Love Enough: An Interview with Dionne Brand

by A.R. Jardine

A.R. Jardine is a queer politician and blogger who mostly writes fiction, interviews, and personal essays. In 2014, A.R. Jardine was accepted into the fiction cohort at the Banff Centre Writing Studio. A.R. Jardine earned an MFA in Writing from the University of Victoria and is currently working on a PhD in feminist media studies, digital culture, and queer theory (UNB). Publications include AfterEllenCBC Radio One (“On Point,” “Between You & Me,” and “Outfront”), Big TruthsKitschMix, and The New York Times.

Dionne Brand is a poet and novelist. Her most recent book of poetry, Ossuaries, won the Griffin Poetry Prize; her literary honours include the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Trillium Book Award, the Toronto Book Award, and the 2006 Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the world of books and writing. Her internationally acclaimed novels include Love Enough, What We All Long For, In Another Place, Not Here (a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year and a Globe and Mail Best Book), and At the Full and Change of the Moon (an LA Times Best Book). She teaches at the University of Guelph and lives in Toronto.

This is an unconventional interview because Dionne Brand is my writing mentor and friend, yet I’m certain she wouldn’t accept responsibility for the former. I met Dionne a year ago at the Banff Centre where she edited my manuscript-in-progress—an ambitious first novel featuring global financial collapse, other-worldly spies, and a writerly heroine inspired by Margaret Atwood.

“You have to write it until it shines,” Dionne said, sitting beside me in the writing lounge on the first day of the residency. “Until it’s so brilliant that no agent, no publisher, no reader ever wants to put it down. You have to write it until it shines.”

This was Dionne’s first lesson for me. When we finished up at the Banff Centre, we decided to keep in touch since both of us lived in Toronto about a ten minute walk away from each other. I’ve since badgered her for an interview about her most recent novel, Love Enough. She said yes under the condition that it didn’t turn out like every other interview about a book.

“ … the most important thing about Dionne Brand—the only thing you need to take away from this interview—is that she believes writing is listening.”

I knew I wouldn’t ask her questions about post-colonial literature, race, or feminism because there are no questions on these subjects that she hasn’t already been asked. Also, I’d skip the physical descriptors of Dionne Brand’s house and I wouldn’t dwell on the small lush garden that exists beyond her writing window. I think there are better ways to get at her vulnerabilities and intricacies than focusing on interior design.

Some interesting facts about Dionne Brand you wouldn’t learn if this was a regular interview:

  • Dionne Brand can’t sit still. She loves Pilates—but only one-on-one sessions. Not because she’s bougie but because loud breathing can sometimes distract her during an exercise class.
  • She likes her white wine dry and not too fruity.
  • When passing a street busker with an open instrument case, she drops coins (every time) because “we all have to make a living.”
  • Dionne Brand loves oysters (from the Maritime provinces particularly) because of how rejuvenated she feels the next morning.
  • She prefers music without lyrics (jazz most wholeheartedly).
  • While passing Type Books, a quaint bookstore on Queen Street West, Dionne Brand says she’s “glad it exists.”
  • She takes time to admire things like a baby blue silk vest in a smudged vintage shop window or the pair of teal wingtip loafers she can’t stop thinking about.
  • Dionne Brand buys a Toronto International Film Festival package and watches thirty movies in a row and then almost none throughout the rest of the year.
  • She is the kind of friend who gives you her bicycle because she doesn’t plan on learning how to use it.

Actually, the most important thing about Dionne Brand—the only thing you need to take away from this interview—is that she believes writing is listening.


The day of the un-interview arrives. I droop in my lazy position on her living room carpet and sip San Pellegrino from a wine glass while she sits perfectly erect in the high-back chair in front of me.

“How do you want to do this?” she asks. “You’re not doing question and answer, are you?”

Shit. “Well, yes. That’s what I had planned.”

“Oh. Do people really want to read that?”

No. I guess not. “Maybe if it’s interesting enough?”

For the next hour and twenty minutes I ask her questions that seemed unconventional the day before when I dreamt them up in a frantic wave of nerves. Now, gazing from my tattered green journal to her furrowed brow, I feel like I’ve failed. Thankfully, some questions annoy her less, subsequently making me sweat and stammer less:

On the question of transposition in the novel:

DB: I’m fascinated with the kind of possibility transposition suggests. That it always suggests. In a sense, you could turn a day around with will. You could begin. Every minute you could begin. I like that idea.

