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From the CBC archives: Dionne Brand speaks to Eleanor Wachtel

Inventory by Dionne BrandCanada Reads Poetry is a three-week online initiative presented by CBC Books and the National Post. Inspired by the original Canada Reads format, Canada Reads Poetry features five panelists defending five collections of poetry. That's where the similarities end; while Canada Reads plays out on-air, Canada Reads Poetry plays out online.

The first decade of the new millennium brought the world many troubles, including 9/11, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina. These devastating events seem to be occuring with greater frequency, and, thanks to technology, people around the world can watch them unfold.

It is this action, that of passively watching, that disturbs poet Dionne Brand, and it's what compelled her to write Inventory, a 100-page poem chronicling the first years of the new century and its grim events. Its vivid imagery is compounded by the sensual use of language, leaving readers unsettled yet engaged with the issues Brand writes so passionately about.

Inventory was  chosen for Canada Reads Poetry by book blogger and poet George Murray. Back when it was first published in 2006, Brand spoke with Eleanor Wachtel on the August 1, 2006, episode of The Arts Tonight about her book-length poem and what she was trying to accomplish by writing it.

Dionne BrandOne evening, Brand found herself watching images of the Iraq war as she prepared for bed, and the displacement she felt from the scene as it unfolded on her television set troubled her deeply. She asked herself what she, as a poet, could to do in response to such a global event. "I remember thinking 'Why should I go to bed?' How could I?'" she recalled to Eleanor Wachtel. "It was impossible to go to sleep while something so momentous [was happening] in the lives of people somewhere else. I felt it was some sort of betrayal to rise from my chair and go upstairs to bed."

Brand was also disturbed by how technology ensured that while she was closer to what was happening in the rest of the world than ever, at the same time she was also further removed in an emotional sense. The frequency of the images numbs viewers to what they are seeing. "We consume billions and billions of bytes of information," Brand explains. "And all information is reduced to the same information and all information solicits the same emotions from us or the same action from us: that of watching and absorbing but not acting at all."

Brand chose to stop doing nothing. She chose to write about it.


Listen to Eleanor Wachtel's complete interview with Dionne Brand in the audio player.

Read George Murray's essay on why Inventory should win Canada Reads Poetry on the National Post's books blog, The Afterword.

Join the Canada Reads Poetry conversation in the CBC Books Community.

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