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The authenticity, imagery & flavour of Sean Ova's verse


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.

Sean OvaAnother 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.


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Jordan Dean

"Introduction to Poetry" By Billy Collins.

I asked them to take a poem
And hold it up to the light
Like a colour slide.

Or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
And watch him probe his way out.

Or walk inside the poems room
And feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
Across the surface of a poem
Waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
Is tie the poem to a chair with rope
And torture a confession out of it.

They began beating it with a hose
To find out what it really means.

Roslyn Tony

Thank you Phil for the comment. A couple of individuals in Simbu have already published their poetry books. The comment on the different types of poem will surely help up coming poem writers to give a variety. Thank you.

Baka Bina

Good work Sean and Jordan Dean. Phil Fitzpatrick has raised an interesting topic about rules with poetry.

I don’t recollect any time during my school times anyone teaching me to write poetry, composition yes but poetry maybe the few times trying to string a few lines here and there and that would have been in an informal way.

I once sat through a long winded poem that was read as an eulogy that made me think that even the international schools here must not be teaching poetry right. That poem was rather a composition more than a poetic verse.

My recollection of time trying to be taught how to be an English teacher at Goroka Teachers College never equipped me to teach poetry. I was hoping this had changed but it looks like this has not changed at UOG.

The types of poetry we have traditionally are traditional songs. I am slowly transcribing some of my old man's traditional songs (the first one Ghulo Sipaki was included in Antics of Alonaa Volume 1). Traditional songs are written in a poetic way and they have rules too.

After transcribing 4 songs I realised there are patterns that he applied. I just don't know the names of these rules but I can tell you my observations.

One of the first observations are the songs are always sung in the neighbouring dialects (Alekano or Tokanevo or Danno) and never in our own Tokano language.

The other is that there is always a play on words where in the part of the song the singer or dancer is supposed to look over his shoulders to his back or sides on both sides.

The words around this part of the song make fun of the words as though jeering at the dialect used. Is there a purpose to this? I don’t know. I will have to seek advice from the old man and those other composers.

Do traditional songs and ballads pass as poems and poetry? We have to transcribe them first to see if they conform to any rules. Would they be the same rules used by westerners or Japanese poets?

Earlier I alluded to learning institutions like UOG and it is a belief that DWU and UPNG don’t teach poetry. It may well be that poets will have to teach themselves the rules by going online and where time permits have been reading up on them. Some of the sites that I have visited for a glance only are listed for anyone to consult.

7 Fundamental Rules of Poetry | Grammarly Blog

10 Essential Rules of Poetry |
Basic Rules to Writing Poetry - Writing.Com

What are the basic 'rules' or 'guidelines' to writing poetry?

Tips on Writing Poems - Dictionary definitions you can ...

Rules for Writing Poetry | LoveToKnow
5 Tips for Writing a Free Verse Poem | Power Poetry

Rules for Writing Haiku - YourDictionary

Jordan Dean

Well done Sean and thanks Phil for the encouraging review. With proper guidance, I am sure Sean will contribute greatly to PNG literature.

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