On ideal love:

DB: Ideal love is unknowable, right? But it is knowable. We do know it, but no amount of experience gathers to a sum. It’s mythology as much as it’s real. As much as one feels love in one’s body. So I wanted to think it through to how we actually live it. I have no idea what becomes of it in the text. I mean, I do and I don’t, but I just wanted to untangle it as well as pay attention to its intricacies. And to its superficialities. How the superficial continually hides the work that love is. I didn’t want to conclude in any way. I just wanted to probe all the manners in which we perform love.

On sex in our modern times:

DB: One is either a sexual being or a thinking being, but the two together at the same time is difficult to conceive of.

On discourses of love and politics:

DB: In some ways, I feel it is my job to observe how these discourses work. Not everybody is interested in undoing these, of course, or not everybody is uncomfortable with certain types of discourses. But certainly, I am.

On the migration motif in the novel:

DB: I think migration is just in my DNA.

On writing taut but wandering prose:

DB: I was looking for balance between fluidity, propulsion, and a concentration or an utter arrest in a moment or in an image.

On character motivation:

DB: When I’m writing, I’m not thinking of what I want the characters to do. Now when you’re asking me and I’m thinking about it, and when we view these figures as paradigmatic of some thing or some idea, I think: Why did I make her [Lia] like that? But initially all I thought was that Lia wanted stillness.

On capturing the essence of Toronto:

DB: I’m just available to listening. Also, I’m interested. I’m not a politician. I’m not the Prime Minister who doesn’t want to take a census (laughter) and who is not interested in the social or the historical or the systemic. I’m interested in the human. I’m really interested in who is living in the city and the exchanges. The physical and verbal exchanges and also the exchange of air. I’m just fascinated by it. I notice that people are trying to live, and I witness how they’re doing that. All of it isn’t benign. I’m not interested in making it just benign.


Before we leave for dinner, Dionne apologizes for taking ten minutes to water the juniper in her front garden because the rain hasn’t been doing its job. As the hose hisses, I think about why the interview isn’t sitting right with me.

“Did you hear that?” Dionne asks as we pass three middle-aged women on Bloor street.

I hadn’t heard anything. I was too upset by the fact that the women didn’t share the sidewalk to hear or even think.

Espero. It’s Portuguese, Spanish, too, for I hope. She was hoping for something.”

“You know Portuguese?”

“A little.”

“How many languages do you know? A little?”

“Four, I suppose.”

“Of course you do.”

As we veer off onto Ossington and find Fishbar, I conclude that Dionne Brand is always listening—likely in more than one language.

“I’m sorry the interview ended up feeling conventional. I really tried,” I say, eventually forking cilantro around the plate until it blankets a tail of spicy shrimp.

“I know you did. It’s the nature of interviewing. And I’m not as interesting as my characters. I’m already in another world with the next book.”

“Wouldn’t it be neat if I could interview you in the process of writing instead of after the fact?”

Dionne’s eyes widen as she lets out her most contagious of three distinct laughs. “No. That would be an utter mess!”

“Right. Well, maybe I could just interview the book since it has the answers to the questions I want?”

“Explain.”

“I mean, why couldn’t I ask the questions I asked of you of the book? I could respond with the narrator’s text or the character dialogue. Bring them to life while framing the interview with actual book content so people get a sense of the writing. Like how you flip through a book for excerpts before you decide if you want to read more.”

Dionne raises her eyebrows while nodding. “Wow. Okay. That could be really interesting.”


My attempt at an interview with Love Enough: 

I ask the book to meet me at Kensington Market. We sit on the bench by the statue of Al Waxman in Bellevue Square Park. There’s a spray of bird mess over Waxman’s stout shoulders, but we pretend not to notice. We’re serenaded by a ponytailed busker picking at a nylon stringed acoustic guitar.

AJ: Whats the one thing on every characters mind?

LE: That you can go to sleep at night one person and wake up the next morning as another.

AJ: That puts a lot of hope in the future. But what about the past? It seems that a lot of you cant help but romanticize that. Especially June.

LE: June carries remnants of people, of things, of the world, with her. We all do, but June carries hers on the surface, her skin is iridescent with these glimpses and glances.

AJ: June lives an entirely theoretical life almost at the risk of undoing herself. She never seems to give her mind a break.

LE: Some prehistoric June was always in the process of calculating light, and flight, the sensory information necessary for surviving … It absorbed her how her lovers seemed to live in the world so immediately, as if all depended on the present moment that they were living. As if there was never a moment of contemplation needed. Meanwhile all she did was contemplation.

