Review – ‘Divine Animal’ by Brandon Wint

I received a digital copy of this book from the author.

Brandon Wint’s astonishing poetry collection Divine Animal is a tremendous debut. These poems take on another level of poignance in the uncertain times into which they are born. Heritage and history collide with the contemporary world and its fragile state in the exploration of the connection between identity and the planet.

Wint begins with an examination of diasporic history through the lens of the ocean, examining his own immediate familial links from Canada to Jamaica, and back to Africa. There is a strong sense of fragmented identity in the face of colonialism:
he does not say how many uniforms he’s worn,
how his hands brittled for those
who would not pronounce his proper name.
He holds his belly and laughs;
the spill of years gathered in his husky timbre
is the only place I come from.
Post-colonial displacement continues to echo throughout the collection as Wint examines recent history and the onward effects of colonialism on climate and the planet. Climate events take centre stage, contrasted with the ignorance of some to their causes and consequences. Introspection follows; there are some stunning meditations on the connectedness of humanity and our environment, and the body as a conduit.
To be alive is to be a strand of light
remembering how to swim.
A humble, imitating sun
learning the rite of burning
without destroying.

Brandon’s work as a spoken word poet shines through in his poetry and it lends itself admirably to being read aloud. There is a gentleness, a rhythm, in these words which helps to soften them when they are at their most brutal. Subtle repetition of particular phrases throughout some of the poems (‘I Am Still Here’ is a stunning example) brings emphasis to the messages about the beauty and precariousness of life. Divine Animal is more than just a lament; Wint considers the possibility that the damage rent by colonial capitalism might be mitigated. There is hope here, and potential beyond the current disastrous path. Above all, there is an invitation to pay attention. Beauty still exists here, in the world, and in humanity; it is not extinct.
and I, like an oracle,
pronounce love
as the future
of all things.
There is a gentle intimacy in these poems which allows Brandon’s voice to shine. To read them feels almost conversational, as though listening to a relative recount old family histories. However this intimacy is also a call to action – to open our eyes, to see the world as it is in all its delight and horror, and to recognise our place in it. 

Now more than ever the world needs the poetry of recognition, empathy, and hope. In Divine Animal, Brandon Wint eschews deep ventures into darkness in favour of meeting at the crossroads of grief and celebration. He looks for, and finds, the light amidst the shadows. Anyone struggling with despair at the state of the world will find solace in this book. After all; we are, as he writes, still here.

Divine Animal is available now from Write Bloody North.

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