Favourite titles

Favourite titles
Whether it is "Redefining literary techniques and devices", "Justifying Papua New Guinea Literature", or "Translating the Bible into Anuki", these offer valuable reading for the paperless student of literature, and indeed the best sort of literary entertainment you can get out of Papua New Guinea. Check them out either on Soaba's Storyboard or The Anuki Country Press.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Step aside, Shakespeare!

Pray, dinghy operator, heave thy vessel closer, shoreward...
Could Shakespeare step aside? Alluding to the sort of power play observed at the Papua New Guinean national parliament?

Of course the bard can!

But wait. One of the great literary devices in imaginative literature is irony. Those familiar with storyboard’s widely read article through these blogs, “Redefining literary techniques and devices,” should now be able to distinguish the differences between literary techniques and devices. And yes, irony is a literary device, not a technique.

It is the sort of device that made Cleopatra get rid of her messenger first and hear the bad news that she was losing a war later. The irony there is straightforward. With or without that messenger with the bad news you are still losing the war. But the most famous of ironies in any Shakespearean tragedy is that of a hero soaring to the heights of fame and glory just to fall at a slight detection by peers of a personal flaw. No one goes scot free.

Thus, Othello the powerful general in command of several hundred soldiers discovers that he is weak of heart just like any one of us. Or Coriolanus, for that matter, a spoilt brat of an aristocrat and once Rome’s most powerful general would learn towards the end of his colourful career as a soldier and gentleman that the only personal record worth keeping of him was the fact that he was Lady Volumnia’s son, nothing more, nothing less.

Elsewhere, and away from Shakespeare, other examples of literary irony abound. One such example is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, Ozymandias, where one reads of a powerful Pharaoh sneering at those who dare criticise his lifetime achievements with the curt remark: “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!” What follows in the reader’s mind is the powerful imagery of a kingdom in the form of a sea of desert stretching far away.

There is really nothing to see there.

But the irony in all this, and we now come to the point of what storyboard is getting at, is that the poet who penned those words remains in the minds of humanity for centuries on end and will probably do so for as long as that humanity lives on to remember. Indeed, the very consciousness of literature and art in our lives is the thing that lasts forever. It will never step aside.

And here’s the oracle about literature overall that will blow your minds: that a literary device lasts, whereas a literary technique as a supportive companion in literary creation does not. The technique as noted in Shakespeare is the bard’s choice of theatre as an avenue through which he told England and does the world today that the Greco-Roman world was and is worth study. The device noted in his craft is the choice of character study in that Greco-Roman world. Each of these tragic heroes is worth studying for no other purpose than for us to learn the truth most common to us all. The plebeians eat as much as the aristocrats, even though the manner of eating for each one may differ. But they all eat all the same. And that’s the common truth. The word grain (as in The Tragedy of Coriolanus) becomes food as much as a political tool for all parties concerned. But it is the sort of word that causes powerful men such as Caius Martius Coriolanus to begin experiencing certain obstacles in their career developments. Then, of course, they lose patience and in some cases start swearing.

On that last point storyboard would usually point out to his students that Coriolanus was lauded the best of Shakespearean tragedies by literary greats such as T.S. Eliot. Ironically, however, it is the only play where you find more swearing than in any other Shakespearean drama. But we do get the point, don’t we? It is considered the best because of its ordinariness in character study. Coriolanus gets into the habit of addressing the plebeians as “curs” and as people less deserving of Rome’s lofty mannerisms and sentiments of intellectual enlightenment. That of course leads him to so much pride and arrogance and eventually to his downfall.  But the gist in all this as far as character study goes is the way Lady Volumnia influences him into taking up a position in the hierarchy of the Roman senate. He does get to the top but of course there are men such as Brutus and others to reckon with.

