Colleen Thibaudeau’s “Notes on a Day”


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.]

See also the special issue of Canadian Poetry, Nos. 80-81 for the centenary of Margaret Avison’s birth, where Stan Dragland recalls Margaret and Colleen meeting again in 1973 and Margaret saying ‘I’m going Colleening!’… “Margaret caught [Colleen’s] dynamism in a single word. I’m very glad to have been on the spot to hear that word invented; otherwise, it might never have been spoken. And, speech being so evanescent, it might have been lost… Colleening: The Poetry and Letters of Colleen Thibaudeau is now the title of a play by Adam Corrigan Holowitz, with music by Stephen Holowitz and Oliver Whitehead.” (page 43)

For more about the working milieu of the library order desk from the time described in Thibaudeau’s poem, see Margaret Avison’s I Am Here and Not Not-There: An Autobiography (2009), pages 111-114.

“Notes on a Day” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

Margaret Avison in 1973 — Family photo (I Am Here and Not Not-Here: An Autobiography, page 191)

“Voicing Colleen” at the London Public Library

 

Voicing Colleen at the London Public LIbrary: James Stewart Reaney and Susan Reaney (Colleen’s children) read Thibaudeau’s poem “Looking at The Artemesia Book”. (All photos from this event are  by Cameron Paton.)

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.

Voicing Colleen: Jean McKay leads on “I do not want only” accompanied by Kelly Creighton, Angie Quick, Kelly McConnell, Koral Scott, Brittany Renaud, Susan Wallace, and Susan Reaney.

Angie Quick reads Colleen Thibaudeau’s poem “The Rose Family”.

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.

Voicing Colleen: Left to right: Patricia Black and Kelly Creighton enjoy Susan Reaney and James Stewart Reaney reading “Looking at The Artemesia Book”.

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.

Brick Books has three titles by Colleen Thibaudeau: The Martha Landscapes (1984), Ten Letters (1975), and The Artemesia Book (1991), which are also available in e-book versions.

 

 

“The Clock Tower” by Colleen Thibaudeau

The Clock Tower

When they pull my clock tower down
I will no longer walk this town.

At night her lucent face is seen
Homely and bright as margarine,

And when I wake when I should sleep
Sounds her Ding Bong sweet
And heart-sticking as the Knife-Man’s cry
When his squeaking cart goes by.

Children, chickens,
Matrons with baskets, old men with sticks, all stop
to gawk at my clock;

The shock-headed with the frost
Kid who sells papers, the popcorn man
Buttery knuckled, the shifter of ashcans,

Firebugs, tire-stealers, track fixers for the TTC,
Somnambulists, commune with me —

And we all move and love
To the grace of her sweet face.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1949

First published in The Canadian Forum (30, July 1950), “The Clock Tower” also appears in The Wind Has Wings: Poems from Canada, an anthology of poems for children published by Oxford University Press in 1968.

"The Clock Tower" by Colleen Thibaudeau from the Oxford University Press anthology The Wind Has Wings (1968).
“The Clock Tower” by Colleen Thibaudeau from the Oxford University Press anthology The Wind Has Wings (1968). The clock tower illustration is by Elizabeth Cleaver.

The Wind Has Wings: Poems from Canada, 1968, Oxford University Press. Compiled by Mary Alice Downie and Barbara Robertson; illustrated by Elizabeth Cleaver. (ISBN-0-19-540026-7)
The Wind Has Wings: Poems from Canada, 1968, Oxford University Press. Compiled by Mary Alice Downie and Barbara Robertson; illustrated by Elizabeth Cleaver. (ISBN-0-19-540026-7)

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “Beatie’s Palaces” from The Martha Landscapes

Here is Colleen’s poem “Beatie’s Palaces” from The Martha Landscapes (1984), now back in print and available from Brick Books.

Beatie’s Palaces

“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 practise
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.

The Martha Landscapes by Colleen Thibaudeau, 1984.
The Martha Landscapes by Colleen Thibaudeau, 1984.

CTRBeatie
From “Beatie’s Palaces”:  “And I can still see, squinting through a chink of time…”

Colleen Thibaudeau’s Inwhich I put on my mother’s old thé dansant dress

Inwhich I Put On My Mother’s Old Thé Dansant Dress

“Yes,” said Janos, “you can put on a costume!”
So I go for a favourite, my mother’s old thé dansant dress
(black georgette and hand-made lace). When I was a child
I looked through snowy windows, seeing her leave
for “Tea For Two.” Leaves whirled, the hem dragged
in the mud when granddaughters sortied out for Hallowe’en;
and then I rescued, laundered, aired, and pressed
(black georgette and hand-made lace). Now it’s a humid Sunday
in the scorching summer of ’88. Jamie retreats to the doorway.
Janos, taking the photos, says, “Nearly done now.”
I think, my whole life-span is in this dress.
And, as I strew these words,
rose petals are falling from the matching hat she made.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1988

Colleen’s poem appears in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

 

Colleen Thibaudeau in her mother's old the dansant dress, at her home in London, Ontario, 1999. Photo by Janos.
Colleen Thibaudeau in her mother’s old thé dansant dress, at her home in London, Ontario, 1988. Photo by Janos.

Poetry Stratford celebrates Four Women for National Poetry Month 2013

On April 21, 2013, Poetry Stratford featured the four poets from the Red Kite Press anthology Four Women: Gloria Alvernaz Mulcahy, Penn Kemp,  Marianne Micros, and Colleen Thibaudeau. Gloria, Penn, and Marianne read their own work, and poet Patricia Black read the late Colleen Thibaudeau’s poems. Here is one of Colleen’s “Inwhich” poems from Four Women:

Inwhich I Decide To Look Once More at the Story of Never Meeting Pete & Doris, But Solving the Puzzle of the Valuable Little Stamp My Mother Has Pressed Into My Hand

I am once more in the street and just at that time of day
which the poets of the future will make much of.
The violet hour of the pearly exhaust fumes
(can’t you hear them chanting?) like the inside
of a fresh-water clamshell, the sky (once long-ago
their grandfather showed them where they had been).
Soon the greenish fluorescent lights of the great city
will stratify, very regular (lichen bands), very exact,
the steep, straight-up mountainsides of the great downtown.
Luminous lichen bands.  In the darkness they will hear
the small incessant torrents of electricity falling.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1999

 

April 21, 2013: Gloria Alvernaz Mulcahy, Patricia Black, Penn Kemp, and Marianne Micros read from Four Women.