| Ples Singsing
My Grandfather is a Canoe by Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna'i, July 2021, Flying Geese Pro. Order here for $36.52 (post included)
LAE – Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i’s first poems appeared in print in ‘Fika – a fictional body of new writing by First Draft Pasefika Writers’ (2008), under the banner of Pacific Arts Creative New Zealand.
Faumuina’s poetry later featured in ‘dried grass over rough-cut logs’, my own collection of 2020, published by the late PNG publisher, poet and essayist, Francis Nii.
Now The Samoan Wayfinding poet’s first solo book, ‘My Grandfather is a Canoe’, has emerged, published in July by her company Flying Geese Pro.
Faumuina lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, with her son Oliver. Faumuina signifies a ‘high chief’ in the Samoan tradition. Tafuna’i is the surname of her late husband.
Faumuina is a waka (Maori canoe) sailor, who adheres to the traditional knowledge and skill of Wayfinding under the tutelage of Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr of Aotearoa (New Zealand), navigator, author and waka captain.
From many guiding conversations with Barclay-Kerr, and ocean voyaging on traditional sailing canoes, Faumuina created a dynamic Wayfinding model, the lens for the design work of Flying Geese Pro.
She created the model to design better development aid programs because she saw the models used in the Pacific were outdated and biased against our cultural values and ways of being.
Faumuina has now developed Wayfinding models for business, strategic planning, and suicide prevention.
It was this model that led her to become an Edmund Hillary fellow and, through this fellowship, she is able to collaborate with other innovators and entrepreneurs.
As a journalist and media worker, Faumuina has written and recited her poems in many places. For example, ‘I see you’ was written and presented in Goroka in 2014 and, along with ‘Mary and the Fe’e’, were featured in PNG Attitude in December of that year.
The first poem had a Papua New Guinean story to go with it, and provided more reason for this poem to be a personal favourite of mine.
Now I’m very glad to see it included in her recent collection, and I reprise it below.
Here’s the story related to me by Faumuina in December 2014:
“When I was at UOG, there was a point where four women were on stage – Mama Daisy and three academics, with one being an anthropologist who had worked with Mama Daisy and Bena for 20 years.
“A comment from one of the audience members (a PNG academic based in Moresby) said, ‘I see three women on stage’, and proceeded to compliment them about their work. She did not ‘see’ Mama Daisy.
“I felt for Mama Daisy, and thought of my own mother so afterwards I interviewed her and wrote my poem, which I performed at the end of my presentation.
“Ladies from Bena gave me bilum as a thank you and we all became fast friends. So far, the poem is unpublished.”
After receiving copies of the book by post earlier this month, as gifts from Faumuina, I sent her six interview questions.
I wanted from Faumuina insights into her poetry writing. her approach to what is both a skill and an art.
I was eager for her understandings and guidance of the creative products that we poets and writers cherish so much.
Dom - How does it feel now to have published your own book and what have been some of the reactions you have had from your readers?
Faumuina - It feels amazing. It feels like destiny fulfilled, especially in what my late mother would have wanted for me. In terms of reactions from my readers, they have been really affirming.
Some have wept and laughed with the poems. A friend had his son read poems out loud at the breakfast table.
A former New Zealand prime minister emailed me saying it gave her insight into the world of voyaging and who I am.
Other people have talked to me about the poems I wrote about the loss of our loved ones, and how it put words to feelings they felt but could not express.
A client told me she had read the poem I wrote for my son to her network because it was a powerful expression of what it means to be a parent.
One of the reactions I’ve also had within my immediate family is to have my nieces and nephews look at the book and understand what is possible for them to achieve. That has real meaning for me.
Dom - There’s a description about the books’ creation, which will be part of our article on your work, but I want to hear about your process, why and how you do what you do. You started writing poems as a teen but really got into poetry later in youth. Tell us about your approach to writing poems and why poetry is important to you.
Faumuina - My poems often come to me in a waterfall of words. Sometimes I’m woken by a poem and I have to turn on the light and write it down.
What I find is that I’ve been thinking about this poem for days, weeks sometimes, maybe even years. What my mind has done is assembled all these words together.
I do very little editing. I also write poems as gifts dedicated to friends, family, people I’ve met. They are often a reflection of our relationship. A keepsake.
