| Ples Singsing
“Remote models require assimilation. You can learn from the past with little risk of merely aping it as you might ape your contemporaries, or the generation just before your own. A young poet impatient with the assumptions and styles of the present might look for springboards and encouragements in another time” - Robert Pinsky
LAE - Our ancients understood the power of poetry, even if it remained undefined to them.
Their dramatic life events and emotional responses were encapsulated in naïve poetic authenticity and released during their chants and dance, sung tales and oration.
They used poetic techniques and devices to express their desire for dominance over nature or fear of the unknown elements lurking there, to marshal, manage or manipulate women and men, to gain more land, for success in hunting and fishing, for battle glory, increased virility and numerous pigs, all in varied orders of importance.
They knew how precious was verbalised hope for good harvest, healthy children, helpful weather, calm seas, peace with enemies, victory over rivals and good fortune in finding and wooing a spouse, and in order to communicate their stories and customs over generations.
What we now call our oral literature was doubtless an intimate part of the knowledge systems which helped us to survive and to inform successive generations of the core values in our traditional societies, those which have served us for tens of millennia on this island.
Even today elements of our traditional life provide a social safety net and customary obligations for family and community as well as for leadership.
In a very real way oral literature was the articulated hope of our ancients who were living in a darker universe than ours is today.
Hope for the future and trust that their descendants would continue to survive and thrive using the knowledge which they had encoded in their chants and dance, sung tales and fireside fables.
It is now our responsibility to make sure that we don’t let such ancient hope fade and leave us with blank pages in our history.
We need to hear from our poets when our society and economy is being rocked from within and without, when our political leaders fail to offer us the kind of hope, justice and peace of mind that comes from facing the truth, because without doing this we continue dwell in doubt about our leaders and uncertainty about our future.
As one psychology professor expounded, “If you put people in wildly uncertain circumstances, they discount the future”.
That is a reality which many rural communities face after continually unfulfilled promises from MPs for mineral resource projects and leaders on logging deals, both scenarios where too many communities have had very little say.
And a similar sense of hopelessness for the future is bound to be felt in the ATS community after their recent eviction.
Social issues abound and how we dramatise the emotional response in memorable poetry determines the value of our literature and what we learn from it.
We need to hear from our writers and poets at times when society’s fundamental building blocks are being battered and bruised because, for instance, it’s not only women who are the victims of gender-based violence, it is our on-going relationships as couples, in families and communities that suffer, and where the emotional and psychological wellbeing of our children impacts.
About half of those children are the future men of this nation.
How do we understand and come to terms with what’s happening in our lives?
Moreover, if “value is what you perceive and pursue”, then what do the works of our young poets demonstrate or reveal about us to ourselves and others on what we are aiming to achieve.
What is the Beauty and Truth that we perceive today?
We had poets. We have poets. They articulate a new oral literature and write it too, partly maintaining our modern society’s history. But do we still keep to our core family and tribal values?
Over the last decade the latest wave of PNG’s literary movements, the Crocodile Prize literary competition, has calmed from a cyclone to a whirl. It remains to be seen if the tide has carried PNG writers of this decade to their final shore.
A few old hands continue to “rage against the dying of the light” including journalist and author Daniel Kumbon (Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter), distinguished poet and literature professor Dr Steven Winduo (Land Echoes) and national literary guru Russel Soaba (Scattered by the wind), formerly blogging at Soaba’s Storyboard.
The early generation of the Crocodile Prize era still blaze on with recent publications from Baka Binaka (Tales from Faif), Marlene Potoura (6 Whacky Tales for Youngsters) and Caroline Evari (Nanu Sina).
The twilight of our small publishing industry has provided other opportunities, such as poet and author Jordan Dean (Tama’gega) becoming an independent online publisher with Kindle and helping even more PNG writers to become published authors.
Across the Coral Sea Rashmii Bell (My Walk To Equality), essayist, editor and advocate, is building a brilliant publishing brand in Hibiscus 3. My Walk to Equality is reviewed here by Tess Newton Cain.
The small number of writers involved with Ples Singsing – A PNG Writer’s Blog and other blogs, such as Sipikriva Girl, Auna Melo, Academia Nomad, Em Nau PNG’s Blog and My Land My Country continue to write about everything from politics to pumpkin tips.
You will find the works of more than a few of the newer literary hands alongside those of the old hands on the famous PNG Attitude, ten mentioned here are seasoned poets, and I read that many more of these young bloods are born in the Facebook pages of Poetry PNG.
Wardley DB Igivisa is our poet’s poet. A deep thinker with an axe to grind. But he swings that razor-edged axe with a dexterity that leaves a scalpel clean cut.
