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.
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.)
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’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….”
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).
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.
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.
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.”
Thibaudeau’s use of free verse forms and concrete poetry came from her French literature studies at university. For example, French symbolist poetStéphane 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].
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.
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.
‘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.