“Remote models require assimilation. You can learn from the past with little risk of merely aping it as you might ape your contemporaries, or the generation just before your own. A young poet impatient with the assumptions and styles of the present might look for springboards and encouragements in another time.” Robert Pinsky
Our ancients understood the power of poetry, even if it remained undefined to them, because the dramatic life events and their emotional responses were encapsulated in their naïve poetic authenticity and released during their chants and dance, sung tales and oration.
They used poetic techniques and devices to express their desire for dominance over nature or fear of the unknown elements lurking there, to marshal, manage or manipulate women and men, to gain more land, for success in hunting and fishing, for battle glory, increased virility and numerous pigs, all in varied orders of importance.
They knew how precious was verbalised hope for good harvest, healthy children, helpful weather, calm seas, peace with enemies, victory over rivals and good fortune in finding and wooing a spouse, and in order to communicate their stories and customs over generations.
What we now call our oral literature was doubtless an intimate part of the knowledge systems which helped us to survive and to inform successive generations of the core values in our traditional societies, those which have served us for tens of millennia on this island. Even today elements of our traditional life provide a social safety net and customary obligations for family and community as well as for leadership.
In a very real way oral literature was the articulated hope of our ancients who were living in a darker universe than ours is today. Hope for the future and trust that their descendants would continue to survive and thrive using the knowledge which they had encoded in their chants and dance, sung tales and fireside fables.
It is now our responsibility to make sure that we don’t let such ancient hope fade and leave us with blank pages in our history.
While writers may bear the task of recording historical facts and truthful fictions, poets hold our hope poised on the points of their pens and tuned tantalizingly on the tips of their tongues.
We need to hear from our poets when our society and economy is being rocked from within and without, when our political leaders fail to offer us the kind of hope, justice and peace of mind that comes from facing the truth, because without doing this we continue dwell in doubt about our leaders and uncertainty about our future.
As one psychology professor expounded “If you put people in wildly uncertain circumstances, they discount the future”. That is a reality which many rural communities face after continually unfulfilled promises from MPs for mineral resource projects and leaders on logging deals, both scenarios where too many communities have had very little say.
And a similar sense of hopelessness for the future is bound to be felt in the ATS community after their recent evictions.
Social issues abound and how we dramatize the emotional response in memorable poetry determines the value of our literature and what we learn from it.
We need to hear from our writers and poets at times when society’s fundamental building blocks are being battered and bruised because, for instance, it’s not only women who are the victims of gender-based violence, it is our on-going relationships as couples, in families and communities that suffer, and where the emotional and psychological wellbeing of our children impacts. About half of those children are the future men of this nation.
How do we understand and come to terms with what’s happening in our lives?
Moreover, if “Value is what you perceive and pursue” then what do the works of our young poets demonstrate or reveal about us to ourselves and others on what we are aiming to achieve.
What is the Beauty and Truth that we perceive today?
We had poets. We have poets. They articulate a new oral literature and write it too, partly maintaining our modern society’s history. But do we still keep to our core family and tribal values?
Over the last decade the latest wave of PNG’s literary movements, The Crocodile Prize Literary Competition, has calmed from a cyclone to a whirl. It remains to be seen if the tide has carried PNG writers of this decade to their final shore.
A few old hands continue to “rage against the dying of the light” including journalist and author Daniel Kumbon (Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter), the distinguished poet and literature professor Dr Steven Winduo (Land Echoes) and our national literary guru Russel Soaba (Scattered by the wind), formerly blogging at Soaba’s Storyboard.
The early generation of the Crocodile Prize era are still blazing on, with much more recent publications from Baka Binaka (Tales from Faif), Marlene Potoura (6 Whacky Tales for Youngsters) and Caroline Evari (Nanu Sina).
The twilight of our small print industry has provided other opportunities, such as poet and author Jordan Dean (Tama’gega) becoming an independent online publisher with Kindle and helping even more PNG writers to become published authors.
Across the Coral Sea Rashmii Bell (My Walk To Equality), essayist, editor and advocate, is building a brilliant publishing brand in Hibiscus 3. The landmark women’s publication that Rashmii edited was also reviewed by Tess Newton Cain of DevPolicy Blog.
The small number of writers involved with Ples Singsing – A PNG writer’s blog and other blogs, such as Sipikriva Girl, Auna Melo, Academia Nomad, Em Nau PNG’s Blog and My Land My Country continue to write about everything from politics to pumpkin tips.
You will find the works of more than a few of the newer literary hands alongside those of the old hands on the famous PNG Attitude blog, ten whom I’ll mention here are seasoned poets, and I have read that many more of these young bloods are born in the Facebook pages of Poetry PNG.
Wardley DB Igivisa is our poet’s poet. A deep thinker with an axe to grind. But he swings that razor-edged axe with a dexterity that leaves a scalpel clean cut.
Reading his poems can feel like you’ve just bitten the tip of your own tongue and now you can see the open slit in the mirror. Salt can really burn after a cut like The Melanesian; “She clawed deeper / into my flesh as she spoke, / as if to plant each syllable / firmly in my consciousness”.
