A NEW VERSION: "It's her life from a fresh perspective," Mordecai says of retelling the Virgin Mary's story.
“I don’t think our Jamaican dialect is given the respect it deserves. It’s a very expressive language, very complex and inventive. I think the Jamaican language ought to be cherished.” This coming from celebrated Jamaican-Canadian author Pamela Mordecai (Nov. 2014, TALLAWAH), whose latest effort, de Book of Mary: A Performance Poem (Mawenzi House Press) is both a salute to the island’s colourful patois that she so loves and a fresh spin on age-old, Bible-based lore.
Recently launched in Kingston, at the Sts. Peter & Paul Church in Liguanea, de Book of Mary is “an epic poem” chronicling the well-known story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. It’s the first of a trilogy that Mordecai is working on, and it primarily charts Mary’s life from her coming-of-age years to Gabriel’s visit to the Immaculate Conception to the birth of Jesus in a manger. But to lend the work a more contemporary dimension, a chorus of male and female voices provides commentary. “It’s her life from a fresh perspective,” Mordecai told us in that 2014 interview.
By all appearances, Mordecai, whose body of work spans poetry (2011’s Subversive Sonnets), short fiction (Pink Icing and Other Stories) and novels (2015’s Red Jacket) is drawn to the retelling of Biblical stories with humour and gusto. In 1995, she released de Man (Sister Vision Press) about the Crucifixion, and on the heels of de Book of Mary she’s reportedly at work on the second title in the new series, de Book of Joseph.
Mordecai’s courageous poetic attempt at delving into such cultural-religious phenomena has struck a chord with critics and her peers. “[de Book of Mary] is a rare and dazzling look at her world and ours by one of the most mysterious women of all time,” proclaims author Rachel Manley. Sidewalk Flowers author Jon-Arno Lawson is just as impressed. “The poet has found a new way with the Good News. de Book of Mary is a pageturner, pure energy released through pure poetry,” he says.
But The Chronicle Herald’s George Elliott Clarke sees another layer. “Mordecai’s verses hew to gospel truths,” he observes, “but also repeat both the poet’s Jewish heritage of skepticism and her roots in Jamaica’s Afro-spiritual-accented and ganja-scented Christianity.”
> FLASHBACK: Read our 2014 interview with the renowned storyteller