Headugu: An Anthology of Poetry by Sean Ova, 2018, JDT Publications, Port Moresby, ISBN 978-9980901606, 58 pages, paperback, US$3.60. Available from Amazon Books here
TUMBY BAY - I like poetry. William Blake, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Stephen Crane, Judith Wright, Banjo Paterson, Michael Dom, Wardley Barry and many more inspiring poets provide me with pleasure.
Inspiring but not instructive. I can’t for the life of me write poetry. My best efforts come out clunky and affected and usually end up in the waste paper bin.
I understand the dynamics but it is the rules and regulations that defeat me. I suspect it’s got something to do with my natural aversion to discipline. Meter, rhythm, rhyme and structure leave me cold.
I suspect I’m not alone in this. It is seldom in modern collections of poetry to see any sort of formal discipline. What we tend to get nowadays is something loosely described as free verse.
The poet Robert Frost commented that writing free verse is like “playing tennis without a net”.
Net or not, there are still a few conventions that cannot be ignored.
Free verse tends to be seen as a modern form of poetry but it has been around for centuries.
It may not follow the rules but it is still artistic expression. That’s an important point because it distinguishes poetry from the rubbish sometimes dished up in its name.
There are roughly three types of poem: lyric, narrative and dramatic.
Lyric poetry, like odes and sonnets, deals with emotions and is written in a song-like way.
In narrative poetry, like epic poems and ballads, offer stories about societies, cultures and heroes. Epic poems are just that - very long and often covering many years of events.
Dramatic poetry is in verse and is meant to be recited. It tells a story or describes an event in a dramatic and evocative way.
Free verse could be any of these types of poetry or even a combination of them.
What it is emphatically not is the kind of lazy and rambling disjunction of ideas that we see in a lot of modern day Papua New Guinean ‘poetry’.
In these cases, the poets might know what they are writing about but their efforts can be baffling for the reader.
A lot of this stuff is not free verse and therefore not poetry. What it is remains a mystery. I waded through a lot of it when editing the Crocodile Prize anthologies so I know what I am talking about.
Which brings me to a new collection of poetry from Sean Ova.
Sean’s first collection is largely free verse. This makes it difficult to judge because, by its nature, there are few rules one can apply in making an assessment.
There is one rule, however, and that is the rule of artistic expression. Do these poems represent a coherent form of artistic expression or are they just disjointed rambling?
Before I make that judgement, I might point out that in relation to Papua New Guinean poetry the key ingredients of such expression must include Papua New Guinean authenticity, imagery and flavour.
This is where I think Sean has managed to pull off poetic legitimacy in his collection.
He makes this plain in the title of the collection and in his introduction.
Headugu, in the author’s native language, refers to a fisherman sitting in a canoe lost in thought as his fishing line is cast into the sea. Wonderfully evocative word.
The headugu allusion in the title of the book is to random thought: a saving grace of this collection.
Another saving grace is the excellent job JDT Publications has done in presenting the volume. Using the poet’s own artwork, JDT has produced an eye-catching cover enclosing a meticulous interior layout.
Sean Ova comes from Lae. He has a Bachelor in Education from the University of Goroka and is currently undertaking a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Sydney.
He’s married to Balbina Nicholas and they have four children. Sean has taught English at various primary and secondary schools in the National Capital District and Milne Bay and the family now calls Alotau home.
All up, it’s an impressive first effort by Sean.