Saturday, July 10, 2010

Writers in a Wasteland

Picture: Regis Stella (PNG Writer), Nora Vagi Brash (PNG playwright), and Sam Alasia (Solomon Islands writer)
in USP campus, Fiji.

The intensity of the emotions I felt in losing my mother 20 years ago surfaced a day after the anniversary of her passing. I felt the intensity in the words of the poem that came to me on that day. I began to compose the poem with the keyword “special” as I sat alone in the car outside Taurama SVS shopping area. It is not the method I use in writing poetry, but a spontaneous outpouring of the refined subconscious I have been living with and breathing for the last 20 years. Later, in the comfort of my home, I tried reciting it without writing the poem. The recital was flawed, but the poem in memory of my mother remained uneasily lodged within my subconscious that whole Saturday.

In connecting with the subconscious where poetry resides I met T. S. Eliot reciting The Wasteland as if he was standing next to me beside the Gavamani Road linking Manu Autoport, Korobosea, Kirakira, Sabama, Pari, and Joyce Bay. I became aware of the urban decay, the wasted lives, and the poorest worming out from wherever they are to split the remaining trees of the Motuan Savannah landscape as firewood bundled up for sale. Eliot continues in that memorable utterance: “Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit/There is not even silence in the mountains/But dry sterile thunder without rain/There is not even solitude in the mountains/But red sullen faces sneer and snarl/From doors of mudcracked houses.’ In that moment I had to ask Eliot what it all means, the voice behind those words vanished into thin air. I was left to decipher the meaning on my own, but self-assuredly as a poet.

Did anyone ever mention to Eliot that being a poet is a lonely affair often tagged as a misunderstood life? No wonder Eliot kept his job as a banker, a job that carries with it the burden of trust the society have on bankers. No so for the life of poet whom no one trust or let alone give any recognition for serving as unofficial legislators and Ombudsman of society. Poets say all they want to say, but no one will listen to them. Choosing to be a poet is the decision one takes to remain misunderstood, so much so that one is free to write those deep inner thoughts as a therapeutic exercise if not as an outpouring of anger, disappointment, anxiety, remorse, lament, or praise.
But as they say, once in a while the lonely poet needs to reconnect and find meaningful connections in the company of fellow travelers out there. One such moment was the writers recital held at the Port Moresby Arts Theatre on 26th June 2010 around 2.00pm. I popped up there without any invite only so that I can reconnect with fellow writers in Port Moresby such as Nora Vagi Brash, Abba Bina, popular known as Mr. Shit, Dr. Alfred Faiteli, Scott Waide, Grace Maribu, Lady Judith Bona, Robson Akis, and other new faces. Nora, our much loved playwright, had a nice way of describing my
appearance as from the woodwork, though not personally at me, but at the collective in the likes of my colleagues cocooned in a superficial shell of aloofness.

For what it’s worth I recited three poems from my third collection of poetry: A Rower’s Song (2009). One of the poems read was entitled: “Urban Natives”, a piece intended as a critique on transferring our tribal ways and stubborn backwardness into metropolitan spaces: “We brought the village to town/We are the urban natives/We will never return home.” I tried linking this poem to the most important question asked by Associate Professor Eric Kwa in his class on the Constitution of PNG: “What does it mean when one speaks of my basic social obligation as a Papua New Guinean?” I don’t know about others in that class, but to me the question goes to the heart of what it means to be a Papua New Guinean.

Did I say poetry written by Steven Winduo, or the Anuki neighbour across the page with his weekly doses of Soaba’s Storyboard are fulfilling their basic social obligations to themselves, to their families, and their communities? One need not read the Constitution to understand what the basic social obligations are for every Papua New Guineans. Or should we?

I sacrificed six months of my salary to self-publish my poetry collection so that I can fulfill my basic social obligations to take initiative to make a living. I have sold a few copies of my book to the Michael Somare Library, the UPNG Bookstore, Theodist, and the National Library, but the rest are beginning to gather cobwebs in my study until such a time when Papua New Guineans have come to their senses that buying a book written by a Papua New Guinean is also a basic social obligation.

Whether they appreciate it or not I made it my business to give complimentary copies of my poetry book to NCD Governor, Honourable Powes Parkop, Honourable Charles Abel, Member for Alotau and Minister of Tourism, Arts, and Culture, Honourable James Marape, Member for Tari Pori and Minister of Education, and His Excellency Mr. Teddy Taylor, American Ambassador to PNG, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

The trouble with being a self-published PNG writer is that the company one keeps always turns up as the very weak foundation needed to survive as an author. Writers can do well in Papua New Guinea if the principle of basic social obligations is observed by everyone when it comes to financially supporting writers to have their works published and sold.

The advice I would give to anyone thinking of writing books is that it is a long road to travel without the financial support of friends, relatives, acquaintances, and strange-bedfellows, all the more reason to find the company of a writers collective such as the ones organized by Lady Judith Bona, Nora Vagi Brash, Grace Maribu, and the Waigani Arts Centre in Port Moresby.


  1. Splendid read, Steven. Being a writer does indeed sound like a lonely job. But it is encouraging to see that despite all these, we have people in the likes of you, and the rest of the wonderful people mentioned here who are patiently persevering. That can be nothing but Passion right there.
    Wanbel stap...

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