Verso 33.1

by Dionne Brand

copyright ©2018 Dionne Brand

If I see a patch of corn, in front of a house as I did this morning, or a zinnia bed, or a wrecked mattress leaning on the side of a house, an emotion overtakes. Not one of sadness as you may imagine, you being you, but a familiarity, a grace of some weight. I might even say longing, because it occurs to me that in the zinnia, the desultory mattress, there used to be hope, not a big hope, but a tendril one for the zinnias’ success, or the mattress’ resurrection – the nights slept on it and the afternoons spent jumping on it. And then the scraggle of corn fighting waterless earth. A small, present happiness and an eternal hope, even also, joy.

If I see a patch of flowers near a road surviving heat and exhaust fumes and boots, a homesickness washes me and I am standing in the front yard looking at zinnias. The dire circumstances in the house behind, the material circumstances, the poverty, are part of this homesickness. Not because, one, the scarcity, and two, the zinnias, set each other off as some might think, but because they were the same.

Notes on the Poem

Our next set of Poem of the Week choices come from the three works on the Canadian 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. First, let's savour an evocative selection from The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand. "Verso 33.1" is the concluding piece in a collection that takes the reader through a rich exploration of what poetry is and what the multiple roles of the poet can be in bringing poetry to the world. That exploration wends its way through philosophy, psychology, history, politics, race, gender and more, but as an intellectual and artistic labyrinth of sorts, it is more welcoming than intimidating, even as it confronts and parses complex issues. When the reader comes to the end of this heady and challenging journey, it is almost startling to arrive at such humble and unlikely final images: "a patch of corn ... a zinnia bed ... a wrecked mattress leaning on the side of a house." These things are all so modest, so intimate, but they immediately strike a chord with all of us in some way. And yes, it turns out a veritable wave of emotions overtakes, as these words tumble out: "there used to be hope, not a big hope, but a tendril one for the zinnias' success, or the mattress' resurrection - the nights slept on it and the afternoons spent jumping on it. And then the scraggle of corn fighting waterless earth. A small, present happiness and an eternal hope, even also, joy." As unlikely metaphors for optimism, the corn, the zinnias and the mattress are ultimately so much more resonant because you simply don't expect them to evoke such emotional power. The 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize judges gave us a heads up, though, when they noted in their citation that The Blue Clerk is: "Expansive, beautifully written, structurally compelling, and above all moving" ... and by moving us with these surprising images, Brand has firmly and beautifully sewn up her discussion about how poetry and poets do what they do.

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