BY THERESA PATTERSON
LAST year, at the high-level COP26 conference, two Papua New Guinean amateur poets who had entered and won the annual mini-poetry competition were heard in radio interviews broadcast for world leaders.
They were invited to speak by renowned Tongan poet Dr Karlo Mila, who included their submissions in the Pacific Voices program.
Now, the third poetry contest, also themed around World Environment Day, has opened for submissions and will close on June 1.
Blogger Ples Singsing, organizer of the event, has invited Samoan poet and journalist Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i to be the judge.
This year’s contest judge, Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i
Tafuna’i, like the prize-winning PNG poets, had also participated in Pacific Voices program, submitting her heavenly poem, ‘Etu iti, a response to an artwork of the same name by Cook Island artist Ani O’Neill.
Tafuna’i’s 2020 poetry collection ‘My Grandfather is a Canoe’, had inspired a play of the same name that went on to win the prestigious Dunedin Fringe Festival’s Touring Award. This play featured the work of acclaimed PNG poet, Michael Dom, who was also the judge of the first and second mini-poetry contests.
Dom was so impressed by last year’s first-prize poem, ‘In that Paradise’, by Eastern Highlands-born Fiada Keda that he translated it into a ‘Tok-singsing’, what he calls a Tok Pisin poem.
In her submission, Keda talked about the environmental trade-offs of “development”, leaving it open to the reader to ascertain what that was but ending on poignant note with a call to keepers of that “Paradise” to nurture and protect their natural assets. .
The runner-up poem, called The Change, by 19 year old Austin Nasio, of Bougainville, was also thematically similar: the perplexed protagonist can be seen crying, “Where goes the might an’ pride of the rolling mountains?” and “Wither are the floras of a thousand colours? They used to 2021 first-place winner Fiada Keda “dye the forest with their blossom”.
Both entries won out over two others for their evocative use of symbolism and imagery that referenced common PNG landscapes, such as “forests as crowded and thick as clouds” and “poised mountains verdured with foliage”.
The vision they paint resonated not just with fellow Papua New Guineans but also the wider Pasifika community, leading to the special invitation to speak on behalf of the region to world about climate change.
Dr Mila, whose first book Dream Fish Floating won an NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry, has written that Pacific voices “are barely in print [and] we are constantly fed a diet of other peoples’ stories and experiences” and both Keda and Nasio live up to her demand that islanders be “wrought by our own pens [and] not in the shadows of other people’s stories”.
It is hoped other home-grown poets, budding or established, can follow suit.
Prize money has increased this year with K250 earmarked for the winner and K150 and K100 for second and third place, respectively. Said Ples Singsing: “We hope that it’s not only the prize money that draws our poets’ attention but the distinct pleasure of participating and being read across PNG and the Pacific, as well as the opportunity to interact with poets overseas and to be involved in global events where our PNG voices are heard and appreciated.”
The competition is sponsored by The Commonwealth Foundation, who will also fund a new writer’s project called Singaut igo aut (‘Sending out a call’), which includes an essay-writing contest, book publishing and a workshop. More details will soon be announced by Ples Singsing.
Those interested in submitting poems can email email@example.com. The competition is only open to PNG residents, aged between 16 to 36 years old. Please include a valid ID with your entry. Winners will be announced on June 6.