9 September 2012

Pamela Mordecai's "Subversive Sonnets"


The first time I read Pam was at Geoffrey's blog. I was hooked. I searched around the web, found a few poems, too few, and some videos of interviews she had done. Among the poems was one that I read many times over and heard something slightly different with each reading. I don’t remember why I wrote her finally, perhaps to ask for permission to blog the poem, or perhaps to ask for an interview for Poéfrika. I must have asked well because both were granted.

Subversive Sonnets
Pam is about to publish Subversive Sonnets, her most recent collection of poems. To subvert is to overturn, or overthrow, from the foundation. Sonnets are 14-line poems with a certain rhyme scheme and expressing a single, complete thought. There are several different kinds of sonnets, like the Shakespearean sonnet and the Petrarchan sonnet, and both have been used by ancient and modern poets.

TSAR Publications, which is putting the book out, says
These 'subversive sonnets' overhaul the traditional sonnet form to address a range of subjects, from the tenderness of love to the terror of rape, punishment, torture, and murder.

Pamela Mordecai
The poet's quest is to corral iambics into the demotic of Jamaican creoles as well as forms of English past and present. Mordecai has an unfailing ear for voices, for the music that sings and laughs and laments the stories of family, clan, and tribe, thus celebrating life in all its aspects.
The sonnets are explorative, leading the reader down new paths but within the familiar vehicle of iambs and of the singular thought. And getting the reader home. In Stone Soup, the poet remembers seven-year-old Rene (her nickname) who got trapped in house rubble during a 1907 Kingston quake.

And here's the subversion (in the case of Stone Soup), according to me: tell a story and make its sadness sneak up on the reader, make the poem several sonnets long, rhyme gently, if at all, and include small explosions of colour or sound or touch here and there, and let everything sound local. Here's an example of one such explosion from Stone Soup:

she lit
upon a garden with a looping bed of best
ox-heart tomatoes. Green. She ate until,
diligent caterpillar, every plant was bare.
Calling the wages of her greedy sin upon her head,
Mama threatened cramps and colic. She’d be so ill!
Rene let Mama down. She wasn’t sick a bit.
The poems also belong, to a place, and to a voice, Jamaica, and Pamela Mordecai. I have always enjoyed reading and writing sonnets. I know a few of Frost's by heart, one or two of Yeats's, Claude McKay's "If We Must Die," one or two of Edna St. Vincent Millay's, and others. These sonnets, these subversive ones, have already begun to make that list longer.

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Some links
Pam's blog: Jahworld
Pam's site: Home page
Get Subversive Sonnets: Pre-order
On Twitter: Subversive Sonnets
On Facebook: Launch party

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