Big Trees

Our backyard is beautiful to-night:
I could replant every tree
put it into its proper saucer of snow:
mr by mrs/ great-uncle by great-aunt;

I light out from an old photo, cross careless
before paving days into your yard
where winds are rocking a hammock,
wintertime moonlight & twigs,

(broom & unbuckle) and in handknit stockings from Ireland
now I’m skating icicletoed on the kitchen lino
past the black & silver kitchen stove
 —just let it blast my middle—till

I see her, graybrown tree of the past,
rocking with her crochetflowers laid in rows,
and I see him, flannel shirt, grey sweatercoat,
newspaper & Bible, glasses there at hand.

*

you know, I was so small then, I let
your winds & waters rock me round
and couldn’t talk enough to tell you
—Big Trees, I like to be with you to-night.

“Big Trees” appears in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books. For more about Colleen’s early days in Grey County, see Colleen Thibaudeau: A Biographical Sketch by Jean McKay.

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “The Glass Cupboard”

The Glass Cupboard

Lights from the Highway sparser, softer now
and the Gorst lights gone and their house gone
away,
just lost rib to new life in dark seas,
just dark seven sleepers gone seasabout the foot of our hill,
just the foot of the hill and a great cave opening up.

Lights from the glass cupboard !spark! the house dark;
And it’s up to the glass cupboard now! It looms
at James’ headheight, three paces from the kitchen sink,
one from table, length approximately my armspan, crafted
by an Albertan who loved the bush, the hills.

The Bay Highway kindles to blue Italian grotto glasses;
and green glasses, safe-and-wide as Sweden; and cheap
little ruby liqueurs sing; and cocktail Libbys supermart
violent and fresh from fists that swung axes, pounded down a territory
and rolled Malcolm Lowry into the soundmad surf dazzling no warning…

By an Albertan who loved the bush, the hills,
who made this cupboard ark that tends the tides
of dream. They light, they guard the house,
glow like an icon of Mike Todd, thirty-odd glasses,
touched off by random headlights moving toward the Bay.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1969

“The Glass Cupboard” is from The Martha Landscapes (1984) and available from Brick Books.

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

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.

Serenade

Serenade

Lady, in the country of my coming
there will be lush peaches
ripe on ev’ry tree.
Ev’ry little cloud will glide
clear as a magic lantern slide.
The golden serpent sun will throw
his body like a light lasso
about the heart of each dark centre,
to fashion flowers of strange splendour.
You will fill your panier, lass,
with blooms like ornamental glass
You will hear their Christmas chime
all the glorious summertime.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1950

Composer John Beckwith set music to “Serenade” and entered it in the 1950 CBC Songwriting Contest. It won a prize and was performed on CBC Radio by Charles Jordan (baritone). “Serenade” was performed by Russell Braun (baritone) at the John Beckwith Songbook concert in March 2021.

Pamela Terry Beckwith, John Beckwith, and Colleen Thibaudeau (1960)

( ( 0 ) ) In this audio clip, soprano Katy Clark performs “Serenade” at Wordsfest November 5, 2023 in London, Ontario.

A Nau(gh)tical Afternoon

Colleen Thibaudeau holding her son James Stewart Reaney (age 4 months) with her friends Pamela and John Beckwith (Toronto 1955)
Colleen Thibaudeau holding her son James Stewart Reaney (age 4 months) with her friends Pamela and John Beckwith (Toronto 1953)

Note from Susan Reaney: In August 1956, Colleen and her husband James Reaney and their young sons (James (age 3 1/2) and John (age 2)) spent the afternoon with dear friends John and Pamela Beckwith and their children (Robin Jane, Jonathan, and baby Simon) in Toronto. Colleen later wrote the playlet and sent it to Margaret Beckwith, the Beckwith children’s grandmother.

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(The photographs are from earlier and later visits with the Beckwiths and from the Reaneys home in Winnipeg.)

