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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.

Monday, 15 September 2014


We conduct creative writing workshops through the social media as a way of encouraging our literature students to discover what the world outside may think of their work. A lot of our students are new to the world of arts and letters, many never having the chance of reading literature in high school. But they come to us with a great sense of enthusiasm and this is the thing that encourages us in turn to regard their work with care. In the long run we realize we must do something in favor of their talents not only for their own benefit but also as a way of giving them the opportunity of developing what we have now come to recognize as Papua New Guinea Literature. Your comments on each student’s work would be highly valued.

The following is an example of the sort of feedback we would like to see.

A Review of ‘Wonderland’ (poet un-named). Wonderland is a poem posted by Russell B. Soaba on Facebook as a means for soliciting comment toward the works of his creative writing students at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG).

While the request by Russell Soaba on Facebook is for comments, it is my choice to do so in the form of a brief review as I wish to give the exercise full justice as opposed to cursory commentary.

‘Wonderland’ (a title which I suggest be changed) is a short poem to be celebrated for several reasons. This is the voice of a University of Papua New Guinea first-year creative writing student – thank God the institution offers the course at this level! It is evidence the university recognises that creative talent and voice is present in its students prior to arrival at university. It is also evidence the university is committed to cultivating such voices into what may be a collectively confident and vibrant voice representative of the nation of Papua New Guinea and indeed, the Pacific. Nowhere is such an activity more important than in this nation given its diversity of tongues and its pressing contemporary problems – such complexity needs voice and writing is its most powerful medium. Creative writing is its most appropriate and necessary medium for if this is not recognised and nurtured, Papua New Guinea’s stories will be told by outsiders. Yet, here it is, one young voice taking form under the tutelage of a master. This is reason enough for celebration.

This voice is young, raw, containing grammatical errors (as has been pointed out by other commentators on Facebook), obviously an attempt, and lacking in confidence: but far from being its weakness, these are the reasons for its beauty. The poet is already a poet but has not arrived at this knowledge. This student already possesses what creative writing instructors struggle to teach or build into students: an eye for the world, a compassionate eye. Not every writer possesses this.

While the rudiments of grammar need improvement and its leaning toward clichés ought to be reduced if not eliminated, the poem already has a pit: that core at the heart of self-expression; that solid, hard pit at the heart of a ripe fruit; that stone pit that harnesses flesh and holds the entire DNA of a botanical species. In a poem, the pit carries its soul. In ‘Wonderland’ the poet articulates the pit, the soul of the poem; then hurriedly dresses it with frills, unnecessary words and lines – a feature of his or her insufficient confidence.

Allow me to explain. ‘Wonderland’ is a poem of only about eight lines or less. In its current form it comprises twenty-one lines, which in my assessment, has thirteen lines that are not needed. Following is the full poem with twenty-one lines as it appeared on Facebook:  




Sun emerges the eastern horizon

Fogs engulfs the entire Huli valley

All nearby woods all silent

Except Ega Alua with the help of other species

Sings the sweetest melodies in praises

Meanwhile mums too all ready awaken

Melodies of singing tumbunas would be heard in every house

Mums do so, while preparing breakfast

The only favourite penalia hina (kaukau)

Days are always quiet and calm

Human yellings and laughter could be heard rarely

What are wonder

My wonderful land – Hela

Where my amplicle cord is buried

Where my flesh will decompose

Your memories would alway vivid

I wish to fly over to you, but

Situation does not allows

Would it be Ok?

Would it be possible?

I will only come after four years.


In my view, the poem does not begin until Line 13: ‘My wonderful land – Hela’; this is the powerful first line to draw one into the poem. The preceding lines, while descriptive of the area and its daily life, is unnecessary; a distraction from the pit of the poem. I would even remove the word ‘wonderful’ as the soul of the language itself reveals to us that Hela is wonderful, making the word redundant, an unnecessary appendage that disturbs the flow of the poem.

Really, the poem begins at Line 13 and concludes at its given end but I would suggest that Line 16: ‘Your memories would always[s] [be] vivid’ be removed to avoid cliché. So the whole poem would read:


My Hela!

Where my umbilical cord is buried

Where my flesh will decompose

I wish to fly to you

But situation does not allow

Would it be okay

Would it be possible

I come after four years?


When it is reduced to these lines, even a foreigner such as I can feel the agony of the poet. I can almost touch the heartbreak of the poet’s inability to visit his or her home until a lapse of four years has occurred – and it is a tragedy. The greatest thing about this poem is the poet is seeking both an apology and permission from the sacred land itself, from the world that he or she calls home. This is the soul, the pit of the poem.

The question one may ask is: What happens to the other lines? My response is: They make another poem and it is important to not include it as part of the one extracted above. So if the poet is creating a portfolio of poems, these could be part of the section on Hela in the Huli Valley of Papua New Guinea. The lines on sunrise, woods, bird and insect song, early morning cooking fires, singing women and local delicacies are rich and if corrected for grammar with the removal of clichés, would become a powerful poem as well; and if placed next to the extract above, would make Hela tangible for readers. These lines need further working to allow us as readers to feel, smell, see, taste and hear the life of the Huli Valley, and Hela in particular.

My word to the young poet is: You are young but old in spirit. You carry your homeland and your people well in your thoughts – do not cloud it with too many words. Have the confidence to shed decorative words and stick to the soul of each idea you carry. You are already a poet. Do not be afraid of this. Embrace it. The world will know the Huli Valley and its many beauties and tragedies through you if you stick with it and persevere. Take criticism well but in the end, hold your own. Hold your own with confidence.

 Mary D. Rokonadravu


31 August 2014

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