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  • Thirsty
  • Written by Dionne Brand
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780771016448
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Thirsty

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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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poetry (10)
poetry (10)
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

This is a poem about the city. 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.

Excerpt

I

This city is beauty
unbreakable and amorous as eyelids,
in the streets, pressed with fierce departures,
submerged landings,
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



A Word about the Poem by Franca Bernabei
“This city is beauty.” With this striking affirmation Dionne Brand opens her text to the city and immediately places the reader in the scenario of Toronto. In the long poem thirsty, Toronto will become the absolute subject and agent of her spatial critique. This critique connects the lyrical “I,” the city, and the poetic text through a sapient play of prosodic rhythms and phonetic, syntactic and semantic trajectories. In its turn, the polarized — but intersecting — social contextualization of the multi-ethnic urban site both shapes and pulverizes the discourse of the self. A self whose inner, reflexive itinerary will crisscross the restless, tragic route of Alan, a West Indian immigrant killed by the police; those of the women making up his family; and the daily routes of the suburban dwellers and the inner-city immigrants.

In the first two stanzas of this introductory poem, the self “declares” both its “innocent” condition of liminality and suspension with respect to the “fierce departures” and “submerged landings” that occur in the streets of Toronto, and its will to speak and make the city known. The shifts of grammatical subject (“this city,” “I am,” “let me,” “we,” “I”), the different speech acts and verbal modes, and two distinct but converging constellations of images — one referring to the body (“eyelids,” “eyelashes,” “breasts,” “brittle,” “gnawed lives”), the other to features of the city space (“streets,” “thresholds,” “elevators,” “doorways,” “corners,” “shops”) — mark above all the porous boundaries between the “unbreakable” and “amorous” beauty of Toronto and the surrendering “lovesickness” of the speaker’s body. This porosity then invests the “I”’s relation to the other urban dwellers, with whom it shares a peculiar form of intimacy: the spatial specificity of a city — as we will learn later — “that never happened before.”

In the third stanza it becomes even more evident that this particular urban site is a space of contingency which not only captures the “I” with its beauty but also holds it by means of its heterogeneous singularities which constantly intrude on and question the “private” space of the self. Furthermore, the shift from object (“blushes me,” a transitive verb) to subject (“I”) prepares for the move from indicative to interrogatory in stanza IV, in which the present tense of the “I” is related to a past that perhaps might have had a different outcome in another context. Once again, a chain of bodily images transmits the reception (actually, the “embrace”) on the part of the “body-self” of an “iridescent” medley — note the purring of alliterations and assonances here — that composes the city. Note also how the puzzled mood of the speaker is modulated through the use of repetition (“I am held and held,” “how come, how come,” “would I…would I”). And this special form of availability/vulnerability is further qualified in the last stanza. Here the “I” becomes “we” again, in order to emphasize that Toronto’s urban milieu is composed of the distribution and dispersal of people’s everyday paths and routines, their contingent and fugitive encounters, unsatisfactory translations, and acts of camouflage or discardings of previous identities. The city is a composition which simultaneously absorbs and dispels, binds and loosens.

As we will learn in the course of this long poem, the collective “we” is made up of a recalcitrant multitude which contributes to the city’s “murmurous genealogy” and refuses to coalesce. Gathered under the all-encompassing figure of a “vagrant, fugitive city,” and reinforced by the metaphors of “thirst” and “falling,” these intersecting, disenfranchised bodies breach the “I”’s singularity and compel it to confront itself through its own alteration and embrace a conflictual ethics (a politics?) of accountability and compassion. As the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy has pointed out, the modern city is not so much a civitas (a community of citizens) as it is a place in which something takes place that is different from place. And yet, Dionne Brand’s remapping of the metropolitan paradigm suggests that the uneasy and volatile proximity of Toronto’s (im)possible citizens, their mobile geography of looks and glances, or even of bodies brushing up against one another, and “hyphenating” the streets in which they transit, may be capable of establishing new and perhaps incommensurable spaces of negotiation, transformation, and representation.

Franca Bernabei — University of Ca’Foscari, Venice
Dionne Brand

About Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand - Thirsty

Photo © Jason Chow

As a young girl growing up in Trinidad, Dionne Brand submitted poems to the newspapers under the pseudonym Xavier Simone, an homage to Nina Simone, whom she would listen to late at night on the radio. Brand moved to Canada when she was 17 to attend the University of Toronto, where she earned a degree in Philosophy and English, a Masters in the Philosophy of Education and pursued PhD studies in Women’s History but left the program to make time for creative writing.

Dionne Brand first came to prominence in Canada as a poet. Her books of poetry include No Language Is Neutral, a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, and Land to Light On, winner of the Governor General’ s Award and the Trillium Award and thirsty, finalist for the Griffin Prize and winner of the Pat Lowther Award for poetry. Brand is also the author of the acclaimed novels In Another Place, Not Here, which was shortlisted for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Trillium Award, and At the Full and Change of the Moon. Her works of non-fiction include Bread Out of Stone and A Map to the Door of No Return.

What We All Long For was published to great critical acclaim in 2005. While writing the novel, Brand would find herself gazing out the window of a restaurant in the very Toronto neighbourhood occupied by her characters. “I’d be looking through the window and I’d think this is like the frame of the book, the frame of reality: ‘There they are: a young Asian woman passing by with a young black woman passing by, with a young Italian man passing by,” she says in an interview with The Toronto Star. A recent Vanity Fair article quotes her as saying “I’ve ‘read’ New York and London and Paris. And I thought this city needs to be written like that, too.”

In addition to her literary accomplishments, Brand is Professor of English in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph.
Awards

Awards

WINNER 2006 Harbourfront Festival Prize
Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand Events>

Dionne Brand - Thirsty

Photo © Jason Chow

10/25/2014 Vancouver Writers Fest, Rules of Engagement, Performance Works
writersfest.bc.ca
Vancouver, BC
5:00 pm
Confirmed
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10/25/2014 Vancouver Writers Fest, The Way We Live Now, Studio 1398
writersfest.bc.ca
Vancouver, BC
10:30 am
Confirmed
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10/29/2014 Ottawa Writers Festival.
writersfestival.org
Ottawa, ON

Confirmed
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11/1/2014 IFOA, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W.
ifoa.org/events
Toronto, ON
3:00pm
Confirmed
Map It
11/2/2014 IFOA, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W.
ifoa.org/events
Toronto, ON
2:00pm
Confirmed
Map It

  • Thirsty by Dionne Brand
  • April 16, 2002
  • Poetry
  • McClelland & Stewart
  • $17.99
  • 9780771016448

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