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)

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.

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

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).

 

 

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