct the reader’s movement through it, much like “… Music as it is heard at a concert….”:

“Quite a few techniques found [in Music] seem to me to belong to Letters, and so I pick them up. Let the genre become one like the symphony, little by little, beside the personal declamation, leaving ancient verse intact – I venerate it and attribute to it the empire of passion and of dream – while it would be the time to treat, preferably, as it follows naturally, subjects of pure and complex imagination or intellect, not to exclude them from Poetry – the unique source.”
Stéphane Mallarmé from the Preface to Un coup de dés n’abolira jamais le hazard / Dice Thrown Never Will Annul Chance (1897) [English translation by Mary Ann Caws, 1981].

(See also Colleen Thibaudeau’s 1973 poem “From Verlaine’s Impressions” – a transliteration of Paul Verlaine’s “Impression fausse”.)

Colleen Thibaudeau featured in Women in Concrete Poetry 1959-1979

“Bell” by Colleen Thibaudeau (1965)

Women in Concrete Poetry: 1959-1979, a new collection from visual arts publisher Primary Information, includes Colleen Thibaudeau’s concrete poems from her 1965 book Lozenges: Poems in the Shapes of Things

Inspired by Italian artist Mirella Bentivoglio’s exhibition of visual and concrete poetry by women at the 1978 Venice Biennale, editors Alex Balgiu and Mónica de la Torre have brought together 50 writers and artists from 17 countries to trace women’s use of this form during the period.

Women in Concrete Poetry 1959-1979 brings together a range of graphic, textual, and photographic approaches to poetic works: https://primaryinformation.org/product/women-in-concrete-poetry-1959-1979/

Thibaudeau’s earlier work used free verse forms, and an interest in concrete poetry came perhaps from her French literature studies and poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s (1880-1918) Calligrammes:

The Calligrammes are an idealisation of free verse poetry and typographical precision in an era when typography is reaching a brilliant end to its career, at the dawn of the new means of reproduction that are the cinema and the phonograph. [Apollinaire in a letter to André Billy, 1916] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calligrammes

Conceived as a small format book, Lozenges: Poems in the Shapes of Things draws on everyday themes and objects from children’s lives – bell, ball, hockey stick, balloon – and invites readers old and young to discover the picture the words make.

“Balloon” by Colleen Thibaudeau (1965)

View the original Lozenges poems here: https://colleenthibaudeau.com/2013/11/26/lozenges-poems-in-the-shapes-of-things/

Women in Concrete Poetry: 1959-1979 is available from PrimaryInformation.org
https://primaryinformation.org/product/women-in-concrete-poetry-1959-1979/

Watermelon Summer

Watermelon Summer

‘Going to be one hot summer for sure,’ said Uncle Willie
who had set his heart on growing watermelons
in a cindery patch at the very end of his Garden.

‘No one is going to look there for them.’ He told no one
but us, planted them at night. Joyce and I
biked sweatily out to our first job, tenderly

moved translucent baby cabbages, made little hats
for them, carried water endlessly and longed 
for the promised crisp bite, the crisp juices

reviving, ‘turning us into real people’, he said.
We were just at that turning point, thirteen years old;
we dreamed of the watermelon promise.

He said they were ‘coming along nicely’, green
taut, bulging over the hillside, as yet
undiscovered by the boys. September came.

The boys came. One Saturday morning we saw
yellowing leaves only and every watermelon gone.
Yet the anticipation of the melon miracle

seemed to have turned us, Joyce and I, into ‘real people’.
And we pondered this, purposely noisy with our milkshakes,
solacing ourselves with second best.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1989

“Watermelon Summer” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

Long after the Watermelon Summer, Colleen and Joyce remained friends and Joyce grew up to be a talented artist. She once made a “bon voyage” cake (complete with arc de triomphe!) when Colleen left to teach in France.

Colleen Thibaudeau and Joyce Draper Coles, St. Thomas, Ontario, October 1950.
Joyce’s 1946 exhibition at Central Tech in Toronto

1946 painting by Joyce Draper Coles (1925-2020) of her Toronto neighbourhood

Poem: “The Boy Actors”

The Boy Actors

She held her part,
(Though knew the lines by heart)
But the others hovering in the wings
Obscured sure things.

She let a page fall (no hurt)
To pleach her skirt.
Truly the part made her head whirl
To act-a-girl act-a-boy act-a-girl.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1945

“The Boy Actors”, written during Thibaudeau’s university days, appeared in Alphabet, Issue 1, 1960 under the pseudonym M. Morris.

1957, Winnipeg, Manitoba: Colleen Thibaudeau with her husband James Reaney.

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “Sea Gone Girl”

Sea Gone Girl

The sea gone girl is all at sea
Stockings rolled below the knee,
Careless slung the dishtowel hung
Cat got its parting scatscatscat,–
For her the very breeze of a Marine
Was signal for abandoning.

