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Thirsty Paperback – Apr 16 2002
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"... in the city there is no simple love / or simple fidelity, the heart is slippery / the body convulsive with disguises...." The 33 linked, untitled poems in Dionne Brand's Thirsty tell the agitated lyric tale of a father shot by the police in his own home, "thirsty" his last word, spoken as he dies. He thirsts for all those things he never had, will never have. A raw sense of absence echoes through these pages in the repetition of words for loss: abandonment, discarded, emptied, nothing, vanish, withdrawal, disappearance, departure.
A mother and a daughter remain, wounded and scarred in different ways, sorting out the bits and pieces of the city, "hurtling" into the rest of their lives. Often Brand's language is electric: "dance floors would bleed from the knife of her dress" and "she can ... illuminate / the dead street just opening her mouth." Brand talks about the "rough sonancy" of the city's sounds and says it would be a mistake "to take it as music." But the urban jangle by way of the Caribbean can be heard in many lines: "wracked on the psalmody of the crossroad" and "gardens of beans, inshallahs under the breath, / querido, blood fire, striving stilettoed rudbeckia." These are not easy poems, depicting as they do concrete urban realities and personal suffering--but, with their effusive language, they often break through into light. --Mark Frutkin
This could have been such a different book, such a different poem. It could have been more proximate and political like Land to Light On or No Language is Neutral if the poet who here roams the psychogeography of Toronto had taken up a different office, had taken sides. She didn't, though the poem's embedded narrative of a black man shot by police outside his home, echoing the city's recent history, provided opportunities. Instead, Thirsty is stunningly calm, full of a peace that seems, on reflection, the natural evolution of Brand's poetic persona. It comes right out of Land to Light On, where that persona seemed compelled to confront or convey, even to suffer everything dire. That confrontation can be merciless, "[t]he body bleeds only water and fear when you survive / the death of your politics," and Thirsty benefits from the enabling abdication of that suffering in the previous book: "Look. What I know is this. I'm giving up. / No offense. I was never committed. Not ever, to offices / or islands, continents, graphs, whole cloth, these sequences / or even footsteps." So Thirsty is a different book, even a peaceful book, and marvelously so.
Brand marks the difference in lists. Details are named, gathered by an inclusive vision, but nothing feels "read" for some purpose outside the significance of the moment or scene. XV for example is a list of noun clauses prefaced by definite articles defining "a city" (indefinite) as "hope gone hard": "The blind houses, the cramped dirt, the broken / air, the sweet ugliness, the blissful and tortured / flowers, ..." Perspective infuses novel collocations ("inconclusive women in bruised dresses") and seeds the whole scope of political possibility in Brand's composite portrayal of both city and story. Even then, she hitches, her language marking moments of reconsideration. Not just anyone, but "Anyone, anyone can find themselves on a street corner / eclipsed," repetition marking the recognition of wider implications. Sparse punctuation focuses attention on Brand's other strategies as voice determines sentence structureor really, the ear recognizes syntactic units like sentences in sound. Those lists and hesitant hitches give the voice a grace that conveys serene accord with "the ordinariness of the city / the stream and crash of things lived," even with "someone's life falling apart," and there is something very satisfying in hearing Brand turn urban sage.
Chris Jennings (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada
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