Tok Pisin’s emergence as a literary language
A little bit more more than a hangover

The observations of Caroline Evari

Caroline-EvariMICHAEL DOM
| Ples Singsing

LAE - I had been following Caroline Evari’s poems on PNG Attitude for some time and was very glad to see her publish ‘Nanu Sina: My Words’ in 2019.

The book is presented in four sections: Conflicts, Relationships, Hope, and Family.

I marvel at Caroline’s ability to find uniting themes for her poems since it is an editorial task that I struggle with.

It caused me to muse philosophically to find that Conflicts, with 31 poems, is the longest section whereas Hope, with only seven, is the shortest.

It seems reflective of real life where hope is a small but valuable property that needs to be nurtured, but conflict save kirap long laik bilong em iet, laka.

Caroline writes with a purity of heart and her poetry does not attempt to beguile us with flamboyance or disguise its intentions.

The prosaic format she favours allows each poem to come across as a complete story.

What Caroline lacks in the technical variety of composition, compared to say fellow Papua New Guinean poets Julie Mota or Wardley Barry, she makes up in the story her poems relate in different emotional contexts.

She writes in the first person and reading them allows us to relate directly with what she feels and thinks, as in Money vs Love:

“If it is me that you love
Why come for money?
If it’s money that you are after
Why say love?”

There is no arguing with this line of questioning and, while the verse may lack artistic style, it is a gut punch from a fist of clenched emotion.

Caroline does not pull these punches no matter what the subject, whether a soured romance, as above, or a racial quandary, as in Culture or Colour:

“A knock on a white man’s door
Leaves me fading like a rose
It’s a white man’s world.”

And when I read her words in Protest (“Let the wheels of justice turn to our song / As it burns down the camps where greed is nurtured”), I wanted to make sure I’m on her side.

As Caroline portrays the doom of war in Battlefield here is great clarity in the truth that both sides lose someone and something precious.

“Wives await their husbands
Children watch the smoggy distance
For their fathers to appear.

Mothers yearn for the laughter of their sons
And pray for their heroines
Far, far away.”

In Imbia and My Missing Aruma, Caroline reconnects with traditional poetry, where the naïve poetic expressions are exciting in their directness.

One of her two Tok Pisin poems, Arim Toktok, is rather moralistic but it does relate some familiar parental advice with often far reaching consequence. Better to show the outcome in poem.

Nanu-sinaWhereas, when Caroline writes as an observer her poem is elevated to a higher level of lucidity where she draws a picture in our heads like a roll of film showing a familiar scene. She does this in The Red Cigar Seller.

This drama takes place at a typical PMV bus stop in Port Moresby – the roving street seller who remains simultaneously famous and anonymous.

But this Red Cigar Seller is no pauper, no mere street urchin since, “Coins clatter in one pocket / Notes slumber in the other”.

What a delightful juxtaposition of sound and touch which makes complete sense: coins make noises while notes may merely rustle when ‘awakened’ by searching fingers. I can see the seller checking his stash.

And this man is daring and wily: “His feet stationed with alert / His body cautious / To the coppers / And the rangers / Those that attack you in surprise”.

And who could help but be on the side of this singing cigar salesman when we see “His eyes watch the road / As his mouth continues to chant / “One kina red stap”. We wish him many happy escapes.

One of the best effects less used in most poems I have read is Caroline’s ability to make the reader laugh.

The humour in Freeway – Town is of another regular occurrence at the PMV stop which does not need to be described to pedestrians. We know what’s up and it’s amusing without forcing itself.

Here we meet the infamous bus stop characters who also sing their songs with or without police brutality, er, assistance). The draiva na boskru of our PMV’s: “Yu siksti igo / Yu siksti ikam / Yu biket driver / Yu singaut / ‘Freeway – Town! Freeway – Town!’”

Indeed the action we see now is revealed by an internal dialogue of the narrator without any sort of description. We know the scene and the characters, so we easily stand in the narrator’s shoes.

We’re saddened when the wily street seller is caught but we also feel justified when the bus driver is stopped by cops for some traffic offence.

These two observational poems are sufficient to place Caroline’s work on a high pedestal. They reveal classic Papua Niuginian motifs, portray well-recognised characters and are extracted from our everyday lives.

Caroline’s style of poetry is mostly consistent but in at least one intriguing poem, War of Love, she seems to break out of a familiar mode and explore a more imaginary world.

It is a short poem of seven triplet verses, where the description is brief but profound.

The same form is used in the longer poem, Battlefield.

In War of Love Caroline uses undersea imagery to explore a romantic union, the seeking, the luring, finding and the aftermath.

“Curled up like a jellyfish
In the cold, cold blue ocean
He sleeps like a clam so calm.”

This reads like a haiku and to me the odd presentation of a romantic tale intrigues me more than the wordy and heavily constructed verses and lines used by other poets who write about romance.

Before the finale another surprising verse emerges:

“She locates her weapon
Hidden inside, inside her heart
It’s her only powerful weapon.”

Surely this is an insight into a woman’s knowledge of her own power, of her emotional capacity and resilience, and her ability to use this strength as a weapon if need be.

But in this battle there is capitulation on both sides, love wins out, but is arrived at via an unusual route, lucky clam.

In this book, as with her many children’s storybooks, Caroline offers readers of all ages her words of wonder, wit and wisdom. Nanu Sina is a good addition to any bookshelf.

If you’re interested in Caroline’s books for children, there are no less than 31 available from Amazon in Australia. Link to them here


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Michael Dom

You're welcome Caroline.

The pleasure of enjoying your creations never ends.

Caroline Evari

Thank you Michael for the wonderful review. Two years on and I still get to pause and celebrate this achievement.

All thanks to Keith and Phil for creating the Crocodile Prize and PNG Attitude that have been the platforms for people like me to not only realise and develop my talent but gain so much confidence in doing what I do today.

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