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Week 7 Readings, Brand and Brandt

October 22nd, 2012 by Colin Martin

Often mistaken because of the similarities of their names, these poets identify with quite different groups in Canada and beyond – what do their books tell you about those groups, those identities?

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  • I have to admit, Di Brant and Dionne Brand oddly similar names. Their poetry however, have very different styles. I really enjoyed the passion which inspired Brand to create her novel “No language is neutral.” She is able to recall her time as a women in Grenada. The women around her lived in a very patriarchical culture. Even the word “woman” is given a negative connotation. Brand’s mother had to face this culture. Her brother and her own mother were “spitting woman” at her to give up her aspirations.
    Women were treated as nothing more than an object of sex and cheap labour. On one page, Liney even wishes she could give up her sex and her womb. So much abuse has come purely from the fact that she is a woman. We see continually that these women look to water as a barrier, but also their passion. Dionne finds her way to Canada in the end, which allowed her to produce such a literary piece and expose the hardships she, and the people like her, have endured.

    Brandt’s novel is just a power and revealing. Di Brandt recalls her memory of a child in a mennonite culture. Her thoughts flow very well and give us an understanding of how she developed her sense of self. This is interesting for the fact that mennonites, as well as other branches of Christianity view a womans role to be quiet, passive, and obedient. But Brandt gives herself an identity of childlike innocence without being restrained from the joys of curiosity.

    I’m sure we will dig deeper into who Di Brandt indentifies herself with in the context of the broader Canadian indentity.

  • Di Brandt’s book tells us about her origins, that Mennonite community where she was born and left when she was seventeen. Her poetry explicitly questions Mennonite doctrine, especially as it concerns to women. Through it she expresses her resistance to the rigid patriarchal structures of the community in which she was raised. She depicts her community as “violent toward young children in childrearing and misogynist toward women”; such community that calls itself pacifist. Shouldn’t pacifism and respects get in the same direction? In Mennonite communities seem there’s no respect for women.

    Dionne Brand on the other hand recall memories of her childhood in the Caribbean, the way women where treated as mere objects. As the rope linking both author’s works seems to be the lack of respect toward women, in Brand’s words it widens itself matching with prejudice against black women and homosexuality too. When then she moved to Canada she gives voice to those identities such the minority, ethnic groups and immigrants for which was hard to get jobs and been respected because of their status. Her language has intense engagement with issues of social justice, including particularly issues of gender and race.

  • While I had hard time understanding, or reading Brand’s poems, I found it was much easier to read Brandt’s poems. Brandt’s poems contained many themes that a child, or an adult, would question when they find something not matching their knowledge. And the stream of consciousness made the poems much easier to relate to and feel what emotions has been put in. What happened in Brandt’s poems were something that I’ve experienced, well not necessarily on the same subjects, but the arguments with my parents and peers were something that I could relate to. And although I am not familiar with the particular religion of Mennonite, the religious curiosities were something I’ve had as well, and never got clear answers for them either. I’m non-religious, but many people around me are not and so does Canada as it is based on Christianity, and the religious questions naturally occurred to me. But there was not a clear answer for them, and the frustration, curiosity, and confusion in Brandt’s poems were very relatable. And this relation made the poems easier to read and understand.

    Brand’s poems were based on her experience that I had poor understanding of, and because of that I couldn’t understand her poems. Race was a huge theme in her poems, and not being black, the understanding was limited for me. There were many politically related poems too, tightly wounded to Canada’s history and events, and to understand them, background knowledge was needed.

    Kihyun Rah.

  • Oct. 27

    Di Brandt and Dionne Brand seem to share more similarities than just their names. Their poetry is intensely personal and feels as though it wants to be yelled out at times. It feels like the authors have been repressing their thoughts for years, and finally let them explode onto the pages of their books. You can notice the passion in their writing through their non-conformist writing styles.
    Dionne Brandt has a distinct accent in book “ No Language is Neutral”. She purposely writes in a Caribbean spoken style and doesn’t conform to the rules of English grammar. She constantly expresses the need to assert her identity throughout her book and uses her “native” language as a tool to accomplish it.
    In “Questions I Asked My Mother”, Di Brandt doesn’t even want grammar to get in the way of what she’s been waiting to say. She is tired of living by the rules imposed on her, so she shows it in her writing style. There are no periods, commas or quotation marks to be seen, which gives the poems an endless flow. It’s not always obvious who is saying what, or where one person’s sentence ends and the others begins. I think she does this to give the reader and insight into her curious mind and how it functions. The constant flow of questions and the never-ending search for answers shows the connections between them. She is expressing her thoughts and feelings in their purest form by refusing to confine them.