A Nau(gh)tical Afternoon

(Authentic Canadian playlet by Colleen Thibaudeau. Dedicated to Mrs. H. Beckwith of Victoria. One performance only of this playlet, Monday August 27, 1956 at 17 Admiral Road, Toronto. All persons mentioned are only too real.)

I hereby acknowledge happily all debts to Gertrude Stein and P. Picasso.

Colleen's children John and James (Winnipeg 1959)
Colleen’s sons John and James (Winnipeg 1959)

Act I, Scene I

Prologue
A sort of processional
Admiral Road

Enter 2 small red-headed pirate boys, followed by 1 father (J.R.) and 1 mother (C.T.).

Pirate boys: Is this the way? Is this the way? Will there be toys? Will there be toys?

F & M: Yes, right ahead. We hope there’s toys.

Pirate boys: Some toys for boys? Some toys for boys?

F & M: Yes, toys for boys. We hope.

(Gradually fade away.)

Colleen Thibaudeau with her sons John and James (Winnipeg 1959)
Colleen Thibaudeau with her sons John and James (Winnipeg 1959)

Act I, Scene II

John Beckwith discovered leaning into the telephone in his front hall, arranging his CBC programmes.

John: Yes, then slip on that platter, see… no I spelled it B a c h. B as in Beckwith, Then the continuity and after that, two minutes on the… [sees 4 Reaneys at his door] life… Hi, just a sec… the back yard?… then? No never mind ‘a sec’. Continue with that second disc… look, never mind the back yard—who?? O, he won’t walk. Sit down… you know the one… the mass is last [2 Reaneys pass through] you know the one I mean [and 2 Reaneys sit down in the parlour near A Baby Carriage].

Act I, Scene III

F & M: Isn’t he sweet! Something like Robin Jane. And quiet too. Imagine that! What lovely names.

John: Just stay right there.

F & M: The children like the yard – it’s safer, quieter: they’re all wrought up. Today at 8 we docked at Port McNicholl…

Mother: Wonderful trip – sort of rough on Lake Superior as usual. James Stewart told the waiter, his Grandpa could take his teeth out! And one day all through the Dining Room he recited this ditty:

Big bears make a big stink
AND
Little bears make a little stink.

Father: That’s Winnipeg for you. Now that we moved into town there, they meet all sorts of sinister influences. One great menace called Dunnery…

Dunnery Best, John Reaney, and James Stewart Reaney (Winnipeg 1959)
Dunnery Best, John Reaney, and James Stewart Reaney (Winnipeg 1959)

Mother: The times I’ve pulled him out of snowbanks—!

F & M: Yes, up at 6… and off the boat at 8… 3 hours by train… the subway up to your place, then the bus.

Mother: Walking was hardest; we’re getting our landlegs.

F & M: And you? And you? Are the children sleeping? Where is Pam? How do you think the Stratford Players will do at Edinburgh? Are you on holiday, John?

John: Yes, more or less. We didn’t move around too much this summer. “Waiting for Simon”— title for a rightest play. Got up to hear Glenn Gould though—lovely things—but maybe overlong for what he had.

Enter Pam and Joan Trimbell, a neighbour (whom Rs know).

Pam and John: Hello, Hello.

Interlude

(Offstage chorus of all her friends and relatives) … Slowly and with varying emphasis.

— How does it feel?
O how? O say, O tell, O do
(How are you?)

How does it feel to be a mother,
A mother,
A mother
Of three?
Three!
3.

3 little children
One’s a girl. Yes, the first one
Is definitely a girl.
Her name is Robin Jane.
A pretty name.
And then the second?
Another girl?? NO!
No?
NO! Definitely not.
The second is a boy called Jonathan.
Jonathan.
Jonathan what?
or?
What Jonathan?
I’ve forgotten. So have I.
But his godfather Jamie and his grandmother Beckwith will know.
And the third I know.
So do I.
So do I.
Just three weeks to-day.
So they say.
Sleeps like a top. Isn’t that lovely.
Simon Francis. Isn’t that lovely.
Elegant name.
Edwardian name.
Modern name.
Sensible name. Isn’t that lovely.
And the mother?
Mother of three.
How does it feel to be a mother of 3?

