Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries
McClelland & Stewart, 2010

So with all my chatter about exercising, poetry muscles and otherwise, you might be relieved to know that I am, at last, beginning to get into shape.

Not only did I buy a poetry book but I walked to the store. I tell ya: pretty soon I’m going to be one of those poetry-obsessed-fitness-freaks that you pray not to get stuck in an elevator with. And I’ll be spouting verses that I’ve committed to memory when I’m getting you to sit on my feet so I can do a set of  stomach crunches while we wait to be rescued. Yah, you know the type.

And, it gets even better because I also bought the book at a bookstore I’ve been meaning to explore for more than a year: A Different Booklist, which promotes literature from across the African diaspora, the Caribbean, Asia and Latin America. I first heard about the shop on CBC’s “The Next Chapter” but it took months and months of thinking about going there, and a sunny spring day, and my mostly-frustrated-of-late poetry-reading aspirations to get me in the door of it.

And I did only buy one poetry book, but I bought four other books, of which you’ll likely hear more in coming months, two for me and two for the girls (some of Whoopi Goldberg’s Sugar Plum Ballerinas books). Oh, that does make it sound flighty doesn’t it: as though at any moment I could fall off the poetry wagon again because I’ve got four times as much fiction in the bookbag.

But no, this isn’t a sign of my lack of commitment to my future poetry-reading lunchhours; rather, I want to make sure that I re-fresh literally, reserving a tiny portion of the book-buying budget (oh, who am I kidding — trying to make it sound all lofty cuz it’s poetry — I am stealing from grocery budget as usual), so that I can choose something that appeals immediately and completely, to keep the habit in place until it’s comfy and auto-pilot-ish.

And, so far so bookishly good. I got Ossuaries to work and, since, have started both my in-house lunch-hours with verse. It’s simply wonderful and I’m enjoying it all the more for having bought and read her first novel, In Another Place, Not Here this weekend as well. I’m reminded how much I love to cluster
my reading, watch the themes overlap and interplay, recognize similarities and marvel at differences in tone and style.

It’s hard to pull from a long poem like this one, but here is a glimpse that pulled that novel to mind as I read:

“…the full ocean in my mouth, oh i longed, longed
for the deepest suicidal blue waters, I craved the seas,
where what was on earth could not scar me…”

And here is what the publisher has to say about this book:

“At the centre of Ossuaries is the narrative of Yasmine, a woman living an underground life, fleeing from past actions and regrets, in a perpetual state of movement. She leads a solitary clandestine life, crossing borders actual (Algiers, Cuba, Canada), and timeless. Cold-eyed and cynical, she contemplates the periodic crises of the contemporary world. This is a work of deep engagement, sensuality, and ultimate craft from an essential observer of our time and one of the most accomplished poets writing today.”

Here is one of her poems online, from an earlier collection, thirsty and here you can see/hear her read it (but it’s nothing compared to hearing her read in person: talk about an arresting presence). And here you can read one of her poems from her 2006 collection, Inventory.  When/If excerpts of this more recent collection are made available online, I will add the links here.

In the meantime, here you can order a copy of Ossuaries direct from McClelland & Stewart: come on, it’s probably a much longer walk to this bookshop from where you live, and you know you want it now.


PS Assuming this habit sticks, there will be a monthly review of poetry alongside the monthly short story (collection), the monthly magazine, the monthly literary biography/memoir.
::puts down book to rub palms::