A Nau(gh)tical Afternoon

Colleen Thibaudeau holding her son James Stewart Reaney (age 4 months) with her friends Pamela and John Beckwith (Toronto 1955)
Colleen Thibaudeau holding her son James Stewart Reaney (age 4 months) with her friends Pamela and John Beckwith (Toronto 1953)

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.

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(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.

Colleen's children John and James (Winnipeg 1959)
Colleen’s sons John and James (Winnipeg 1959)

Act I, Scene I

Prologue
A sort of processional
Admiral Road

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.)

Colleen Thibaudeau with her sons John and James (Winnipeg 1959)
Colleen Thibaudeau with her sons John and James (Winnipeg 1959)

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
AND
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…

Dunnery Best, John Reaney, and James Stewart Reaney (Winnipeg 1959)
Dunnery Best, John Reaney, and James Stewart Reaney (Winnipeg 1959)

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.

Interlude

(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,
A mother,
A mother
Of three?
Three!
3.

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?
NO! Definitely not.
The second is a boy called Jonathan.
Jonathan.
Jonathan what?
or?
What 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.
Elegant name.
Edwardian name.
Modern name.
Sensible name. Isn’t that lovely.
And the mother?
Mother of three.
How does it feel to be a mother of 3?

James Stewart Reaney and friends in (Winnipeg 1959)
James Stewart Reaney and friends (Winnipeg 1959)

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.
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 it?
Is it?

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 toys.
More trucks.
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

Epilogue

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.

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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:

Reaney and Beckwith families' summer visit to Tobermoray, Ontario (August 1962)
Reaney and Beckwith families’ summer visit to Tobermoray, Ontario (August 1962)
Colleen Thibaudeau and Pamela Beckwith with their children (Summer 1962 at Flower Pot Island near Tobermoray, Ontario)
Colleen Thibaudeau and Pamela Beckwith with their children (Summer 1962: exploring the caves at Flower Pot Island near Tobermoray, Ontario)
Summer 1962: James Stewart Reaney (back) and Jonathan Beckwith, John Reaney, and Simon Beckwith. Summer 1962.
Summer 1962: James Stewart Reaney (back) and Jonathan Beckwith, John Reaney, and Simon Beckwith. Summer 1962.
John Andrew Reaney (age 8), Flower Pot Island (Tobermoray, Ontario, August 1962)
John Andrew Reaney (age 8), Flower Pot Island (Tobermoray, Ontario, Summer 1962)
Flower Pot Island, Ontario (August 1962)
Flower Pot Island, Ontario (Summer 1962)

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “Aristide Bruant au Honey Dew”

Aristide Bruant au Honey Dew

Deep in Lautrec’s lovely eyes
Struggles the surge of violet seas;
Well bred ladydogs sniffing the Musakladen airs
Put him at unease.

It is an hour of tea; furs
Unfold their brown orchids in the smoke;
From each sweet claw dangles the little dagger
Too indolent for stroke.

Waitresses wear their cup-coloured clothing
To conceal a violence like artificial hydrangeas;
Eyes that should have been running rivers into lakes together
Pass as desert strangers.

O for Bruant to come blasphemous, talking up ready storms,
Raging to give the waiting girls their cue
To come forth all clatter and vile orange welcome, and to put
An absinthe in each Honey Dew.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1948

Chanson réaliste singer Aristide Bruant (1851-1925) in a portrait by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, courtesy wikipedia.org

“Aristide Bruant au Honey Dew” first appeared in Contemporary Verse (35, Summer 1951) and can also be found in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

Toronto’s Honey Dew Restaurant (1948) was on the mezzanine level of the Odeon Carlton Theatre (20 Carlton Street near Yonge).

 

“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 “Aroha’s Fossil”

Aroha’s Fossil

Aroha’s fossil goes clear through the washing cycle
still in the pocket of her wrangler jeans
and comes out deepsea clean & pure as
someone’s eyes are seas who’s
fallen right through the world
(straight through to China as we used to say)

Keelhauling, gutting, name it —
nothing of that shows.

She says, hey here’s my fossil back and
warms it in her hand.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1972

“Aroha’s Fossil” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

>>> Listen to Angela Graham read “Aroha’s Fossil” here.

Susan Reaney (age 10) July 1969, Point No Point, BC. (Photo by Colleen Thibaudeau)
Susan Reaney (age 10) June 1969, Victoria, BC. (Photo by Colleen Thibaudeau)

For more about the poem, see Maureen Scott Harris‘s essay “The Unfolding Present: Rereading Colleen Thibaudeau” in Brick Books Celebration of Canadian Poetry.

The Dieppe Gardens Poems

“The Dieppe Gardens Poems” is one of Colleen Thibaudeau‘s poems from The Martha Landscapes (1984), available from Brick Books.

The Dieppe Gardens Poems

Eugene and Peter read their poems
about Dieppe Gardens, Windsor,
a September evening, here in London.

Dieppe Gardens, it’s not a park where I’ve walked,
but I remember the news of it coming — Dieppe — it came over the fences,
(field by field, farm by farm): “bad news from home.”

