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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, 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.

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