Brandon Wint’s collection, Divine Animal, showcases his facility with words. Like the work of spoken word artists such as Toronto’s Andrea Thompson, his poetry sings on paper. Divine Animal is rich with anger, mourning, yearning, celebration, sensuality, and hope. The collection is also a timely and important reflection on the origins of systemic racism and long-time police brutality against Black people in the Western world.
In his prelude to Divine Animal, “Incantation: Memory of Water,” Wint’s narrator considers the history of his Jamaican and Barbadian ancestors. Wint’s epigraph from Saint Lucian poet and playwright Derek Walcott sets the tone and evokes the Caribbean setting, “its history,” and the “scars of colonialism.”
Like Walcott, Wint asks, where is Black history? In the untitled first poem of the prelude, Wint asserts that it’s at the bottom of the ocean because so many slaves died in transit on ships: “In Jamaica, I say sea//…I mean oceans too, of teeth and eyes,/ of faces and bracelets lost. Bodies. Entire bodies/ whose names are drowned…whose sunken lips tableau the lost languages.” In the poems that follow, Wint proceeds to share his family history while often returning to his grief about the damage racism has inflicted on Black people.
In the first section, “Inheritance,” Wint uses vivid metaphors and similes to evoke his family’s longing to belong in Canada and his Caribbean heritage. In the first stanza of “Nowhere” the narrator recalls that his grandfather “used to joke” about not being “from anywhere”: “my bloodline outstretches rivers, / swing it like a hurricane lamp.”
Later, the narrator’s anger at the impact of systemic racism on his family and other Caribbean immigrants pulses raw: “I am from the mouth Canada craned open,/ that sent them into sun-starved mornings/ to wade into the fetid belly of work/ white people were too privileged to touch.”
This anger is also expressed in “Obsession,” which gathers the names of Black victims of murder and violence: “Sandra was hanged,// left to sway like a dim lantern in a cage;// Walter fled and the bullets chased/ his blood into the grass.” The grief and rage expressed in this poem demand to know how, “to find in a throat’s pink chute/ something reasoned as essays.” Wint’s skillful use of images and figurative language in “Obsession” make it a horrifyingly visceral read.
The final pieces of the book celebrate the resilience and transcendence that characterise many of the poems in this collection. In “Birth/Right” Wint’s narrator reflects: “I am not so free as to claim/ I am my own master—/ but I am unbound enough/ in the chains we each inherit.// Freedom speaks to me in a voice that is song.”
Divine Animal speaks with a voice enriched by the cadence of spoken-word. I was thrilled by Wint’s original imagery and his evocative metaphors and similes. I recommend Divine Animal highly.
Kate Rogers’ poem, “Black Cloud” after Carlos Amorales, won Honourable Mention in the Power Plant Gallery/Toronto International Festival of Authors ekphrastic poetry contest in May 2020. Publication highlights this year include pieces in Poetry Pause (League of Canadian Poets), and Voice & Verse 51: Emergency. She has poems forthcoming in Trinity 132 (University of Toronto) and Voice and Verse 52: Masks. 2019 publication highlights include Understorey Magazine; World Literature Today; Algebra of Owls and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. Kate’s poem “John and the Book of Kells” won first prize in the Trinity College Dublin Book of Kells Competition. Her poem “The Giraffe-bone Knife Set” was shortlisted for the ROOM 2019 Poetry Contest. Kate’s latest poetry collection is Out of Place, Aeolus House (Quattro Books), 2017.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.