Reading his poems can feel like you’ve just bitten the tip of your own tongue and now you can see the open slit in the mirror.
Salt can really burn after a cut like The Melanesian:
She clawed deeper
into my flesh as she spoke,
as if to plant each syllable
firmly in my consciousness
And a smack down from ‘The Ward’ can give us hope too, hope that we can do better when he tells us to keep your heaven:
keep your prophetic gift
it is pushing me back
into the darkness
all i want is humanity
all i want is equality
all i want is a jesus
that says everyone matters
Wardley’s first book of poetry demonstrated his technical skill and the intense scrutiny of himself and society at large. ABCDreams showed us that “poems are an avenue for us to ponder, plumb and pun on life’s varied scenarios”.
‘Tomorrow’ is a masterful description of modern-day dilemmas, a list of qualms reflecting on the frustration that our youth have with past generations, disenchantment with their present struggles and feeling dispirited about their future:
Let me not talk about tomorrow
Let me not think about tomorrow
Let me not write about tomorrow
For sufficient for today is the evil of yesterday
At the moment when most of the bulbs are waving down there’s that brief chance to catch your breath on a poem that leaves a residual glimmer of the lights in your brain.
Sometimes that glimmering sounds like a melodious verse as in Let words be not silent or sleep alone:
Have all good poems been written
That we today have none to write
What then of the difficult mundane
The highs and lows we must bite
Or the hopes that we bear in spite
When a poem leaves a residual glow, you know that it’s good. Two other poems from Mr Sigimet imprinted themselves on me in this manner.
A truly marvellous villanelle in which words offered no respite, the way in poignant moments we search for Bigger words to say I’m sorry:
The stabbing hurt does dull much memory
The falling away then has no uses
as we sit and stare without a worry
This poem must always be read in full. It is one whole piece.
Then when I think that I am daydreaming of a pleasant beachside holiday of my own volition Raymond instead tells me that The Island is Calling:
Over the calm water
when she is sleeping
Under the weather
when I am praying
The sand will be joyous
to walk with you again
The birds will be curious
to see a boy now grown
At other times a small spark of hope is all we need, a brief flash to remind us of something valuable or vulnerable and encourage us to keep seeking our path through the gloom and gore we are surrounded with every day.
It’s helpful to have poets hold a light up for us but Hezron Wangi Jnr and Edwin Lako each flashed a high beam torch directly in our eyes, switched it off and then ran away into the night. Shame on them!
Naughty boys! Come back here and explain yourselves!
Maybe they’re hiding in the Facebook Poetry PNG pages. (Someone should go smoke them out of Zuckerberg’s mindless maze of miscreants.)
Here’s the promiscuous torchlight that Hezron ‘shined us on with’ before disappearing, Till death do us part:
My blade was quick,
Stabbed and dead,
Her and Sir Dick,
Naked in our bed.
Lifeless, they lie,
Their sinful cadavers,
Submerged in lye,
Forever he’ll have her
As for Edwin, I suspect that he’s won that sweet young sine-gai he was crooning his heart out for, the sly devil wailing Ohh Sine-Gai Tine:
Convincing you is like climbing Mt Wilhelm, being with you makes me feel I’ve conquered Mt Wilhelm, losing you is unimaginable. Oh Sine-Gai Tine of Laswara, I’ve heard of, seen and known. But you…?
While we’re at Mt Wilhelm searching for our Sine-Gai we should look out for Jimmy Awagl of the Simbu Writers Association, although he now hangs mainly in Mosbi.
Although rocks start off in a soft molten mash that you can’t pick up so easily, when they cool you can examine them closely, especially when they’re cracked and brittle, like in Shattered Dream:
The dream is a fairytale
Your love was legendary
until it all turned to clay
The tale of our good old days
The ambitions we shared
walked out of our lives
We may feel sorry for the young lass who dropped that rough piece of rock.
If you polish a piece of quartz rock it will gleam like a gemstone catching the reflection of sunshine When the flame kisses the earth:
And the beauty of the sun is ours to keep
Bestowed to bring light to our lives
Its rays conferred without a price
To keep our hearts at peace
There is zen in the mountains. But it sure gets cold. And that makes life challenging for high altitude highlands communities, like Tambul Nebilyer, where Samuel Lucas Kafugili works assiduously on his poems.
Highlanders glorify and praise the majesty of the mountains which their ancestors first named, as in Kiluwe, oh Kiluwe:
Mt Giluwe, oh Giluwe
Kiluwe in mother lingua franca,
from whose mighty peaks,
the freezing mists disgorge
And snowflakes that puff out,
and ice, the spray-gunned ice,
Sending away the glacial drops
that slide into the mist
My review of Kafugili’s poem is here.
