23 October 2020
A young writer I have been following over the years is Michael Theophilus Dom, the son of Kuri Dom, of Simbu. Michael was born in Port Moresby in November 1977 to an academic father and spent much of his time around bookish people.
On December 20, 2016 Michael dropped off signed copies of his two books: O Arise: Poems on Papua New Guinea’s Politics & Society (2016) and The Musings of an Assistant Pig Keeper: Poetry and Prose (2016).
I accepted the books as a gesture of admiration and respect, as I had been reading his poems for some time.
Michael is very consistent, motivated, and understands the importance of writing without needing to study it as a formal subject. Michael represents a lot of young writers associated with the Crocodile Prize and various activities around it.
It was always a pleasure to read Michael’s poems every week in “The Poet’s Corner” of The National newspaper. Michael is a young writer I admire for his candid views and unpretentious attitude as a conscientious Papua New Guinean.
The title O Arise (2016) of his book is from a poem of the same name. The poem written in Japanese Tanka style is a statement on the removal of the totem pole and lintel cultural arts from the National Parliament by the Speaker of the House. Instead of replacing the tattered PNG flag the Speaker saw fit to remove cultural materials on the basis of some fundamental protestant doctrines.
O Arise (2016) is wonderful book of prose and poems. He begins the collection with poems such as “Yesterday we Dreamed”, which declares: “It was not so long ago/Hardly more than a lifetime or so/When our nation was so young/And history had just begun/Then, they stood them all/Forefathers tall/And blessed us/With an anthem song”. Michael challenges Papua New Guineans to hold close to their chest the Papua New Guinea ways whilst also taking on the challenges that come with modernity.
His makes that point succinctly in “Tribalism to Nationalism” in these lines: “Until this day we are tribes/each one desiring nationhood/eyes closed to the past, bling to the present/yet we seek a future/Was what we called our Melanesian Way/a transient dream? Dom is incisive about his political views. In the poem “Welcome to Bibliocracy” he remarks: “A vibrant democracy/A rampant hypocrisy/this is the PNG way”. After having surveyed the contemporary life style of modern PNG, Dom declares: “Our newfangled philosophy/Is Melanesian Christianity/Welcome to Bibliocracy”.
In his other works such as “Message from the Estate of Icarus” and “Dear Honorable Sirs”, Michael is appealing to the conscience of the nation to wake up. He appeals to writers and artists to use their writing to speak against corruption:
“When the Poet’s voice is silenced/There is only after echo of fading thought/It is the snuffing of candlelight at the market table/When the Poet’s voice is silenced/Truth is raped at the Public Gathering Places/And Beauty is fed to bastardized Beast.”
Such strong sense of social criticism and appeal to national conscience to hear itself, drives home Michael’s observation of the society. He will not be silenced as the following poems reflect: “Limericks for the clowns in parliament”, “Limerick on the Exim Bank loan”, “Obama to O’Namah”, “Waiting for 2015), and “It’s time to clean up the mess”.
All new Members of Parliament must read this poem: “Where are our leaders?” This poem is good on a poster:
“Where are the Members?/They hide in their chambers/Where are the morals?/They made Parliament a brother/Where are the ethics/They play Peter petty politics/Where are the leaders?/They fake their laurels/Where the chiefs?/They cause us grief/Where are the heroes?/They cause us grief.”
He is playing his role as the society’s ombudsman here, a function many writers in society are known to play for centuries.
The conscience of a nation is in the eyes and ears of the writer. Poets are barometers of a society’s values and how that society holds itself together against the rest of the world.
Michael Dom’s poetry is such a wonderful read, packed with so much wisdom, sharp social criticism of the state of society, and the ever-present gaze of the poet on us as Papua New Guineans.
I kind of like the idea that Michael is proposing to us that if we are to make any criticism of our leaders and even of ourselves, we must do so with some sense of higher purpose rather than firing broadside bullets that go off the mark. Choosing literary forms like poetry and prose as vehicular transmission of our ideas, social political commentaries allows a writer to weigh the value of his or her expressions.
He has accomplished his goal of writing this book. It is a collection that demands to be read by every Papua New Guinean. Some of the poems in this collection first appeared in Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude, Crocodile Prize, The 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 Crocodile Prize Anthology, A Collection of Poetry-At Another Crossroads, The Musings of an Assistant Pig Keeper, the BBC 2014 Commonwealth Games Poetry Postcards, Soaba’s Storyboard, Poetry Soup, Stella Magazine, PNG Resource Magazine and The National newspaper Writers Forum. Phil Fitzpatrick, author and publisher of Pukpuk Publishing, agrees with Michael Dom as the conscience of the nation: “If the politicians prefer not to listen the ordinary people will. A poem is a powerful weapon, especially in the hands of a master like Michael. One day the politicians will rue their deafness.”
One of his contemporary PNG writers, Kelakapkora Sil Bolkin, the author of The Flight of the Galkope says: “Michael Dom has poetry written all over him and is surely the most talented of Papua New Guinean poets. His poem can drive a plebeian to madness, a bureaucrat searching for civic virtue and a politician hanging his or her head in shame for self-serving.”
It is such a pleasure reviewing and endorsing Michael’s work. I wish him well and encourage readers to read his other books.
This article first appeared in the Weekender, The National of 14 July 2017 at https://www.thenational.com.pg/the-estate-of-icarus/.