A critique of the World Environment Day Poetry
“Congratulations and well done! Writing skills are sharpened by practice. Competition allows you to sharpen your work by reading other poets work as well – they may provide you [with] a new or different way of expressing your poetry”. – Ples Singsing email to entrants in the World Environment Day 2021 Poetry Mini-competition.
It was a pleasure to read the four poems submitted to this mini-competition. The low number of entries prompted Ples Singsing to open the category of poets to include any and all entrants regardless of age.
It was particularly inspiring to read in Fiada’s email that “I am sending this poem to you because your flyer has prompted me to write this poem. I hope you read my poem”.
The response is, Fiada, your exceptional poem has captured our attention and won this particular contest – we want more – and from all of you too. Ples Singsing emi sanap tasol istap sapos yupela ilaik raun ikam.
The judging process was based on three parameters, (1) Originality, (2) Local context/idiom and (3) Other poetic skills. These were on good display in the four poems, with distinctive features between prosaic and versified forms and the use of particular poetic devices.
Megan Fiu Ra’vu and Kesia Erick presented prosaic poems in Our Motherland and What is happening to Mother Nature. Both poems used the common idiom of Mother Nature/Mother Earth. Although the term motherland has more of a political element it is also a translation of Tok Pisin mama-graun, which is literally mother-earth, so it may be that this was on the narrator’s mind. Many Tok Pisin terms are contextual and sometimes lead to ambiguity, but not here.
These two poems provide short-stories of environmental destruction. Whereas, What is happening focuses on the impacts of human action on nature, Our Motherland points out some of the actions that lead to the dire consequences. The verse-like structure of the former allows summary while the prose writing is unrestrained in the latter poem. The poems also translated the different styles of presentation rather well in Tok Pisin.
The narrators both give full flight to their descriptive imagery, the one voice aghast and questioning: “Garbage are piled up and scattered everywhere” // Forest are disappeared, // What is happening to Mother Nature?”.
While the other voice repeatedly confesses to personified nature: “You are our motherland and a habit for the flora and fauna. // Oh motherland, we are destroying you and the habitat for the flora and fauna. // Oh motherland, we have destroyed you and the habit for the flora and fauna”.
The end line repetition in both poems is a strategy to emphasise either dismay or guilt at the actions of humanity. These poets agree on the fundamental cause: “We were blinded by money and let foreigners use you like a stamping ground” | “…because of greed and stubbornness”.
The straightforward clarity is an energetic expression but not overly exciting reading for either poem and perhaps would communicate better in spoken-word presentations.
There is strong sense of lamentation in reading the poems, with the exception of one amusing wry expression coming out of left field; “Money is given with a bonus of deforestation, desertification, soil erosion and damage to the environment”. An unasked-for bonus from investing in the development of a modern civilization.
Unlike the first two poems the next two poems are structured in quintain (five line) and quatrain (four line) stanza. But more importantly, In that Paradise and The Change avoid the much too common idiom of Mother Nature. Instead, these poems demonstrate two different approaches by asserting the local context of environmental agenda.
Austin Nasio’s poem The Change is descriptive and categorically goes through the impacts of human activity on nature. It is a direct response to the competition description. The five categorical stanzas follow on from the first stanza which lays the basis for observations to be made.
Firstly, the world famously endangered Queen Alexandra Bird Wing Butterfly is given prominence. Then the iconic (and metonymic) bird on the Papua New Guinea national crest, Kumul, is named.
The second stanza suggests that the welfare of our natural flora and fauna and the integrity of the nation itself is being held ransom to change. What’s more, Kumul, our national identifier, is hiding from us, “Whither nests Kumul, the pride of New Guinea? / For an icon must not hide from his kin”.
So, we may infer that the national interests are at stake but the State does little to avert these disastrous environmental change scenarios. That was made evident at Basamuk and seems on going at Frieda.
The use of the exclamation ‘Alas’ in The Change is mostly an aesthetic fixture for continuing the archaic expressions such as ‘Whither’ (adverb meaning ‘to which place’ – Oxford Lnguages Dictionary Online) that appears however inconsistently substituting ‘Where’ in different verses.
Nevertheless, the line structures gained from archaic English are interesting and original like, for example, in stanza four, “They are all but poised; / Hovering shamefully in unveiling nakedness”. And we can easily imagine those mountains stripped bare while ‘hovering’ provides either anatomical metaphor or that the mountains are embarrassed and trying to hide.
The Change ends with a realization by the narrator that “Tis True, the world has changed”. This fifth line is added to the quatrain to make an emphasis out of line-count with the preceding quatrain. A show of confidence in the composition.