    Justin Neufeld

  • Di Brant and Dionne Brand while identifying with extremely different groups, both have a similar message. As I was reading both books I got the sense that these women had a struggle, that they both were fighting to deliver a message to people that was difficult not only to tell people about but to live out themselves. Di Brant had this large struggle with ” her lack of submission” to her cultural group, the Mennonites. Through out her book I felt that she was delivering a message to let people know about the experiences she went through not only as a Mennonite woman but also as one who defied the norm and was struggling to accept the concepts that she was expected to just accept as true. Dionne Brand in a similar way was focused on delivering the message to people that women were equal to men. She struggled to let people know that women should not be expected to bear so many burdens purely because they are woman. She was someone who saw a better future where women were treated equal and instead of being looked down on for ” the skill of (her) womb” would be appreciated for it.
    Another similarity that I saw while reading both of these books was that both books were written in an unusual way. I found the writing of both hard to follow. As I started to think about this though, I thought that maybe that in itself is a way in which the authors conveyed their messages. Not only is their writing unique, like the authors themselves, but both seem to sound uneducated at times. This might be because the women were exemplifying one of the struggles that they had to go through, as part of their cultures and identities, they were not seen as educated and therefor less deserving of an opinion.Both of these women however convey thought provoking ideas in their books and I believe that this is what sets them apart from the average writer and leads people to give their writing more thought. Though Di Brant and Dionne Brand both had such different up bringing and styles of writing, they still have enough in common that they can be seen as delivering a similar kind of message.

  • I will like to start with a poem because di brandt speaks from a heart of a mother. This poem is from Mennonite website.
    “You are the bows from
    which your children
    as living arrows are sent
    The archer sees the mark
    upon the path of the infinite
    and [God] bends you with
    go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the
    ancher’s hand be for
    for even as [God] loves the flies,
    So [God] loves also the bow that is stable”
    – Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet.(Source).
    I decided to shed a little bit of light or perhaps some thought on what role mother played in the life of his or her children. Then, i realize that Di Brant is a mother, a poet, a doctor and a wife. Why did i mentions all these attributes?, it is simply because the “Questions i asked my mother” explores many topics in which i narrow it down to metaphor. The literary piece focuses on the question a young women getiing to a marriageable age will ask her mother. She declared that Mum didn’t tell them that there are wolfs out there(Male protitutes) whose goal is to disvirgin or have sex and abandon their God given responsibilities and let women face bitter song. Di brandt is also leting reader’s know that there are men who does not understand women.Meanwhile, she regreted of not asking her mother by saying ” why didn’t you tell me this how everything alone in the middle of life becomes its opposite(page 55).This indicate that being a mother, a wife and worker is not always easy because marriage is not always sweet.Further, this informs the reader to ask their parents some question before launching for marriage.


  • November 7, 2012

    I am writing this post a bit late but I still wanted to get it up as I found both the books to be very interesting. The similarity in their names did throw me off a bit before I had actually read the poetry. Both their writing styles are unique and quite different from each other. Dionne Brand’s “No Language Is Neutral” was written with a lot of passion and soul. It was a recollection of her memories in the Caribbean island. She also discussed the hardships and struggles she faced being a black woman in Canada. Her poems dealt with racism, gender and sexuality.

    Di Brandt’s “Questions i asked my mother” is both fiction and non-fiction. She brings us back to her early life as a Mennonite woman. She uses a stream of consciousness as her writing style. There is no punctuation and it is almost like she is giving a rant. Through this style of writing you are able to get a better understanding of how she is feeling. Her story is inspirational because she is giving women a voice. She lived in a patriarchal society and she basically risked everything to speak out.

