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.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Return of PPP and Gideon's Bible

A sight to behold at the Waigani Campus: the famous steps leading heavenwards.

Once, a long time ago, storyboard was listening to his class mates perform a song at their school’s assembly hall. The song they sang told the story of an adventurous young man going abroad and then returning home in his latter and grumpy years to catch himself reading Gideon’s Bible in his own study. This reflective type of storytelling would later become known as magical realism which writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez found fashionable. But it’s a good way of remembering things – particularly those that we regard as memorable.

Storyboard mentions this because as he walked to work recently at the Waigani Campus a young man stopped him and gave him a free copy of Gideon’s Bible. He suddenly remembered the song of his class mates in his younger days. Then as he continued his walk towards the University Bookshop a cover of a Papua Pocket Poets (PPP) series from the 60s and 70s caught his eye. Two wonderful things happening once all over again, thought storyboard and strolled over to his office.

So what’s the big deal about PPP and Gideon’s Bible?

The big deal is that literature is taking on many new shapes and forms. When we consider PPP and the Gideon version of the Bible we are looking at the phenomenon of sustenance and continuity, particularly of those literatures that are meant to last forever. But they are also allowed to take as many forms and shapes as they can in a given age. Sometimes they can get repeated over and over, particularly through the internet, someone somewhere along the line is bound to say, “Hey, that’s illegal. You are not allowed to write that because it was my idea in the first place.” But, those are some of the disappointments for some writers at one time or another.

Those disappointments brushed aside, we consider the format of any form of literature nowadays as overall important. When we look at the size of the Gideon Bible storyboard was given, it is small enough to be carried in one’s breast pocket. The size of a PPP collection of poetry is just about the same, only a little larger. But the good thing about both types of publication is that no matter how much time causes us to forget either one of them they are there all the same and they are bound to pop up at one time or another.

Both are fundamentally important necessities in the life of anyone who cares to read.

The Gideon Bible shapes and moulds a young mind to grow up strong and steady while PPP encourages that same mind to prosper creatively. Somewhere along the line there may be some conflict of interest developing. But what matter. They are both literature anyway. And it is nice to preserve them in the format that both assume.

Talking of preservation, and the phenomena of sustenance and continuity, Ulli Beier had handled this handsomely in the early 60s and 70s. He started a creative writing program that sought to preserve as much as encourage, sustain as much as become of itself a useful commodity if not utility in the classroom environment. The Gideon’s copy felt in the pockets would be as useful as the PPP scrap book brought into the classroom.

On the subject of sustenance and continuity there is a new kind of “face lift’ being done to the PPP series by the University Bookshop. The series will be revived with reprints of the old pocket books as much as new titles added to it. Of new titles, storyboard is aware of some good ones now being written with fresh experimentation in the areas of literary techniques and devices. Here storyboard has in mind poetries in the spirit of those being written by Lapieh Landu of Divine Word University; aside from looking at The Crocodile Prize, their authors could also consider the PPP series as handy material made available for the literature student.

Of the literary significance of the PPP series, what could be more tantalising than what Ulli Beier himself says as the founding father of this publication.

“When I accepted an appointment to the new University of Papua and New Guinea to teach literature, I vowed that I would not impose Eng-Lit on the students! My research showed that there was nothing available – especially in poetry. I found a collection of Malay folk-poetry, and a selection of verse from the Pacific area – both in German. I translated them into English, and these PANTUN and TAAROA became the first titles in the proposed series.

In 1967 I spoke to the University's preliminary year students who had expressed interest in studying literature as undergraduates. I issued them with a tape-recorder and instructed them to record, during their vacations, traditional poems and songs in their own languages,

As a result of this exercise, and translations into English, texts evolved as the basis for the first publications of Papua new Guinean poetry. These became part of the Papua Pocket Poets published from 1967. From the series' over fifty titles, we have selected a representative list including poetry from Indonesia, India, Nigeria, Aboriginal Australia, the Pacific as well as Papua New Guinea.”

That commentary will be included as an introduction to every volume of the PPP series reprinted. There are just about 40 titles that are to be reprinted, among them Kasaipwalova’s “Reluctant Flame” and “Hanuada” and the most colorful of folk poetry collections like "Aia" by Allan Natachee and "Warbat: Tolai Love Songs" by Apisai Enos. The new titles will carry similar commentaries depending on who does the compiling and editing.

But, delicate reader, you can probably see storyboard’s point here. Let’s go for that pocket-sized book. It matches perfectly with the bank card in the bilums that we dive for every fortnight.  


Sunday, 10 October 2010

Unravelling the makuri of fiction

Finally, the waif returns to the fold.

