Radio Days: The cultural conundrum
The chasm in cultural integrity

Inside the mind of the Melanesian poet

Michael Dom 2
Michael Dom


PORT MORESBY - Having penned a few acerbic descriptions of social reality in Papua New Guinea (The Poet’s voice has been silenced) I must admit to a bit of hypocrisy when I note that “our poetry in Papua New Guinea has been increasingly sombre and miserable”.

The Poet’s voice has been silenced.

The Poet’s voice has been silenced.
There is only an after echo of fading thought.
It is the snuffing of candlelight at the market table.

The Poet’s voice has been silenced.
It is the Politicians who croon your sweet lullabies;
It is their Priests who offer you the wine of forgetfulness.

The Poet’s voice has been silenced.
It is the Politicians who scheme your Melanesian philosophies;
It is their Priests who dictate your customary offerings.

Lo, there crouch the Poets, in shadows, relegated.
Behold! There stand the Politicians, shining, glorified,
As the people swoon at the dire words of their Priests;

Alas, the Poet’s voice has been silenced.
Truth has been raped at the Public Gathering Places
And Beauty has been fed to bastardized Beasts.

The Poet’s voice has been silenced.

Our graveyards “are fine and fertile places”
Bestowed with all the knowledge and wisdom
Of Great Men & Women who have passed into them, Unborn.

The Poet’s voice has been silenced.

I am often startled when I read a poem I have just finished - or rather when the creation of the poem is finished with me!

Or perhaps I'm simply too critical of my own poetry. Where am I going? What value do I add to Papua New Guinea literature that is lasting, not only in meaning but in the quality literature adds to our lives and future Papua New Guineans?

Recalling my alter ego Icarus’s highly sarcastic poem The Aspiring Politicians 36 Winning Ways for Making Monkeys, I wonder if that creation - polished, precise and stylish though it is - will have any appeal after the history of its birth.

The aspiring politician’s 36 winning ways for making monkeys

We are in the business of making monkeys
We breed them and feed them
We baptize them in our creed
We bestow them with our greed

We are in the business of making monkeys
We wean them and preen them
We crown them at our will
We disown them at a whim

We are in the business of making monkeys
We inveigle them and ignite them
We inspire them with our dreams
We ingrain them in our schemes

We are in the business of making monkeys
We belie them and belittle them
We baffle them with ease
We bamboozle them as we please

We are in the business of making monkeys
We deride them and deprive them
We deny them satisfaction
We defeat them with our system

We are in the business of making monkeys
We cajole them and enrol them
We payroll them with our profits
We pacify them with our promises

We are in the business of making monkeys
We defile them and revile them
We educate them in depravity
We domesticate them in poverty

We are in the business of making monkeys
We mislead them and maroon them
We amputate them from reason
We direct them to self-destruction

We are in the business of making monkeys
We whore them and devour them
We defy them with our hypocrisy
We deny them true democracy

Jimmy Drekore
Jimmy Drekore

Compare this poem to Jimmy Drekore’s award winning poem Walking Barefoot to be Educated.

To me Jimmy’s poem immortalises a common PNG tale of the village: two kids walking miles to get to school and then being punished for being late. True, simple, poignant, humorous.

Walking barefoot to be educated

Quick little steps
Closing little gaps
We walked together
Walking bare footed
To be educated

School was far away
We were on our way
Walking bare footed
To be educated

We shared breakfast
We walked really fast
Walking bare footed
To be educated

Once we came late
Strolling through the gate
We were at the door
Eyes on the floor
We stayed together
He looked at us
With a strong voice he told us
We would be punished together
We came bare footed
To be educated

Another time scissors in his hands
We had no chance
Airstrip cut on our heads
We felt really bad
We stood together
We came bare footed
To be educated

One cold morning
It was pouring
We came late again
We couldn’t bargain
Metre ruler in his hands
We had no chance
He hit him on the head
He hit me on the head
Our tears fell together
We came bare footed
To be educated

I suppose I am looking forward to poetry that not only represents what we are thinking about what is happening (now), but what we think about how we can address the social agenda.

That is, if we insist on writing about agriculture, say, let’s celebrate what we know and love about it, apart from what we see is going wrong with it. For example, what I tried to do in my poem The Political Economy of a Pig Farmers Life.

The political economy of a pig farmer’s life

Until you have seen your hands blistering
Until you have felt sweat break like fever
Before another new gardens planting

Until you have cleaned the piss and manure
Cut, carried and replaced sodden bedding
Until you have closed the sow with the boar

Until then you only have an inkling
Of what a pig farmer does every day
For the fat pig meat that you are eating

You will never know what it means to say
To us, “agriculture is our back bone”
Until you know the sweat and costs we pay

For a simple meal, in our simple home
Sweet potatoes baked around the fire place
Cups of tea with sugar, lucky for some

And every day we hear about your race
To bring development to your people
But we know that your heart has no more space

If you will not share the gris pik with all
One day your house built from our bones will fall.

Perhaps I’m asking too much of myself and fellow poets, but I believe that if we want to move our literature forward we must not only be responsive to the echoes that surround each of us as individuals, but a conduit for the thoughts that unite us as a society.

These thoughts must reflect what is good about us, what we value and hold as just, right and beautiful.

Leonard Fong Roka  October 2014 H&S
Leonard Fong Roka

This is why I personally value Leonard Roka’s poem, Ovau is my Island, because, amidst the hell of the Bougainville civil war, one person looks at his island home and makes a clear statement of tender steel.

This moves me more than a thousand promises of retribution, because it speaks of continuity – Bougainville will survive so long as people feel that those islands belong to them. You can never remove one from the soul of the other.

We must appreciate the beauty amidst the ugliness that surrounds us. If Papua New Guinean poets cannot do this, then who can?

Ovau is my island

Ovau is my island.
Torau Bay knows that; Olava knows that; thus,
Moisuru and Tokuaka longs to hear that song of reunion.

Ovau is my island.
Kamaleai knows that; Ghaomai knows that; thus, Harehare loves to see that marriage
Of long lost lovers of Solomon.

Ovau is my island.
Toumoa knows that; Kariki knows that; thus, Birambira, waits to cuddle the fruits
Of that love long denied by oppressors of Ovau.

Ovau is my island.
Nukiki knows that; Poroporo knows that; Malivanga knows that; thus, Polomai
Is willing to nurture that love that is,
Ovau is my island.


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Lindsay F Bond

Peeked pinched peaked pinnacle, pimple piqued, pilgrim piked.

Michael Dom

Politicians pontificate, peerlessly pilfer, purposely pandering piqued private perverse proclivities.

Poets paraphrase, pointedly pursue positive projectories purposefully paralleling people's perspectives.

Lindsay F Bond

Michael, are not poets too polite to press for political office?
If poems prod with prickle, yet are these passing too silently?

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