    Alyssa Mitha

  • God and baby Jesus (pronounced in spanish [haesus])

    Religion, I have read many books and poems in my life, and many have had a less than flattering view towards it. These readings sparked my curiosity and drove me on a pilgrimage to experience a service in any available church, to which there are many denominations. consistently I saw fear. Fear of outsiders, fear of other religions, fear of change, fear of science, fear of women, even fear of themselves. Strange. How can these institutions continue. All this fear began to rub off on to me, and I began to fear organized religion. Fear mongering is not isolated in religious institutions alone, entire countries run this way as well. Di Brandt’s book “Questions i asked my mother” exemplifies how fear and religion applied on a cultural level can enable totalitarianism within an entire community. Even the notion of shunning is preposterous without generations of instilled fear enforced through religion. Sheesh, reading this might lead you to believe that I am an atheist. I might be. I don’t deny religion is important, I just question organized religion; frankly, I think we all should. I mean, who does shunning serve? It is hurtful to the point of criminal for the shunned, and for the shunners, all it does is perpetuate the ignorance entrenched within its society. If I shunned everybody who pissed me off, I would have to sit alone in a room with no windows. Organized religion: hurtful, or, helpful. You decide.

  • Despite having such similar names, I found both authors to have paradoxically quite different yet simultaneously similar poetry.

    The content of the poetry by both authors was very individualized. I think for poetry to be as honest and raw as both these books were, it has to come from personal experience. Dionne Brand spoke about where she came from, Trinidad, often. She also discussed her race and sexuality because those are struggles she had to conquer in her life. Di Brandt on the other hand had very different life experiences. She discusses growing up in a Mennonite community and struggling to find a balance between her personal beliefs and those of her family. These women clearly come from two very different backgrounds, and that is evident in their poetry, but they both use their unique experiences to write creative and powerful poetry.
    As far as similarities go, the main one that I can think of is the empowerment of women through literature. Both authors are so honest with their use of words – and are not afraid of being judged for who they are or what they write. Brand is willing to express her thoughts on the marginalization of women and Brandt shows that women should not have to live their lives to accommodate to men’s “biological urges.” Clearly both women value equality among genders – and that is evident in their poetry.

  • I find both authors works to be quite similar yet entirely different. Both Brand and Brandt write about similar things, although in entirely different contexts. Each are in a society were women are abused for lack of a better word. Women in both instances are not treated fairly or with respect, as well they are often seen more as objects then individuals. Both of these women are also controlled, at times maybe not directly but none the less they are manipulated and coerced to follow guidelines and rules. In each book the to authors break free from their oppression and discover themselves as well as their sexuality. Yet both books are entirely different. The style of the writing, the location, the types of abuse and so on. This makes for an interesting comparison as well as an example of how writing style can have an enormous effect on poetry itself.

  • The idea that there is a silence communicated in poetry comes up and is significant in both ‘No Language is Neutral’ and ‘Questions I Asked My Mother.’

    Poets could choose either to omit words and information to create mystery or a feeling of incompleteness that compels the reader to think deeper about the issue. They could also be representing those people who are caught in the silence: the subalterns whose lives and stories have been unspoken.

    Dionne Brand speaks for (or as one of) those within the silence who have been labelled only based on qualities that don’t express the full measure of their personalities or abilities. She is categorized as a Lesbian, Woman, and a Black -all of which have been judged as inferior qualities. But in this book, she gives people in these classes a voice.

    Di Brandt uses silence a little differently. Throughout ‘Questions I asked my Mother,’ I thought of her mother as a silent figure even though she sometimes spoke and was constantly mentioned, but I can’t pin point why I inferred this. Maybe Brandt keeps her silent and almost like a 2-D character because in the poem ‘Questions I asked my Mother,’ she isn’t the one who answers the question, but the father. So maybe it is a way of taking power away from those who misuse and don’t deserve it.
    “Silence speaks
    Silence screams
    Silence talks louder than any word
    that cuts through the heart like a sword.”
    Milica Franchi De Luri: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/silence-272/

    Maybe the mother’s failure to speak love to her daughter (both verbally and through her actions) and defend her was worse than Brandt’s father’s constant degrading words.
    So through the book, like Brand, Brandt gives a voice that speaks for those who have been marginalized like herself.

