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‘The Blue Clerk’ by Dionne Brand

‘The Blue Clerk’ by Dionne Brand

Author: July Westhale

December 13, 2018

We are living in a golden age of lyric, hybrid forms. Following in the queer lineage of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk is a fascinating collections of prose poems and hybrid poetry.

The Blue Clerk is a timely book. Self-identified as an “Ars Poetica in 59 Versos,” The Blue Clerk follows the narrative arc of a speaker/poet and an omniscient clerk—who may be the poet/speaker’s archivist, confidant, guide, or Maker, depending on where one finds themselves in the story. Captivating us with a similarly rich landscape of hues (including the fascination with indigos/blues found in Nelson’s book), this collection interweaves the personal with global in a world that feels simultaneously familiar, dissimilar, futuristic, and as old as time.

Starting at something that could perhaps be a shipyard, or Ellis Island, or a stormy dock anywhere in the world, we as readers traverse through a lush landscape similar to the worlds of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (who is referenced), Jorge Luis Borges (who is also referenced), and Andrea Barrett (who is not referenced, but seems to exist in the same canon). And then, when we’ve gotten comfortable with a land of bygone days, we are startlingly drawn to an aching present—

In this city, you fall in love at Chester subway, it’s not a beautiful subway so your love makes it so. But its ugliness may doom your love, and you know it by you love anyway.

This is a tender, present moment, but also timeless. In fact, one of the most remarkable components of this manuscript may be that Brand has managed to make an entire gamut of time itself “timeless,” portraying moments as precious and beautiful, while also as hard as flint. Which is not only challenging to do well, but also intuitive to the way we emotionally function as people. While there are queer themes in the book, I would argue that the queerest thing about The Blue Clerk is exactly that: the skewed, nonlinear spectrum of time.

It takes a truly gifted writer to not only write about the queer experience as identity, but to also skillfully and astutely motion to the entire concept of temporal universality. The Blue Clerk may be one of the best collections of prose poems I’ve read in a long while.


The Blue Clerk
By Dionne Brand
Duke University Press
Hardcover, 9781478000068, 248 pp.
August 2018

July Westhale photo

About: July Westhale

July Westhale is the award-winning author of Via Negativa,Trailer Trash (selected for the 2016 Kore Press Book Prize), The Cavalcade, and Occasionally Accurate Science. Her most recent poetry can be found in The National Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, CALYX, Rappahannock Review, Tupelo Quarterly, RHINO, Lunch Ticket, and Quarterly West. Her essays have been nominated for Best American Essays and have appeared in McSweeney’sAutostraddle, and The Huffington Post. She is the 2018 University of Arizona Poetry Center Fellow.

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