By special request — and in honour of mothers and grandmothers everywhere — here is a poem by Colleen Thibaudeau.
My Granddaughters Are Combing Out Their Long Hair
my granddaughters are combing out their long hair sitting at night
on the rocks in Venezuela they have watched their babes
falling like white birds from the last of the treetop cradles
they have buried them in their hearts where they will never forget
to keep on singing them the old songs
brought down to earth they use twigs, flint scrapers acadian
their laughter underground makes the thyme flower in darkness
my granddaughters are thin as fishbones & hornfooted but they are
always beautiful under the stars: like little asian paperthings
they seem to open outward into their own waterbowl
mornings they waken to Light’s chink ricocheting
off an old Black’s Harbour sardinecan.
Reduce them the last evangelines make them part of the stars.
my granddaughters are coming out by night combing their burr
coloured hair by the rocks and streamtrickle in Venezuela
they are burnt out as falling stars but they laugh
and keep on singing them the old songs.
April 14, 2012: Thank you everyone who came to celebrate National Poetry Month and Colleen Thibaudeau’s poem “Balloon,” which is displayed on a billboard near the junction of Stanley Street and Wortley Road in London, Ontario.
It was a windy day, but you all held on bravely. Many thanks to Carolyn Doyle, Supervisor of the Landon Branch Library, and Christine Walde of Poetry London for organizing the event, and to Glenn and Peggy Curnoe for their photos. (Poetry London also has photos on their Facebook page.)
Colleen knew about the plan to put her poem on a billboard earlier this year before she passed away and was thrilled to think that her poem would be writ large for all to see. Thank you so much!
“Balloon” is a concrete poem and was first published in 1965 in Colleen’s book Lozenges: Poems in the Shapes of Things by James Reaney’s Alphabet Press. For this month only, the London Public Library has free postcards of “Balloon.”
The Star Over the House Quilt (Last night I dreamed…)
Last night I dreamed about you all under the Star Over the House Quilt;
I remember mother making it: the little squares of jonquil window lit
The doors, shutters often green. Your block has still the hollyhock (french knots)
Mine has the lilac (front yard), looking hard the lilacs still are blooming there,
The real ones down — time and town development don’t affect the quilt.
Each of us, house body, and the star, the star-filled head;
Each of us bedded down lifetime dreams the star-filled town
Waking goes walking the houses of our own making, talking the blocks away.
I might move into you taking on hollyhock but it’s not
Me really just the dreaming of the star-filled head.
The Star Over the House Quilt she made it extra size;
Her eyes puzzled out each stitch; she declared her fingers to be all pricked
And she licked the blood from roofs, sidewalks, from the small yards
With the ever-blooming trees pointing to the stars
Of the Star Over the House Quilt.
Update March 3, 2012: In tribute to Colleen Thibaudeau and her work, the London Public Library, Brick Books, and Poetry London have commissioned a billboard with her poem “Balloon”. The billboard will go up sometime in the week of March 26, and there will be a a “Balloon” billboard launch on Saturday April 14 at 3:00 pm.The library is also printing postcards of “Balloon” to hand out during April, which is National Poetry Month.
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. … When the band of the moment breaks there will come angelic recurrence.
— Colleen Thibaudeau Reaney, from “This Elastic Moment”
Thank you all for coming to the lecture on Sunday afternoon to hear Colleen Thibaudeau, James Reaney’s widow, talk about their early days together and read from some of his works.
For those of you who were unable to attend, Stratford Beacon Herald reporter Mike Beitz reports on Thibaudeau’s talk here.
Our thanks also to the organizers of the lecture at the Stratford Public Library, Charles Mountford, Anne Marie Heckman, and Sam Coghlan. Colleen Thibaudeau especially appreciated all the help she has had from her family and others; she couldn’t have done it without you.
One of James Reaney’s poems that Colleen Thibaudeau read was “White Grumphies, white snow” from Souwesto Home, published by Brick Books.
“White Grumphies, white snow…”
The students of Agricultural Diploma, their fathers
Grow square miles of blue flowering flax near
Pilot Mound and square miles of yellow mustard which
I saw as I drove out from Minnesota,
Well knowing that in the fall, in the autumn,
We would be teaching them Robert Penn Warren’s Understanding Poetry, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,
Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Emily Dickinson.
As I climbed the stairs to their classroom
Over the Rupertsland Agricultural Auditorium,
Prepared to teach them “I heard a fly buzz when I died,”
I heard them splitting desk into kindling
For a bonfire in a waste paper basket where they
Burnt the texts on the course one by one,
Rainbow-coloured poems and prose they burnt,
Book by book, as I taught them.
As verbal virgins they were tougher
Than such pastoral nymphs as Diana or urban ones
Such as Athena.
However, a day or two later, taking a random stroll
Across the winter campus, I saw,
Around the corner of the Swine Barn, a herd
Of white, white pigs being driven into the barn
By my Aggie Dip students each with
A very proper and even beautiful pig-driving stick.
Was it their mid-term test in pig-herding?
It must have been.
The whiteness of the piggies against the whiteness of the snow
Presented them with optical problems.
They had trouble seeing me as well.
In fact not one of them did, for I
Was wearing this poem.
James Reaney, 2005
My editor, Stan Dragland, wishes me to explain “White Grumphies, white snow.” They are white pigs herded by agricultural students on a snowy day.
Join us on October 17 at 3 pm at TheStratford Public Library Auditorium in Stratford, Ontario, to hear poet Colleeen Thibaudeau speak at the first annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture.
The annual lecture is a new project being developed by The Stratford Public Library and Poetry Stratford; it will feature a talk by a person who is knowledgeable about the life and work of Stratford poet and playwright James Reaney and of writing in the Southwestern Ontario region, which is such a strong element in Reaney’s writing.
Colleen Thibaudeau, Reaney’s widow and a poet and short story writer in her own right, was born in Toronto and raised in St. Thomas, Ontario. Educated at the University of Toronto, her M.A. thesis was on contemporary Canadian poetry. She married Reaney in 1951. Her books include Lozenges: Poems in the Shapes of Things (1965), Ten Letters (1975), My Granddaughters Are Combing Out Their Long Hair (1977), The Martha Landscapes (1984), The Artemesia Book (1991) and The “Patricia” Album (1992). Her involvement with all aspects of Canadian Literature has been long and deep. She has been associated with Canadian small presses and The League of Canadian Poets since the mid 1960s. Thibaudeau lives in London, Ontario.