Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe, September 2017)
Poetry Book Society Choice
Shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2018
‘This is a major literary feat, and this a brilliant sequence of poems. It burns in its own supranatural light.’ – Tim Liardet & Vona Groarke, PBS Bulletin
‘Radiant, and viscerally evocative… this image confirms the value of Petit’s work… in Mama Amazonica to make poems that are as radical as they are necessary – because they enable us to see in new ways.’ – Alice Hiller, The Poetry Review
Mama Amazonica is set in a psychiatric ward and in the Amazon rainforest, an asylum for animals on the brink of extinction. It reveals the story of Pascale Petit’s mentally ill mother and the consequences of abuse. The mother transforms into a giant Victoria amazonica waterlily, and a bestiary of untameable creatures – a jaguar girl, a wolverine, a hummingbird – as she marries her rapist and gives birth to his children. From heartbreaking trauma, there emerge luxuriant and tender portraits of a woman battling for survival, in poems that echo the plight of others under duress, and of our companion species. Petit does not flinch from the violence but offers hope by celebrating the beauty of the wild, whether in the mind or the natural world. The cover design is by Dragana Nikolic.
‘Since 2001, when Pascale Petit published The Zoo Father, her greatest, most singular achievement has been to tackle difficult subject matter head-on while simultaneously distancing herself from it through the use of exotic metaphor. The distancing is crucial. It lies at the core of her method, and has enabled her to procure poems of a raw, almost ecstatic, beauty and, to paraphrase Ruth Padel, to write the unwritable. In this, her seventh extraordinary collection, possibly her most integrated book so far, this sort of elongated lens is much in evidence… This is a major literary feat, and this a brilliant sequence of poems. It burns in its own supranatural light.’ – Tim Liardet & Vona Groarke, PBS Bulletin.
‘Pascale Petit manages to do the impossible, weaving together a story of trauma, illness and tragedy and steeping it in the natural world, transforming her troubled relationship with her mother into a story of the Amazon rainforest. It is a feat both stylistic and imaginative, and the result is something utterly original.’ – Tahmima Anam, judge for the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2019
‘No one I’ve read writes like Pascale Petit. The way her densely wooded imaginative space, seemingly inescapable and full of vibrant, beautiful predators, spans multiple collections as a poetic theatre is by itself a remarkable achievement. It has not only been the punctum of multiple collections without feeling overworked, but seems to gather new dimensions in Mama Amazonica, its human and bestial subjects interweaving more fluidly and powerfully than ever.’ – Dave Coates
‘For those who have Pascale Petit in their pantheon of favourite British poets, her seventh collection, Mama Amazonica, will not disappoint. It vibrates with images that run before you like the last picture show… It is a portrait of art itself, though it be Coyoacán or Peruvian. The world is aroused, her imagination has widened the myth and the tropical groves hum.’ – Lin van Hek, Quadrant
From Mama Amazonica
Picture my mother as a baby, afloat
on a waterlily leaf,
a nametag round her wrist –
There are rapids ahead
the doctors call ‘mania’.
For now, all is quiet –
she’s on a deep sleep cure,
a sloth clings to the cecropia tree,
a jaguar sniffs the bank.
My mother on her green raft,
its web of ribs, its underside of spines.
I’ll sing her a lullaby,
tell her how her quilted crib
has been known to support
a carefully balanced adult.
My newborn mama
washed clean by the drugs,
a caiman basking beside her.
Black Caiman with Butterflies
Depression is a black caiman
lying on the sand,
mud-slicked from the deep,
impassive in her armour.
Nothing can get through to her,
she’ll lie there for hours, unblinking.
How to explain then
the appearance of butterflies?
Sparking flambeaux, snowy-whites,
at the corner of her eyes,
as if the beauty of the world has come
to perch on her, to drink her tears.
Poems from the book have appeared in numerous magazines, including www.granta.com, New Humanist, The Normal School, Ploughshares, Poem, Poetry, Poetry London, The Poetry Review, and Quadrant. The manuscript in progress was awarded an Arts Council England grant, to complete the book and for a trip to the Peruvian Amazon.
Here is another poem ‘My Wolverine’ filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce for Bloodaxe
An essay about Mama Amazonica, ‘Poetry as Exorcism’, was published in the spring 2015 issue of Mslexia:
‘Poetry as Exorcism’ Mslexia spring 2015
Read the essay here, click on images to enlarge:
Mslexia feature Poetry as Exorcism 2015 – page 2