Discoveries: Colleen Thibaudeau

Colleen Thibaudeau’s obituary in the Feb. 9 Globe and Mail was intriguing in a couple of ways. For one thing, I had never heard her name before. This in itself is nothing new; even in the relatively small world of Canadian poetry I do encounter well-established poets I’ve never heard of. Having belatedly discovered Thibaudeau, I wanted to read her work, especially after reading, in the Canadian Encyclopedia, how her poetry celebrates “the extraordinary nature of ordinary life by combining the everyday with the otherworldly.”

Brick Books does still have some of Thibaudeau’s books in print, but otherwise her work is not easy to find. I found almost none of her poetry online, except for an excerpt in the obituary, and this one featured as Poem of the Month on the Parliamentary Poet Laureate site. And Winnipeg’s public libraries don’t have any of her books. All I found was the anthology Un Dozen: Thirteen Canadian Poets, edited by Judith Fitzgerald, which contains four pages of Thibaudeau’s poems. This small sampling is enough to make me want to find more of her work, even if it takes a bit of looking.

The other intriguing thing about Thibaudeau is that she did a master’s thesis on contemporary Canadian poetry— in 1949. I would not have expected Canadian poetry, especially contemporary poetry, to be a subject for study back then; I more or less assumed that Canadians still saw “real” literature as coming from elsewhere. Maybe that’s not entirely true… in any case, there would have been no shortage of  material to study: P.K. Page, Irving Layton, Earle Birney, A.M. Klein, Dorothy Livesay, and Elizabeth Brewster (among many others) were all writing in the ’40s. A.J.M.Smith‘s landmark anthology The Book of Canadian Poetry was published in 1943, and Ralph Gustafson’s Anthology of Canadian Poetry in 1942. Periodicals like Contemporary Verse had recently been established. It sounds like it was an exciting time to be reading and writing poetry in Canada.

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