Celebrating the Close-at-hand
Reviewed by Terry Griggs (London Free Press (May 18, 1984))
This new collection of poetry by Londoner Colleen Thibaudeau, is in a word, luminous. Light spills out of its language, out of its humor and hope, and, to borrow from one of he poems, “an air of wonder prevails.”
Thibaudeau is not a brooding, self-absorbed poet, but one who celebrates at every turn the transforming power of the imagination. Where there is darkness, her poems deftly comprehend it, and where there is merely the grey of the ordinary, she works an enlightening magic.
The small and the everyday is a prominent feature of The Martha Landscapes. As is well known, we have a tendency in this country to disregard, even despise, that which is close at hand. These poems turn the mind homeward and refocus attention on the kind of details that, ultimately, define us.
In Thibaudeau’s hands simple objects and domestic incidents expand in significance. A glass cupboard becomes an “ark that tends the tides / of dream,” leaves are raked up into palaces, bureau drawers spill their “dry Niagaras.” A hapless group of tomato pickers waiting for a bus are seen to be those who “even after the holocaust… will rise, picking their way out of the rubble; small people, incomprehensible to most, battered suitcases clutched; enduring.”
Vision is lavished on what is normally overlooked, and very often it’s the seemingly insignificant the proves to be a real treasure or a catalyst to insight. One series of poems, funny and precise parodies of Canadian poets like Margaret Atwood and Raymond Souster, is based on a selection of household hints found in the reader exchange of the Toronto Star. What you have here, as in the found poems and throughout, is a marvelous sense of thrift, of everything being imaginatively useful, of life’s fragments and loose ends tying up into a meaningful whole. Indeed, images of connection pervade the Landscapes.
These are heartening poems that keep memory alive by drawing the past into the present, just as distance is breached when a “postcard from Brazil goes / hand to hand as the sender intended, intending / no ending.” In the poem Little Ann Running, Big Anne Shopping & Another Anne’s Mysterious Visiting Birds, all the Annes, despite the diversity of their activities, meet in the metaphor of their shared name. Community exists where we have a mind to see it.
There is much to admire in this collection, certainly its formal range, and its wordplay, rich, vital, always following the most unexpected and delightful routes to perception. Materially, it is also very attractive and has been well served by both publisher and illustrator. London artist Kinny Kreiswirth has created a lovely series of drawings in tune with the wondering spirit of the book.
The Martha Landscapes is an entirely local product and is no less brilliant for that.