James Stewart Reaney and friends in (Winnipeg 1959)
James Stewart Reaney and friends (Winnipeg 1959)

Act I, Scene IV

Pamela: Hello, I will get them up.
Robin Jane [she was already up; historical error] and Jonathan.
Jonathan is huge.
Wait till you see him.

[John: Wait till you lift him.]

Pam: And then we will have tea.

Pirate boys: And then we will have tea.
Have tea.
Are there any more toys?
Are there any more toys?
We’ve worn out these toys.

(Pamela, two pirate boys Exit into house.)

End of Act I

Act II, Scene 1

[Enter Pamela wearing pink sweater, blue skirt carrying huge tray with tea.
Followed by Robin in turquoise Vyella frock, carrying small tray of lemonade.
Followed by Jonathan in blue Dutch boy overalls bearing a dolly.]

Pirate boys: Is that Jonathan?
Is it?
Is it?

Is he tough?

End of Act II

Act III, Scene 1

Reaneys leave in a taxi.

(S.F. and Pamela offstage with bottle, assisted by R.J.)

F & M: Goodbye. Goodbye.
And thanks so much. For everything.
We’re off to Stratford for a while.
Until we find a house.
Jamie’s father should be there already. Came ahead by train.

Father: Well, I’ll see you soon.
Yes, I’ll be down to get a house.

John: Yes, let us know.
You could stay next door perhaps. To be one year in Toronto will be interesting–at least.

2 pirates (muffled): We want more toys.
More toys.
More trucks.
More cars. Where were the trucks, the other trucks and cars?

Mother: I’m haunted by one thing. Your mother, John—Her holly gift and that Stupendous Christmas card
We really loved.
I never really wrote to thank—

John: She’d understand—

Mother: but on the farm, there’s time.
I’ll write and tell her how well you all look and that we saw young Simon briefly—how pretty Robin Jane is, her complexion, and Jonathan a pet.

Father: Well, Union Station, please.

F, M & 2 p.b.: Good bye. Goodbye
And thanks for all you’ve done.

End of Act III

Epilogue

Father [on telephone to his mother]:
Well September 11th, and it’s signed, the lease, more than we want to pay, but garage to rent etc. and a furnished place is sensible for a year’s leave of absence. For one year on a PhD.

Now come October 1st, we can move down to 14 Montague St. Toronto, Ontario.

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♦♦♦♦♦♦

Thank you Robin McGrath of Stone Cold Press for publishing a chapbook version of A Nau(gh)tical Afternoon in 2010 (ISBN 978-0-9866750-2-7) — like the original, a labour of love.

The Reaneys and Beckwiths enjoyed future summer visits together with their children. Here are pictures of the pirate children’s visit to Tobermoray and Flower Pot Island in 1962:

Reaney and Beckwith families' summer visit to Tobermoray, Ontario (August 1962)
Reaney and Beckwith families’ summer visit to Tobermoray, Ontario (August 1962)

Colleen Thibaudeau and Pamela Beckwith with their children (Summer 1962 at Flower Pot Island near Tobermoray, Ontario)
Colleen Thibaudeau and Pamela Beckwith with their children (Summer 1962: exploring the caves at Flower Pot Island near Tobermoray, Ontario)

Summer 1962: James Stewart Reaney (back) and Jonathan Beckwith, John Reaney, and Simon Beckwith. Summer 1962.
Summer 1962: James Stewart Reaney (back) and Jonathan Beckwith, John Reaney, and Simon Beckwith. Summer 1962.

John Andrew Reaney (age 8), Flower Pot Island (Tobermoray, Ontario, August 1962)
John Andrew Reaney (age 8), Flower Pot Island (Tobermoray, Ontario, Summer 1962)

Flower Pot Island, Ontario (August 1962)
Flower Pot Island, Ontario (Summer 1962)

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

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.

 

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.

