canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

by Pamela Mordecai
Goose Lane Editions, 2001

Reviewed by T. Anders Carson

I have always been fond of a playful, witty use of words when describing the many silent horrors of life. Certifiable embodies the rhythms of someone coming to terms with the madness of family members and with her own possible madness. Having had similar experiences, I found passages that made me stop completely and think. Mordecai has a way with description--describing an encounter, a movement, a lilting feeling as her tongue clicks and blows the Caribbean breath into Toronto.

I can feel her angst when she describes the fear of possible madness inside her own brain. Something in me says that the poetry helps that full-blown manifestation to subside. It keeps it at bay and circles, the knowing and unknowing flights of both religious surroundings and challenging home life. Poetry is after all about our senses being described. The senses of madness, of fleeting romance, of the curse or blessing of the religiosity of learning and the beauty of being able to describe this from a Toronto den. Brilliant. The language is embossed with a characteristic belief that the stages of betrayal of familial lines need not be so brazen. 

Pamela Mordecai has produced a collection that opens the doors of those who are destined to be with the white coats. She opens the doors and lets us peer into that delving cavern of the porous unknown and show us that our fear need not be in silence. It is justified to see the dimming light beyond that corridor. The walls of terror and the silence of the medicated. She brings the sureness of life into the twisted walls of the living. Life does not end because a chromosome has been jarred. It just gives an ocular mist in describing the longing for sight.

…I know
like Grandmama the virtues
of a long stout knife.
And I am loose, uncertified.

Some might find reading about madness disturbing. These are the same people that pass by those hands selling Outreach. They are the ones who are comforted nightly by the news of horror. At least it isn’t that bad at home… Mordecai knows about living, about loving and about believing in a place called home. For many with strong ties to a motherland, it is a challenge to find a place called home. A part of her will always be in the Caribbean, another in the streets of Toronto. 

It is comforting to see writing that melds these two worlds with an ease that almost baffles. We can learn much from such gifted writing. A sense of home is inside, and, many times, where we lay our heads. I was once told by a spiritual elder on The Taos Pueblo in New Mexico that once you know where you are from, then you know where you are going. In Certifiable we are graced with embracing a past that will dim and the light of a tomorrow that will come. A recommended read.

T. Anders Carson is a poet living in Portland, ON with Vicki and their two kids.







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