Pungent visions from the depths
Reviewed by Herman Goodden (London Free Press (May 18, 1991))
And about time, too. This generous “selection” — bordering on a collection — pulls together between two covers the vast majority of poems from four earlier books by London poet Colleen Thibaudeau: My Granddaughters are Combing Out Their Long Hair, The Martha Landscapes, 10 Letters and a collection called Sea Gone Girl, which originally appeared in the literary magazine, Air, in 1973. There are also about 25 new poems, which make up the final section of the book.
The title is intriguing. I originally thought of artesian wells, and Thibaudeau’s poems do have the freshness of water drawn up from unseen depths. My not-so-compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary tells me that Artemisia (knocking out an “e” for an “i”) is a genus of plants distinguished by a peculiarly bitter or aromatic taste. I’m not so sure about a pronounced bitterness, but there’s lots to smell and savor in a Thibaudeau poem.
In this book’s final poem, the smell of that pungent plant “sharpens the wits” of freshly incarcerated school children who sit in the row of seats “by the open windows” in their first fall term. Those dumbfounded heads do need airing, intoxicated as they are by “the shriek of slate pencils/And the dizzying waves/Of an ocean called The Written Alphabet that endlessly beat/High round two green walls, carrying on where blackboards/Stopped….”
AWARENESS: Thibaudeau doesn’t just remember, she somehow recreates that preschool awareness and openness and can make you see again (and how could you forget?) how an undulating row of written script, not standing up tall as in the printed storybooks at home, seems to rise and dip like ever-rolling waves. It is that fresh vision, both alarming and familiar, that makes so many of her poems a warm surprise.
There are poems like The Brown Family, as packed with incident and detail as the richest short story. The Browns are greedy, lusty scavengers who never seem to get enough. The boys will shoot at anything that moves and the girls are known to sleep around: Their “skirts were dirty/From every ditch in the county. On lonely country roads under the moon/Their sadness lit like incense their sweet 10-cent perfume….”
DREAMSCAPES: Uncurbed, my temptation to quote would fill this page. “They say the world’s near ending and this confuses me. I’ve a mad desire to try on everything in Eaton’s.” There are shards of nightmare as loony as that and lush dreamscapes as entrancing as this: “My granddaughters are combing out their long hair sitting at night/on the rocks in Venezuala… 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….”
I’ve got to stop quoting, and still I know I’ve barely scratched the surface. The poems in this collection span Thibaudeau’s career. I don’t think there’s a more exciting poet writing in Canada today, and I know we won’t see a more important book of poetry published this year.