And now back to the question of how Shakespeare would fare in a country like ours. Would he step aside as the bard of England? Yes, he did step aside at a much younger age than many of us think. That was when he made just enough to retire to his village at Stratford-upon-Avon. He had land; he had a family to fend for. But in many respects he had been the most fortunate of writers and artists who lived at a time when the monarchy itself became the great lover of literature, the arts and the theatre. Everywhere she went, particularly in the provinces, Queen Elizabeth I had asked for nothing more than a cultural fete or festivity. She would of course be the one responsible for this word ‘royalty” a sort of stipend paid to writers and artists at her bidding and which nowadays assumes so many roles as the “paymaster” of all sorts of trades and set ups here and there – quite, quite removed from the world of belles letters...
But wait, what’s that place I see yonder? Pray, dinghy operator, cut down the throttle; heave thy vessel closer, shoreward. Is that Bogaboga I see? Looks bucolic enough; isolated, idyllically enchanting and far removed from the noise of Port Moresby. Pray, operator, leave me here, on these remote shores, and don’t come back for me. But wait again, what’s that I hear up the beach. Voices. More voices. “Welcome home, storyboard! Where’s our sugar? Where’s the tea? And the rice and tinned fish? And hap spear? Some buatau?”

“Dear oh dear, talk about stepping aside. Let the nakimis and tambu lewas take over the whole global theatre then,” chuckles the bard. Backstage, the bard is heard drinking wine, cackling and cracking jokes with the youth of Stratford (or is it rather the youth of Bogaboga and Tototo?).

                               MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Glad tidings

Photo: Ekar Keapu, The National newspaper.
The name Powes Parkop sounds like glad tidings around Christmas time. That is what residents of Port Moresby went to discover at a local park Sunday evening (5/12/10). Among them were storyboard’s children and grandchildren.

And the grand children’s reaction?

There were lights, many of them – lights of different colours. And there was an elephant and a giraffe and some other animals. The city was lit up. It was really beautiful. Here, bubu daddy, we even have a video recording of it all. You should have stopped listening to your Maria Callas and come with us.

“True, true,” nodded storyboard, “if only your parents took the trouble of buying a 15 seater to fit us all in. Were there many people there?”

“Yes, bubu, many people came. Even the securities could not allow us to sit on the elephant’s tusk and take photos.”

“Tusk or snout?”


One thing is clear. These little children are beginning to see that the city they are growing up in promises to be lit up all around, colourful and safe. As they grow up they feel certain they can walk the city’s streets from the fall of evening to late without anyone bothering them. And it would be all the more encouraging if they felt addicted to such a sentiment of cleanliness and feeling of safety, a sort of homely atmosphere for all.
This does not mean that Port Moresby has never been such a spot of beauty and enchantment once in the history of its making. What men like Parkop are doing is revive those familiar sights now lost to the rush of so-called development and transmigration of people from various corners of the country. It is the sort of sense of belonging that we all must claim ownership to.

Port Moresby is not a city that belongs to a collective few who initially are Motu Koitabuans on the one hand and to pocketful concentrations of Highlands and non-Highlands settlers here and there. Port Moresby is a city that has now become everyone’s affair. It is indeed an affair. But we must regard that properly as a love affair. How can we claim we love a city if we turn around and abuse it with so much litter and spit? How can we, for that matter, claim we love a family member or a loved one if we go on panel beating her as an expression of love?

Men such as Powes Parkop and his team of parliamentarians and landscape developers who are now creating that strong sense of collegiality among themselves for no other reason than to beautify the city once all over again must be commended. They are good people who need our support as members of the city’s community more than words of flattery. These are very simple people like you and me who care about the city so much that they will not rest until they make Port Moresby become a centre of all manner of festivity throughout the Asia Pacific region. Be that instance of festivity centred around sports, cultural festivals, regional summit meetings or certain contests such as the recent beauty contest – these become important observations for which and through which we can feel prompted enough to keep the city clean.
Another aspect of Powes Parkop and his group of workers that deserves commendation and which indeed deserves a lot of thought on our part as ordinary citizens is their choice of simplicity in starting up a project and completing it. In all these situations these men and women do not opt for expensive and lofty jargon as much as literature to get their message across to the ordinary member of Port Moresby community. Listen, says one at one time or another, we just want to build the Great Wall of Koki down town. Or we just want to put a few huts and seats at various points around the city for our children to play. And there we go.