My approach to writing poetry; I try not to be preachy though I do want to release what is deep within me and hope there’s some resonance in the audience.
That said, I don’t think you should write for the audience. I think that it’s important for the craft to be sincerely yourself and write for yourself.
Poetry is important to me because it helps me better understand who I am. It also heals me. It helps me let go of negative stuff that is holding me back and celebrate the good stuff.
Also, I write when I’m pissed off at people and events – so it’s a great pressure valve.
To me words are like paint, and I get to paint poetic landscapes, cartoons, portraits and abstract ideas. Poetry has also given me a place to put pain.
The greatest pain I’ve ever felt was in the loss of my husband. Poetry gave me a place to put that pain and help me grieve.
It also gave me a chance to document all my experiences good and bad such as the poem of me stumbling around in a police cell. I don’t want to deny parts of myself that are less shiny.
Through poetry I get to embrace the challenge and complexity of being me.
Dom - You name Tusiata Avia and Konai Helu Thaman as influences on you taking up poetry as a mode of expressing yourself. Are there particular poets, poems or elements of poetry that attract your interest as a creative person?
Faumuina - Tusiata and Konai opened the door for me and showed me that poetry could have Pacifica accents and rhythms, it could be about Pacifica lives, of hibiscus, of island lovers, and wild dogs. Before that I only found Pacific stories in academic texts and history books.
Another poet who has influenced me is Michael Dom, whose passion and candour has helped me understand and embrace my poetry. He can be a blunt bugger but he’s honest, and I prefer blunt over polite and indifferent.
Being Samoan and growing up in New Zealand, I have had the greatest pleasure in hearing Samoan and Maori orators use poetry in their speeches. In that respect, my father, Mau’u Lopeti, was my first influential poet.
One of the elements I enjoy about poetry is the efficiency of it. That with only a few words much can be expressed.
Dom - As a communications and media professional you have travelled globally and had the opportunity to mix with creative people of different cultures. How relevant is poetry today and what has been your experience when sharing your poems?
Faumuina - In my work, I often have opportunities to speak in front of large audiences. But often I am not given very long to speak about complex topics. So, I started writing and reciting poetry for these fora.
When I recite a poem, that poem is authentic, it’s real, it’s not part of some marketing spiel. I also try to incorporate local languages in these poems.
These poems then become a point of connection for the audience and for me. One thing I notice is that people remember me and remember the poem, which is a pretty great thing when you are trying to make an impression.
Dom - You are familiar with some PNG writing through the Crocodile Prize and PNG Attitude. What comments can you make about writing you've read in each of the three major genres, fiction, essay and poem?
Faumuina - Two things I note in the writings I've read from The Crocodile Prize and PNG Attitude are earnestness and tenacity. PNG writers have taken on the mantle of holding the government accountable, holding community leadership accountable.
Through poetry, through essays and fictional works, writers are holding up a mirror to life in Papua New Guinea. I think these are incredibly important responsibilities in the literary sector. I also have read some of the best descriptions of the natural world in PNG poems.
Another aspect in the sector I am a bit envious of is the unshackled freedom of who gets to publish. In New Zealand, publishing is still dominated by mainstream publishing businesses.
The result of that is that sometimes they may look at someone like me, a Samoan female poet and say, ‘oh we have enough of those’. So, we can be left on the other side of the gate and what I like is that within Papua New Guinea, there is no gate. That's freaking awesome.
Dom - What are three points of advice you would give someone wanting to write a poem or poetry and become a poet?
Faumuina - My three pointers….
The poem must be independent of the poet. It is its own offering and the quality of it is all contained within the poem. And so, in some ways you know, awards be damned. Acclaim be damned. It’s really about the poem.
Write for writing’s sake. Figure out what’s your best time, your best environment to write. Writing is a creative pursuit, a pursuit that requires practice. And so, I would say just write, and remember the joy of writing. Hold on to that joy.
Write about what you know, what you have lived, what you have observed.
I see you
For Mama Daisy Meko Samuel
I see you mother with no husband
I see your born son
I see your grown son
I see you provider
I see you humble
I see you kiss goodbye
I see you in Berlin
I see you adopt a daughter
I see her a new sister
I see you destroyed
I see you rebuild
I see you guardian
I see you Bena
I see you Napamogona
I see you Mama Daisy
I see my late husband
I see me and us
You are my eyes