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.

 

“Voicing Colleen” at the London Public Library

 

Voicing Colleen at the London Public LIbrary: James Stewart Reaney and Susan Reaney (Colleen’s children) read Thibaudeau’s poem “Looking at The Artemesia Book”. (All photos from this event are  by Cameron Paton.)

Thank you all for joining us on Monday May 7th at the The London Public Library‘s Stevenson & Hunt Room for “Voicing Colleen” — an evening of poetry by Colleen Thibaudeau.

Host Peggy Roffey chose 33 of Thibaudeau’s poems read by  a choir of voices — some solo, some shared, some with the audience. Unique to this evening was the chance to hear the ten poems in Thibaudeau’s elegiac sequence “Ten Letters” read by ten different voices.

Voicing Colleen: Jean McKay leads on “I do not want only” accompanied by Kelly Creighton, Angie Quick, Kelly McConnell, Koral Scott, Brittany Renaud, Susan Wallace, and Susan Reaney.

Angie Quick reads Colleen Thibaudeau’s poem “The Rose Family”.

Thank you Peggy Roffey for organizing this event and inviting an intergenerational group of readers to voice Colleen’s work — Patricia Black, Kelly Creighton, Carolyn Doyle, Kelly McConnell, Jean McKay, Angie Quick, Brittany Renaud, and Koral Scott, along with members of Colleen Thibaudeau’s family — her son James Stewart Reaney, daughter-in-law Susan Wallace, and daughter Susan Reaney.

Voicing Colleen: Left to right: Patricia Black and Kelly Creighton enjoy Susan Reaney and James Stewart Reaney reading “Looking at The Artemesia Book”.

Special thanks to the London Public Library and Carolyn Doyle for including Colleen Thibaudeau in the “Women Trailblazers” series celebrating Canadian women writers. The series concludes on Monday May 28 at 7 pm with Judy Rebick and Penn Kemp reading from their new books.

Brick Books has three titles by Colleen Thibaudeau: The Martha Landscapes (1984), Ten Letters (1975), and The Artemesia Book (1991), which are also available in e-book versions.

 

 

My granddaughters are combing out their long hair

My granddaughters are combing out their long hair

my granddaughters are combing out their long hair sitting at night
on the rocks in Venezuela       they have watched their babes
falling like white birds from the last of the treetop cradles
they have buried them in their hearts where they will never forget
to keep on singing them the old songs

brought down to earth they use twigs, flint scrapers acadian
their laughter underground makes the thyme flower in darkness

my granddaughters are thin as fishbones & hornfooted but they are
always beautiful under the stars: like little asian paperthings
they seem to open outward into their own waterbowl

mornings they waken to Light’s chink ricocheting
off an old Black’s Harbour sardinecan.

Reduce them the last evangelines make them part of the stars.

my granddaughters are coming out by night combing their burr
coloured hair by the rocks and streamtrickle in Venezuela
they are burnt out as falling stars but they laugh
and keep on singing them the old songs.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1977

“My granddaughters are combing out their long hair” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

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

Colleen Thibaudeau in London, Ontario, Summer 1977

 

Idea for an Elegy: Finished up for the Brinks

Colleen (on the right) with a friend at the Broughdale skating rink, London, Ontario, January 1966.

Idea for an Elegy: Finished up for the Brinks

Behind St. Peters strolls the cinderpath
a hazy day and two nuns pass (I stand by):
One has a face like a freckled egg, Irish, and accented
I would say straight Sandwich or some border town;
the other older sallower Belgian-born from La Salette—
Joyful their four eyes soar and won’t cast down—
‘So many more gulls. So many strange gulls.
So many strange gulls. More since the Seaway …’
when they turn off toward the grotto it is as damp
as if they had dumped the grotto down on the riverbank.

Five o’clock
is calling the lost hours home:
Fly back! calls Middlesex
Right now! calls St. Peter’s
Bell towers take the time from glint of wings
clear up the Thames. My wheels are still silver
on the cinderpath … those gulls are abundant, beady eyes
that have taken in Detroit, insouciance of Montreal;
multitudes of gulls, freckled, fresh-starched,
travel creased or whatever
(So many strange gulls. Up from the Seaway.)
take up a sad calling:
Of Sylvia Plath. O Sylvia Plath.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1967

 

Colleen’s poem appears in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

(((o))) Listen to Peggy Roffey read “Idea for an Elegy” here.

