No Language is Neutral

By Dionne Brand

Coach House Press

No Language is Neutral is based on a line from Midsummer Lii by poet Derek Walcott. For Dionne Brand, Toronto author and current U of T writer in residence, these words possess a different meaning. Through her latest book of poetry, Brand conveys the essence of these words by using language in a daunting way, one which commands attention and respect.

The words that Dionne Brand speaks are those which resist a language formed through imperialism and oppression of women and people of colour. The author uses her poetry to reclaim language; the impact is both powerful and comforting. Her words and imagery also reveal a feeling of vulnerability that is often found in an oppressed people.

No Language is Neutral addresses themes that affect our lives as women and minorities: racism, sexism, classism, domination, and homophobia. The book contains many poems woven together forming one unified piece. The method works: No Language is Neutral reads smoothly and rhythmically:

I remember then, and its hard to
remember waiting so long to
live…anyway its fiction what I
remember only mornings took a long
time to come, I became more secretive,
language seemed to split in two, one
branch fell silent, the other argued
hotly for going home.

The language of Black people was taken away through slavery. Historically Blacks were forced into silence by the white man via lack of education, illiteracy, low wages, and humiliation. But part of us always rebels and it is that part which gives us the strength to continue resisting and fighting white domination. This is depicted in No Language is Neutral.

With intimacy and honesty Brand puts forth in print this dilemma with which oppressed peoples must grapple in their daily lives. In the poem “Return,” two women (Phyliss Coard and Jacqueline Creft) are highlighted for their roles in the Grenadian revolution. These women are portraits of strength in a world that is systematically unjust and racist.

Women are depicted in a refreshingly healthy and inspirational manner in Brand’s new work. One need not be ashamed of herself when reading this “I have found myself. A woman who looks at a woman and says, here I have dound you, in this I am blackening in my way…”

Brand’s writing is self-assured. Throughout the poetry one senses that she has come to terms with her own sexuality, political beliefs, and racial identity. A journey that is inherently difficult, a process that is political, personal, and historical is shared in the words of this gifted poet.

“They say this place does not exist, that my tongue is mythic. I was here before” (from “Hard Against My Soul”). No Language is Neutral is reflective of this journey, one which all people of colour must venture into. Dionne Brand has the gift and skill to move us with words well worth the paper they are written on.