So who are we then who, instead of helping and supporting them by similar gestures of doing something positive for the city, turn around and spit buai juice at billboards asking for our cooperation? As storyboard once heard a grass roots youth remark, “Sapos yu no bihainim tok bilong ol biglain bilong yu mi, kanda bilong dispela stap yet.” (If you don’t pay attention to what the biggies are saying there is a reward forthcoming, meaning, “Woe unto that youth who refuses a word of blessing from the old and wise elders.”) That youth was very wise indeed.
Cleanliness and observing a lifestyle of hygienic habits is free of charge. No one will demand payment for the good shower you have had this morning. (Then again no one will help you pay Eda Ranu for that shower.) We must develop that attitude about living in the city that we love by feeling addicted to the cleanliness and hygienic settings that surround us. Seeing a strayed trash in the form of a candy wrapping flying towards you should be sufficient clue in picking it up and putting it in its proper place. Feel addicted to that. You don’t do that out of sense of duty or because somebody else told you to do it. You do it yourself because you are addicted to the habit. That simple gesture done a thousand times over in a month leads all of us to seeing a city that is at once clean and beautiful. So let’s get addicted to this. Let’s help Powes Parkop and his team clean up. Here, in the head firstly, as the appropriate the poet says, then along the footpath as we walk along. Clean up.
This sentiment of cleanliness and hygienic living is our glad tidings from Powes Parkop and his team of dedicated workers.

Finally, and as pointed out above, a great number of us living in Port Moresby today are outsiders. We are indeed an eye sore to the people who are the real landowners. We must pay a certain amount of compensation for that. There is no better gesture of compensation than making ourselves look tidy and keeping the streets of the whole city clean and beautiful. That much the landowner would ask of us more than all of King Solomon’s kingdom and wealth put together.
Photos this and above 4 by Perry Poha & the Soaba family.


Saturday, 4 December 2010

More favourites from The Anuki Country Press

Biriko in the moonlight

(an Anuki children's folk dance)

Hus gowin tu da mun?
Not mi;
Ai kamin from dea, mon.
          Kwarureregi, kwarureregi;
          Kwarureregi, kwarureregi.
The children join hands
in a biriko ring;
fingers stretch, clasp, hold firm.
They dance the biriko
to the right, to the left
          Kwarureregi, kwarureregi;
          Kwarureregi, kawrureregi.
Two break into the centre.
The others move in, complete the cirle:
fingers stretch, clasp, hold firm.
They dance the biriko
to the left, to the right;
        Kwarureregi, kwarureregi;
        Kwarureregi, kwarureregi.
The two in the centre dance:
feet down, palms touch;
his head wags and her hair flies.

They dance the biriko
to the right, to the left;
to the left, to the right.
         Kwarureregi, kwarureregi;
         Kwarureregi, kwarureregi.
Hus gowin tu da mun?
Not mi;
Ai kamin from dea, mon.

From Kwamra: a season of harvest

Afternoon rain: campus consciousness


for the nth student

rain clouds at 3pm
greyed green absorb
matters of campus consciousness

walking neath slothed clouds
equatorial j.w. turner storms
neath concrete pillars
& erected sands
to the halls – lecture rooms
tutorial cellars – the floors
once swept by last semester’s
feet are again dank & inhabited
by frogs who caint leave us alone

the earth is laid flat
back aching
on the green of the now tired gods:
this is the only begotten
afternoon rain
laid bare & tropical before you

the rain’s a-drumming on sagothatched memoirs
a houseful of masks & tapa patterns
marx assignments & confessional testimonies
& mirrors that promise champagne
satin ecstasies/solitary lake
ghost city of the last graduates

                                                    From Kwamra: a season of harvest

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The love poem

Papua New Guinea does not know how to write a love poem.

