Thursday, 14 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 60: Selina Tusitala Marsh

 “All 11-year-olds should have the opportunity to see and hear poetry in a way that explodes their world.”

Selina Tusitala Marsh puts her poetry epiphany down to a visit from her school by the poet Sam Hunt, a larger than life figure with a mercurial performance style. (He also releases his own wines, with verses from his poems on the label, an idea that I think all poets should take up.)  Selina's poetry reads beautifully on the page but she too is a great performer of her work, and presents a striking and vivid figure. New Zealand is a modern, urbane, and self-confident society - we have seen this from its enviable actions in the recent crisis- and Selina's work reflects that sophistication but combined with a rich tribal Pacific island heritage. Her rhythms are eclectic and cross cultural, not surprising since her own ancestry is Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish and French, but her work is open to all influences including pop culture, the 'insta' age, even sport. Her 2013 collection  'Dark Sparring' came about as a result of taking up kick boxing as way of expressing the anger and grief she felt at her mother's death. her poetry, like the example below, 'Afakasi', literally 'Mixed Race', often incorporates Maori or Pacific languages and cadences.
She grew up in a working class family in Avondale, a suburb of Aukland known for its giant race track and industrial park, an area which had been settled by many Maori and Pacific Island families from the 1980s. Her mother was Samoan and had arrived in New Zealand barely literate and unable to speak English. Her father was a steelworker. In 2004 Selina became the first Pacific Islander to graduate with a PHD from Aukland University, and now lectures in creative writing and pacific literature.
Her poetry collections, including 'Fast Talking PI', 'Dark Sparring' and 'Tightrope' have received huge acclaim and awards and been translated world-wide. She edits 'Pasifika Poetry' a website devoted to the literature and poets of the Pacific region and is co-chair of the South Pacific Association of Language and Literature. Late last year 'Mophead' her memoir was published, in which she describes her background, influences and philosophies in life. 
Selina Marsh represented Tuvalu in the Poetry Olympics in London 2012, was named the official Commonwealth poet in 2016, and was appointed to the position of New Zealand Poet Laureate 2017-2019. The Laureate receives a ceremonial 'tokotoko' that you can see in the picture above.  In 2019 she was awarded the NZ Order of Merit for services to poetry, literature and the Pacific community. 
Here Selina reads 'Love in the Time of Coronavirus'

More poems here:
An Interview about her life and 'Mophead':

Afakasi   (From Peony Moon)     

Half moons ago
people were hollowed-out tablets of stone
spaces were given them
according to spaces they left

some of these spaces were filled with pages
ink leaching out great deeds done
marginalia filled with greater ones

other spaces were filled with fe’e
sliding on story after story
older ones wrapped in thundering fagogo
younger ones rapping ill semantics

other spaces were filled with carved blocks of wood
cocooned in tissue-thin mulberry
these long hollow spaces echoed the beat
of years heavy with folded legs
and the thump thump of old women beating

some spaces were filled with darkness
no light would shine there

other spaces weren’t spaces at all
but blistering mirages
no wind would blow there

other spaces were filled with va
these were warmed with the breath of others
the thrum of matua tausi
even if she was just another mirage

other spaces were hard
suffocating stone eyes

in other spaces hovered pouliuli
te kore, a nothingness, a yawning galaxy
into these spaces the young would dip their forefingers
rubbing the blackness on their lips
a moko mapping where they had been
and where they were to go

some spaces have pink retro bean-bags in the corner
cups of gumboot tea on the floor
upturned books in punched-out hollows

some spaces are filled
with the music of hands
fa’ataupati, not theatre applause
eyes open, mouths clapped shut
but open-mouthed choo-choo! malie!

some spaces are filled with no dancing
no flying fingers soaring wind
no shuffling of hips
no siva
no tau’olunga
no light in the body

some spaces are tied with rubber bands
trying to render control over
black unruly spaces
a parting and a plaiting of space
a twisting of space into a bun

some spaces are filled with sunlight soap
from the kagamea
laughing over rocks into the ocean
where a dead Alsatian floats under a net of flies
caught underneath the makeke pier

some spaces are brown
some are blue
o lo’u igoa Tusitala
je m’appelle Marchant
flow in and outturning space sinopia

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