Tattooed Face: A Collection of Poems by Jordan Dean, JDT Desktop Publishing, 2016, 70 pages, ISBN: 978-1535348713, US$4.00 plus postage from Amazon Books
I’VE COMMENTED before on the link between Papua New Guinea’s traditional oral literature and the work of its modern writers, especially its poets.
In these observations I’ve expressed the view that there is a logical continuity from the old to the new that gives Papua New Guinean poetry a unique and distinct regional flavour.
As proof of this hypothesis is the popularity of poetry ‘slams’ in the country.
A ‘slam’ is poetry as performance rather than a reading experience. A ‘slam’ poem is a cross between folk song and formal poetry. Unlike the latter, it comes with a degree of theatre – poetry as showbiz.
The first poetry ‘slams’ took place in the USA (where else?) over 40 years ago and they’ve been growing in popularity ever since.
There is a completely different feeling listening to a poem being read by its animated author and quietly reading it in a book yourself.
In its ‘slam’ form a poem has an immediate and pronounced impact.
I think that much of modern Papua New Guinean poetry sits in this ‘slam’ space more so than in a literary form.
If you read the lyrics of a popular song they often seem clumsy, disjointed and unwieldy but, when sung, the effect is completely different. They are much smoother and logical. The same applies to ‘slam’ poetry.
This is why, when I read Papua New Guinean poetry, I can get annoyed at its apparent clumsiness and lack of technical finesse. It was probably meant to be listened to rather than read. If someone read it to me out loud, I might change my mind.
The purpose of this long preamble in presenting Jordan Dean’s new book of poetry is to point out that occasionally I come across a poet who bridges the gap between the two extremes so that the poems both read and sound well. Jordan is such a poet.
His collection is pleasant to read, none of it jars, and it’s easy to listen to as well.
Jordan has ordered the poems into useful categories and they follow themes very familiar to Papua New Guinean readers. Added to this is a nice island sea breeze cadence that soften and soothes, even when the subject is uncomfortable.
His choice of traditional tattooing as a euphemism is nicely apt.
Some of the poems are gentle ditties that you might easily find on a greeting card. Why don’t you read some…..
A Virtual Hug
I was just thinking of you today
And wishing you were here
So I thought I’d drop you a little note
To bring you some smiles and cheer.
Just consider this a virtual hug,
To brighten up your day
And remember that your sweetheart
Is just a note away.
Others have a more serious tone.
You will see
A grandmother trying
To make ends meet
By selling buai
Carrying the world
On her shoulders
Why chase her to her death?
Do you see her?
You will see
A boy who didn’t complete his education
Due to financial constraints
No prospect of employment
Why do you beat him up for a lousy amount?
Do you see him?
Look closely …..
You just might see
The world from our eyes
Port Moresby stretched out before me;
Resplendent, glorious, magical
And gleaming in the tropical sun.
But my heart weeps for this jungle
Of glass and steel skeletons;
A city of cock-tail parties,
Home-brew for all the street boys
And spak-brus for the drug-bodies.
When the sun comes sailing down
I see the blue van patrolling around
And out in the city’s streets
A silhouetted figure is asking
For one kina
And others simply celebrate the beauty of the world.
Colours of the Sunset
The world flamed crimson
Then cooled to pink
Soft gold, mauve
|And grey- subtle,
Ever deepening colours
That played upon the face
Of the earth until at last;
Merged into a thin,
Cool blue of evening.
He’s done an admirable job and the volume presents itself very well.
I wish other poets and writers in Papua New Guinea would follow his example.