Pamela Mordecai

The first poem of Pamela Mordecai’s I read was “Sunflowers”, which I came across on Geoffrey Philp’s blog. “Sunflowers” is intriguing and profound, yet jocular — a mélange she masters well. That kind of depth and fun run in all her work, whether the subject is death or love or child abuse. It is present in “Nellie” as well as in many of her Subversive Sonnets. This, then, is what initially pulled me to her writing. The second magnet was the voice of her characters, of the narrator, in the way the poems speak with a sound that is of the islands.

Pam says that a rhyme can give her a poem. Before becoming familiar with her poetic sounds, I thought there were rhymes to avoid, because they’re banal and have been overused, and because of the influence of free verse, which flees end-rhymes. But that is wholly untrue. Rhyming is just one of many poetic tools, and a successful rhyme pair requires the story to lead to it — not the other way around. Start and heart feel at home in her voice, or love and above. That’s because they belong to the spaces they occupy in the poem, like any other word, rhymed or unrhymed. I no longer run away from rhyme when I write. I try to play tennis with the net up when appropriate.

That’s the first thing she taught me. I know that Pam writes quite a bit for children, and she also has a play for young audiences called El Numero Uno. She writes a lot about human relationships, tragedy, the right and wrong of the world. And there lies the second lesson: all subjects are good for the taking. Tragedy also involves the killing of her brother, which she sets out in a poem called “Everybody Get Flat – a Dub”, from The True Blue of Islands.

“Where is the poem
that explains
what happens
to you when
they shoot your brother
and you hear
that his brains
spilled over the seat
to the back of the car…”

My own brother was killed. I know the difficulty involved in expressing “what happens” when that happens. Third lesson: use all the resources at your fingertips. Yes, death is one of them, however painful or unreachable for a poet. All subjects are good for the taking.

Phil and I are grateful to you, Pam, for too many things, one of them being granting us permission to feature you on Canopic Jar.

— Rethabile Masilo

Pamela (‘Pam’) Mordecai’s previous collections of poetry include Journey Poem (1989); de Man, a performance poem (1995); Certifiable (2001); The True Blue of Islands (2005), and Subversive Sonnets (2012). de book of Mary is set to be published in 2015. In 2006 she published Pink Icing, a collection of short stories; her first novel, Red Jacket, appeared in February, 2015. She has edited and co-edited ground-breaking anthologies of Caribbean writing including Jamaica Woman (1980, 1985, with Mervyn Morris); From Our Yard: Jamaican Poetry since Independence (1987); Her True-True Name: An Anthology of Women’s Writing from the Caribbean (1989, with Betty Wilson) and Calling Cards: New Poetry from Caribbean/ Canadian Women (2005). Her play, El Numero Uno had its world premiere at the Loraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People in Toronto in 2010. In spring 2014, she was a fellow at the prestigious Yaddo artists’ community in upstate New York Pam and her family immigrated to Canada in 1994. She lives with her husband, Martin, in Kitchener, Ontario.

We recommend visiting anything written by Pamela Mordecai. Her web presence includes:

Get Subversive Sonnets:

Review of Subversive Sonnets

A Partial List of Works by Pamela Mordecai:

    • Jamaica Woman (with Mervyn Morris, 1980)
    • Journey Poem (1987)
    • Story Poems: a first collection (1987)
    • Don’t Ever Wake a Snake (1991)
    • Ezra’s Goldfish and other story poems (1993)
    • Culture and Customs of Jamaica (with Martin Mordecai, 2001)
    • The True Blue of Islands (2005)
    • Pink Icing and other stories (2006)
    • El Numero Uno (play)
    • Subversive Sonnets (2012)