Thesen, Sharon

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THESEN, Sharon

Nationality: Canadian. Born: Tisdale, Saskatchewan, 1 October 1946. Education: Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, B.A. 1970, M.A. 1974. Family: Married 1) Brian Fawcett in 1966 (divorced), one son; 2) Peter Thompson. Career: Has worked as a dental assistant, cab driver, and record librarian. Since c. 1970 English teacher, Capilano College, Vancouver, British Columbia. Poetry editor, Capilano Review, 1978–89. Address: 2785 West 18th Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia V6L 1B4, Canada.



Artemis Hates Romance. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1980.

Radio New France Radio. Vancouver, Slug Press, 1982.

Holding the Pose. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1983.

Confabulations: Poems for Malcolm Lowry. Lantzville, British Columbia, Oolichan, 1984.

The Beginning of the Long Dash. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1987.

The Pangs of Sunday. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1990.

Aurora. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1995.

News & Smoke: Selected Poems. Burnaby, British Columbia, Talonbooks, 1999.

A Pair of Scissors and Other Poems. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 2000.


Editor, Selected Poems: The Vision Tree by Phyllis Webb. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1982.

Editor, The New Long Poem Anthology. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1991.

Editor, with Ralph Maud, Charles Olson and Frances Boldereff: A Modern Correspondence, by Charles Olson. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press of New England, 1999.


Manuscript Collection: McGill University, Montreal.

Critical Studies: "Knots of Energy: The Contest of Discourses in Sharon Thesen's Poetry" by Rob Dunham, and "The Barren Reach of Modern Desire: Intertextuality in Sharon Thesen's 'The Beginning of the Long Dash'" by Steven Scobie, both in Sagetrieb (Orono, Maine), 7(1), spring 1988; "Writing through the Margins: Sharon Thesen's and Bill Manhire's Apparently Lyrical Poetry" by Douglas Barbour, in Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada (Prince George, British Columbia), 4, fall 1990; "Tremendous Forgeries, Confabulations and Graphologies Elliptical: The Lyric/Anti-Lyric Poetry of Sharon Thesen and Elizabeth Smither" by Pamela Banting, in Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada (Prince George, British Columbia), 6, fall 1991; by Andrew Stubbs, in Canadian Writers and Their Works, edited by Robert Lecker, Jack David, and Ellen Quigley, Toronto, Ontario, ECW, 1995.

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In her first book, Artemis Hates Romance, Sharon Thesen warns that "the defoliated /imagination is the end /of all lyric" ("Day Dream"). The flowering of Thesen's writing, witnessed in the volumes of poetry published beginning in 1980, is a clear indication that her own imagination is in full bloom. Thesen's lyricism, however, is not unremittingly bright and fragrant, for it lives in and grows out of a world marked by limitation and loss.

Thesen's early volumes in particular are characterized by fairly grim explorations of the limits of love, loneliness, anger, and despair. In a 1988 interview in the Malahat Review she calls these works her "mad," "sad," and "bad" books. In Artemis Hates Romance Thesen vents her rage and sorrow at the failures of romantic relationships, stating that "there is no /metaphor for love that is not /redness & pain" ("Wilkinson Road Poems") and that the appearance of love "brings dread to the heart, /knowledge /unasked for" ("The Argument Begins with A"). In a poem called "Dedication" Thesen's anger is specifically targeted at "'honeybunch,'" otherwise addressed as "you stupid fucker" and "you slimy hogstool," for his part in arresting her career as a poet: "you never thought I'd do /it did ya … /it's no goddamn thanks to you, hiding my /typewriter and always wanting fancy dinners all the time."

Holding the Pose is a quieter work, inhabited by cheating hearts and icy hearts, brokenhearted skies and rain, dim places and painful yellow tulips. Early in the volume, in a poem entitled "Discourse," Thesen concludes with irony that "finally there's not /all that much /you can say," and yet she continues to write "another word written, and another" in "the daily effort to solve /the puzzled heart" ("Hello Goodbye"). Declaring that "it is my own pain /I write" ("X"), Thesen in this book sifts through her memories in order to heal herself and her imagination. Her meditations on the painful past are not maudlin or self-pitying, however, for in "Praxis" she firmly tells herself, and the reader, to "imagine a future better /than now" and to "stop crying. Get up. Go out. Leap /the mossy garden wall /the steel fence or whatever /the case may be."

Confabulations, is a series of poems for and about the deceased poet Malcolm Lowry. In the Malahat Review interview Thesen explains that the work is "a confabulation with a kind of suffering that I identified with and understood deeply" and that Lowry provided "a persona through which I could speak that material without having to write confessional autobiographical poetry." These poems are a powerful evocation of Lowry's struggles with both alcohol and language and of Thesen's struggles with the darkness of her own world (which is also ours). "This world /scissored your mind," she writes, "bone-dry shreds of ecstacy /& terror igniting /your fragile nests." In his own voice Thesen's Lowry declares, "I wake up /weeping the whole grief of the world /strangling my vocabulary." The volume's most haunting phrase, "where I am it is dark," speaks not only of Lowry's nightmare world but also of the one we all live in and share.

The Beginning of the Long Dash marks the beginning of a change of tone in Thesen's work; she herself has called it her "glad" book. This change is particularly evident in "The Landlord's Flower Beds," where the roses are "white, /yellow, red, pink, all colors /of the rainbow" and where they "almost /pull you out of bed at night." Flowers also perform a vital function in "The Occasions." Here the "pale pink roses /are the tenderest things," and "sitting with them you understand /the perfection of all things," though that understanding proves in the end to be transitory.

This volume also contains a number of poem sequences, a tangible indication of Thesen's expanding vision as she moves from a personal into a larger cultural milieu. The title poem, for example, is a philosophical meditation on the state of the world (social, moral, political) as the twentieth century was drawing to a close and is framed as a contemplation on the Christmas and New Year's season. In Thesen's fin de siècle world "the five most compelling words /are sex, free, cure, money, and baldness, /a chain of conditions ranging from heaven to hell," and "there's nothing to eat /but images to hunger for." The poem's title refers to the National Research Council Official Time Signal indicating 10:00 Pacific Standard Time, and as Thesen explains in the Malahat Review interview, it has a double meaning. On the one hand it signals that "there's lots of time," but on the other hand it can be read metaphorically: "it's a long dash all right, but toward what are we headed?"

If the new poems in Thesen's volume The Pangs of Sunday are any indication, the poet herself has headed in different directions. Alongside typically wry lyrics like "The Scalpel," "Elegy, the Fertility Specialist," and "Emergency," in which Thesen declares succinctly that "human love /is not so easy as speech /will allow," there are poems at once surreal and ordinary. Animals accompany the poet to corner letter boxes and the grocery store, and "when I put on /a fancy dinner, a few animals /are under the table staring at the guests." Empty pineapple shells "attract the wrong sort of chicken /who wear black thongs and carry a knife," the "crawfish garnish /outmanoeuvre[s]" Napoleon, and "adjacent recipes /clash by night" in the surreal kitchen ("Chicken in a Pensive Shell"). Finally, as the volume closes, the poet rides her "lovely horse /into the perfume department /at Eaton's," declaring, "We tried not to break anything /but also we were not abstract." In this new material and throughout her previous work Thesen moves through all our ordinary days, making unusual, even startling connections. Hers is a poetry of careful observation, of precise statement. It challenges the way we see ourselves and see the world and ourselves in the world.

—Susan Schenk