Congratulations to Brick Books on 40 years of publishing! For a closer look at Brick Books past and present, see Celebrating 40 Years of Publishing Canadian Poetry (YouTube).
Colleen Thibaudeau was a graduate student of Marshall McLuhan‘s at the University of Toronto in 1948-1949. Colleen remembers Professor McLuhan in this excerpt from an article by journalist James Stewart Reaney:
“I remember him from ’48, ’49 when I was in his M.A. class. Although ’49 wasn’t over yet, he bravely suggested the topic to me: Canadian poetry of 1949,” mom says. Later McLuhan would become famous for saying such things as: “Tomorrow is our permanent address.”
Back in 1948-1949, he was already using a similar approach. Mom calls it: “Writing about it before it’s taken place – almost.”
The thesis flourished as mom encountered such Canadian poets and creators as A.M. Klein, P.K. Page and Earle Birney. With his Cambridge ties, McLuhan also helped by introducing my mom to British critics like Queenie Leavis.
“When you get into the world of the ’49ers,’ you’ve left behind the pastoral world of earlier Canadian poetry, not entirely, but it’s going,” mom says.
>>> Read the full article here.
Two of Colleen’s poems from from her student days are “The Clock Tower” (1947) and “Aristide Bruant au Honey Dew” (1948), and also the short stories “Wild Turkeys” (1946) and “The City Underground” (1949).
Here is Colleen’s poem “Beatie’s Palaces” from The Martha Landscapes (1984), now back in print and available from Brick Books.
“Jeez, you got good leaves.” says Beatie.
Leaves are her luxury; no trees, no leaves on the cinderhill
where she lives by the dump.
Mother Madam Witch
wind lashes trees for her
we all fall down
Without asking she grabs the rake; she eyes
our corner lot. Beatie is by far the best raker, maker;
her house begins to grow, a rich emerald carpets
every room. “Thirteen rooms maybe,” she says tersely,
“anyways a room for each of you.” Palaces
are what Beatie makes, raking.
And I can still see, squinting through a chink of time,
Beatie’s hands, short-fingered,
(chipped, the polish on her nails, but she’s “allowed”),
her short, strong hands lengthening fiercely into our rake,
small lady of the strangely long arm, she manoeuvers
right round the corner onto East.
“I sure like your leaves,” says Beatie.
Grade Seven will be her last year at school.
She flies around, adjusting the wind-bruised walls;
her red sweater is nubby and too small,
her skirt hitches up, her legs are chapped,
her pushes are energetic:
“In there. In. And don’t come out till I say so.”
We fall separately onto our too-short leaf beds,
try not to annoy Beatie, amazed and proud
she likes our leaves.
What did we dream of there on Beatie’s palace beds?
Infinite luxury, oriental harems… Abruptly,
“All right, you can come out now.”
“What’s for supper?” one of us asks audaciously.
“Macaroni with catsup,” says Beatie positively, “and don’t ask
for seconds, because you’ll get none.”
We look with respect at Beatie, who hands out leafplates
in the big kitchen room. Even the kids taller than Beatie
look with respect and envy at the short, leaf-stained fingers
and the ruby glass ring – (she has privately ‘promised’
it to each of us ‘if we are good’):
Beatie doesn’t shift her ring around, finger to finger,
about thirteen, she is already married to life.
We got called in to supper
to do homework
to get our hair washed.
Beatie didn’t go home till it got good and dark.
Beatie didn’t have to.
She raked by streetlight with a harp sound attached to the long arm,
We missed it when it stopped,
for it had gotten into our blood, the idea of Beatie raking, making.
From the window (a last look before the wind scatters),
there is Beatie’s palace glowing gold and green.
Mother Madam Witch
wind lashes trees for her
we all fall down
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1984
◊ Listen to Jean McKay read “Beatie’s Palaces” here.
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.
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1971
“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.
Many thanks to the editors of Brick (Issue 89, page 182) for printing this poem by Colleen Thibaudeau.
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
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1977
Also in Issue 89 of Brick, Stan Dragland remembers Applegarth Follies, another London, Ontario publisher:
“… Colleen Thibaudeau’s Ten Letters, the first chapbook I published [under the forerunner of Brick Books], was printed offset by Mike Niederman at Applegarth Follies. I had set the text in the Baskerville type donated by James Reaney to The Belial Press at the university after he completed his ten-year run of Alphabet. One of Applegarth’s presses was the old foot-pumped jobber on which Reaney had printed his magazine. There was plenty of literary interconnection in London back then.”
Colleen Thibaudeau, poet and beloved wife of James Reaney, passed away on February 6, 2012 in London, Ontario. Colleen will long be remembered by her family, neighbours, and many friends.
Links celebrating Colleen and her work:
Colleen Thibaudeau Reaney, Dec. 29, 1925–Feb. 6, 2012 by James Stewart Reaney, London Free Press, February 6, 2012
“Greatness in Poetry” by Marty Gervais, February 7, 2012
“Poet found magic and mystery in the everyday” by Sandra Martin, The Globe and Mail, February 9, 2012
Welcome to collenthibaudeau.com, a celebration of poet Colleen Thibaudeau’s life and work.
Colleen Thibaudeau was born in Toronto on December 29, 1925. She grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario, and wrote poetry and stories from an early age.
Join us on our journey through Colleen’s poems, stories, and memories. We look forward to remembering and discovering Colleen with you.