ISSUE 2 VOL 2 PROFILE: Pamela Mordecai

poetry //
Archangel Gabriel; Mary, Confused

Read two additional poems

from Pamela Mordecai's de book of Mary

HLR: When and where did you write the work published in this issue?

My earliest scribblings for this book, which I first thought of as “Mary’s diaries,”go back perhaps fifteen years, though I’d say I’ve been working on it in a more concentrated way for the last three or four years, and in a very focused way between January and September of this year. I think it was written in three places, Toronto, Kitchener and South Hadley, MA where our daughter and her family live.

HLR: Were the poems inspired by anything particular?

de book of Mary is a long poem in Jamaican Creole (JC hereafter), one of two prequels, to de man: a performance poem. In 1995, Sister Vision Press published de man: a performance poem, which is an eyewitness account in JC by two imagined characters, Samuel and Naomi, of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. I knew quite soon thereafter that I wanted to write something in JC about Mary’s life, and I decided in time that de man would be the last book of a trilogy, of which de book of Mary would be the first. de book of Joseph, last to be written, will be the second book in the trilogy—‘if God spare life...’ as we say in Jamaica.

HLR: Do you consider your work to be cross-pollinated by other disciplines? 

Human beings have had to invent the notion of separate disciplines for convenience, because our limited minds can’t handle too much at once. It hardly represents the complexity, the dynamic connectedness of both our experiencing and what we experience. Think of all the medical specialties that we’ve had to devise in the treating of the one human body. There’s no question about whether that body is one, and the doctors who treat it best grasp that gestalt. We box things in (the same way that we draw lines on maps) because we can’t cope with the organic, webbed quality of nature, animal and human life, the entire cosmos as it is presented to us. Writers stretch themselves to represent the whole of that reality as human beings encounter it. I often say I’m with Ms Lauryn Hill: “Everything is everything.” So yes, I’m sure that insights from wherever interact with other insights from wherever else and find their way into my work. 

HLR: Where is your favourite place to write outside the home?

When we lived in Toronto, we’d sometimes meet two other writer friends, Nalo Hopkinson and Emily Pohl-Weary at the wonderful Gladstone Library near where we lived, and work there. (‘We’ is my husband Martin, a truly amazing writer, and myself.) Since living in Kitchener, we largely work at home, though we’ve recently made a couple of forays into our neighbourhood library. Perhaps in time it will become an alternate place to write.

HLRHow does travel affect your writing?

I sometimes write poems that address places I’ve been. There are a few of those in my last poetry collection, Subversive Sonnets, poems about Calgary, Cozumel, the Zambezi, Gloucester-on-Sea, Barcelona, Halifax. And I suppose the fact that I’d been to Africa must in some way have helped me as I wrote Red Jacket, my first novel, though it describes an imagined country in West Africa and I had only been (briefly) to Zimbabwe. I’ve wondered about whether my limited travel experience might be a constraint on what I write, but I have a lot of faith in the imagination, and the trusty Internet...

 HLR: How does the Internet and your presence on the Internet affect your thinking and writing?

I use the Internet extensively for research as well as for just colliding with information and vicarious experiencing. For a poor writer who hates to fly, it can stand in for travel, if one is prepared to mine it in a sufficiently determined way. YouTube, Google Earth, websites dedicated to travel, websites that feature particular countries or particular places that are of historical or geographical or architectural or biological interest are treasure troves. I find Twitter an excellent clearing house for information on so many things. Art, books, music, news, cultures, ethnicities, histories, commentary, all are richly present on websites related to numberless disciplines. Journals of every kind abound, and access to them is increasingly easy. And then there are the people that you meet... The Internet is a resource that is invaluable—it’s a miracle, really.

HLR: What are you currently reading?

I’m halfway through reading Shani Mootoo’s He Drown She in the Sea, halfway through Elizabeth Hay’s His Whole Life and I’ve just started John Vaillant’s The Tiger.

Pamela Mordecai was born in Jamaica. She has published five collections of poetry and an anthology of short fiction. She has also written many textbooks and edited or co-edited groundbreaking anthologies of Caribbean writing. Her poetry for children is widely anthologized. Her poems have been shortlisted for the Canada Writes CBC Poetry Prize and the Bridport Prize (U.K.). She is the recipient of the Institute of Jamaica’s Centenary and Bronze Musgrave Medals, the Vic Reid Award for Children’s Writing, and the Burla Award. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario.