Di Brandt’s Speaking of Power (2006)

I came across Di Brandt’s work shortly after university when I was finally able to read what I wanted to read from the library shelves, my trusty alumnus card in hand, borrowing from the HQs and PRs like nobody’s business.

This was in the late 80s-early 90s and I was still using a typewriter; it wasn’t that home computers weren’t readily available at the time but it wasn’t in my freshly-graduated-from-uni budget. So no scanner, obviously, but still a full-page, typewritten, lingers in my notebook: one section of a Di Brandt book that I’d borrowed, worth typing out, at length.

Di Brandt’s words touched me and I knew she would be the perfect choice for Women Unbound reading even though I’d lost touch with her work in the intervening years.

But, still, I was shocked at how *perfectly* she fits the Women Unbound intent and I hope her works are readily available for other readers who are still considering other options for this challenge’s reading list. And, if you’re primarily a prose reader, who wants to try reading some/more poetry, Di Brandt’s work would be a great choice for that as well.

That’s actually where I started my Di Brandt, Women Unbound reading, with her poetry. It’s the kind of poetry that looks like carefully broken-up prose, lines stacked atop lines, stretching down the pages like nearly-neat newspaper columns; it doesn’t scream ‘stanzas’ (which sometimes I find a bit off-putting because I fall out of the habit of reading poetry even more quickly than I fall out of the habit of eating more kale), it suggests ‘stories’.

So I wasn’t worried. In fact, I realized quickly that I needed to narrow my choices because as much as I wanted to read every one of the poetry books, I knew March’s reading would demand a more selective approach.

So I chose Speaking of Power: The Poetry of Di Brandt, selected and with an introduction by Tanis MacDonald, which I thought might be more readily available than some of her collections. This series from Wilfrid Laurier Press, is designed to garner new poetry readers and begins with a short introductory essay (in this case, as in others in the series, written by another poet) and ends with an essay by the poet (in this case, Di Brandt herself).

The essays frame the poetry beautifully, mixing a somewhat academic approach that reveals the important role Brandt has filled as a feminist poet, with a more intimate voice in her own words, adding depth to the experience of reading the 30 poems between the two prose works.

On the back of Di Brandt’s first poetry collection (questions i asked my mother), Magdalene Redekop writes: “Read these poems and you’ll discover a Mennonite Eve stealing some breath for herself.” I

t’s been clear from the beginning that Di Brandt wants to make a space for women, even take a space, if necessary (Grace Kehler suggests Brandt’s poetic persona is a feminist version on the Aboriginal trickster).

She rebels against the tradition of silence that has oppressed women in literature, religion, culture and society, and she insists on raising her voice for women, for mothers and daughters, and for women’s bodies.

Reflecting on her experience as a poet, she says she is grateful to have come to poetry when experimentalism, postcolonialism and feminism were at a height in Canada in the 80s. “I am grateful to have come to it in a time of relative peace and prosperity, where I could risk asking forbidden questions without being killed for it,” she writes, although she and her daughters have been shunned by her community for her outspokenness and she writes that she has felt her life at risk at times.

“I am grateful to have come to poetry as a woman and as a mother, joyfully connected to the reproductive rhythms of the living earth, fearfully awakened to the possibilities of the future, the environmental dangers we now face on a global scale.” She embodies Women Unbound reading for me and I’ll have more to say about her prose work tomorrow.

Anyone else re-discover an old favourite lately and wish that their work was more widely available?

PS For those who read more poetry than I, here is the list of some poets Di Brandt admires: Leonard Cohen, John Thompson, Phyllis Webb, Dorothy Livesay, Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, René Char, Sappho, Robert Kroetsch, Martin Prechtel, Michael Ondaatje, Mari-Lou Rowley, Louise (Sky Dancer) Halfe, Libby Scheier, Lillian Allen, Hélène Cixous, Paul Célan, Rainer Maria Rilke, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Christopher Dewdney, Christian Bök, bpNichol, Patrick Friesen, Mahmoud Darwish, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, H.D., William Butler Yeats, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Mouré.