And a smack down from ‘The Ward’ can give us hope too, hope that we can do better when he tells us to keep your heaven; “keep your prophetic gift / it is pushing me back / into the darkness // all i want is humanity / all i want is equality / all i want is a jesus / that says everyone matters”.
Wardley’s first book of poetry demonstrated his technical skill and the intense scrutiny of himself and society at large. ABCDreams showed us that “Poems are an avenue for us to ponder, plumb and pun on life’s varied scenarios”.
A personal favourite of mine from that book is My Tumbuna Talked. It was one of the poems which earned Wardley the Crocodile Prize Award for Poetry in 2016.
The poem is a masterful description of modern-day dilemma, a list of qualms reflecting on the frustration that our youth have with past generations, disenchantment with their present struggles and feeling dispirited about their future.
“Tomorrow??? Let me not talk about tomorrow Let me not think about tomorrow Let me not write about tomorrow For sufficient for today is the evil of yesterday.”
Then there’s Raymond Sigimet, a published poet, story teller and teacher. We have a few of these characters around and Sigimet’s poems can brighten us up like a festive season.
Raymond’s poetry is like Christmas lights on ‘slo-glo’ mode. Watching from afar it looks like an ethereal wave as each bulb fades dimmer then builds up to a fiery sparkle.
At the moment when most of the bulbs are waving down there’s that brief chance to catch your breath on a poem that leaves a residual glimmer of the lights in your brain.
Sometimes that glimmering sounds like a melodious verse as in Let words be not silent or sleep alone; “Have all good poems been written / That we today have none to write / What then of the difficult mundane / The highs and lows we must bite / Or the hopes that we bear in spite”.
When a poem leaves a residual glow, you know that it’s good. Two other poems from Mr. Sigimet imprinted themselves on me in this manner.
A truly marvellous villanelle in which words offered no respite, the way in poignant moments we search for Bigger words to say I’m sorry; “The stabbing hurt does dull much memory / The falling away then has no uses / as we sit and stare without a worry”.
This poem must always be read in full. It is one whole piece.
Then when I think that I am daydreaming of a pleasant beachside holiday of my own volition Raymond instead tells me that The Island is Calling; “Over the calm water / when she is sleeping / Under the weather / when I am praying // The sand will be joyous / to walk with you again / The birds will be curious / to see a boy now grown”.
A short almost castaway set of words that comes drifting back in with the tide.
At other times a small spark of hope is all we need, a brief flash to remind us of something valuable or vulnerable and encourage us to keep seeking our path through the gloom and gore we are surrounded with every day.
It’s helpful to have poets hold a light up for us but Hezron Wangi Jnr and Edwin Lako each flashed a high beam torch directly in our eyes, switched it off and then ran away into the night. Shame on them!
Naughty boys! Come back here and explain yourselves!
Maybe they’re hiding in the Facebook Poetry PNG pages. (Someone should go smoke them out of Zuckerberg’s mindless maze of miscreants.)
Here’s the promiscuous torchlight that Hezron ‘shined us on with’ before disappearing, Till death do us part; “My blade was quick, / Stabbed and dead, / Her and Sir Dick, / Naked in our bed. // Lifeless, they lie, / Their sinful cadavers, / Submerged in lye, / Forever he’ll have her”.
As for Edwin, I suspect that he’s won that sweet young sine-gai he was crooning his heart out for, the sly devil wailing Ohh Sine-Gai Tine; “Convincing you is like climbing Mt Wilhelm, being with you makes me feel I’ve conquered Mt Wilhelm, losing you is unimaginable. //… Oh Sine-Gai Tine of Laswara, I’ve heard of, seen and known. But you…?”.
While we are at Mt Wilhelm searching for our Sine-Gai we should look out for Jimmy Awagl of the Simbu Writers Association.
Jimmy Awagl is a workhorse. What can I say, he’s a Simbu. They’re made of rock.
Although rocks start off in a soft molten mash that you can’t pick up so easily, when they cool you can examine them closely, especially when they’re cracked and brittle, like in Shattered Dream; “The dream is a fairytale / Your love was legendary / until it all turned to clay // The tale of our good old days / The ambitions we shared / walked out of our lives”.
We may feel sorry for the young lass who dropped that rough piece of rock.
If you polish a piece of quartz rock it will gleam like a gemstone catching the reflection of sunshine When the flame kisses the earth; “And the beauty of the sun is ours to keep / Bestowed to bring light to our lives / Its rays conferred without a price / To keep our hearts at peace”.
There is zen in the mountains. But it sure gets cold. And that makes life challenging for high altitude highlands communities, like Tambul Nebilyer, where Samuel Lucas Kafugili works assiduously on his poems.
