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.
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.
‘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.
The sea gone girl is all at sea Stockings rolled below the knee, Careless slung the dishtowel hung Cat got its parting scatscatscat,– For her the very breeze of a Marine Was signal for abandoning.
The screendoor bangs, the little street Is window-wide a-buzz with her retreat: She makes it to the sad hotel Is keel-hauled by the firebell pull In lobby; then she rises to the tropic Islands rolling home in beer and frolic.
Others have that bleached hair, part ‘done’ Part rendered just uncombable by wind & sun, Others wear fishnet gowns in this and other towns, Have nails like Turner sunsets going down, Knuckles that are wrinkled as a fishwife’s bum, Have voices stored in shells that make a deepsea hum.
But who else has three captive princesses Mild-mannered, magical, wearing middy dresses? The six-year-old has her bath drawn ready, The seven-year-old holds the coffee-pot steady, & the eight-year-old draws the net of her nightdress over her head And casts the sea gone mother into bed.
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1957
“Sea Gone Girl” can be found in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.
((( o ))) Listen to Peggy Roffey read the poem here.
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.]
Mrs. Trott Mouse
black in the greyed-out time
Mrs. Trott Mouse
greyed-out in the blackness
go to sleep little prisoners
just go to sleep
No bad dreams now
Ne pensez qu’à vos amours
No bad dreams now
Des belles toujours
Big clear moonlight
Big clear moonlight
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”:
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”.
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.
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.