2003 short list:
by Dionne Brand
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
This is a poem about the city and about a man who has visions, hovering on the edge but hating it, restless and at war with the world but wanting the peace that passeth understanding. Everything he does is half-done, except his death. When he falls, his parched spirit crying "thirsty," his family falls apart. This is a poem about Toronto, the city that's never happened before, about waiting for a bus, standing on a corner, watching a stranger: the bank to one corner, the driving school on another, the milk store and the church. This is also about the poet, her own restless sensibility woven in and out through moments of lyric beauty, dramatic power and storytelling grace. It is written in the margins, like a medieval manuscript with shades of light and darkness.
Dionne Brand is a poet, novelist and essayist living in Toronto. Her eight volumes of poetry include Land to Light On which won the Governor General's Award for Poetry and the Trillium Award for Literature in 1997. The Globe and Mail said of her poetry, "Every once in a rare while a book of poetry because it is poetry appears on the literary landscape and breaks your heart .... The impeccably crafted sequence contains the spirit and soul of human fealty, which acts as a shield against the brutality of human history." Brand's most recent volume is called thirsty.
Dionne Brand's fiction includes the acclaimed novel In Another Place Not Here a 1998 New York Times notable book - and Sans Souci and Other Stories. Her most recent title At the Full and Change of the Moon is a novel spanning six generations, two wars and the violence of the late twentieth century. It was a Los Angeles Times Notable Book of the Year, 1999.
Her works of non fiction include Bread Out Of Stone, a book of essays for which Adrienne Rich called her "a cultural critic of uncompromising courage, an artist in language and ideas, an intellectual conscience for her country." A Map to the Door of No Return, her latest, is a meditation on blackness in the diaspora.
Excerpt from thirsty
This city is beauty
unbreakable and amorous as eyelids,
in the streets, pressed with fierce departures,
I am innocent as thresholds
and smashed night birds, lovesick,
as empty elevators
let me declare doorways,
corners, pursuit, let me say
standing here in eyelashes, in
invisible breasts, in the shrinking lake
in the tiny shops of untrue recollections,
the brittle, gnawed life we live,
I am held, and held
the touch of everything blushes me,
pigeons and wrecked boys,
half-dead hours, blind musicians,
inconclusive women in bruised dresses
even the habitual grey-suited men with terrible
briefcases, how come, how come
I anticipate nothing as intimate as history
would I have had a different life
failing this embrace with broken things,
iridescent veins, ecstatic bullets, small cracks
in the brain, would I know these particular facts,
how a phrase scars a cheek, how water
dries love out, this, a thought as casual
as any second eviscerates a breath
and this, we meet in careless intervals,
in coffee bars, gas stations, in prosthetic
conversations, lotteries, untranslatable
mouths, in versions of what we may be,
a tremor of the hand in the realization
of endings, a glancing blow of tears
on skin, the keen dismissal in speed
1From thirsty by Dionne Brand. Published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.