 

The City Underground

Colleen Thibaudeau wrote The City Underground in 1949 and it was broadcast on CBC Radio. The story was later published in Canadian Short Stories, edited by Robert Weaver and Helen James, Oxford University Press, 1952 (pages 128-135).

 

 

Wild Turkeys

Colleen Thibaudeau in 1947, Toronto, Ontario.

“Wild Turkeys” is inspired by Colleen Thibaudeau’s great-aunt Bella’s memories of growing up in pioneer Grey County. Colleen wrote this “getting-of-wisdom” story in 1946 when she lived with her Aunt Bella while studying at the University of Toronto. The story was published in the University College magazine The Undergrad [II (1946-47), pages 22-27].

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “Letter Eight”

Letter Eight

Place was that piece of ground between house and swing,
yielding to the foot,
covered with reddened strawberry leaves
and that small vine that isn’t wintergreen.

Among the cedars, some of them struggling still like old limbo dancers,

covered with a lighter green lichen,

there on the day that William Faulkner died I came and stood
and even if I had not willed it so, down my head would have gone down,

thinking definitely about something:
God, how I love this little part of ground.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1974

Near Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC February 2017
Near Jericho Beach, February 2017

 

“Letter Eight” is from Colleen Thibaudeau’s elegiac sequence Ten Letters (1975) available from Brick Books. The Ten Letters sequence also appears in The Artemesia Book (1991).

((( ο )))  Listen to Jean McKay read “Letter Eight” here: https://audioboom.com/posts/886698-jean-mckay-reads-letter-eight-by-colleen-thibaudeau-from-the-artemesia-book-poems-selected-and-new

Colleen Thibaudeau, Summer 1977 in London, Ontario
Colleen Thibaudeau, Summer 1977 in London, Ontario

Little Anne Running, Big Anne Shopping & Another Anne’s Mysterious Visiting Birds

Little Anne runs from flower to flower to flower
honey-haired happy every minute every hour.
Big Anne shops successfully and hardly stops.
Another Anne’s house abounds with the evening sounds and even words
of mysterious visiting birds.

*

Little Anne tosses sticks into River Thames
this is one of her camping games.
Big Anne reads on the beach and lets the waves reach her.
Another Anne says, ‘Well Polly how pretty you are.’ And ‘Just
listen to that canary up there.’

*

Little Anne Running, Big Anne shopping and reading on the beach,
Another Anne tending her mysterious visiting birds;
These Annes appear in different strips, unknown each to each,
so make their first acquaintance here in a blur of words.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1984

“Little Anne Running” first appeared in The Martha Landscapes, available from Brick Books. Later the poem was set to music by Oliver Whitehead and featured in Adam Corrigan Holowitz’s play Colleening (2013).

 

Colleen’s granddaughter Edie Reaney Chunn (August 2000) (Photo by Yuki Imamura)

Colleen’s St. Thomas friend June Rose on a visit to London, Ontario (Summer 1974)

June Rose and Colleen Thibaudeau, Port Stanley, Ontario (Summer 1990)

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “There’s a waterfall in Iceland”

Poem

There’s a waterfall in Iceland
That cries by the thousandsful,
even on a postcard, it’s forever saying,
don’t fear again, horseman, ride on,
I’ll do the crying for you.

Mr Kopf burnt off his wintergrass
it was exciting when the wind changed
and he had to phone up his brother-in-law;
for a day or so it showed black
now you can’t see it for the new growth.

Saturday morning riders shyed away
from my pampas grass going up.
We all like fires and we all like waterfalls
and the brown days when the gulls chase unseen
excitement over the fields.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1969

Postcard of Skógarfoss, a waterfall on the Skógá River in Iceland, sent to Colleen by her friend Karin (Summer 1969)

“Skógarfoss: One of the highest and most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland…”

“There’s a waterfall in Iceland” was first published in Poetry (Chicago) CXV, 3 (Dec. 1969), 169. It also appears in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

For more about Skógarfoss, see the Katla Geopark page: http://www.katlageopark.com/geosites/skogarfoss/