By RON FANFAIR
Trinidad & Tobago-born novelist and poet Dionne Brand has won one of the world’s richest poetry prizes.
The City of Toronto Poet Laureate captured the prestigious $65,000 award last week for her collection – Ossuaries – which is a narrative of a woman living an underground life, fleeing from past actions and regrets in a perpetual state of movement.
Brand was stunned when she was announced as the Canadian winner.
“Are you sure?” she inquired when her name was announced.
Scott Griffin founded the prize 11 years ago to encourage excellence in poetry.
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.”
This was Brand’s second Griffin nomination, having been selected a finalist in 2003 for thirsty which won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award and was also a finalist for the Trillium Book Award.
As a young girl growing up in T & T, Brand submitted poems to the local newspapers under the pseudonym Xavier Simone as homage to late American singer/songwriter Nina Simone whom she listened to late at night on radio.
Brand, 58, 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 Award in 1997 and a Trillium Book Award. She has also contributed to 17 anthologies, written dozens of articles and essays and made four documentaries for the National Film Board.
In 2006, Brand was honoured with the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the world of books and writing.