PORT MORESBY - An important, and still continuing, experience for me was finding and participating in the PNG Attitude blog and the associated Crocodile Prize national literary contest.
It is not possible for me to overstate the profound influence of the blog and the Crocodile Prize on my own writing achievements and their influence on the literary output of Papua New Guinea’s writers and thinkers.
These initiatives have broad implications for our society. I have been very fortunate to contribute to PNG’s literary content as a poet.
I recall the moment I began writing poetry: it was on a special day in March 1995.
The precise place was Gordon Secondary School, Grade 11G, ex-Lahara Block, bottom left classroom, third desk from the door, left hand side wall, sitting at the aisle seat, Richard Leka on the window side, Louella Taumayauna and Susan Tovi at the two desks in front and Jennifer Kaeyo at the desk to my left.
I wrote Life is a Desert, Desire a Mirage, And Love an Oasis. Then I wrote nothing else until 1996 (happily enough I was sitting with the same crew!).
In 2006, when I was compiling my first collection of verse, the poem Oasis had survived the 10 years to make an appearance.
But to return to those beginning years, one day in class our expatriate English teacher, Mrs Elizabeth Fry, introduced us to different genres of writing – poetry was one of them.
We were fortunate to have good teachers at Gordon’s, teachers like Mrs Turea Rupa, Mr Christopher Leete, Mr Michael Woodlock and Mr Collin Eliot. They were very supportive and helpful, but I was doing my poetry in secret back then.
Finally, at the end of Year 12, I was asked and agreed to read a poem for my fellow 1996 graduates. That reading was another crossroad for me as a poet although I did not know it at the time.
Why write poetry? Why not? I had found an outlet and I used it. Writing poetry was intellectually stimulating and emotionally challenging - very good for me inside and out.
It was my own thing. I was creating stuff not previously put down on paper in that way until I came along. I thought that was pretty cool.
Then there’s a utilitarian reason. Over the years I have found that learning how to write good poetry has improved my other writing, including technical articles.
I have also been enamored of mythical and legendary figures from a variety of cultures, even the historically factual, a pleasure I still have today. Also my early childhood was influenced overseas, in the United Kingdom and through the benefit of growing up around academics in sociology and anthropology from all over the world I have had a broad multicultural experience.
There’s no doubt that growing up in the UK played a significant role in forming my early creative development and psyche, even though I retain few clear memories of the experience.
Part of my early childhood was spent running around Nottingham Castle and the forest where Robin Hood lived, hunted and fought. I loved the idea of a hero who would ‘steal from the rich and give to the poor’.
That idea probably still influences my general outlook on life, but as I grew up I realised that most of the people who steal from the rich also steal from the poor.
Eventually, I stopped looking for role models and decided to try being a role model, at least in my own community, and not successfully all the time.
My father passed away when my siblings and I were still very young, so we missed his influence in our lives.
It was a struggle for my mother raising us as a Port Moresby widow on a low paying wage and with three kids to support. Being in the city, we never had much long-lasting contact with extended family.
I made a return to my Simbu home village when I was 32 and that was only the second time in my life I’d been there. The first visit had been in 1987 for my father’s burial.
We survived in Port Moresby with the support of good family friends, and especially the help of expatriate colleagues of my father, who over the years became our extended family members.
There were two men I respected and admired when I was a younger man, and they were good family friends Sakarepe Kamene and Peter Kili. Both good fathers, Peter was also a good mate for a laugh and a game of touch-rugby (he loved Rugby Union).
Uncle Sak was like the cool eye in the centre of a storm. Trustworthy, resilient, supportive, and respectful. Always respectful – because sometimes you simply can’t love everyone.
With such commitment and encouragement from close friends, my siblings and I put effort into doing our best at school. For us, the slogan ‘education is the key to success’ was a reality we didn’t want to avoid.
Education doesn’t make life easier, but if we go through the process of formal schooling, and learn how to learn, we are better able to cope with the challenges that come our way in life.
We all have something unique we can contribute to this world, our community and family, no matter how small that contribution might seem.
Sometimes we get a little lost trying to find that ‘something’ we can do. But it’s worth searching for because when we do find it, that becomes our unique contribution, different from what another person might give because we all have a different character and personality.
Everyone has a responsibility to themselves and the community they live in to make the best use of the skills and talents that they have, whether these are hidden or clear to see.
You can put your unique stamp on the things you create – the actions you take, or even the smallest voice that you raise. Apart from doing livestock research my own special way to contribute to PNG is through poetry.
In the balance of it I can say that I had sufficient grounding in reality from my small family and those good and decent people who enabled me to grow my creative identity as a poet and place myself in the best frame of mind to pursue my art.
So at this stage of my journey in poetry, those formative influences now far behind, I can look at a largish body of work including five published collections.
These are At Another Crossroads (UPNG Press, 2013), The Musing of an Assistant Pig Keeper (CreateSpace, 2015), O Arise! (CreateSpace, 2016) and Send Words as Gifts CreateSpace, 2016), dried grass over rough cut logs (Francis Nii Publications, 2020) and 26 Sonnets (JDT Publications, 2020).
In 2012 I won the Crocodile Prize award for poetry for my sonnet I met a pig farmer the other day. The following year I assisted with the judging.
In 2014, my terza rima poem The Political Economy of a Pig Farmers Life was printed as a BBC Poetry Postcard marking the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. And in 2016 year my poem Lucky Little Lizard was published by the Commonwealth Education Trust in their children’s book, A River of Stories.
Life is always challenging but it’s how we take on those challenges that makes us who we are and what we become.
Don’t let yourself down and don’t give up. Like the Nike slogan says – Just do it!
Dr Michael Dom is Principal Scientist at Papua New Guinea’s National Agricultural Research Institute, NARI. He was awarded a PhD in animal science from Adelaide University in 2019.