Monday, September 27, 2010

Poetry and Performance

When you have the lights beamed right into your eyes the immediate thoughts are for you to run. The best you could do is move away from those bright lights. You are immediately looking into the darkness. You know there are people there. You cannot retrace your footsteps back. You are the center of focus. Right now you have to say something quick. That was the feeling I had last Saturday at the Waigani Arts Centre during the poetry recital evening.

It was an evening to remember. The poetry recital and musical arrangement from the talents of our students under the watchful eye of our Sanguma , Tony Subam, made the evening memorable. Tony also gave an impromptu recital in the evening to my amazement. The students from MIAC showed the musical talents through their original compositions. The evening jazz set the scene.

I had invited a couple of writers, especially poets living in Port Moresby to turn up for the poetry recital. It turned out that only Nora Vagi Brash and I were the ones reading our works. In between poetry reading we had traditional and classical mix of music played by PNG’s own Edward Gende, the serenading jazzy music of Cowley Laeka played on saxophone, and Gideon Kiyowavadulu’s flute and kuakumba music.

The poetry recital was part of the Port Moresby Arts Extravaganza weeks organized by the Waigani Arts Centre with support from the National Capital District Commission.

Seen anything like this before?
  We did not attract as many people as expected; we understood most people were exhausted in that week of Independence. I had to attend the Independence celebration then the East Sepik Provincial Day at UPNG. It was the most tiring week. Many people were too spent to attend the poetry recital night.

The night was magical for me because this was a performance on stage that had me startled, a little afraid, and nerving in that the darkness all around me made a sense of the existential mood. It was so Becketian that all I could think about was get my lines in order before I exit. Yet, the awareness that in that darkness the appreciative, questioning, curious, and expectant audience held you in the center of their eyes. They are there in the darkness waiting for the next word, the next announcement, the next line, and the performance. Once delivered you have this sense of accomplishment. Then you are ready for the next performance. Within an hour you are done. It is over. You sigh with relief.

I recount these feelings on stage to give readers the feeling of watching live performance theatre and the recitals of poetry. Attending theatre performances and watching life performances are inspirational moments in an individual’s life. The artistic talents and stage craft are special elements in theatre performances.

Another observation that my colleague, Leo Wafiwa, of the journalism program who went along for the recital, made was very apt: “Writers must make time to read their works to the public,” he said. “What good is it if you write a poem that never gets recited? Poets must read their work.”

Indeed, writers must promote their own works and give others the opportunity to know their writings. One can be a good writer, but if that writer does not recite or share their writings using the many mediums of delivery, such as public recitals or collective performance with other artists then their writings will remain in the closet, obscured, and vanish in the lost archives of libraries. I know many Papua New Guinea writers like that who are very brilliant writers, but who never get recognized because their do not get to recite and promote their works in public.

I think the future also of poetry in Papua New Guinea is to work with musicians to develop a kind of PNG version of dub poetry.

Dub poetry is a form of performance poetry of West Indian origin, which evolved out of dub music consisting of spoken word over reggae rhythms in Jamaica in the 1970s.

I remember Benjamin Zappaniah, the British dub poet who visited the country. He was guest in my literature class at UPNG and gave a memorable recital of his poetry to an appreciative audience. Zappaniah was also a musician who performed with the Bob Marley and the Wailers band.

We have many styles of performance in our traditions. We have oratory, chorus, chanting, rhymes, and lullabies in our oral traditions that we can draw from to develop our own unique models of performance. Some of our traditional songs are useful as performance on stage. A good example of that was the performance given by one of the performers during the poetry recital night.

An idea to develop is to get some of our musicians and writers to give a performance that is traditional and contemporary. The performance I am thinking about is something more artistically tuned and performed for a receptive audience such as that we had at the Waigani Arts Centre.

Traditional Central Dancers at UPNG
   The important point that I am making is there is more we can develop in terms of the art and cultures of Papua New Guinea. Let us not lose sight of other forms of arts and culture that our people and country is in no short supply of. Let use develop, support, and harness our arts and culture in a way that makes out people appreciate their identities as Papua New Guinea.

Without culture a nation cannot claim a political identity. Nationalism is a defense of a nation’s cultural inventions. Nationalism vindicates its own inventions by politicizing its culture. A nation is denied of its identity once culture is separated from it.

We know that a culture is, concretely, an open-ended, creative dialogue of subcultures, of insiders and outsiders, of diverse factions that enables continuous reinvention of itself against that which challenges its form.

For a nation to differentiate itself from others it often relies on its cultural foundations to do so.

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