Saturday, May 26, 2012

PNG Poetry Taking Form

On September 15th 2011 at the Australian High Commission I talked about the importance of sticking to rules even in writing poetry.

Rules are important because without them experts like Max Weber say that everything around us would be in chaos.

So at that writers’ workshop I talked about, among other rules, forms in writing poetry. Virtually every poet in the world that we read about is familiar with rules in poetry. And these rules are your rhymes, your meters, your beat, your tempo in voice, your sense of harshness and of being gentle in the use of language, and so on. But most important of all the form of poetry.

Form in poetry talks about style of presentation. Let’s see what you’ve just scribbled, and that sort of thing. Is it a ballad, a ballade, a Shakespearean sonnet or what? What about an haiku? Have you ever tried that? And the villanelle, the sestina, the terca rima? Oh, dear, the list goes on.

This year at the Crocodile Literary camp so much poetry has been received in the competitions. But there is very little of poetry dealing with form or style of writing. Only a few days ago did the poet Michael Dom submit two or three poems with experimentations on the form. His idea of the sonnet, for example. And later through word of encouragement from colleagues, the villanelle.

What all that entails is the significance of our poets taking up form (or rules) and regarding that as a matter of importance. There are so many things we would like to talk about through poetry. True. But sometimes there are no better preoccupations in store for us than the mind that relaxes itself in this idea of experimentation. Experimenting with form in poetry is a kind of relaxation if your day at work has been a little rugged. So you sit down and write a sonnet. And in doing so your take your mind away from the humdrums of the preceding hours of the day. And what better form to experiment with than the sonnet.

Here’s Michael Dom’s experiment with the sonnet form.

Sonnet 3: I met a pig farmer the other day
At the foot of Mount Giluwe we met
A place where they say ice falls from the sky
We spoke of pork and the lack of good vets
As we toil’d in his village piggery
Each planning how his stock would reach market
Did we both share a wish that pigs could fly?
Agriculture is our backbone we say
(Rhetorical ruse on farmers always)
Yet in our grand plans for development
We have forgotten what that really meant
From the highlands to the coastal islands

The struggle to feed ourselves never ends
If you met those who’s unheard voices cry
You too would join me in questioning, why?
Penned at Labu Station at 3:15am on 17/05/2012.

A sonnet runs for fourteen lines with, if the writer chooses, a series of couplets that rhyme. All those rhyming couplets add up to the required fourteen lines. Sometimes the rhyming pattern can vary, so instead of just aa, bb right through you might have a pattern of abab cdcd and so on. Other times the sonnet breaks itself up to two stanzas instead of one, but those two stanzas must still consist of fourteen lines.

A sonnet deals with one’s love for one’s country, one’s love for God, one’s love for loved ones, or even one’s love for one’s enemies. You don’t believe in this last point, do you? What that simply means is that poetry can be so noble that it can treat its own enemies with honour.

In the Shakespearean tragedy, Coriolanus, when the anti-hero is slain even the general under whose command he is slain orders his men carry him with honour. Yet he was the worst of enemies they had ever walked out of Rome for the poor plebeians.

Michael Dom’s persona does not go to the extremes of Coriolanus, yet the criticism he offers for lack of support in a piggery business implies that he “loves” what he is criticising. Now we know what the sonnet does or should, don’t we?

The sonnet form does not have to stick to the rules of following a certain rhyming pattern. It can also appear as free verse. But it retains its significance as a sonnet by sticking to the fourteen line principle.

Other sonnets known, also run for 15 instead of 14 lines, examples of which can be found in Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poetry.

Coming back to the rules of poetry, I believe it is absolutely necessary to write in various forms that are available in poetry writing. Poetry means nothing else other than experimenting with words and generally language. Who would want to quarrel when the best remedy language itself can offer us is take our minds away from it all?

We close these remarks with a poem, this time not quite the one that would stick to rules, but the one that would invite us to look at ourselves once all over again, some other way. But, in the final analysis, it is poetry.

The Panguna Mine  
                By Simon Garana
No one knew for years
But history can tell in advance
There was gold and copper at Panguna
Multiplied with millions of copper ore deposit
All over the Emperor Ranges.
Copper copper and gold in every edge of rocks
So precious and valuable you are
Never say you are worthless
For the entire world depend on you
For their economy and development.
But how can one see your precious image
When you are hiding seven hundred feet under
Where it is impossible to dig you out
Only when there is monster equipment.
And here they come with a white tag
Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia
With a team of technical experts and labour
Building camps and fire everywhere
Ready to overthrow the secrets of Panguna.
Never say the team can’t make it
For within days the Java River and sister rivers
All turned dark brown from natural white
For the fish and eels disappearing
And the trees standing naked
While the plants are gone for good.
And no more happiness for the landowner
For she comes home empty handed
And he comes with anger and frustration
For heaven’s sake everything is gone
With the use of poisonous chemicals
They cannot bear the hardship no more.
Standing over the Guava Hill
Overlooking the huge Panguna Mine
Francis Ona the true landowner
He sees Panguna disappearing fast
Then says no word
And takes up arms to shoot and kill.
No more days of dreaming
Total darkness over Loloho Arawa Panguna
Power pylons lay on the ground
Soon the mining town running empty
For their safety was critical.
Hiding in thick jungle of Panguna
Never say Joseph Kabui is a fighter
For he is a peacemaker
Who fought for peace on Bougainville.
Gone are the BCL regimes
Today ABG is negotiating
For a better deal
For the landowners to enjoy the benefits
With Bougainville as a whole.

Simon Garana (59) was born at Lemankoa on Buka in Bougainville.  He is a former Chief Executive Officer of the Division of Information, Culture and Tourism with the Bougainville Administration.  He is now retired.

Poems represented in this article come from the Crocodile Literary Competitions of 2012 courtesy of PNG Attitude. This article also serves as a reminder that the competitions close next week, 31st May 2012. If you have that villanelle or sestina stuck away in the cupboards somewhere, send it along now. The prizes are voluminously rich.
Published in the Post Courier’s Weekend Courier, Saturday 26th May 2012.

Friday, May 4, 2012



Da kuburabasu green
Over the years of your poets' dreams
You patched up each fragment of green
From the broken kwamra that everywhere
Held to keep the country green

Then it was time to cultivate the savannah
To speak of green things in mystic chambers
Of voices holding out in the low savannah
And of kindling found among dying embers
For the baking of clay in the high savannah

The hiri would come with its winds
And you would be troubled by its echoeings
Of voices not of the laurabada winds
Wondering if too in such undertakings
Build towers out of trade winds

The sand will see its first morning
Of thatched castles, airborne as islands
Along cliff-faces this morning
And the city will be stone with multiple hands
Juggling severed roofs on a sky-less morning

So you leave us, kuburabasu green
Tropical ruins across this savannah
Hamlets blown ablaze by the winds
And for the morning
OndoBondo on the green

To the memory of Doreen Jiregari

From KWAMRA: a season of harvest