  • Both Di Brandt and Donnie Brand focus on where they have come from, and how it has led them to where they are now. Donnie writes about the strong injustices that she has seen towards women throughout her life. She tends to portray men as villains. While both writers come from a “feminist” foundation, speaking about injustices and inequality for women, they do so in a very different way. Donnie tends to express a strong distaste for men due ot the treatment of women as nothing more than objects, and she expresses much stronger feelings of resentment throughout her poetry. Di Brandt tends to come off as a woman who is just realizing this inequality, and she does not seem to have the same level of resentment towards men.
    Di even seems to struggle with moving away from the world of inequality that she was raised in, when she attempts to integrate into a more gender-neutral society. Instead of blaming the men in her life, she tends to blame her mother for not fighting for her rights and for constantly submitting. I enjoyed reading Di Brandt far more than I enjoyed reading Donnie Brand.

  • I enjoyed reading Di Brandt’s book more than i did reading Dionne Brand’s. Both women come from different backgrounds and are trying to integrate into canadian society.
    Dionne Brand’s book shows us how uncomfortable she was moving from Trinidad to Canada. She was faced with numerous barriers stopping her from fully appreciating where she was now living. People usually move to Canada from another country to live a better life, but these barriers made it almost impossible.
    Di Brandt comes from a Mennonite family where the church and their teachings is what is right and followed, and never to be questioned. Yet even with her family; especially her dad’s disapproval, she continues to question everything she is taught. Her curiosity allows her to find what it is that she wants to be and wants to do.

    Aingela Carlos

  • When I was looking over the course materials on the first day, I did mistake it as the same author, just different novels. Little did I know, these two authors were completely different. One was from the free flowing, carefree Caribbean Islands, the other from a strict upbringing of a Mennonite colony. What the two do have in common is that they left their childhood comforts to join the new culture of Canada’s society.

    Although Di Brandt came from a society in Canada, it was a closed society that was not part of the social community of the big cities. She left a world she was familiar with, a world of rules and severe consequences. In one way, by leaving the Mennonite community, it was like leaving a small country because it was such a close knit community.

    For Dionne Brand, she left her small country for big city Toronto. It was a completely different setting physically, socially and emotionally. In Brand’s book I get the idea of a laid back community and very connected to the nature. In Brandt’s book, I get the feeling that god is a very strong figure in the community and everything can be related to the bible.

    The two authors may have similar names and similar situations, but the two groups from where they came from couldn’t be more different.

  • These two poets may have very different methods of writing and have stark differences in their upbringing, but they have a very similar perspective in regards to the treatment of women. Brandt hails from the Mennonite community of Reinland, where males are at the top of the hierarchy, sputing religious dogma and repressing the women. Brand, being a black immigrant to Canada, brings a foreign outlook on the treatment of women; especially from white males. Even with their origins being separate, the two have common ground in their ideology.

    Di Brandt, in questions i asked my mother, evokes a sense of childlike naivety and how daunting and repressive a religious, patriarchal Mennonite society can be for a young girl. She uses male figures to enact the oppression of females: in most situations they are reprimanding women for questioning or disobeying their rule. This reprimanding takes on many forms, from vocal abuse to sexual abuse. Brandt also creates an objectified woman throughout the book, wherein men often over-sexualize women, which can create psychological issues for those who have been abused. In Brandt’s case, coming first hand from a stifling, male-dominant community, the solution to activating the woman within requires an escape from the repressive society.

    In No Language Is Neutral, Dionne Brand conjures a similar setting. The subjects of her poems are comprised largely of, if not all, women. They undergo foul treatment at the hands of white superiors in often humiliating ways. Rape, assault, humiliation are a just a sample of the atrocities her subjects withstand. This treatment is an ascribed status because of the patriarchal society women are brought up in. Brand believes that the true self-actualization of a woman must come as an identity separate from this flawed society. She uses a woman abandoning her roles as a mother to exemplify this ideal. As soon as a woman removes herself from the prescribed notions of what it means to be a woman, then they will begin to unfurl the true essence of womanhood.

