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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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” 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].
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.
Saturday June 18, 2016 in Toronto —The League of Canadian Poets has chosen poet Bruce Rice as the 2016 winner of the Colleen Thibaudeau Outstanding Contribution Award for his efforts in establishing the Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge. Thanks to Bruce, mayors across Canada can now bring poetry into politics by inviting a poet to read at a council meeting during National Poetry Month. Congratulations Bruce! And thank you, Penn Kemp, London Ontario’s First Poet Laureate and long-time friend of Colleen Thibaudeau, for presenting the award to Bruce — true poeticians all!
Established in memory of late poet and honorary member Colleen Thibaudeau (1925-2012), the award was created by the League of Canadian Poets and Colleen Thibaudeau’s family to honour and recognize a substantial volunteer project or series of projects that significantly nurture and support poets and poetry across Canada.
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.
(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.
Act I, Scene I
A sort of processional
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.)
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
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…
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.
(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,
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! Definitely not.
The second is a boy called 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.
Sensible name. Isn’t that lovely.
And the mother?
Mother of three.
How does it feel to be a mother of 3?
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.
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 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 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
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.
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: