Dionne Brand

The Blue Clerk

Griffin Poetry Prize 2019
Canadian Shortlist

Book: The Blue Clerk

Poet: Dionne Brand

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Click here to read and listen to an excerpt.

Dionne Brand


Dionne Brand was born in Trinidad and is a poet, novelist, non-fiction writer, filmmaker, educator, and activist. She has written 10 previous books of poetry, and is a winner of the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, and a past winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize. She was Toronto’s third Poet Laureate from 2009-2012. In 2017 she was named to the Order of Canada. Brand is a Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph. She lives in Toronto.

Judges’ Citation

“Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk is many things at once: a book-length ars poetica; an act of memory and reconfiguration; an extended meditation (one that moves at times directly, at others by a kind of philosophical osmosis) touching on the realms of history, politics, race and gender; an internal, consciously curated and interrogated dialogue that manages to create a space for all of these. Expansive, beautifully written, structurally compelling, and above all moving, The Blue Clerk is a book to be read (and re-read), not just for the pleasures of its language, but for the breadth of its vision, and the capaciousness of its thinking.”

Dionne Brand reads Verso 13 and Verso 45

Verso 13

Blue tremors, blue position, blue suppuration. The clerk is considering blue havoc, blue thousands, blue shoulder, where these arrive from, blue expenses … The clerk hears humming in her ears; blue handling, she answers; any blue, she asks the author, any blue nails today? Did you send me, as I asked, blue ants? The author asks, blue drafts? Perhaps blue virus, blue traffic would make a sense, says the clerk, blue hinges, blue climbing, these would go together under normal circumstances. The author actually doesn’t hear a thing the blue clerk says under these circumstances when the blue clerk sits in the blue clerk’s place making the blue clerk’s language. Systolic blue, any day it will be blue now, reloading blue, blue disciplines. The blue clerk would like a blue language or a lemon language or a violet language.
Blue arrivals. Oh yes.

Verso 45

Who is this fucking Horace? Someone you once studied. Was forced to study you mean! Whatever, forced, made to, obliged, irrelevant. It’s all part of you now like so many gut microbes. You may be sanguine about it … For once the clerk laughs into a blood-blue hand, Sanguine, you might say that, like blood. Anyway you have a note from Horace somewhere. The clerk is only playing, she knows exactly where. She flits wraithlike, wrath-like, brushing gnats aways, a new infestation of snakes slough off their skins to make twine when she approaches. She traipses to the very back of the madrepore. The author hears her humming – a variation of irox, red oxide, sombre, rubia tinctorium. The clerk, despite the weight of things, loves her work or, one might say, because the clerk is a creation of the work she is indefinable from the work or, one might say, the work is indefinable from the clerk or, better still, the work is the clerk. And so the clerk, in this sense, when she is challenged or called upon to produce some misstep of the author, is happy. Here deep in the bales of paper she blows a sand of indecipherable-ness from a crumbling pile and skips back the long wharf to where the author stands. Rage, she quotes, Rage armed Archilochus with the iambic of his own invention. You used to love that line.

From The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand
Copyright © 2018 Dionne Brand

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Photo credit:
Dionne Brand, by Jason Chow