Winner of The Laurel Prize 2020
Winner of the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2018
Shortlisted for the Roehampton Poetry Prize 2018
Poetry Book Society Choice
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.
Mama Amazonica is Pascale Petit's seventh collection, and her first from Bloodaxe. Four of Pascale Petit's previous six collections have been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Mama Amazonica won the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize 2018 - the first time a poetry book has won this prize for a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry best evoking the spirit of a place, and was shortlisted for the Roehampton Poetry Prize 2018. In 2020 it won the inaugural Laurel Prize.
‘The annual Laurel Prize is a new award, funded by Simon Armitage from his own honorarium as Poet Laureate, for the best collection of nature or environmental poetry. The inaugural winner, Pascale Petit, received the prize earlier this month, for Mama Amazonica, a remarkable collection of verse set in the Amazon rainforest and in a psychiatric ward… its themes — mental illness, the fragility of the natural world, the fissures in family life — seem to strike a chord with a younger generation searching for a reflective pause in their online lives.’ - Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times
‘I think there is an ongoing metaphorical connection between the two main subjects of the book – a mother and a mother’s mental illness on the one hand, and the rainforest on the other… She explores the preciousness of both, and the dangers of both, and the mysteries of both. But there’s so much pity and compassion in this book - it’s incredibly redemptive… There’s so much at stake here in this book – they are two high stakes enormous issues in their own right, one very personal and one very political, and she manages to find this incredible equilibrium going back and forth between the two.’ – Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, founder and judge of The Laurel Prize, speaking about Mama Amazonica on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb
The 2018 Ondaatje Prize judges Tahmima Anam, Eva Hoffman and Daljit Nagra commented:
'Mama Amazonica is an unforgettable read - rich with metaphor, the poems explode on the page with the multiple narratives of motherhood, illness, pain, and redemption. All of this set in a rainforest that is both mythic and vividly alive. This is a book that feels almost magical in its unlikeliness, and that for me is what made it a clear winner.’ - Tahmima Anam
‘Rarely has the personal and environmental lament found such imaginative fusion, such outlandish and shocking expression that is at once spectacularly vigorous, intimate and heartbroken.’ - Daljit Nagra
‘In Pascale Petit’s evocations, the Amazon rainforest comes alive, with human characters as much a part of nature as the creatures and plants living there – alluring and frightening, violent and vulnerable, dangerous and endangered. A feat of imaginative intensity, this is also an act of reckoning and reparation, in which deep empathy for a disturbed mother is transmuted into the exacting beauty of poetic language.’ - Eva Hoffman
‘Petit won [the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2018] for her glittering and breathtakingly fearless book of poems, Mama Amazonica, which marks the first time that poetry has beaten novels and travelogues in this category… In just 112 pages, Petit creates a work of indelible power and tragic, dramatic force. ’ – Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times
‘Pascale Petit’s dark collection, Mama Amazonica, reaches into my heart to squeeze and squeeze. These are epic, achingly beautiful poems of love, abuse and self-betrayal that are, ultimately, a celebration of the glorious tenacity of life in multitudinous shape-shifting form. That these multifaceted poems simultaneously expose, in microscopic detail, the horrors of the dysfunctional family, while unmasking our patriarchal culture’s violation of Mother Earth, is nothing short of genius, and is what lifts Mama Amazonica into a poetic stratosphere of its own.’ - Sophie McKeand, Wales Arts Review (Best Welsh Books of the Decade)
‘Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica powerfully twists together fantasy and experience. Over a sustained sequence of poems, Petit transfigures her mother’s desperate and disturbed life through fabulous imagery of the rainforest and its flora and fauna, moving towards a kind of extreme, Ovidian release into metamorphosis. It won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize this year, a first for a book of poetry.’ – Marina Warner, The Tablet (Books of the Year 2018)
'Pascale Petit's Mama Amazonica offers vibrant, strange, violent and original poems, evoking grief, represseed anger and love - a compelling read.' - Christopher North, Poetry News (Christmas Books)
'Pascale Petit’s haunting collection of poems that deal with her mother’s illness, Mama Amazonica, imagines a psychiatric ward in the rainforest, and does what all poetry dreams of doing - turn the wound into a feast, the trauma into a blossoming' - Tishani Doshi, Open Magazine (Best of Books 2018)
'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’s latest, moving and distinctive book presents a voyage through the Amazon rainforest and into the darker corners of the human mind… The intense jungle colours and human-animal metamorphoses, the lush vocabulary of exotic fauna make for a linguistic richness that is uncommon in current British poetry… the overall effect of Pascale Petit’s metaphorical leaps is a powerful suggestion of common ground between the exploitation of women and the rape of the earth.’ – Yvonne Reddick, Times Literary Supplement
'Although she is rarely cast in this light... we might read Petit as a deeply political poet, whose enduring thematic concerns correspond to a holistic, spiritual paradigm in which humans are, and/or become, animals: as totemic symbol, archetype and biotic reality in this compromised anthropocene era where biodiversity exists on a precarious brink.' – Karen McCarthy Woolf Poetry London
'Pascale Petit has made a career out of looking where other poets might turn away – and her seventh collection is no exception. Mama Amazonica returns to the twinned subjects of her late mother’s lifelong mental illness, and the ecology of the Amazon rainforest... poems that are as radical as they are necessary – because they enable us to see in new ways.' - Alice Hiller, The Poetry Review
‘Pascale Petit’s latest collection, Mama Amazonica, is a lush, horrifying beauty which plunges the reader into a jungle of violence, mental illness and heartbreaking memory… Mama Amazonica is a profoundly moving collection which leaves the reader with an enriched sense of the natural world as well as a renewed admiration for this incredible writer.’ – Sarah Coles, Planet
'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
‘It, I think, is Petit’s best book by some margin. She’s dealing with her mum’s mental illness and a background of violence in the family, but it’s cast in this semi-mythical exploration of the Amazon rainforest.’ – Simon Armitage, ShortList
'In as bold and successful an extended metaphor as I can recall, Petit creates an oblique memoir/biography of her mother through a sort of jungle bestiary, in which her mother’s troubled and strange life is presented through her metaphoric transformation into numerous jungle animals and plants... Best... to recommend this strange, wildly original, deeply moving book in its entirety without attempting to reduce it to a summary statement.' - Jeff Gundy, Poetry Salzburg Review
Pascale Petit reads 'My Wolverine'
Pascale Petit reads her poem ‘My Wolverine’ from Mama Amazonica. This poem was first published in Ploughshares (USA) and also appears in Hwaet! 20 Years of Ledbury Poetry Festival (Bloodaxe Books, July 2016). Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed her reading ‘My Wolverine’ in London in January 2015. To read the poem, click on VIEW EXTRACT below.
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