The talented and well-known Dominica Are continues to surprise and delight and does so again in her new book Prized Possessions.
She has put serious study into her poem creation and it has made a noticeable difference.
While her early poems contained stalling phrases, her recent work flows smoothly to an inevitable cascade.
As a mother Dominica affords us a unique perspective during Covid-19 lockdowns when her young children are In their cocoon:
But their infectious laughter pulls me through
To live without fear as we want to do
Whilst adhering rigidly to instructions
Stay home, stay safe, no obstructions
In their carefree world I’d love to dwell
But the fire will stop, all will be well
Marie-Rose Sau is a matriarch of the Poetry PNG page and blooms for us every now and then on PNG Attitude.
But sometimes her presence is to foretell a creeping disease like in The death of decency Part I:
They eat the fattest pigs for dinner
And drive around in golden cars from China
I guess it is true what they say now
They’ve made a deal with the devil
And gave us bones for the picking
And Ms Sau completes a full diagnosis in Part II:
This is the irony of reality
They look you in the eye and promised you the heavens
They vow to carry your voice against the wind
And now they spit back at you and drive away in flashy cars
They have no time for you.
We can watch the grapes grow, being pressed, fermented and blended then barrelled away and left to mature.
Stephanie Alois’s poetry emerged in that way to my salubrious sampling. Her poetry has matured into a fine full-flavoured wine.
Here’s a tasting of her early sauvignon blanc, Relentless:
Secrets in my head
Scars in my heart
Fear in my bones
I want to explode
Each time I’m provoked
To remember what happened
It’s fresh, raw and fast paced like most youthful poetry.
A much earlier sample from Stephanie’s cellar leaves us equally breathless while reading about the Coronavirus Pandemic:
Panic’s in the atmosphere
Freakish reaction everywhere
How did it get here?
In a tropical paradise
I’m feeling paralysed
But nowadays Stephanie’s bottled words offer a well-crafted and settled vintage like the remarkable and earthy Mud Woman:
A taste of wine with in her presence
Spending more time with her
Leads to loving her even more
It’s difficult not to laugh at her jokes
Or her wicked sense of humour
She’ll get you thinking, she never cries
That is a deep red merlot. Friendly and hearty.
But Miss Alois offers another tasting which is a more feisty, red-blooded revelation about My sister Celest:
So I’ve said nothing, nothing at all
about our Celest. Maybe you heard?
My sister’s such a disappointment.
She goes off to school each day
in hope of a future bright and bold,
Then comes home full of complaint
about clothes, stationery, friends, money
Then there are the newly minted celebrity servings we occasionally receive on PNG Attitude.
When Koivi Rex Biva burst open her champagne bottle like a Formula 1 winner, it was almost with tears of joy that I beheld the beautifully crafted verses even while I read of The perpetual tears of Hela:
Once no cries were heard nor bitter tears shed,
This time when ancients and babes mingled calm,
Love and respect were their constant companions,
When no one stood bewildered by enmity or anger
Ms Biva does not bivouac there, she’s a mountain lady and she rolls her lingua franca to blow kiss her love with full lips, Dobasi wandkii:
Beauty is the word for you, no other can do
I found you somewhere, now I don’t know how,
Your smile, it just made that moment explode
I failed in my choice of the right words for you
Doo dobasi wandkii, oh!
I suspect that Koivi is a poetic talent born fully formed. We are fortunate to share her language of love. Beauty is the word.
While we constantly remind each other that the youth of the nation are our future it is up to this current generation to offer them better stories to tell, to enable them to write the truth of our lives and inspire them to imagine what a future Papua Niugini might be like.
We cannot afford to let our youth agonise over tomorrow in the way Wardley’s exhausted writer had exclaimed.
Indeed, Wardley’s first book, ABCDreams, was hailed as “a new collection that declares a bright future for PNG poetry”.
The Crocodile Prize ship, under which broad sails many writers and poets made their first passage, has made its last voyage.
But that ship was sunk right where it should.
Today, we are on home ground.
Now we must create new platforms for our youth to talk and gain experiences, provide them forums to think and share ideas, and encourage and challenge their writing pursuits.
It is young poets, like those mentioned here, whom we trust to express the honest responses to what we experience in life today and explore our hope for tomorrow.
Singaut igo aut long ol wanlain bilong mipela.
Ples Singsing i sanap.
Em nau mi stretim rot bilong ol lain bai ikam kaikai buai na bihain bai mipela Kirapim Paia Long Ples Singsing.