Congratulations to the former PBS Choice Pascale Petit on winning the Ondaatje Prize for her poetry collection Mama Amazonica, which merges the Amazon rainforest with the psychiatric ward caring for her mentally ill mother, has won the RSL Ondaatje prize for books that best “evoke the spirit of a place”.
Petit’s seventh collection tells the story of her mother who suffered abuse as she transforms into a series of creatures – a hummingbird, a wolverine, a “jaguar girl”. Born in Paris, Petit now lives in Cornwall and has been shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize for poetry four times. Mama Amazonica was also the Autumn 2017 PBS Choice.
Ondaatje prize judge and writer Eva Hoffman said that “the Amazon rainforest comes vividly alive” in Petit’s poems, “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."