Cry My Beloved Country, Collection of Poems and Prose 1998 – 2018, Telly Orekavala, JDT Publishing, Port Moresby, February 2019, ISBN-13: 978-1797-08-275-2 Kindle Direct Publishing, USA, 76pp. Available on Amazon $3.59
THERE are many different ways to interpret a collection of poems and prose, and so writing about such a book, for me, is often an attempt to make sure that what I am taking away from it is not what I have read into it myself.
(As a note to my Papua Niuginian contemporaries, I should say that when writing a poetry review, I’m not always sure if I am doing it very well, but I keep writing them anyway, if simply for the pleasure of wrestling with the poems and my relationship with them. I do hope a few of you may decide to join me in these endeavors.)
Nevertheless, any reader would have to determine for their-self whether they want to take my word for it or to simply buy the book and get stuck into it. I enjoyed reading this book all three times.
Not believing what I’m about to say here is as good a reason as any to buy this book by Telly Orekavala. And I suspect that most readers will gain a whole lot more out of actually reading the book than from hearing my thoughts.
It is difficult for me to pick a single favourite poem out of the collection, and I suppose that means I don’t really have one, although there are a few that appeal to me more than others, a couple of which were surprising to myself.
It’s always delightful to make a surprise find when reading a new poem, and for me one of those was The Pink Month, for which I think the image of May grass wafting in the wind came to me with such clarity that the stunned voice in the text was mine; “Em May a-ah?”.
There are passages in many of the poems which provide similarly memorable moments and these are at the heart of enjoying a poem.
One example is an onomatopoeic* verse used in two related poems What are friends and Friendship Blooms. In this verse, I can hear the old Gordon Secondary school bell ringing in the back ground as I recall saying goodbye to friends on the last day of school.
Time bell rings
Time! Time! Time to go
Time! Time! Time to go
Telly also uses strong and clear simplicity of expression in some passages when summarizing the central idea of a poem. I like that effect in Good Old Days when he says;
I did not see what I see now
I did not hear what I hear today
I did not feel what I feel tete
The good old days
I also like the use of the ol’skul’ Tok Pisin term to complete the transition now – today – tete in our unique Papua Niuginian idiom.
Then there’s the verse segment from the socio-politically bent poem, Too much freedom stings, which, when read apart from the full context of the poem seems simple enough, but is in fact providing a summary of the commonly held and readily assumed notion that freedom is everything that we need to survive, which the rest of the poem then scrutinizes.
Man talk about it
Man sing about it
Man dream about it.
When freedom is deprived
People cry for it
People fight for it
People die for it.
Challenging popular and cherished notions is a feature of poetry that often brings poets into conflict with the champions and their cohorts, often the ‘thought-leaders’ (or ideologues) of modern-day philosophies.
In my view, that’s exactly the right position for a poet to take: truth-telling to the wise.
Telly does that well when confronting an agenda like gender equity (if not equality), without pretending to think one way or another, neither trying to ‘curry favour’ with the mainstream, nor trying to ‘spice up’ his words with juicy detail or ‘sorry, my bad’ supplications to particular adherents.
Instead, what we get is raw snapshots of reality in poems like Forgotten Daughter and The Woman Versus Me. Both poems of which I’m not providing excerpts here so that those in ‘the opposition camp’ may also beg, burgle, buy or borrow a copy of Telly’s book to read it for themselves.
I think those poems will be quite ‘stirring’.
And that’s good. We need to confront sociocultural issues with the bare facts laid out, before we can think about resolutions.
The key to change is understanding, and getting there isn’t easy in the first place.
In this book, Telly gives us lamentations on the joy of youth, from the eponymous poem, Cry My Beloved Country, and the more private second poem, I miss you, to Shattered Dream and Good Old Days, and then closing off with poems like Journey of Education and My Pet, My Friend.
These poems move us from the patriotic, with a nationalist’s sense of sorrow for Papua Niugini’s sad socio-economic scenarios, to the personal, for the loss of innocence and the self-realisations of young people, then to the deep anguish of losing a good friend from another branch of our animal kingdom.
Our feeling is made one through such lamentations in this kingdom of love and loss and learning.
We are also provided with anecdotes that provide a window to the dual (dueling) philosophies of Christian and traditional wisdom encapsulated in a number of poems.
The duality of our belief systems seems to me to be one of the constant contradictions which foreign visitors, and even we ourselves, may find confounding and at times frustrating to understand, let alone accept about Papua Niugini.
Telly Orekavala, the Chaplain of Devare Adventist High School, provides this fundamental revelation in his first book of poems and prose, without a hint of proselytizing.
I too believe there are benefits to be gained from a thoughtful reassimilation of our traditional with our trained Christian beliefs, and the poem My First Hunt gives me one reason to think that this may be a wise pathway to take on the adventure of our ‘coming of age’.
There are likely to be more than a few lamentable moments on our national journey (especially on the eve of a new government), but there’s also great joy to be experienced through the process of maturity.
My First Hunt
Father halts mother in her steps
He hushes her “shh”
I pulled my bowstring and aim
“Ptheswish” goes the arrow
Straight for the target all can see
It has hit the [bullseye].
Mother is congratulating me for the first kill
The inner circle are saying hooray
“You’ve done it this time”
Father says “Like father, like son”
Gives me a thumbs up
I could touch the sky
Without the initiation ritual
Into the man’s world of game hunting
Creates in me good self-esteem.