Challenges to popular and cherished notions are features of poetry that often bring poets into conflict with the champions of modern-day philosophies (or fads). In my view, that’s exactly the right position for a poet to take: truth-telling to the wise
Cry My Beloved Country, Collection of Poems and Prose, 1998–2018 by Telly Orekavala, JDT Publishing, Port Moresby, February 2019, 76 pp. ISBN-10: 1797082752. Paperback $3.60 available here from Amazon
LAE - THERE are many different ways to interpret collections of poems and prose.
For me, writing about a collection of poetry is an attempt to make sure that what I take away from it is more than only what I have read into it myself.
So readers will have to determine for themselves whether they accept my review as reliable or to simply buy Cry My Beloved Country and get stuck into it.
That said, I must disclose that I enjoyed reading this collection of poems three times.
I suspect most readers will gain a whole lot more from reading the book than from absorbing the following thoughts.
And an invitation, I hope a few of you may decide to join me in the pleasure of wrestling with the creations of other poets and reviewing their work for publication.
It was difficult for me to pick a single favourite poem from Telly Orekavala’s collection.
That probably means I don’t really have a favourite, although there were a few that appealed to me more than others, a couple of which surprised me.
I’m always delighted to make an unexpected find when reading a new poem.
In Cry My Beloved Country one of those surprises was The Pink Month, in which the image of May grass wafting in the wind came to me with such clarity that the stunned voice I heard was mine, “Em May a-ah?”
There are passages in many of the poems that provide similarly memorable moments which are at the heart of enjoying a poem.
One example is onomatopoeia, where words seek to imitate sounds, which was used in two related poems, What are Friends and Friendship Blooms.
In the extract here, I can recall the Gordon Secondary school bell ringing in the background as I said goodbye to friends on the last day of school.
Time bell rings
Time! Time! Time to go
Time! Time! Time to go
Telly also uses strong and clear expression in passages that summarise the central idea of a poem.
I liked that effect in Good Old Days when he wrote:
I did not see what I see now
I did not hear what I hear today
I did not feel what I feel tete
The good old days
I also liked the use of the Tok Pisin word tete – today - – drawn from our unique Papua New Guinean idiom.
Then there’s this segment from the socio-politically bent poem, Too Much Freedom Stings, which, read apart from the context of the poem, seems simple enough.
But in fact it provides a summary of commonly held and readily assumed notion that freedom is all we need to survive, which the rest of the poem then scrutinises:
Man talk about it
Man sing about it
Man dream about it.
When freedom is deprived
People cry for it
People fight for it
People die for it.
Challenges to popular and cherished notions are features of poetry that can often bring poets into conflict with the champions (the thought-leaders or ideologues) of modern-day philosophies (or fads).
In my view, that’s exactly the right position for a poet to take: truth-telling to the wise.
Telly does that well when confronting a subject like gender equity.
He does not pretend to argue one way or another, not trying to curry favour with mainstream equality opinion (‘sorry, my bad’) nor seeking to side with misogynists who want to keep things as they are.
Instead what we get is raw snapshots of reality in poems like Forgotten Daughter and The Woman Versus Me, neither of which I’ll provide excerpts to so you will need to beg, burgle, buy or borrow Telly’s book to read for yourself.
I think those poems are quite stirring, in the sense of fomenting dispute.
And that’s good. We need to confront socio-cultural issues with the bare facts laid out before thinking of resolutions.
An important key in unlocking change is to understand, and reaching understanding is never easy.
Telly also laments the passing of the joy of youth in Cry My Beloved Country and the more private, I Miss You.
In Shattered Dream, Good Old Days, Journey of Education and My Pet, My Friend, Telly’s poems move from the patriotic, with a nationalist’s sense of sorrow for Papua Niugini’s sad socio-economic predicament, through a young person’s loss of innocence and self-realisation, and then to the deep anguish of losing a good friend from disease.
Our feelings are created through such lamentations in this mortal kingdom of love, loss and learning.
In a number of poems, the poet also provides us with anecdotes that offer a window on the dual (and duelling) philosophies of Christian teaching and traditional wisdom.
The duality of our belief systems seems to me to be one of the constant contradictions about Papua Niugini which foreign visitors, and even we ourselves, find confounding, frustrating and hard to accept.
Telly Orekavala is Chaplain at Devare Adventist High School but there is no suggestion of proselytising in his work.
I too believe there are benefits to be gained from a thoughtful reassimilation of traditional and Christian beliefs.
The My First Hunt gives me a reason to think that this may be a wise pathway to take on the adventure of our ‘coming of age’.
There are likely to be more than a few more lamentable moments on our national journey (especially on the eve of a new government), but there’s also great joy to be experienced through the process of maturity.
My First Hunt
Father halts mother in her steps
He hushes her “shh”
I pulled my bowstring and aim
“Ptheswish” goes the arrow
Straight for the target all can see
It has hit the [bullseye].
Mother is congratulating me for the first kill
The inner circle are saying hooray
“You’ve done it this time”
Father says “Like father, like son”
Gives me a thumbs up
I could touch the sky
Without the initiation ritual
Into the man’s world of game hunting
Creates in me good self-esteem.