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Speaking of Power

The Poetry of Di Brandt

By Di Brandt
Edited by Tanis MacDonald
Subjects Literary Criticism, Canadian Literature
Series Laurier Poetry Hide Details
Paperback : 9780889205062, 72 pages, April 2006


because we cannot meet on father ground by Di Brandt

since we cannot meet on father ground

our father's land as sister & brother ever

let's imagine a new place between us

slightly suspended in air but yet touching

earth an old tree house full of weather

or an ark its ancient hull gleaming

remembering the rains let's gather our

belongings & our children & meet at the

river this will be a new country love &

crossing the field to greet you i will lay

my old weapons down & wait if you are

there with me under the harvest moon

we will look in each other's eyes without

speaking our hands will shake & the great

wooden door will begin creaking open at

last since we cannot meet

Excerpt from the Introduction by Tanis MacDonald

The importance of Di Brandt's poetry to Canadian literature cannot be overestimated. Her work broaches complex and volatile subject matter, and is valued for her assertion that poetry must be, at its core, concerned with the political power of language. Acclaimed for her lyric sensibility and rebellious inquiry into the power of language, Brandt explores cross-cultural concepts of justice and the ecopoetic relationship between land and spirituality. Her stylistic and formal innovations distinguish her as part of a group of women writers that began working with feminist poetics in the 1980s, searching for ways to write the female body, and challenge Western literature as a patriarchal tradition. . . . With their arresting line breaks and demanding syntax, Brandt's poems have an insistent, oracular quality that pulls the reader into an inquiry about the power of speech in Western civilization. Although much of her poetry is intentionally disquieting, the disturbance Brandt creates is never gratuitous; for her, writing poetry means nothing less than discovering where the power in language is located. Politics, in Brandt's poetry, may be defined as a series of decisions about who has the privilege of speech and who does not ultimately, who lives and who dies.

Demonstrating a willingness to let the silence speak as a critique of institutions that perpetuate oppression, Brandt's poetic inquiry has grown into an urgent discussion about the future of the planet, wrought through her concern with a corporate, and often corporeal, abuse of power. Her ethics of interconnection emphasize that no action or word can exist in brutal isolation or untouchable transcendence, and assert that the fabric of individual existence is deeply interdependent upon all forms of life on earth. Brandt's concept of her double identity, as poet and critic, as Mennonite and feminist, as mother and daughter, performs its own interconnections, and grants her access to a grand vision of beauty and regenerative hope. Brandt's work is best read as a lyrical arc rather than individual poems, for each of her concerns resonates with an adjoining issue: feminism with religion; belief with language; power with gender. The poems selected for this collection emphasize the connections between people, between love and loss, between anger and grief, between personal accountability and collective adversity. By clarifying these complexities without simplifying them, Brandt's poetry sings with a voice that is pressured by desperate circumstances but predicates a better world with its ecstatic music.


Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Speaking of Power: The Poetry of Di Brandt, selected with an introduction by Tanis MacDonald

Foreword | Neil Besner

Biographical Note

Introduction | Tanis MacDonald

when i was five

but what do you think my father says

say to yourself each time

my mother found herself one late summer

missionary position (1)

missionary position (5)

mother why didnt you tell me this

you prepare a banquet in your mind

since we cannot meet on father ground

nonresistance, or love Mennonite style

prairie hymn

why she can’t write the mother

let me tell you, dear reader

completely seduced

what de Englische

the letters i wrote & didn’t

poem for a guy who’s

death is a good argument

today i spit out God & Jesus

& it amuses us to think

Jerusalem, the golden, city of my dreams

there are no words in me for Gaza

how long does it take to forget a murder

here, in the desert

how badly she wants peace

Zone: ⪦le Détroit> 1

Zone: ⪦le Détroit> 2

Here at the heart of the ravaged heart

Dog days in Maribor: Anti (electric) ghazals

Not ungrateful for the attempt at proper

Afterword: You pray for the rare flower to appear | Di Brandt



Speaking of Power: The Poetry of Di Brandt introduces the reader to the lyric power and political urgency of the poetry of Di Brandt, providing an overview of her poetry written during a prolific and revolutionary twenty-year period.

Beginning with her early poetic inquiries into the dynamics of gender, religion, and the politics of language, Brandt examines the use and abuse of power as a cultural issue, emphasizing cross-cultural and domestic relationships. Particularly engaged with questions of motherhood, the land, violence and reparation, feminism, and spirituality, Brandt explores ecopoetics, an ecology of poetry, as a possible antidote to the cultural despair of the twenty-first century.

Editor Tanis MacDonald’s introduction outlines the major movements of Brandt’s work, emphasizing the relationship of language to power and the value of a dissenting voice in a forceful cultural poetics. An afterword by Brandt completes the volume.


``The introductions and afterwords, if done properly, can help the first-time reader to contextualize and grapple with the imaginative and intellectual material they are about to encounter. These essays can be invaluable in helping the new reader to get a broad enough sense of the poet in question to be able to read the poems from a slightly more informed perspective. '' (about the Laurier Poetry series) ``I found MacDonald's introduction to Speaking of Power: The Poetry of Di Brandt to be very illuminating. Her research was impeccable, and well-suited to the fiery, furious, rebellious poetry it sets up. MacDonald deftly summarizes the arc of Brandt's intense career, emphasizing her (Brandt's) belief that `poetry must be, at its core, concerned with the political power of language' (ix), as well as her decidedly feminist and radically spiritual ecopoetics. ... In her afterword, Brandt rais[es] the question, are we, as a society, simply too comfortable to be disturbed by poetry's insistent voice? Too well-fed? When will we care? asks Brandt. ...Her afterword is both emotionally and intellectually stimulating. ...Here is poetry (and a poet) with a vision. ...Can I get a `hell yeah'? And a `hell yeah' for MacDonald too. ...Poetry like Brandt's. ..deserves the larger audience WLUP is attempting to win for it. I am crossing my fingers, and hoping that it succeeds. ''

- Jennifer Houle, PoetryReviews, September 2006

``The quest for a wider audience for poetry may be quixotic, but this series makes a serious attempt to present attractive, affordable selections that speak to contemporary interests and topics that might engage a younger generation of readers. Yet it does not condescend, preferring to provide substantial and sophisticated poets to these new readers. At the very least, these slim volumes will make very useful introductory teaching texts in post-secondary classrooms because they whet the appetite without overwhelming. ''

- Paul Milton, Canadian Literature, 193, Summer 2007

``The books are fairly slim (ranging from fifty-six to eighty pages), but each provides a decent outline of the respective poet's career, style, and dominant concerns. The introductory essays are straightforward and informative--they provide a useful interpretive framework for anyone coming to this poetry for the first time. These volumes seem designed for students and educators; each offers a more complete picture of the poet than one would get from an anthology. ''

- University of Toronto Quarterly, Letters in Canada 2006, Volume 77, Number 1, Winter 2008