|Literature students at the Waigani Campus of the University of Papua New Guinea with their first copy of Drusilla Modjeska's novel, The Mountain.|
The first was the arrival, at long last, of Drusilla Modjeska’s novel, The Mountain. The second was a collection of poems by Michael Dom, entitled At another Crossroads, compiled as a manuscript and sent to storyboard for review.
Two lovely pieces of work, quite timely and represent all that we would want to know about our country through fiction and poetry.
Storyboard readers may recall a brief review of Modjeska’s The Mountain, in an article entitled The Literary Marvels of Tufi. In that article we have proclaimed the arrival of work exemplifying those done on Papua New Guinea by authors who love visiting the country and who look at our activities, literary or otherwise, with special regard. There are the Trevor Shearstons, the Phil Fitzpatricks and the Keith Jacksons, to name a few. And now Drusilla Modjeska.
Modjeska’s novel starts at the outskirts of Port Moresby, in an isolated area of sparsely distributed savannah vegetation and swamp which will later become known as the Waigani Campus of the University of Papua New Guinea.
The people who start settling in at that area consist of a remarkable collection of academics, young and old, and recruited from the finest schools in Europe and America. They are there curiously to establish a new university which many colonial old timers of the time describe as a “boi’s school.” It is this curiosity that drives a young couple Rika and Leonard to travel all the way from Oxford just to become part of that excitement of the 60s and 70s.
The result is a sweeping story that starts in Port Moresby, moves on to the mountain, which we understand now as Mt Lamington in the Oro Province. Thenceforth, the characters move back and forth in their academic preoccupation of research and study of the area, and then move south east, to the Tufi area, because two of the novel’s prominent characters come from there. There is much excitement involved and as we read our way into the core of the novel we discover a lot of things about Papua New Guinea that are at once enlightening and memorable.
The radical activities of the student politicians of the day, the intermingling of characters consisting of members of staff and their students, the type of discoveries dug up in the fields of anthropology and archaeology, and the emergence of a new literary culture – these are well represented in the novel.
Somewhere in this beautiful novel we come across radical students in the likes of Milton the playwright, scoffing critic of the atmosphere that surrounds him, snorting adviser to budding politicians who will later hone, shape and mould Papua New Guinea into nationhood. But these Papua New Guinean characters often find home in the company of women like Martha, Rika and men like Don and Leonard, the brilliant visual anthropologist.
Together they shape and form the beginnings of the country’s move towards political independence from Australia. And together they live a sort of life that many will forget except this young man called Jericho, who returns from Oxford one day, to retrace through books the footsteps of those who have gone before him. And what Jericho discovers about the mountain and Papua New Guinea is truly amazing.
A regular visitor to Papua New Guinea, Drusilla Modjeska drops by at UPNG now and then to share thoughts on literature and writing with students and staff there. Her advice to the young generation of aspiring writers: “A young writer – any writer – needs courage, and also patience. Courage to write from the heart, patience to return to draft after draft.”
From the Estate of Icarus storyboard is pleased to announce the arrival of Michael Dom’s At another Crossroads. This is an exciting collection of poetry that Dom has been working on for some time and now feels that it is ready for publication. A good number of these poems have previously appeared in the National newspaper’s Weekender supplement. These were well-received, making Michael Dom an interesting social and political commentator through poetry.
Storyboard first became aware of Dom’s poetry through the Crocodile Literary competition, an initiative of the competition organizers in Australia and the Post Courier. Dom is a strong supporter of the Crocodile literary workshops and competitions and his contributions to the last workshop held at the Australian High Commission on 15th September 2011 were invaluable. Since then he has not given up the pen and the result is this fine collection of poetry whose themes range from social criticism to environmental concerns and individual thoughts and aspirations and further into the arena of poetics (meaning creative writing observed as a tool for social and political commentary).
In all, At another Crossroads is a lovely collection and storyboard looks forward to the day when all this poetry is published as a book. Here is one such poem followed by a commentary by the poet himself.
A dinghy ride by starlight
There is an echo even now. Awakening
From haunted dreams, late in the night
A memory of a dinghy ride by starlight:
The noise of the motor reverberating
Off the coast, above the rushing waves,
Cold and damp from sea spray and rain:
Phosphorescent glittering streams in
Our passing wake arise from unknown
Depths as we skim their salty matrix:
Dark ragged hills like a rip in the fabric
Of a jet black sky and the ghostly white
Foam of the relentless Solomon Sea:
A shoreline strewn with the debris of
That unending war: A warning to steer
Clear off, but to keep a parallel course:
Speak not of crows for I have seen them
In a mist shrouded morning at Rabaraba
Where they held their nodding congress
And Champion’s surprise at finding me
There upon his arrival was worth a
Hundred voyages into the Anuki Country
Bubia Station, 04:31AM 21/01/2012
Champion Ando was the name of my traveling partner, whom I was supposed to meet at Alotau. When I arrived there around ten o' clock he had already left early in the morning. I took a bus from Masurina Lodge, went down to town, asked the locals there for a highway truck, got on and made my way around the coast to a dinghy place on the north coast, Awaiama. That's where my dinghy ride began.
Until that time I had never been to Milne Bay in my life. Champion had no idea where I was, and everyone else thought that I was still in Port Moresby.
You can imagine his surprise when he comes to shore at Rabaraba at six o' clock the next morning, to be greeted by myself, standing on the shore, waving to him. He thought for sure I was a ghost (or bewitched). He had some difficulty speaking for a little bit, when I asked him what had taken him so long to get there. It will make a good short story some day.