I wonder at the capitalization of True, which poses it as a concept, and I assume that the narrator is making a value judgement based on objective evidence. That seems technically sound to my scientist thinking.
On the other hand, capitalizing does not make ‘true’ a proper noun so it may suggest that this word is being inflated with more meaning than it bears. I have been guilty of that too in poetry.
The end line may easily have been “I concur, the world has changed”, if other archaic terms were suitably modified. It may be concluded that the environmental changes have more to do with ‘the world’ as in human influences, rather than climatic changes per se, and that our own society is part of the negative outcomes.
In short, the standout stanza to me is the second and the fourth, where the local idiom and metaphor are particularly strong.
Also, if the meanings in the second stanza are stretched further it may be considered allegorical. In that instance Queen Alexandra would represent the feminine while Kumul is the iconic masculine symbolism. However, the occasion is momentary and it is not necessary to interpret the stanza in this manner to appreciate the fitting construction. The remaining stanza steer clear of this allegory.
In contrast to Our Motherland and What’s happening, Fiada Kede’s poem In that Paradise includes the identity of mother nature within the context of the poem without straight forward statement. The she is subtle but present.
Compared to The Change this poem develops an all-encompassing metaphor from the very start. The Birds of Paradise, or Kumul, has become generalized to Paradise birds, symbolically representing both the country and its natural endowments. The full-fledged metonym.
The capitalization of Paradise here lays claim to a specific title, the name of a place, as paradise is a proper noun. This is a deft reference to PNG as the ‘last known Paradise’, by which the country has been promoted.
(And I immediately think of South Pacific Export lager, once touted as ‘the beer of Paradise’.)
Poetic skill is demonstrable in this poem. The stanzas begin and end just so, no excess, precise wording and order. Hence, the end rhymes spin lightly off the tongue, a-a / b-b / R // c-c / d-d / R etc.
The structural use of Oh alas! (In verse four) and Oh Arise! (One more capitalization, verse five) in this poem shows good crafting. And, of course, Oh Arise is the PNG national anthem (as well as a haiku and book title by this author), used within a noteworthy conversational roll from “Of that Paradise // Oh Arise! … / … For that paradise”, which maintains a subtle long-distance rhyming momentum through to the end.
The content of this poem begins with the past natural history in three stanzas. Within these stanzas are sleight-of-hand provides phrases like: ‘admiral / Were the oceans’, as in the archaic naval term for commanding; ‘Enshrouded with un-numbered crowds / Were the forest’ places us in the long-distant perspective; and the comparison or parallelism of ‘development’ (an event constituting a new stage in a changing situation – Oxford Languages Dictionary Online) and ‘devolvement’ (to transfer or delegate (a duty, responsibility, etc.) to or upon another; pass on).
The poem goes through a sudden change in a single summary stanza four which succinctly dispatches and dissects the cause: development perverted by devolvement. However, at a closer reading the elements in the metaphorical stanza are condensed and complex rather than short and sweet.
Here nature, ascribed as usual with the feminine character, is being destroyed by an unnamed power, logically human technology or civilization, but sometimes suggested to be the patriarchy, the assumed power hierarchy of masculine character.
Development was the prescribed objective until “In the name of development / He threw his environment in devolvement”. The supposed culprit ‘he’ transferred all ‘his’ duty and responsibility to the environment, mainly that of storing, disposing and bearing the destruction and waste generated by development. This may refer to abuse of the traditional feminine role.
That characterization of the contending elements of humanity follows much mythological understanding and illustration of the feminine-masculine dynamic, which I find conceptually interesting and not completely unreasonable if not quite logical – because its poetry after all.
Whereas, it would be confounding of historical and actual reality to suggest that all technological advances and systems of civilization were inherently masculine and therefore destructive since one does not presuppose the other. Nor in the Other.
If development is to everyone’s benefit, then devolvement implicates everyone’s investment account.
In the last stanza a resolution is achieved, both concluding the poetry of the work and addressing the underlying portents of conflict at the base units of human nature.
While addressing an audience as ‘compatriots’, the politically correct gender-neutral term, the narrator slips into the archaic ‘Tis’ but this remains in keeping with the structural elements previously noted.
The call is to ‘manage, nurture and protect’, which may be construed as either feminine or masculine traits, if the arguments were being pursued for some reason other than the enjoyment of a poem.
Regardless, the tasks called for are technically sound and run neatly into the ending phrase, “To replant, recycle and reuse- that never neglect”.
This is concisely the current World Environment Day slogan and precisely aimed not at metonymical Paradise but “For that paradise”, the real place where we live.