    Although their styles are quite different, Brandt favouring breathless streams of run-on sentences and Brand using cryptic, emotion-bound word choice, their ideas are ultimately similar. The repressed woman has the nagging desire to escape from their male-dominant confinement in order to activate their own voice, their own image, their own worth.

  • Although Dionne Brand and Di Brand have very similar names, their writing styles and poetry differ greatly. Dionne Brands poetry in “No Language Is Neutral” discusses the hard life woman endure and the mistreatment woman have went through. On the contrary, Di Brant’s poetry in “Questions I asked my mother” examines her life as a young girl growing up in a Mennonite family.

    Dionne Brand discusses the return of slavery oppression of women, along with the mistreatment of women in general. The setting she abides in is a large city setting that is relaxed and generally accepting of all religious views, but a predominately Christian community.

    Di Brant examines her life growing up and the struggles she endure in a Mennonite family, with many different views than her father especially. Di Brandt being a writer, obviously showed an early interest in literature and the meaning behind it, but her father’s belief is that she is wasting her time with all this nonsense and should be more committed to her family and religion. The closed community of the Mennonites was a struggle for Brant and she evidentially left the community. Consequentially, she was shunned by everyone in the community and underwent a massive change when she moved to a larger community.

    Both authors provide excellent literature and have established themselves as great Canadian writers, but as proven above they possess great differences in their lives and writing.

    William Maunsell

  • Coming from drastically different backgrounds, Dionne Brand and Di Brandt closely mirror more than just their names (bazinga…). As females each growing up in an oppressive environment, directed by patriarchal rule, they both had to actively oppose and flee from the conditioning of their early authorities.

    Dionne Brand’s writing in “No Language is Neutral” has more of an emphasis on her female muses, and her identity as a black, gay woman. She describes the initial conditions she was subject to while living in her native country, as being was challenging enough just trying to obtain respect as a woman. Knowing that she would not be able to fulfill the life she imagined for herself there, she immigrated to Canada. Her obstacles as a multi-fold minority did not immediately resolve. In the new context, her identifier was now more predominantly her skin colour, accent, and immigrant status. Furthermore, she had to come to terms with being homosexual in a lifetime that has already met its quota of overcome-and-embrace-your-circumstances.

    Di Brandt faces more than just the scrutiny of her social surrounding; she is very self-consciously under the watch of God. Growing up in a Mennonite village, she was restrained and directed by conservative definitions of her role as an obedient child, the bearer of a vagina, and a follower of Jesus Christ. After years of being in conflict with much of her environment, she took the opportunity to leave the community for higher education and greater freedom. Her positions as a once-Mennonite and an independent, self-defining woman interact to form her evolving identity.

    These are two people whose experiences combined comprise a wide variation of challenges that threatened the integrity of their individuality, belief in their instincts, and endeavors to explore themselves. In the midst of their differences, however, a united message surfaces: to honestly and relentlessly pursue the true nature of your identity. It is an idea I’ve focused on before with Brand’s book, but I reiterate it because I’m finding it’s relevance now in numerous forms… maybe the universe is nudging 😉

  • Although Dionne Brand and Di Brandt have confusingly similar names, that really has nothing to do with their writing.

    Dionne Brand writes of her troubles with being a girl and immigrating to Canada. She cannot seem to find a reason to call Canada home. She doesn’t feel welcome and she can’t find happiness. In addition to her struggles being a black woman who is also a homosexual pretty much puts her at the bottom of society at the time. During this time people tend to think less of people with any of those three attributes. Her writing style puts the reader through her experiences. However as I don’t share many qualities with her, I find it difficult to fully understand what she’s struggling with.

    Di Brandt writes of her life within the Mennonite community. Being a mennonite, she has to follow many rules, especially from being a woman too. Mennonite women are typically expected to obey orders and not be very expressive. The fact that she is expressing all her feelings in this book she wrote show just how far she has come. Once thing that really bothered me with her writing is her lack of punctuation. Although it was intended, it made it extremely difficult for me to read her writing.

    Brand and Brandt are similar in the fact that they both suffered through access to power.

    Graeme Howard