The following is an excerpt from Red Jacket, a new novel by Pamela Mordecai.
Mapome began telling Jimmy the story of the Blue Lady of Dolours before he could talk. When he was old enough, they would act it out together: she played the grandmother and he played the children’s parts.
“Long ago, in a terrible hot time, a grandma was leading some sick and thirsty children up a dry kouri, through wasted country, past skeletons of dead animals, in search of food and water. Tired and despairing, she huddled with the children under a dolmen used by sheep and goats, for the sun was fierce.”
There was not so long ago an animated debate on Twitter and elsewhere about whether Jamaican children should be taught in English or in their first language, Jamaican Creole. It is a complex issue that has preoccupied our island since I did my teacher’s diploma eons ago. In at least two respects, the status quo has remained much the same over the intervening decades. The low performance of students in English in the Caribbean regional examinations persists with little variation, as does the linguistic- performance-demographic of the discussants – how’s that for a term? – who are almost invariably people expert in the ‘prestige’ language of English and who also have expertise in the ‘deprecated’ Creole language.
The nature of that debate need not preoccupy us at the moment. What is interesting to me as a Canadian and as a Jamaican is that the politics of language here in Canada is not entirely dissimilar. One could argue that, willy-nilly, English is the prestige code in Canada, and that French speakers
A little Jamaican subversion, with the help of my friends…
There was a capacity audience (not a very large space, but it was filled) at Bookland in New Kingston, on Saturday, 22 December, for the Jamaican launch of Subversive Sonnets. Guyanese poet, actress, playwright, puppeteer and educator, Jean Small, and author, philosopher, poet and painter, St Hope Earl McKenzie, were kind enough to join me in reading poems from the book. Although Subversive Sonnets was published by TSAR Publications in 2012 and is still holding its own (at #77) on amazon.ca’s list of books of poetry from the Caribbean and Latin America, no copies exist in bookshops (to the best of my knowledge), nor have ever done. It seemed perverse not to take advantage of being in Jamdown for a family wedding to introduce my latest, bad-behave, two-year-old creation.
I’ve only recently finished reading Joseph Boyden’s novels, Three Day Road, Through Black Spruce and The Orenda. They are startling works in many ways but one of the things that most surprised me was that some of his characters manifest almost exactly the same strange behaviours as one of my protagonists in my (first) novel Red Jacket, due out from Thomas Allen Publishers on 28 February, 2015. This weirdness (we’ll call it that for lack of a better word) is not something that I’d encountered in fiction, or in psychological or paranormal literature. I’d made it up, marrying physical and psychological disruptions in a way that interested me. But here it was, or something mighty close, in Joseph Boyden’s books.
In 1995, the now defunct and much lamented, Sister Vision Press published my second collection of poetry, de man: a performance poem. Sister Vision was a small small-press, with limited resources for promotion, and so, despite a couple of excellent reviews, de man pretty much sank without even the tiniest trail of bubbles, or so it
Our garden started out as literally scratch: bare, dry, hard-packed earth, given over to the toenails of the dog (a pretty fierce customer, according to our next door neighbour) owned by the previous proprietors of this house. A more good-natured co-landlady of the backyard was their daughter, whose plastic pool had marked out a circle on the earth that it kept empty of everything including weeds, as long as it had been there. Summer after summer, I suppose, for it was a sad O of pinkish dirt.
Our backyard, a pretty big one, is on two levels, the upper one held in place by a wall made of planks of heavy wood. I worry that they may tumble in another wicked winter, but that’s a problem sufficient unto the day. On the higher level, for our road slopes down, is a lawn, or perhaps more accurately, a stretch of grass and dandelions and low intrusive weeds, some of which bear colourful flowers in the spring. The portion formerly co-owned by dog and small girl, is on the lower level. I don’t think it could have been her dog – it was too mean.
The first book (or more correctly, books) I ever published was a collection of 8 individual little books, each with a story poem, called – surprise – Storypoems: a First Collection. It was commissioned by Ginn & Co in the UK as reading support material for their very successful Ginn 360 reading series, appeared in 1987, and was subsequently published in the US in that year by The Wright Group. (If anyone wants to republish them, the rights long ago reverted to me. I am told that they are good poems.) Some have appeared here and there, since. “Grandma’s House” recently found its way into an English schoolbook for use in Malaysia.