March 27, 2006

A Soulful Reading @ The Diaspora Vibe Gallery

Pam MordecaiOn Thursday, March 23rd, when I went to Pam Mordecai’s reading at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery, I was a bit apprehensive. I had never been to any of her readings, but I loved her work. Pam Mordecai is a brilliant poet. But there are some writers whose books I will always buy, but whose readings I will never attend, and there are some writers whose readings I will always attend, but whose books I will never buy. Pam Mordecai now belongs to the category of writers whose books I will always buy and whose readings I will always attend. Her reading added depth and poignancy to the poems, which if I had read on my own, I would have understood intellectually, but now that I’ve attended her performance, I can still hear her voice capturing the emotions, even when she is writing about difficult subjects such as violence in The True Blue of Islands, which was dedicated to her brother, Richard, who was murdered in Jamaica in May 2004.

Writing about violence or the death of a loved one is never easy. It is one thing to convey emotion, but poetry assumes coherence and balance, even when the poem is describing “ugly” things. In “The Story of Nellie,” Mordecai could have easily rendered Nellie as a victim, which she remains until the reversal at the end (buy the book to see how she pulls it off), or she could have told the poem from Nellie’s point of view with every sordid, graphic detail (Mordecai has the skill to do this) of the abuse that would have distanced us (the audience) from the horror of those monsters. Instead Pam does this,

Lee turned Nellie
on her belly
stuck his penis
in her bum.

Swore to God
that he would kill her
if she ever
told her Mum.

From “The Story of Nellie” in The True Blue of Islands.

“Stuck his penis/in her bum” and “Swore to God/that he would kill her/if she ever/ told her Mum” captures the horror and the loss of innocence that is rendered casually by the nursery rhyme effect, so that the violence against the child seems commonplace. And that’s the point of “The Story of Nellie,” and The True Blue of Islands. We have become inured to the violence that surrounds us: the violence of racism; the violence against our children, and the violence against our brothers and sisters. Mordecai looks into this morass of evil and sees our faces. Violence, the use of force by the strong against the weak to get what they want (“Help the weak if you are strong,” Bob Marley, “No More Trouble”) has become commonplace because we have consented either by omission (silence) or commission. We share complicity by silence and complacency, and by labeling violence as only being committed by them people. Them people is we—all of the characters who inhabit The True Blue of Islands. They are our fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters.

The poems in this collection, as the back cover states, “are heartbreaking but, unfailingly, they sing.” Yes, they do, Pam. Yes, they do. And with your reading, hearing your voice, they sing even more gracefully. Give thanks!

Pam MordecaiCathy Kleinhans of Jampact

Pam and Martin MordecaiRosie Gordon-Wallace, Martin Mordecai, and Pam Mordecai

Pam and Martin Mordecai

The reading at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery was co-sponsored by Jampact.


FSJL said...

I haven't seen Pam and Martin in years. Wonder if they'll make it to Atlanta.

Geoffrey Philp said...

I hope they can make it. I hope she can come back to Miami.