On Friday, November 18, Redeemer welcomed Pamela Mordecai for Redeemer Reads to read her poetry, both from her overarching collection A Fierce Green Place: New and Collected Poems and more specifically from de book of Joseph: a performance poem, a retelling of the Gospels from the perspective of Christ’s earthly father, written in Jamaican Patwa. Both books were released in the past year to critical acclaim.
Mordecai’s collection A Fierce Green Place has been credited with bringing the long-overlooked poet into the limelight, with excellent work drawn from all across her career. In an article for Bomb Magazine, reviewer Alina Stefanescu said of Mordecai: “Mordecai has created motion from epiphanic moments which reject dominant discourses and frameworks… She writes violence, sex, love, mothering, God, landscape, colonialism, racism—no subject is off-limits” (Stefanescu 2022).
After the reading and a seminar on Mordecai’s A Fierce Green Place: New and Collected Poems for ENG-427 (Modern Canadian Poetry), we had the opportunity to ask Mordecai a few questions about her process and what she hoped for from readers and audiences:
Interviewer: What attitude should people have when approaching your poetry?
Mordecai: Since one reads to learn, for enjoyment is learning too, one’s primary responsibility as a reader is to oneself. A reader brings him or herself to whatever they read, be it history, science, philosophy, or song-and-story, which is how I think of literature. I would wish readers to approach my poetry as they approach anything else that they read. Even Scripture requires that one present one’s whole self, mind, heart, and imagination.
The point is no one else can read for you. You alone can—must—read for yourself, and you must bring your whole self to the words, never mind what they are about. What of the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Well, hopefully one asks for that help whatever one is reading—or writing. If one journeys with Jesus, wisdom is inevitably along for the ride.
Interviewer: Generally speaking, how does one of your poems go from inspiration to its final form?
Mordecai: I suspect that the journey from inspiration to final form is unique for every poem, not just each of my poems. As for what impels a poem, gets it started—it could be almost anything: a word, a phrase, a thought, an idea (which is usually more than one thought), an emotion, a sensory experience, a memory, another poem. As for the journey itself, the only “general” aspect of my process is that there is always revision.
Interviewer: If you had to choose one thing for your readers to take away from your poetry into their lives, what would it be?
Mordecai: I hope whatever it is will be a blessing, a numinous, redemptive insight, inspiring and not depressing, even if the poem is about a hard experience and even if the language is harsh, indeed even vulgar.
Those in attendance at the reading were welcomed into an energetic, laid-back environment, replete with conversation. Audiences were guided into Mordecai’s culture and left with the charge to consider different perspectives. It was a genuine joy to hear from Pamela Mordecai and are now left yearning for more.
Be sure to check out future Redeemer Reads events!