REVIEW OF MICHAEL DOM’S “Twenty Six Sonnets”

BY KONAI HELU THAMAN

26 sonnets – Contemporary Papua New Guinean Poetry By Michael Dom, 64pp. Independently published by Jordan Dean Publishing on Kindle Direct Publishing Platform, 10 March 2020,. ISBN-13 : 979-8621240622, Available for free download https://www.pngattitude.com/free-michael-dom-book.html

Prof. Konai Helu Thaman is Professor of Pacific Education and Culture, UNESCO Chair in Teacher Education & Culture, Department of Education and Psychology

It was indeed a pleasure to read this collection of poetry by Michael Dom of Papua New Guinea. I had not read any poems by him before so it was quite an adventure to come across him. I belong to the so called  First Wave of Pacific writers (in English)   and am more familiar with the works of PNG writers such as Soaba and Kasaipwalova, so this collection made me a little afraid as the poet utilizes a form of writing that I had not appreciated nor tried before. I remember reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets and trying to understand what he was on about but thank goodness for the last two lines, of each sonnet, I would have some appreciation of what he was trying to say to me. Then I would return and re-read the whole sonnet and it made a bit more sense.  I utilized this approach in this collection, which showed the depth and breadth of the poems. I really got to like many of the sonnets after doing this and being able to go a little deeper into the poet’s imagination.  Thank you Michael for triggering my interest in the Sonnet, something that I thought I’d left behind in high school English classes!

The poems is a thoughtful collection of experiences, of about fifteen years,  of a writer with an acute sensitivity and an eye for detail, about what is going on (or not going on)  locally, nationally and globally, thus confirming to me, the role of the writer in bringing many of life’s issues to the attention of the readers, be they students, ordinary people or other writers. In his poetry Michael shares his experiences and feelings about many  of the issues of our time and of our region, such as relational disconnection, neglect of those most vulnerable,  prejudice and corruptions of all types as well as unreasonable expectations . Michael   provides a rich and bold commentary on other issues facing many island nations in general and PNG in particular, thus reminding us that we need to re-thing and re-claim our own approaches to appreciating if not attempting to find solutions to issues such as community conflicts and contradictions, politics, education, environmental degradation, social and interpersonal relationships, many of which are directly linked to existing inequities and injustices in our various island nations and are linked directly or indirectly to the current, fashionable ideology of globalization.

As someone who love free forms, as well as utilizing some elements of Tongan poetics, I marvel at Michael’s choice of adopting the sonnet genre and perfect it through a conscious effort to succeed. I personally did not like English literature at school- in fact I hated English classes mainly because I did not understand most of my teachers who were foreigners, and did not adequately explain the different types of approaches that writers (also foreign) whose works we had to study.  As for poetry, I was completely lost and thought that apart from making things rhyme (which I thought was cool because Tongan poetry almost always rhyme), I did not understand much of the content of the poems we had to study nor the nuances of the metaphors used. And despite the fact that I had successfully memorized many poems, including my favourite, Daffodils, I did not really understand what they were actually saying to me as well as many of my friends. I realized years later that what was missing in many of my English literature classes was the proper contextualization of what we had to read and study, as well as a n explanation of the actual process of writing utilized by the writers themselves. But then I realized that many of the poets that we had to study were already dead and they did not tell us what they were up to- at least told our teachers.

So it’s refreshing nowadays to be able to read poems by people who are still alive, especially those by young people such as Michael Dom. For me, this collection is a unique addition to what we already have in Pacific literature in English, and especially from PNG, a place that most Pacific Island people need to better understand and appreciate. Because of its relative size and cultural diversity, it is not often easy for those of us who come from tiny island nations, with their cultural and linguistic homogeneity to fully understand the realities of bigger places such as PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Many Pacific school students study the history and geography of other PIC’s, in books often authored by non-Pacific people, and at best they know a little bit about what we as Pacific people share in terms of our colonial histories and an ocean-based geography, but very few learn about what Pacific people actually feel about these things, and about one another.   For me, this collection tells me more about PNG than most of the reference books I’ve used and/or recommended to my students. The passion, humility, honesty, as well as the determination of the poet to share important human issues facing his community and the concomitant link between those and what is going on globally, make this collection unique. This is of course not to underestimate the collection as a treasure chest of a special type of poetry – the Sonnet, and although this form originate from elsewhere, Michael has used it successfully , contextualized and made it his own, including the Tokpisim poems, for our education and enjoyment.

I leave you with a few lines from Sonnet number 3, a favourite, and for me, sums up what I sometimes feel about  the never ending ‘expert’ discussions and advice, from our region as well as globally, on the sexy topics of our time, such as climate change and sustainable development:

“Agriculture is our backbone we say

(Rhetorical ruse on farmers)

Yet in our grand plan for development

We have forgotten what that really meant

From the highlands to the coastal islands

The struggle to feed ourselves never ends

If you met those whose unheard voices cry

You too would join me in questioning why”

 Thank you Michael for the effort and creativity – and we look forward to your next collection.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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