Di Brandt


Griffin Poetry Prize 2004
Canadian Shortlist

Book: Now You Care

Poet: Di Brandt

Publisher: Coach House Books

Click here to read and listen to an excerpt.



Di Brandt’s poetry has received many awards, including the Gerald Lampert Award, the McNally Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year Award and the CAA National Poetry Award. She has been twice shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and has been nominated for the Commonwealth Poetry Prize and the Pat Lowther Award. Now You Care is her fifth collection of poetry and has also been shortlisted for the 2004 Trillium Book Award and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Among her other publications are questions i asked my mother (1987); Agnes in the sky (1990); mother, not mother (1992); Wild Mother Dancing: Maternal Narrative in Canadian Literature (1993); Jerusalem, beloved (1995) and Dancing naked: Narrative Strategies for Writing Across Centuries (1996). Selected anthologies include Section Lines: A Manitoba Anthology (1988); Making a Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literature (Oxford University Press, 1996) and Uncommon Wealth: an Anthology of Poetry in English (Oxford University Press, (1996).

Brandt grew up in Reinland, a Mennonite farming village in south central Manitoba and was one of the first women writers to break the public silence of Mennonite women in Canada. She taught English and Creative Writing at the University of Winnipeg from 1986-1995, and currently teaches Creative Writing and Canadian Literature at the University of Windsor. She recently spent a year living and writing in Berlin. She is a former poetry editor of Prairie Fire and a founding member of the feminist editorial collective of Contemporary Verse II.

Judges’ Citation

Di Brandt manages beautifully the difficult job of producing poems that are socially conscientious without being didactic. She knows that the best poetry rests on the authority of the heart. Thus, she makes her readers care not only through the pleasures of form and crafted language, but also through the risky honesty of her articulations.”

Di Brandt reads from Zone: le Détroit

From Zone: le Détroit, by Di Brandt

From Zone: le Détroit

after Stan Douglas


Breathing yellow air
here, at the heart of the dream
of the new world,
the bones of old horses and dead Indians
and lush virgin land, dripping with fruit
and the promise of wheat,
overlaid with glass and steel
and the dream of speed:
all these our bodies
crushed to appease
the 400 & 1 gods
of the Superhighway,
NAFTA, we worship you,
hallowed be your name,
here, where we are scattered
like dust or rain in ditches,
the ghosts of passenger pigeons
clouding the silver towered sky,
the future clogged in the arteries
of the potholed city,
Tecumseh, come back to us
from your green grave,
sing us your song of bravery
on the lit bridge over the black river,
splayed with grief over the loss
of its ancient rainbow coloured
fish swollen joy.
Who shall be fisher king
over this poisoned country,
whose borders have become
a mockery,
blowing the world to bits
with cars and cars and trucks and electricity and cars,
who will cover our splintered
bones with earth and blood,
who will sing us back into –


See how there’s no one going to Windsor,
only everyone coming from?
Maybe they’ve been evacuated,
maybe there’s nuclear war,
maybe when we get there we’ll be the only ones.
See all those trucks coming toward us,
why else would there be rush hour on the 401
on a Thursday at nine o’clock in the evening?
I counted 200 trucks and 300 cars
and that’s just since London.
See that strange light in the sky over Detroit,
see how dark it is over Windsor?
You know how people keep disappearing,
you know all those babies born with deformities,
you know how organ thieves follow tourists
on the highway and grab them at night
on the motel turnoffs,
you know they’re staging those big highway accidents
to increase the number of organ donors?
My brother knew one of the guys paid to do it,
$100,000 for twenty bodies
but only if the livers are good.
See that car that’s been following us for the last hour,
see the pink glow of its headlights in the mirror?
That’s how you know.
Maybe we should turn around,
maybe we should duck so they can’t see us,
maybe it’s too late,
maybe we’re already dead,
maybe the war is over,
maybe we’re the only ones alive.


So there I am, sniffing around
the railroad tracks
in my usual quest for a bit of wildness,
weeds, something untinkered with,
goldenrod, purple aster, burdocks,
defiant against creosote,
my prairie blood surging
in recognition and fellow feeling,
and O god, missing my dog,
and hey, what do you know,
there’s treasure here
among these forgotten weeds,
so this is where they hang out,
all those women’s breasts
cut off to keep our lawns green
and dandelion free,
here they are, dancing
their breastly ghost dance,
stirring up a slight wind in fact
and behaving for all the world
like dandelions in seed,
their featherwinged purple nipples
oozing sticky milk,
so what am I supposed to do,
pretend I haven’t seen them
or like I don’t care
about all these missing breasts,
how they just vanish
from our aching chests
and no one says a word,
and we just strap on fake ones
and the dandelions keep dying,
and the grass on our lawns
gets greener and greener
and greener


This gold and red autumn heat
this glorious tree splendour,
splayed out for sheer pleasure
over asphalt and concrete,
ribbons of dark desire
driving us madly toward death,
perverse, presiding over
five o’clock traffic
like the queens on Church Street
grand in their carstopping
high heels and blond wigs
and blue makeup, darling,
so nice to see you, and what,
dear one, exactly was the rush?
Or oceans, vast beyond ridicule
or question, and who care if it’s
much too hot for November,
isn’t it gorgeous, darling,
and even here, in this
most polluted spit of land
in Canada, with its heart
attack and cancer rates,
the trees can still knock
you out with their loveliness
so you just wanna drop
everything and weep, or laugh,
or gather up the gorgeous
leaves, falling, and throw yourself
into them like a dead man,
or a kid, or dog,


O the brave deeds of men!
M*E*N, that is, they with phalli
dangling from their thighs,
how they dazzle me with
their daring exploits
every time I cross the Detroit River,
from down under, I mean,
who else could have given
themselves so grandly,
obediently, to this water god,
this fierce charlatan,
this glutton for sailors and young boys,
risking limbs and lives, wordlessly,
wrestling primordial mud
so that we, mothers and maids,
could go shopping across the border
and save ourselves twenty minutes
coming and going, chatting about
this and that, our feet never
leaving the car, never mind
the mouth of the tunnel
is haunted by bits and fragments
of shattered bone and looking
every time like Diana’s bridge
in Paris, this is really grand, isn’t it,
riding our cars under the river
and coming out the other side
illegal aliens, needing passports,
and feeling like we accomplished
something, snatched from
our busy lives, just being there

From Now You Care, by Di Brandt
Copyright © 2003

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