Look around you now and notice the wattle-looking trees in bloom. In all their golden glory, you say, someone should write a sonnet about them. But then a young man comes along with a stick and with a single swoosh mows the yellow things down. Petals go flying everywhere, and these poor trees, surely, did not ask for that. All that they wanted to do, if they could talk, was bring joy to those who look at them. And perhaps in response to their glory we, as human beings, would walk under and around them holding each other’s hands.
The joy of writing that love poem nowadays is thus restricted to those students of creative writing at high schools and universities. No one else seems to be interested. Oh, yes, writing a sonnet is part of growing up, many of us say. “And then we get over it,” we add, in favour of that young man with the stick knocking the lovely petals down. We have certainly lost the way in growing up.
Writing a love poem is base, we then say. Indeed, all act of poetic composition belongs to that caste that is primordial. Thenceforth, we opt for articulacy, the sort that woos us into forgetting that we have a culture of our own. And all cultures are deeply rooted in poetry – particularly love poems.
The only love poem that Papua New Guinea is familiar with is the song that we regard as our national anthem. But even that, if one recalls Justin Kili’s words, is left to the children at primary schools to recite everyday of their lives until they get to high school when they forget all the words. We could perhaps add here that aside from the children in primary schools, mothers and the elderly, usually at the local churches, take the trouble of singing the song at all along with the pledge that goes with it.

When we compare this attitude that we have about love poems to other cultures we will notice how much we have omitted in the very process of making ourselves become human beings. Man is a project, says the appropriate philosopher. He is what he makes of himself. Thus, if that love poem is missing in our lives, then that is what we have made ourselves become in the final analysis. Never mind about that young man with the music box and who’s got all his ears plugged up he looks like he’s floating on the blades of grass, not walking on earth. He is bound to lose the way if we don’t stop him in time and show him the direction to his own house. But at least he tries to know what a love poem means compared to, let us say, a parliamentarian who never tries and none of whom, come to think of it and seeing that ours is a Commonwealth country too, has ever heard of Dame Shirley Bassey singing Big Spender.
And now we come to the point of this article. If all our parliamentarians knew what a love poem was, or what a sonnet was [pastoral, Shakespearean or Petrarchan], it is true we would begin to realize how beautiful our country is. Beautiful towns and cities, clean streets, no spitting, no littering, no traffic jams and unnecessary dumping of waste along public drains. The green foliage, the enchanting shores and coastlines, the islands, the rivers and mountains, and the opalescence of the ocean depths – all these things we have as national treasures; and they are crying out for a love poem to be written about them. Nine times out of ten we do not care. Yet this is the only rich cultural heritage that we have. It would help our image a lot if we took up the habit of writing sonnets and odes: to our loved ones, to our neighbours, to our people and our country.

Two months ago storyboard went out in search of a poet who could write the best poem about his or her love of the country. What he received was hardly encouraging. The word corruption seemed to take toll of each poet’s vocabulary, along with greed, cruelty and avarice. But storyboard managed to come across James St Nativeson selling peanuts and corn at a certain settlement, so he announced: “Sir, spare me a love poem for our country.” He did get it, and we reproduce the whole text here.

         red eyes
a cold stare
a mindseye bedazzled
par picasso butchers
greening your yellow profile
kandinsky bloodbaths
roygbiv absented

      & tis a temple
or a chapel
a cathedral, even
no once were
nor future
tourist resort
none comes out
of there alive
just a few
corrupt men
being maggots
on an island
of paradise...

The poem sounded so creepy and scary that storyboard asked for aspirin before a translation, if any, on the spot. To which response St Nativeson said: “My dear fellow, in order to understand the whole poem you must be well versed in Cubism as well as Expressionist and Fauvist art. But if it is translation you want, I’d much rather explain what the poem really means. The poem is about young initiates who enter the haus tamabaran for the first time, and thereupon become hostages, or more precisely victims of a curse or spell under which they start worshipping an ogre whom they address as chief. As they bow down deep in worship, and at the same time confess that they have no more baby brothers and mothers and sisters left to be brought to the ogre’s sacrificial table, he starts devouring them, one by one.”

“Naughty boy,” was all storyboard could say of the “persona” of the poem as he came away. He felt faint.
When storyboard was a few metres away, St Nativeson called after him: “You asked for a love poem, didn’t you? That is the best I can provide for you. Believe me, it kept me going when I was in Budapest, singing it as a jazz piece at side cafes for change, which in turn helped me pay for food and lodging. That is the best love poem other countries can ever expect from out of Papua New Guinea.”
Photo by Ketsin Robert; the ones above by storyboard.