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Toronto’s new poet laureate excoriated by National Post

October 13, 2009

The City of Toronto this past week appointed Dionne Brand as poet laureate. And right on cue, National Post writer, Marni Soupcoff, excoriated not only Brand but also the idea of public funds expended to support such a position.  Soupcoff  studied at the prestigious Writing Seminars at John Hopkins University and also took a law degree at Stanford.

Acclaimed writer Dion Brand.

Acclaimed writer and poet Dionne Brand.

As an emerging poet/lawyer, I’d give my eye-teeth to be accepted at Hopkins, and of course Stanford is pretty grand, so:

hats off/ to Soupcoff (sorry, couldn’t resist.)

But her crisply written, witty piece filled me with a kind of despair for its viciousness toward Brand, a poet whose work and vision, while not everyone’s cup of tea, pulses with energy.

Brand won the Governor-General’s award (1997). Her poem, thirsty, short listed for the Griffin Poetry Prize (2003), is a long poem about a man dying, shot by the Toronto police in his own front yard. Soupcoff dismisses the piece with, “I’m sure our boys in blue are giddy with excitement about getting to share the city payroll with the new laureate.”

Here’s a fragment from Dionne Brand’s thirsty.

“the touch of everything blushes me,
pigeons and wrecked boys,
half-dead hours, blind musicians,
inconclusive women in bruised dresses
even the habitual grey-suited men with terrible
briefcases, how come, how come
I anticipate nothing as intimate as history”

Toronto will pay Brand about $10,000 for her three year term.

Our nation’s current poet laureate is Pierre DesRuisseaux. Happily, I have no idea of his political views nor the amount of his stipend. You can find out about Canadian poet laureates here. The idea of a publicly funded poet laureate, although not ubiquitous in Canada, is starting to catch on: Edmonton, Vancouver, Halifax, New Westminster. A waste of taxpayers’ money?

What would Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s new poet laureate,  make of the Soupcoffian position, that being laureate is “a job no outspoken poet would want?

For the first time in 341 years, the Mother Country chose a woman. Did I mention that Duffy is a lesbian from Glasgow?  The tough minded British press seems to think she’s all right. She will receive a stipend of $8, 500 a year. Duffy will appear later this month in Vancouver for a reading and I’ll be there.

Upon acceptance of her post, Brand spoke of Toronto “in its multiplicity/constantly rich and surprising.”

Soupcoff/scoffs this lovely line away with, “I can’t tell you what she’s talking a bout because I have no idea.” Hmm. Maybe when you’re at John Hopkins you forget it’s  in B-A-L-T-I-M-O-R-E?

But let us not stew/in the world view/ of the National post.

I send to Toronto’s new poet laureate and to poets everywhere, a few of my favorite lines from Duffy’s poem, The Long Queen: “What was she queen of? Women, girls/spinsters and hags, matrons, wet nurses/witches, widows, wives, mothers of all these./Her word of law was in their bones, in the graft/of their hands, in the wild kicks of their dancing.”

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2009 1:17 pm

    well i never! Dang you Harvard men – i like that end/stopped/rhyme scheme. The next time i run into Mr. Coherence, I will tell him to make a stop-over in Edmonton.

    • corsullivan permalink*
      October 15, 2009 12:29 pm

      Despite myself, I can’t wait to tell my girlfriend that you instinctively personified Coherence as male. 🙂

      • October 17, 2009 8:16 pm

        you two make me laugh – thanks for this – it’s made a dark night in Ottawa a little brigher

  2. corsullivan permalink*
    October 14, 2009 12:36 pm

    Though Toronto needs a laureate,
    The choice of Brand it may regret:
    She can work herself into mighty strops
    Over thirsty people shot by cops,
    But can she cool down her brains
    To share the city’s joys and pains,
    And even sometimes sing its praises,
    With verse that pleases and amazes?

    Mind you, she seems like a much better choice than Edmonton’s “Cadence Weapon“. That guy wouldn’t know coherence if it kicked him in the face, which it probably should.

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