Finally, the makuri is no longer that lonely little boy running scared in the wilderness of abandon and neglect, but an important missing piece fitting back perfectly into the family jigsaw puzzle.

Now as far as new challenges in creative writing go, we have a story here in which virtually everyone is being asked to participate in the craft of fiction: the writer, the reader, the critic and, if one wills, the educator.

Brian Tieba’s first book, The Two Mountains, proposes to do that.

It is a story about twins, a boy and a girl. The girl is delivered successfully at birth, but the boy has to be, a few hours later, delivered through an operation. It is that operation that causes all the confusion. The girl is re-united with her biological parents soon after her mother’s recovery. As for the boy no one knows of his existence, least of all his survival, except the “Samarai nurse” at the hospital and her teacher husband whom the boy grows up to regard as his parents. The Samarai nurse and mother dies, the teacher father re-marries and what follows is an ordeal of a waif who will take years to search for and find his biological connections, not without a child’s traumatic experiences of foster care, child abuse and corporal punishment. His only remedy in life is the salvation he experiences at a boarding Anglican school, Martyrs’ Memorial where, at thirteen or so, he learns to become a man, self-reliant and strong enough to go out and challenge the world outside as a learned individual. Of course, he successfully completes his high school and passes the entrance examinations to a tertiary institution. By the end of the story he meets all of his family, except the mother whose “stomach was cut open to bring [him] out.”

In effect, The Two Mountains is really about the problems of orphans, adoption, child abuse and an examination of the existing laws governing the welfare of such children. The book also examines the educational opportunities offered by the relevant government authorities in association with, if any, various NGO and United Nations agencies whose job it is to care for such children.

A proper review may be offered by the relevant authorities on the subject matter that the writer proposes to deal with in The Two Mountains. Storyboard assumes that these authorities are those in the curriculum division of the Education Department, the Welfare Department and perhaps various peer education affiliates of tertiary institutions, including the UPNG open campuses throughout the country. However, before it reaches these people and institutions it is imperative and for the author’s benefit that this book be critiqued from the point of view of its proposed context – and that is that The Two Mountains is, strictly, a work of fiction.

So then, looking at the book from a creative writer’s point of view, it would need a fair amount of editing, not re-writing which is what the author is asking us to do. Each sentence must be carefully structured, no matter how simple it is, to allow for an easier flow in reading. This is a delicate story. It deserves such a treatment. Also, consider the grammatical problems of saying the same thing twice in a sentence. This is a problem encountered not solely by the new writer but by every one of the so-called well respected and established writers as well. Storyboard is not exempted from this dilemma.

From the reader’s point of view, we would like to ask the author to do away with those activity questions at end of each chapter? Again, this is a good story; let us enjoy it without distractions.
But then again, the author explains that this is a children’s book, in which case he may consider publishing the activity questions separately, usually at the end of the book or as an appendix covering all the chapters.

From a literary critic’s point of view: oh, dear, yes – a novel; a novel, did we say? No, Brian Tieba’s book is not a novel. We can properly describe it as a novella. And it has virtually all the properties that can help us define it as a work of fiction, if not a novel or novella.

Aside from the above, storyboard is fascinated by the thought content of The Two Mountains. A story is a good story if it contains in it the sort of moral lessons that concern us all as members of humanity. How good are we at handling our youth, at giving each the opportunity to become future leaders of our country? If the author gets those visions well in sight, then the future certainly looks bright for the nation as a whole. Time again storyboard hears his colleagues, such as Steven’s Window, referring to the constitution that we have and what visions that document holds in store for us, for our youth, and for our future. How many of our writers pay attention to such documents? The Two Mountains reveals to us that its author was paying particular attention to similar documents available in our society.

Some historical details in The Two Mountains are worth noting. Activities at the Martyrs’ Memorial School as explained by the author are well represented: the names of school buildings and dormitories sound all too familiar; the garden house where Prince Charles slept as a visitor from Geelong Grammar, the Endehi creek where he bathed and the diet of wan mun which he enjoyed with the boys of that school. One little detail needs correcting: the garden house where his royal highness stayed was the Sefoa garden house, not Maisin; the photo of the garden house which appeared on the front cover of Post Courier (South Pacific Post) at that time was the garden house storyboard built with the other Martyrs’ School boys from Tarakwaruru.

Finally, what is good writing? The rhetoric is straightforward: what is good writing, at all, if that writing shows little signs of its author’s ability to dream, to build – but above all, to just tell a good story. We all love stories. And we must be adamant about the idea that if our new author, Brian Tieba, falls into that habit of being a teacher rather than a modest craftsman as a story-teller then we will have problems in finding a replacement to tell us a good story about Makuri?