Margaret Avison was the first Writer-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario in 1972. The Writer-in-Residence program celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this fall: https://www.uwo.ca/english/people/past_writersinresidence.html

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 This Elastic Moment

This Elastic Moment

Yes we are that too: we are everything who feel it.
Everything that has meaning has the same meaning as angels: these
hoverers and whirrers: occupied with us.
Men may be in the parkgrass sleeping: or be he who sits in his
shirtsleeves every blessed Sunday: rasping away at his child who
is catching some sunshine: from the sticky cloud hanging over the
Laura Secord factory: and teetering on the pales of the green
iron fence: higher up than the briary bushes.
I pass and make no sound: but the silver and whirr of my bicycle
going round: but must see them who don’t see: get their fit, man
and child: let this elastic moment stretch out in me: till that
point where they are inside and invisible.
It is not to afterward eat a candy: picket that factory: nor to
go by again and see that rickety child on the fence.
When the band of the moment breaks there will come angelic
recurrence.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1977

“This Elastic Moment” is included in Colleen Thibaudeau’s The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

Our grateful thanks to translator Patricia Godbout, who created this French version of Colleen Thibaudeau’s poem for Ellipse magazine in 1990.

Élastique, ce moment

Oui, nous sommes aussi cela : nous sommes tout ce qui est sensible.
Tout ce qui possède un sens possède celui des anges : qui planent et qui vrombissent : veillent sur nous.
Des hommes dorment-ils dans l’herbe du parc : un homme s’assoit-il en bras de chemise tous les dimanches : parle d’une voix grinçante à son enfant qui s’amuse au soleil : perçant le nuage collant au-dessus de l’usine Laura Secord : chancelant sur les pieux de la clôture de fer peinte en vert : bien plus haut que les buissons d’églantier.
Je passe sans bruit : mais l’argent mais le vrombissement des roues de ma bicyclette : je dois voir qui ne me voit pas : prendre la mesure de l’homme et de l’enfant : laisser ce moment élastique s’étirer en moi : jusqu’à ce qu’ils soient intérieurs, invisibles.
Nul besoin d’aller ensuite manger des friandises : ni de dresser des piquets devant l’usine : ou de repasser par là  pour apercevoir l’enfant vaciller sur la clôture.
Une fois brisé l’élastique du moment, viendra le retour angélique.

(Traduit par Patricia Godbout, (1990) Ellipse. (44) 99.)

Colleen Thibaudeau at the Writing in Our Time poetry conference in 1979, Vancouver, BC
(Photo by Michael Lawlor)

Wild Turkeys

Colleen Thibaudeau in 1947, Toronto, Ontario.

Colleen Thibaudeau’s short story “Wild Turkeys” draws on her great-aunt Belle’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]. Thibaudeau mentions how her great-aunt shared stories from her girlhood in an interview from 1979:

Don MacKay: One of the stories that you published in the Undergrad, “Wild Turkeys,” seems to be recollecting the Markdale experience.

Colleen Thibaudeau: Well, see, I lived [while at U of T] with my great aunt. Great Aunt Belle was the second sister of my grandmother Stewart.… It was just a pleasure to live with her because she had a slightly easier way of remembering things. My grandma was fun in many ways, but she was just so hurried and harried all the time that she never told you anything. But Aunt Belle was a more gentle easy-going person. And a couple of times, you see, she’d just begin to go into stories like that. So it was from a couple of things she said to me that I reconstructed or made up that story. She wouldn’t have said more than a couple of little hints. [Excerpted from “Colleen Thibaudeau: A Biographical Sketch”Brick, Issue 5, Winter 1979, pages 6-11.]

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….”

( ( 0 ) ) November 6, 2021 at Wordsfest — Watch Kydra Ryan of Alvego Root Theatre perform “Wild Turkeys” here (1 hour and 15 minutes in): https://www.facebook.com/wordsfest/videos/james-reaney-memorial-lecture-2021-tales-for-a-reaney-day/188114376812875/?__so__=permalink&__rv__=related_videos