Motherhood-personal, historical, mythological. Mandorla is all about mothers and children, especially the mothering of challenging children, children with disabilities. In the first section of Nancy Holmes’ new collection of poems, the Virgin Mary is the archetypal suffering mother who worries about the fate of her son. Through a poetic re-drawing of the hieratic poses of icons of the Virgin in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Holmes comes to recognize the fear and absolute love for a child who is fated to be different.
The second section moves out of cultural myth into family history, the Ukrainian side of the poet’s family, people who settled in north-eastern Alberta in the first years of the twentieth century. These poems use images drawn from domestic fairy tales and the family farm, tracking imagined inner lives of immigrant children. Through speculation, magic and distorted family stories, Holmes explores not only the damage of mental disability, cultural displacement and corrosive prejudice, but also the beauty and social isolation of rural Alberta.
In the last section of the book, the author focuses on her own experience of motherhood, its pain and comedy, its bewilderment and bedazzlement, its crushing collisions with schools and social systems. Holmes creates a triptych that opens up some of the emotional and spiritual adventure of being a parent, that most heart-breaking yet enriching of human roles, past or present.