23 September 2015

Five Questions about de book of Mary with Pamela Mordecai

1. What made you decide to tackle a project as big as de book of Mary?

The story of de book of Mary begins in 1993, with my writing de Man: a performance poem, which is a report of the crucifixion of Jesus by two by-standers that’s written entirely in Jamaican Creole. Sister Vision Press published it in Canada in 1995, and though it received excellent reviews, they were few. So it’s not been very well known, though that’s recently been changing. It occurred to me pretty quickly after writing de Man that I ought to write something in Jamaican Creole or patwa about Mary’s life.

Over the past few years, especially after I’d finished work on Subversive Sonnets, the book began to acquire a shape, at least in formal terms. It’s written, like Walcott’s Omeros, in tercets of anapaests – you know, three line stanzas with a running rhythm, da-da-dah, da-da-dah, da-da-dah... I hadn’t remembered that at the time; my publisher subsequently pointed it out. Once the form seemed to be a good choice, I was ready to write. I never thought about how hard it would be, to be honest. It just seemed that I needed to do it.

2. That sounds engaging. Was it difficult to write?

Getting the first poems down was not too difficult, but once I was into the story, it became clear that more and more poems were needed to tell the tale adequately. I was also writing against a deadline – something I’ve never done before for a creative project. So it became quite a test.

3. So what was your biggest challenge in writing de book of Mary?

How to put the creole down on the page! I had choices. I could have used a standard orthography, like the Cassidy-LePage writing system, or the International Phonetic Alphabet. The problem with both of those systems is that they aren’t easy to read until you are familiar with them. I’m hoping for a big audience of creole speaking Caribbean people, but I hope for a big audience of English speakers too. So I decided to suggest what the creole sounds like rather than represent it faithfully. To that end, I’ve changed th’s to d’s (dem, dat, dey for them, that they) and some th’s to t’s in a few important contexts (thief to tief, thing to ting, so, for example, God is “De-One-Who-Run-tings!) In this way, I hope to convey the flavour of Jamaican patwa.

4. You’ve said this book is the first in a trilogy. What are the three books, and why a trilogy?

The three books are de Man, which comes last, and which was published in 1995, de book of Mary, which comes first, and will appear in October 2015, and de book of Joseph, in the middle and being written. A crazy way to do it, I know, but that’s just how it has happened. I thought of a trilogy, because the same Jesus story involves these three crucial persons, and they each must see it differently. Now, it’s true de book of Mary and de book of Joseph are from Mary and Joseph’s points of view, whereas the last book, de Man is from the point of view of two common folks who watch the crucifixion take place and report what they see. So perhaps that means I need to write a fourth book, from Jesus’s point of view, though that would be daring indeed. I’ll see how the Spirit moves me!

5. Do you think of these books as religious books? I assume you are a Christian?

The words religious and Christian have acquired inverted meanings. We know that throughout history, up to the present day, so-called religion has kept plunging people into the not-very-religious business of war. (Consider the Crusades!) And one need only look at some of the ostensible “Christian” websites online to get my point about Christianity. Jesus was a Jew, and so were Mary and Joseph, so these stories are about a Jewish man who claimed to be the Messiah and his Jewish mother and foster father. Jewish stories.

Secondly, Islam also celebrates Jesus as a prophet, and honours Mary, though it doesn’t mention Joseph. So it’s a Jewish story with an Islamic aspect. And then, though Christians say they follow Jesus that is an assertion perhaps as honoured in the breach as in the observance. So we have un-Christian Christians laying claim to a Jewish man honoured by Muslims! Many Christians give Mary and Joseph short shrift, except when it comes to putting up the crib at Christmas. The Jesus story is simply remarkable, archetypal, and, for me, hearing it in the creole opened up a host of possibilities and insights, about Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the lynching of Jesus, and the time in which all this happened. I wanted to share all of that. I do follow Jesus, but I don’t think that’s necessary to appreciate the Jesus narrative.

Pamela Mordecai


Anonymous said...

This sounds like an exciting book. I am looking forward to it. The poetic structure fascinates me, and the story, if it is anything like "de Man" will be engaging and enlightening.

Rethabile said...

I have had the privilege of reading some of the poems, and in having this interview on my blog. I look forward to the book as well.

Carole McDonnell said...

Sounds like a very unbalanced view of religion. Religion has caused war, yes. As have atheism, materialism, and racism. Religion -- and Christianity-- has also shown the best of humanity such as Martin Luther King's work, Oscar Romero's, and Mother Theresa's. In addition, there are Christians who have suffered and are suffering throughout the world who are quite noble. Consider the persecuted Christians in India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, North Korea, Vietnam and other areas throughout the world. By equating Christianity with only the western branch of Christianity, the author belittles and minimizes the faith of many.

In addition, her lack of fairness is shown in the way she disingenuously ignores the evils done by other religions such as Islam, Hinduism, and even Judaism.

The book already sounds facile and trendy...even before published. A writer who writes of trendy matters is not a writer of the future but someone who imitates and mimicks current trends. Not interested in this book at all.

Rethabile said...

Hello, Carole,
You should read the poems in this book. They're brilliant. That is why the book was written: to offer the world the best poems possible. The book is not a religious book and when the author talks about "Christians" she uses inverted commas for a purpose.

From me, I'd like to tell you that no war I know of has been caused by atheism or "in the name" of atheism. Which one were you thinking about?

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