By RON FANFAIR
Award-winning poet, essayist and novelist Dionne Brand is one of seven finalists – three Canadians and four International – for this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize.
The Trinidad & Tobago-born author has been nominated for her book of poetry – Ossuaries – which is a narrative of a woman living an underground life, fleeing from past actions and regrets in a perpetual state of movement.
The three-member jury panel, which read 450 books of poetry – including 20 translations – from poets in 37 countries, hailed Brand’s first book of poetry in four years as a triumph.
“What Dionne Brand has done in Ossuaries is amazing,” said the judges in their citation. “Working with a novel-length narrative about the life of an activist named Yasmine who lives an underground existence on various continents, she has constructed a long poem which is not a traditional seamless epic nor a Poundian extended collage, but something else that seems quite new.
“The most remarkable part of her achievement is that in fulfilling the novelistic narrative ambition of her work, she has not sacrificed the tight lyrical coil of the poetic line. The story vaults us ahead with its emerging and receding characters, its passions and drama which include a violent bank robbery and tense escape while each line holds us and demands we admire its complex beauties. The sensation of hurtling and, at the same time, being caught is uncanny. Brand’s innovation on Ossuaries calls forth an entirely new sort of reading.”
Brand and the other finalists will read at The Royal Conservatory on May 31. They will each be awarded $10,000 for their participation in the shortlist readings. The Canadian and International winners, who will each receive $65,000, will be announced on June 1.
Brand came to Canada in 1970 to attend the University of Toronto where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and English and a Masters in the Philosophy of Education.
A professor of English at the University of Guelph’s School of English and Theatre Studies, Brand has penned 10 volumes of poetry, including Land to Light On which won both a Governor General and a Trillium Book award and Thirsty which received a Pat Lowther Memorial award. She has also contributed to 17 anthologies, written dozens of articles and essays and made four documentaries for the National Film Board.
Five years ago, Brand was honoured with the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the world of books and writing.
As Toronto’s Poet Laureate for the past two years, she attends events across the city to promote and attract people to the literary world and she’s mandated to create a legacy project for the city.
Last year, she was recognized with a University of the West Indies (UWI) vice-chancellor award at the university’s inaugural Toronto fundraising gala.