AJ: Interesting although June is still able to see the subtle beauty. Like the opening scene where shes watching the sunset over a gritty street in the rearview mirror of a car. Her aesthetic is built on contrasts. On reflective positioning. She sees beauty in the things that dont conventionally belong together.

LE: She is not the type who is happy the way other people are happy … her love was simply bigger than personal.

AJ: How would she define love?

LE: All the people in that world had agreed on a lethal definition of love. It was full of rapture and betrayal and intrigue and she was no good at that.

AJ: So she likes the unexpected stuff?

LE: She didn’t want things. She told Sydney she wanted one embrace each day and one kindness each week … That Sydney couldn’t do this made June sad. June thinks small things are deep and big things are shallow.

“After all, isn’t love absence?”

AJ: That explains why you establish a landscape of opposites. On one side, there are conventional lovers, and on the other side, you illuminate the wild and wanting lovers. Then there is this migration or oscillation between the two worlds. Is love the ultimate migration journey? And if so, is that dangerous?

LE: One act always sets a whole array of acts in motion. In retrospect what begins innocently enough, without thought, compels a certain disaster.

AJ: On the topic of motivation or the lack thereof, echoes of commodification are heard throughout the story. This idea of buying people and things. Time is spent in frequent mention and meditation on the ideas of material versus spiritual poverties. This seems to be an intentional comment on modernity.

LE: People can collect paintings, they can collect objects that may be beautiful, but this not the same as collecting beauty. Collecting beauty would be remembering exactly, immersing yourself in the exact moment of an image or an act, and storing it in some synaptic folder in the brain to be called upon with the same effect as one recalls pain, for example. Pain collects itself like its own curator. Pain is so uncalled, so unsummoned. Beauty should have the same capacity. But it doesn’t and Lia knows why. She’s figured it out, Beauty doesn’t damage. It doesn’t burn a hole right through you, an unfillable hole. It doesn’t incinerate you.

AJ: Lia is one of the younger characters in the story. Shes also a thinker in many of the same ways as June, but she is done with drama (unlike June, we suspect). Lia spends a lot of time in the novel thinking about beauty. Perhaps because she hasnt experienced much of it yet?

LE: Beauty is not weight. That is why it doesn’t stay long, that is why it doesn’t damage. The weight of beauty is negligible. Lia would like to be damaged by beauty. Wouldn’t we all? You forget it so quickly.

AJ: In the story, Lia seems to wrestle with the idea of letting go and finding stillness. Needing or wanting to let go of love or convention or what-have-you and actually letting go of it are two very different experiences. How do people love or even live when theyre wrestling with letting go?

LE: Nothing is inevitable. Mornings perhaps, evenings. Those are not in our control, but you can’t be sure of anything else. Not even disaster. If you look at a sky in the city it seems inconsequential until you really look at the sky.

AJ: What is the one thing that we are afraid to admit about love?

LE: You have to survive people. You meet people and sometimes you have no control of that, and then it’s a simple matter of waiting them out. Your parents, for example, you are in no position to avoid them. By the time you met them it’s too late … After all, isn’t love absence? Like the absence of a limb that makes you notice where it was and what it did.

AJ: The title, Love Enough—is it an instruction to love others enough or a reminder that we should figure out how much love is enough for us? Or maybe its neither. Maybe its a warning that sometimes love isnt enough?

LE: There is nothing universal or timeless about this love business … It is hard if you really want to do it right … No argument in the world is ever resolved. Resolving would suggest some liquid in which arguments could be immersed, perhaps love. But it must be love enough. The consistency of the mixture would have to be a greater portion of love. So many decilitres of love to dissolve so many millilitres of the other stuff. And the trouble is, this “other stuff,” the toxic material, is sometimes flammable. These other ingredients are random and personal, like childhood or desire and they don’t necessarily mix well with love. Love is not as durable or pliable as one is led to think anyway. Love can be indefinable all on its own.

 


A.R. Jardine is a queer politician and blogger who mostly writes fiction, interviews, and personal essays. In 2014, A.R. Jardine was accepted into the fiction cohort at the Banff Centre Writing Studio. A.R. Jardine earned an MFA in Writing from the University of Victoria and is currently working on a PhD in feminist media studies, digital culture, and queer theory (UNB). Publications include AfterEllenCBC Radio One (“On Point,” “Between You & Me,” and “Outfront”), Big TruthsKitschMix, and The New York Times.

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