Review of The Artemesia Book
From Joanne Tomkins , Canadian Literature No. 134, Autumn 1992

Human Acts

Heather Spears, Human Acts. Wolsak and Wynn, $10.00.

Colleen Thibaudeau, The Artemesia Book. Brick, $14.95.

Richard Harrison, Recovering the Naked Man. Wolsak and Wynn, $10.00

Colleen Thibaudeau’s poetry uses time and space more metaphorically than Heather Spears. “Name dropping as Skipping Stones” quotes Milton Acorn: “Colleen, you must stop living in Queen Alexandra’s time.” While I would not date the poems in The Artemesia Book as quite so old, they do have a “days gone by” feel. This is not necessarily harsh criticism: the poems recall childhood adventures, memories, locations with clarity and wit.

Family is of central concern in these poems, and many remember a family of years ago, or comment on a current collection of relatives. Occasionally, these poems move beyond the realm of the “real” to a fantasy world that can supercede the existing world. The poems in this book have the same sense: “Inwhich [sic] I Put on My Mother’s Old Thé Dansant Dress” explains this encompassing impulse:

            I think, my whole life-span, is in this dress.
            And, as I strew these words,
            rose petals are falling from the matching
                        hat she made.

The poems in The Artemesia Book, many of which are taken from previous collections (My Granddaughters are Combing Out Their Long Hair and The Martha Landscapes), communicate best when read aloud. The language is very resonant, as are the alliteration, assonance, and rhyme. At times it reads somewhat heavily, but the crafting of the word clusters is very carefully worked, as the “nonsense” poems illustrate: “from Throgmoggle and Engestchin: A Relationship” is composed of “words” that do not form an “accepted” language. The patterning of sounds is, nevertheless, quite remarkable. Thibaudeau’s parodies of Atwood, Souster, W. W. E. Ross, Purdy, and Gotlieb are bitingly accurate and very entertaining.

“This Dragon Year will Eat you up for Sure,” contains a telling line: “’My Grandmother/ says, tell you, you have Chinese mouth, always talking and eating.’” The narrator is very pleased with this pronouncement, and it suits most of Thibaudeau’s work: the narrator’s voice is entertaining and thought-provoking.

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