Review of The Artemesia Book
From Kathryn Rogers , The Windsor Star, Saturday, August 10, 1991

The Artemesia Book: Poems Selected and New By Colleen Thibaudeau

The Artemesia Book: Poems Selected and New By Colleen Thibaudeau (Brick Books)

Moonlight Saving Time By Bill Howell (Wolsak and Wynn)

The Artemesia Book: Poems Selected and New is a welcome arrival from poet Colleen Thibaudeau.

She has been writing for many years and deserves to be as well-known as her playwright/professor husband James Reaney. But she is honest about her clear, quiet vision. When I was taken to have tea with her five years ago she was surprised at my interest in her work.

The poetry in this collection ranges from poetry of Haiku with images tipping each over in the first poem, “Poem as Potato” (you see the poet’s eye at work), to a fluent  association.

In “Name Dropping as Skipping Stones” from the most recent collection the poet’s liquid bounces between literary associates such as Milton Acorn and University of Windsor former writer-in-residence Adele Wiseman before it is back to Colleen herself.

Many of Thibaudeau’s poems are made from memories. Among the newest collection here, “InWhich I Put On my Mother’s Old Thé Dansant Dress” has the poet’s persona donning her mother’s old dress and recollecting moments which fall like “rose petals…from the matching hat she made.”

With more flower imagery Thibaudeau holds on to a gift from her son, a “last crispy carnation” echoes the memory of his red head emerging at birth. These images are triggered by “the whirling heart of the flower/ with the intent bright eyes of (his) own small daughter.”

Poems keep memories like photographs do: They concentrate a moment –freeze dry it. Thibaudeau, like many poets, understands this similarity but uses it in her own unique manner. In “Photo”, another recent poem, Thibaudeau’s treasuring eye views children at the beach like a “camera…Just another gull, swooping in, fixing their fluidity.” Thibaudeau obviously understands her own vision and process.

In “Letter One” collected from My Granddaughters Are Combing Out Their Long Hair (1975), she says, “Nobody knows whether our experience levers really human experience.” Memory –that frozen moment in time captures only the surface of a person and Thibaudeau knows this: She questions her impulse to gain this control, says of a picture which inspires a poem: hair pinned in a quick bun/ she is always on that balcony/ overlooking the harbor/ it is always morning/ and she is always saying goodbye.

Although she cherishes the memories of a long life, Thibaudeau has the fresh poetic eye of someone always young –like a child she sees the world as an extension of herself, but in the best sense because it connects her to nature and all life: “What the unreasoning season won’t explain – what eyes looked asters into mine,” she says in”I Have Confused the Feeling”. Looking out the train window she doesn’t know if she is passenger or passing landscape.

In “Lullaby of the Child for the Mother”, first published in full in this collection, the child is rocked with water of his mother’s womb like a sea – “Her hair is wind that shakes the elder tree.” The poet sees women as elemental just as she doesn’t separate herself from the landscape. Children with yellow hair are flowers, nuns with their innocent (poet-like) joy in the ordinary observation of seagulls have faces like a “freckled egg.” To Thibaudeau everything is seen as new.

Strawberries become “blood lamps” and “red-rumped legioneers.” Poetry grows everywhere. Thibaudeau is very good at subtle image echoes, too. In “The Green Family”, from My Granddaughters Are Combing Out Their Long Hair, a golden father has children “all mouths and diligent with love of honey.” Thibaudeau’s intuitive knowing layers its images into a full picture so subtly you don’t even realize she is leading you somewhere until you arrived.

“White Bracelets” are “old scars” echoing almost-exposed bones after a tractor tears her through barbed wire when she has been lying peaceful with the “sun and clouds/ that were riffed/ and quiet like white bracelets” – the poem is circular just like the scar tissue around wrists.

The collection has a couple of poems of local interest as well: “Tomato Pickers on Their Way to Leamington”, who wait for their bus with the “slumbering energy of the temporarily entombed” are connected to the landscape too: Burn with a  “primitive instinct for dim-remembered fields.” “Dieppe Park in Windsor” also has a place in a poem about memories that take the poet back to the war.

Thibaudeau and Howell share the effort to freeze special moments and a heightened sensitivity which causes them to filter the world in a careful and appreciative way. Both books offer a special and engrossing vision of the world around us and the poet’s process.

(Kathryn Rogers is a freelance writer living in Windsor.)

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