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Ensuring the literary embers still burn bright

Despite the setbacks and difficulties, sparkling embers still burn in the fireplace of Papua New Guinean literature. Rait ples, rait papagraun, rait pipol. Right place, right heritage, right people. In Tok Pisin rait is also 'write'

Dom mar
Earlier this year, prime minister Marape learned of the existence of a struggling but rich literature in PNG. He was impressed - and said he would offer a helping hand


LAE – Around the middle of June, Ples Singsing Writers & Associates held its first writers kivung, Kirapim Paia Long Ples Singsing - Create the Passion of Ples Singsing.

Ples Singsing is, of course, the Papua New Guinea writers’ blog, the spirited lovechild of me and a number of colleagues whose turn it was to seize the waning fire of PNG literature.

Dom - Kuri Dom Building
"Power, hegemony and post-colonial discourse" - the Kuri Dom Building holds an important place in the literary history of PNG

The kivung (standard translation = official meeting) was held at the University of Papua New Guinea in the apposite surrounds of Language Laboratory L241 of the Kuri Dom Building, long ago known as the Arts 1 Building.

Apposite because, as poet and Grand Old Man of PNG letters Russell Soaba has written, “it was once a literary hub and “host to many a linguistic debate on power, hegemony and post-colonial discourse”.

On this occasion the building named for my own father was to be the scene of intense discussion and about the state, issues and prognosis of PNG literature.

We were hosted by Sakarepe Kamene, senior lecturer in the university’s Language & Literature Strand and president of the PNG Linguistic Society.

Among the participants were Emmanuel (Manu) Peni, author of Sibona, Imelda Griffin, co-founder of Eve PNG magazine and Baka Bina, prolific author who this year broke new ground for PNG writing by being the first from our country to be shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize.

Getting down to business, I observed for those present that it would be entirely appropriate to respond to prime minister James Marape’s statement of some time ago that he would help PNG writers to write.

On the eve of a visit to China, Marape had said as much to author Daniel Kumbon who the prime minister had invited to meet with him in his Port Moresby office.

After his return from China, Marape had vouched, he would make an announcement to reveal how established PNG writers could be assisted and encouraged to write about the diversity of PNG.

Were such assistance forthcoming, we would say that what PNG writers really need is the facilitation of better editing, proofreading and publication processes.

Or, on a somewhat higher plane, the fostering of a small print-on-demand industry to supply a local market which we know exists but has yet to be fully explored.

I also reflected on the idea of a public-private partnership, perhaps in a small-to-medium sized enterprise.

Philip Fitzpatrick picked up on these thoughts in a recent PNG Attitude piece, Kindly Kindle became a greedy book monster.

Despite the setbacks and difficulties, the embers still burn in the fireplace of PNG literature.

Rait ples, rait papagraun, rait pipol. Right place, right heritage, right people.

At the kivung, we spent time discussing the first issue of seeking to facilitate better editing, proofreading and publication processes.

Long namba tu wari, bai yumi noken weitim gavaman, em ol bisi man meri tumas laka. And on the second concern, we can’t wait for the government. They’re busy men and women.

Kam sindaun arere long paia na sikirapim wanpela kaukau. Ino long taim bai pik igo insait long mumu. Let’s sit near the fire and peel a sweet potato. It won’t be long before the pig is placed in the cooking pit.

We’ll soon be providing more information on action by Ples Singsing Writers & Associates on behalf of PNG’s writers.

Dom Ples Singsing People
Some of the leading lights of PNG's new literary revival -Greg Bablis, Michael Dom, Caroline Evari and Betty Wakia

Em nau mi tanim Tok Pisin long dispela poem long em iken karai olsem tok-singsing long nek bilong yumi iet. Na yu pilim tu o? But now, I translated into Tok Pisin a poem which sounds like the sweet poetry of our shared voices. See if you feel it too

There is a theory, rather complex, that proposes that poetry can evoke sensations and emotions that bring the reader one with the words, or more adventurously, make the reader become the words.

If you’re interested in this theory you can read all about it here.

Meanwhile I’ll continue with my sonnet. See if you can feel it.

Anutu i dai, tok tru blong yu iet

[Translated by the poet in Lae, 5 June 2022]

Tok tru em ino blong yu wan, poro
Em stap insait long yumi olgeta
Na yu laik strongim tingting blong yu iet
Antap long mipela, em bai sotwin
Long kamapim mak stret, na stap wankain
Long as tru blong laip, we olgeta bai
Pilim pen. Sapos tok tru em istap
Yumi wanwan baimbai karim hevi.
Stretim toktok blong yu, em bai tok aut
Long asua blong yu iet long ples graun.
Tasol saveman itok, tok tru long laik

Blong yu iet, bai yumi sutim igo.
Anutu i dai. Laik blong yu i tru.
Tok tru blong yumi inogat wari.

The god of truth is dead so speak your own

[The original sonnet in English, published on PNG Attitude, 11 January 2022]

The truth does not belong to you, my dear,
It lives and breathes inside us all. And what
You say is yours to speak, for which you dare
Force us to share, when a fraction of it
Does not compute the sum of nor compare
To the fullness of life, where each remits
The pain of being. If truth exists, we bear
The weight, we each, so if each one is fit
Be wary of your words, your vice declares
Itself in the nature of being. Know that.

But say the wise, just speak your truth, no fear,
We shall force the mathematics to fit.
God is dead. Truth is whatever you care,
The truth we speak need not care about that.

A note from the editor

Keen-eyed readers may have noted that the writers’ kivung was held in the Kuri Dom Building of the University of PNG, a building named in honour of Michael’s late father. In preparing Michael’s piece for publication, I came upon this report in the Pacific Islands Monthly of March 1987. It tells of Kuri Dom’s tragically young death and also evidences his great scholarship. That his name lives on within UPNG is a great tribute to him and the enduring effect of his ethos. Lest We Forget - KJ



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