The screendoor bangs, the little street
Is window-wide a-buzz with her retreat:
She makes it to the sad hotel
Is keel-hauled by the firebell pull
In lobby; then she rises to the tropic
Islands rolling home in beer and frolic.

Others have that bleached hair, part ‘done’
Part rendered just uncombable by wind & sun,
Others wear fishnet gowns in this and other towns,
Have nails like Turner sunsets going down,
Knuckles that are wrinkled as a fishwife’s bum,
Have voices stored in shells that make a deepsea hum.

But who else has three captive princesses
Mild-mannered, magical, wearing middy dresses?
The six-year-old has her bath drawn ready,
The seven-year-old holds the coffee-pot steady,
& the eight-year-old draws the net of her nightdress over her head
And casts the sea gone mother into bed.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1957

“Sea Gone Girl” can be found in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

((( o ))) Listen to Peggy Roffey read the poem here.

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “Notes on a Day”


In this poem, Colleen Thibaudeau recalls a temporary job she had at the University of Toronto library in 1948 and an early encounter with the poet Margaret Avison (1918-2007), who worked at the order desk.

Notes on a Day

Came back from searching dental periodicals
in the Russian translated into German stacks,
Office was feathered over with soft acquisitions
and Our Boss was pondering the Great Seal prior
to attack on new Books. I asked for a change of task.
‘Four o’clock. Not a good time to start fresh.
Try Boston. Try the French …’
Suddenly Margaret, at her desk, looking no different
said, ‘Tether: end of.’ No word more,
passed solitary angel out the gothic door.

Well, yes: Go up: go down. Try Boston. Work to rule.
Came back from searching dental periodicals
in the Russian translated into German stacks.
Our Boss cooed ‘Migraine weather’
put away till tomorrow the Great Seal.
Going home I passed through Chinatown
and bought one of those pink folded-up flowers
that once in water pulses like a throat,
then skipped to ailing Maggie’s doorstep, Whistled
something delightful to the tune of:
‘And particularly delightful is the story of the little old
man who rode all over Moscow free because 
no one could change his hundred rouble note.’

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1978

More about Colleen Thibaudeau’s friendship wth Margaret Avison

An admirer of Avison and her poetry, Thibaudeau began work on her MA thesis on “Recent Canadian Poetry” later that fall. They became further acquainted when Northrop Frye took them out to lunch, and as he notes in his diary, “… I think Margaret & she really took to each other.” [See The Diaries of Northrop Frye 1942-1955, Volume 8, 1949 Mar. 28; this is the lunch Thibaudeau describes in the Biographical Sketch from 1979.]

See also the special issue of Canadian Poetry, Nos. 80-81 for the centenary of Margaret Avison’s birth, where Stan Dragland recalls Margaret and Colleen meeting again in 1973 and Margaret saying ‘I’m going Colleening!’… “Margaret caught [Colleen’s] dynamism in a single word. I’m very glad to have been on the spot to hear that word invented; otherwise, it might never have been spoken. And, speech being so evanescent, it might have been lost… Colleening: The Poetry and Letters of Colleen Thibaudeau is now the title of a play by Adam Corrigan Holowitz, with music by Stephen Holowitz and Oliver Whitehead.” (page 43)

For more about the working milieu of the library order desk from the time described in Thibaudeau’s poem, see Margaret Avison’s I Am Here and Not Not-There: An Autobiography (2009), pages 111-114.

“Notes on a Day” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

Margaret Avison in 1973 — Family photo (I Am Here and Not Not-Here: An Autobiography, page 191)

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “from Verlaine’s Impressions”

from Verlaine’s Impressions

Mrs. Trott Mouse
black in the greyed-out time
Mrs. Trott Mouse
greyed-out in the blackness

Bell’s ringing:
go to sleep little prisoners
Bell’s ringing:
just go to sleep

No bad dreams now
Ne pensez qu’à vos amours
No bad dreams now
Des belles toujours

Big clear moonlight
snug snoring
Big clear moonlight
really

A shadow’s passing over
it’s gone black as an oven
A shadow’s passing over
Suddenly it’s morning.

Mrs. Trott Mouse
rose in the blue rays
Mrs. Trott Mouse
get up sleepyheads.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1973

((( o ))) In this audio clip from 1997, Colleen Thibaudeau describes how she created her “transliteration” of Paul Verlaine’s “Impression fausse”:

Paul Verlaine’s “Impression Fausse”, Premier livre de poésie, page 76.

Thank you Peggy Roffey for reuniting the long lost copy of Premier livre de poésie with Colleen’s family and sharing the 1997 interview with Colleen Thibaudeau at “Voicing Colleen”.

Premier livre de poésie, published by Gautier-Languereau, 1970

From the Biographie des poètes, page 89:

VERLAINE (Paul) (1844-1896).
C’est un des premiers grands poètes formés  par l’école symboliste. Son oeuvre sincère, émouvante, est avant tout une musique et correspond bien au but des symbolistes qui était d’évoquer sensations et sentiments.