Someone called and we would leave off hoeing,
go to the fence, and there, crying or trying not to cry,
a Windsor girl asking us to pass bad news along

though all the lists not in… We threw ourselves at the ground,
and that day passed, (half-hope half-fear) as if just striving
might somehow balance out the half-knowing.

A time of drought: the fine dust caked our hair; our cracked
hands, blunt fingers scrabbled to put right
a bent plant; all was more bitter-precious on that day.

Evening came; on the gravel we walked barefoot, asking,
(field by field, farm by farm), could we use the phone,
but nothing changed: only “bad news from home”

day halved slowly into night.     Your words,
Peter and Eugene, go active into memories long stilled,
and I am filled with wonder for the walkers there
in Dieppe Gardens now.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1984

Note from Susan Reaney: In the poem, Colleen Thibaudeau recalls her own war-time experience working as a volunteer farm labourer for the Ontario Farm Service Force in August 1942 near Windsor, Ontario. The Dieppe Gardens in Windsor, Ontario are named in memory of the many members of the Essex-Kent Scottish Regiment who lost their lives during the World War II landing at Dieppe, France on August 19, 1942.

August 2010: One ton of beach stones were sent from Ville de Dieppe, France, and installed in the Dieppe Memorial in Windsor, Ontario. (Photo courtesy The Windsor Star)
August 1942: Ontario Farm Service Force volunteer workers near Windsor, Ontario. (Photo courtesy The Estate of Colleen Thibaudeau)
August 1942: Colleen Thibaudeau (centre, age 16) was a volunteer farm worker that summer on a farm near Windsor, Ontario. (Photo courtesy The Estate of Colleen Thibaudeau)

 

 

Brick Books’ Celebration of Canadian Poetry

Brick Books 40th Anniversary Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qclaYEWuN3A
Brick Books 40th Anniversary Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qclaYEWuN3A

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).

Brick Books‘ year-long project “Celebration of Canadian Poetry” continues with Colleen’s poem The Glass Cupboard.

From Brisk Books' video "Celebrating 40 Years of Publishing Canadian Poetry" -- this photo of Colleen Thibaudeau appears at the 3:45 mark.
From Brick Books’ video “Celebrating 40 Years of Publishing Canadian Poetry” — this photo of Colleen Thibaudeau appears at the 3:45 mark.

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “White Bracelets”

White Bracelets

we all have old scars
and sometimes in winter
I can still see what was
white bracelets
(let’s call them white bracelets
just as my grandmother used to say
when we fell down steep stairways,
stop crying or you’ll miss hearing
the stairs—they’re still dancing)
what was once white bracelets
what before that showed pink
what before that was raw & festering
what before that was agony
down to the bones
what before that was
almost blacked out
& being dragged by the tractor
in the barbed wire
what before that was
surprise & yelling:
can’t you STOP  STOP
what before that was
lying in the grass
reading a blue letter
looking up into sun & clouds
that were riffed
and quiet like white bracelets.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1971

“White Bracelets” is from The Artemesia Book (1991) and available from Brick Books.

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Note from Susan Reaney:  Stan Dragland, poet and novelist, has high praise for Colleen Thibaudeau’s poetry in his new book The Bricoleur and His Sentences:

“Thibaudeau may be diffident about her process, but her leaping poems stretch wide from the domestic to the mythic and do so as naturally as if they had not actually been written but somehow just occurred. And I have never had the pleasure of editing any writer whose work called for less alteration.” (page 29)

 

 

G.G. and Elizabeth at Port

G.G. AND ELIZABETH AT PORT

Elizabeth (four) would fete Mackie’s 75th anniversary
just as often as the car would get there.

Her “G.G.,” great-grandmother, also
favours Mackie’s, especially the “Specialty Sauce”

on chips. In sunlight sharp as Mackie’s Orange,
they sit together – eighty years seems not to separate

for both love waves, love water. “I could look forever, couldn’t you?”

That Sunday, though, their eyes harden,
for the waves are black, flung up coal dredged from the lake bottom.

“It is as if beasts are leaping out of the foam,”
G.G. shivers.    Elizabeth, only: “Let’s go home.”

 Colleen Thibaudeau, 1986

Colleen Thibaudeau’s poem “G.G. and Elizabeth at Port” is from The Patricia Album and Other Poems (1992).

GGElizabeth1986
Alice Pryce Thibaudeau (age 85), Colleen Thibaudeau’s mother, with her great-granddaughter, Elizabeth Reaney (age 4), August 1986 in Port Stanley, Ontario.
Mackie's at Port Stanley, Ontario.
Mackie’s at Port Stanley, Ontario.
Elizabeth Wallace Reaney, Colleen's granddaughter, at Port Stanley, August 1986
Elizabeth Wallace Reaney, Colleen’s granddaughter, at Port Stanley, August 1986

 

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), now back in print and available from Brick Books.

 

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

Colleen at the University of Toronto 1949

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).

Colleen Thibaudeau 1949 at the University of Toronto
Colleen Thibaudeau at the University of Toronto in 1949