Highlanders glorify and praise the majesty of the mountains which their ancestors first named, as in Kiluwe, oh Kiluwe; “Mt Giluwe, oh Giluwe / Kiluwe in mother lingua franca, / from whose mighty peaks, / the freezing mists disgorge // And snowflakes that puff out, / and ice, the spray-gunned ice, / Sending away the glacial drops / that slide into the mist”.
(My review of Kafugili’s poem is provided here.)
These six young men aren’t alone in their poetic perambulation. Our young women keep them on their toes, as muses and moving poets in their own righteous place.
The talented and well-known Dominica Are continues to surprise and delight and does so again in her new book Prized Possessions. She has put serious study into her poem creation and it has made a noticeable difference.
While her early poems contained stalling phrases, her recent work flows smoothly to an inevitable cascade.
As a mother she has affords us a unique perspective during the Covid-19 lockdowns when her young children are In their cocoon; “But their infectious laughter pulls me through / To live without fear as we want to do // Whilst adhering rigidly to instructions / Stay home, stay safe, no obstructions // In their carefree world I’d love to dwell / But the fire will stop, all will be well”.
Marie-Rose Sau is a matriarch of the Poetry PNG page. Marie-Rose blooms for us every now and then on PNG Attitude.
But sometimes her presence is to foretell a creeping disease like in The death of decency Part I; “They eat the fattest pigs for dinner / And drive around in golden cars from China / I guess it is true what they say now / They’ve made a deal with the devil / And gave us bones for the picking”.
And Ms. Sau completes a full diagnosis in Part II; “This is the irony of reality / They look you in the eye and promised you the heavens / They vow to carry your voice against the wind / And now they spit back at you and drive away in flashy cars / They have no time for you”.
One of the benefits of living in PNG Attitude’s vineyard is wine tasting.
We can watch the grapes grow, being pressed, fermented and blended then barrelled away and left to mature.
Stephanie Alois poetry emerged in that way to my salubrious sampling. Her poetry has matured into a fine full-flavored wine.
Here’s a tasting of her early Sauvignon blanc, Relentless; “Secrets in my head / Scars in my heart / Fear in my bones / I want to explode / Each time I’m provoked / To remember what happened”.
It’s fresh, raw and fast paced like most youthful poetry.
A much earlier sample from Stephanie’s cellar leaves us equally breathless while reading about the Coronavirus Pandemic: “Panic’s in the atmosphere / Freakish reaction everywhere / How did it get here? / In a tropical paradise / I’m feeling paralysed”.
But nowadays Stephanie’s bottled words offer a well-crafted and settled vintage like the remarkable and earthy Mud Woman; “A taste of wine with in her presence / Spending more time with her / Leads to loving her even more / It’s difficult not to laugh at her jokes / Or her wicked sense of humour / She’ll get you thinking, she never cries”.
That is a deep red merlot. Warm and hearty.
But Miss. Alois offers another tasting which is a more feisty, red blooded revelation about My sister Celest; “So I’ve said nothing, nothing at all / about our Celest. Maybe you heard? / My sister’s such a disappointment. / She goes off to school each day / in hope of a future bright and bold, / Then comes home full of complaint / about clothes, stationery, friends, money”.
Stephanie serves a full glass of wine each time in the PNG way – right up to the top.
Then there are the newly minted celebrity servings we occasionally receive on PNG Attitude.
When Koivi Rex Biva burst open her champagne bottle like a Formula 1 winner, it was almost with tears of joy that I beheld the beautifully crafted verses even while I read of The perpetual tears of Hela; “Once no cries were heard nor bitter tears shed, / This time when ancients and babes mingled calm, / Love and respect were their constant companions, / When no one stood bewildered by enmity or anger”.
Ms. Biva does not bivouac there, she’s a mountain lady and she rolls her lingua franca to blow kiss her love with full lips, Dobasi wandkii; “Beauty is the word for you, no other can do / I found you somewhere, now I don’t know how, / Your smile, it just made that moment explode / I failed in my choice of the right words for you / Doo dobasi wandkii, oh!”
I suspect that Koivi is a poetic talent born fully formed.
We are fortunate to share her language of love. Beauty is the word.
While we constantly remind each other that the youth of the nation are our future it is up to this current generation to offer them better stories to tell, to enable them to write the truth of our lives and inspire them to imagine what a future Papua Niugini might be like.
We should be confident that Papua Niugini is a country with unproven human potential and the vast natural resource base to provide for advancement. We cannot afford to let our youth agonize over tomorrow in the way Wardley’s exhausted writer had exclaimed.
Indeed, Wardley’s first book, ABCDreams, was hailed as “A new collection that declares a bright future for PNG poetry”.
The Crocodile Prize ship, under which broad sails many writers and poets made their first passage, has made its last voyage. But that ship was sunk right where it should. We are on home ground.
Now we must create new platforms for our youth to talk and gain experiences, provide them forums to think and share ideas, and encourage and challenge their writing pursuits.
It is young poets, like those mentioned here, whom we trust to express the honest responses to what we experience in life today and explore our hope for tomorrow.
Singaut igo aut long ol wanlain bilong mipela. Ples Singsing i sanap.