Mandorla, by Nancy Holmes


by Nancy Holmes


  • Autumn 2005
  • ISBN 978-1-55380-029-3 (1-55380-029-X)
  • 6″ x 9″ Trade Paperback, 114 pages
  • Poetry, Women’s Studies

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.

Mandorla is a generous, high-spirited trilogy that overturns the narrative of silencing that its subject so often inspires. Holmes’ portraits of women and mothers, both real and iconic, are flamboyant gestures of affection and difficulty.”
— Sharon Thesen

“Elegant, lush and thorny, Nancy Holmes’ poetry takes you on a journey through the bodies, gardens, art and mind of God, holy mothers, immigrants and children. Mandorla is at once gorgeous, intelligent, witty and sensuous — a book that makes you smile while it smites you.”
— Joan Crate

Also by Nancy Holmes



“[The poems] fuction where good poetry always functions, on and under the skin.”
Pacific Rim Review

“These are colourful and serious poems that repay any contemplation.”
The New Brunswick Reader