Monday, June 14, 2010

Sensing greatness in creativity


The Waigani campus of the University of Papua New Guinea has now come to the end of its academic year and the students have just this week sat for their final examinations. In a few days all will disperse in various directions, leaving the campus deserted and desolate.

Members of the academic staff too will embark on their usual leave taking plans or sabbaticals, leaving a handful to do the final touches on teaching duties while awaiting the start of the Lahara sessions.

Those left on campus will probably, or should, find themselves asking: “Was it worth it? Has the year been good? Have we done much or little?”

The questions will no doubt affect the students and their welfare, as many will be returning in 2010 to either graduate or continue with their respective programs of study.

For those graduating, all will depend on the nature of work they had submitted for the final reckoning by their respective lecturers and professors and these will serve as determinants spelling out how much or little they have done during the 2009 academic year. These submissions can be in the form of sub-theses and major papers in various disciplines, or literary journals as is the case in Literature courses. Of the latter, quite a substantial amount of material has been deposited at the Literature strand this year. Complete collections of poetry abound, along with folklore, anthologies, short stories, novels, no drama this year, children’s story books, diaries, and even compilation of quotations in the fashion of modern day desk calendars and tourist brochures – all of these dealing with PNG Literature.

A graduating student of Literature and Journalism like Andrew Solien has submitted a set of children’s stories, consisting of nine complete books whose titles range from The First Lakatoi as examples of PNG’s cultural past to modern day themes of environment-friendly subjects such as Gou Beise and Iviro the Jungle Keeper. But as we read this, word has it on the grapevine that all these booklets are on schedule and are queued up to appear in the University Bookshop’s web publishing program.

Other similar submissions include a handy and what I must consider an important collection of oral material consisting of myths and legends from the Hela Province. Now we hear so much about Hela and are therefore led to viewing this part of our country as one of the richest, but we pay little attention to its cultural content, namely its literature. With work such as the submission made by the student Miriam Mandibi to this course we are given new insights to this province. It is imperative that we learn more about this province through literature.

These two examples come out of the course Writing, Editing and Publishing, regarded by far the most significant of our professional courses and serves to cater for our literature and journalism students along with those from the schools of Law, Business Administration, medical and pure sciences. The course is actually Dr. Steven Winduo’s, who is currently on furlough, so I have coordinated and have been teaching it this semester. The yardstick by which this course is measured is one of high intellectualism and must retain its credibility as such at an international level of appraisal and accreditation as, of course, propounded in its first makings by Dr. Winduo himself. The work anticipated in this course by way of manuscripts must be seen to be pointing in the direction of that great novel, poem or play yet to come.

But the overall expectation of this course is to see complete and publishable manuscripts. These must be edited, printed or typed and bound as books. We use our seminar sessions to workshop each material these journals contain and the discussions observed on them are vigorous as much as enlightening before sanctioning them, as it were, to be compiled into book form. One student presented a seminar on the theme of corruption. The classroom was a battlefield in the vein of Socrates and Spivak. In the end it was resolved that for all to be content the whole enterprise be presented in book form, to which the student in question gladly obliged.

A point of relevance here. Scholars elsewhere in the world are now becoming wary of how we conduct ourselves in dealing with themes that concern us deeply, particularly in the arena of creative literature. Readers might have noticed the tone of criticism on Trevor Shearston’s novel, Dead Birds, which appeared last Weekender (16/10/09). Indeed, the very idea of talking and writing about ourselves has evolved so much that it is not always easy even for an outsider to choose a PNG theme the way he or she did ten years ago. With authors like Shearston one sees a tremendous amount of courage and honesty in an outsider’s choice of setting a novel in Papua New Guinea. It is a choice not many Australian writers would be willing to make, but Shearston does, all in the name of words and literature. We regard Shearston’s work as mirrors from which we judge ourselves and assess the quality of material we produce as literature. This is why, judging by the material that we gather through courses such as Writing, Editing and Publishing, I say that we are about to produce the finest of literature through our younger generations. They feel comfortable, they know what to write, and they will do so quite successfully.

And they have a way of presenting their material. Consider the following workshop material, as presented by two students in the course, Emmanuel Gumaba and Nehemiah Akia: 

Once I asked a fertile land, what can I plant
Commercial or subsistence?
She replied: ‘I am not an adulterous woman.’
'Why?’ I said.

‘Because he has looked after me well.’

‘Explain, please.’

‘Sure,’ she answered.
‘There is no clear felling for me to lose my womanhood
There is no erosion for me to lose my fertility.’

‘Now I get it,’ I said.
‘But please, tell me more.’

‘My husband,’ she said, ‘He is a great lover.
And I feel it is my duty to compensate [that love]
With a great harvest.’

The sentiments of greatness in creativity are apparent in this instance of experimentation. If we look at the draft of the poem again, we will notice the ease with which the two young men make use of the literary device known as metaphor to enable the muse to stand out clearly. Tentative writings such as this eventually develop into memorable things. And they are meant to last forever.

Much of the material that we gather as creative writing exercises becomes the property of the Literature and English Communication strand. This we store away for future use in our publications such as the Savannah Flames, the strand’s recently introduced English journal, MAPS publishing program, or simply for the students themselves to come back many, many years later and see what they have written.  


First published in the National Weekender of the National newspaper of Papua New Guinea in October 2009.