Saturday June 18, 2016 in Toronto —The League of Canadian Poets has chosen poet Bruce Rice as the 2016 winner of the Colleen Thibaudeau Outstanding Contribution Award for his efforts in establishing the Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge. Thanks to Bruce, mayors across Canada can now bring poetry into politics by inviting a poet to read at a council meeting during National Poetry Month. Congratulations Bruce! And thank you, Penn Kemp, London Ontario’s First Poet Laureate and long-time friend of Colleen Thibaudeau, for presenting the award to Bruce — true poeticians all!
Established in memory of late poet and honorary member Colleen Thibaudeau (1925-2012), the award was created by the League of Canadian Poets and Colleen Thibaudeau’s family to honour and recognize a substantial volunteer project or series of projects that significantly nurture and support poets and poetry across Canada.
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.
(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.
Act I, Scene I
A sort of processional
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.)
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
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…
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.
(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,
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! Definitely not.
The second is a boy called 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.
Sensible name. Isn’t that lovely.
And the mother?
Mother of three.
How does it feel to be a mother of 3?
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.
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 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 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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
“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.
we all have old scars
and sometimes in winter
I can still see what was
(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.
“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)
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.