YardEdge recently interviewed Jamaican writer and poet, Pamela Mordecai about her work and upcoming children’s play, El Numero Uno, which opens in Toronto on January 31. The play was directed by Jamaican-born, Toronto-based dub poet, artistic director, and theater producer ahdri zhina mandiela.
In this interview, Mordecai explains that El Numero Uno is “a fantastical Caribbean tale infused with engaging songs and unique vocabulary. A reckless [teenage] pig is captured by two greedy Beasts who threaten his island with starvation. If he is to save the day, El Numero Uno will need big-big help from his neighbours, the prophetic insights of newcomer Ras Onelove, a magical soup, and a new perspective on being number one.” See excerpts from the interview:
YE: Have you written and staged plays before? If yes, where and what play?
Pamela: I’d written two plays long ago – three, if you count my book of poetry, De Man: A Performance Poem – which is a sort of verse play. The first two were called “The Birthday Party” and “The Office”. “The Birthday Party” was put on by my fellow Diploma in Education students in 1965 on the UWI campus. “The Office” was never staged. De Man has been performed numberless times. Next performance is this year in Calgary at Easter.
YE: What is your preferred format to write: poetry, short stories, plays? How do you compare the process of each?
Pamela: I don’t prefer any one rather than another. Characters speak to me and I find it easy to put their voices on the page. I hear children’s voices especially clearly. In a play, you create characters by what they say – and of course what they do – but what they say is important, so that calls on the same set of skills. And never mind that the shape of a poem seems very different from the shape of a novel, or short story, or play, they all have a shape. So you have to find that shape, create it. A novel is a special challenge, because it is long, but that’s perhaps a matter of stamina. Rhyme, rhythm, word play, tone of voice and humour are all, important to me, whatever I’m writing. [. . .]
YE: What other writers have influenced you and how?
Pamela: One is influenced by everything one reads. My short stories have been compared to Flannery O’Connor’s, and I’d never have thought of her as an influence. But then I suppose we are both neurotic Catholic women. I did a bit of theatre in my youth, so Shakespeare was in my ears and my mouth from early on; I did a lot of reciting of poetry in school and was in love with the Romantics as an adolescent; I’ve been a lifelong fan of Louise Bennett’s and know Brathwaite’s and Walcott’s poetry well; and I loved the work of Samuel Selvon [. . .]. I think Vic Reid’s The Leopard is a vastly underestimated book, and I like the toughness of Dennis Scott’s poetry and plays. But I don’t know that they’re influences any more than Georges Simenon’s Maigret tales or James Lee Burke’s detective stories.