Tokotoko Takes the Stage - From Jurassic Park to Jacinda' - ha!

Selina and Tusitala Kapura at an event to celebrate the life of mountaineer, adventurer and humanitarian, Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born 100 years ago on 20 July 1919.

At the event, Selina performed her new poem about Sir Ed called 'Hillary’s Step'. The poem is featured on an installation of the same name at Christchurch Airport.

Tokotoko takes the stage - from Jurassic Park to Jacinda' - ha!

L to R: Professor Neil Quigley,  University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor, Sam Neill, actor, writer, producer, director, and vineyard owner,  Tusitala Kapura, Selina's tokotoko,  Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Poet Laureate and Professor Clive Gilson, Chair of the Hillary Centenary Steering Committee.

Poet Laureate Award call for nominations

Kia hiwa ra!
Kia hiwa ra!

The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa is seeking nominations for the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award.

Poetry is a quintessential part of New Zealand art and culture, and through the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award the government acknowledges the value that New Zealanders place on poetry.

The Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library will appoint the New Zealand Poet Laureate after reviewing nominations and seeking advice from the New Zealand Poet Laureate Advisory Group.

Nominees must have made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand poetry, and be an accomplished and highly regarded poet who continues to publish new work. They must also be a strong advocate for poetry and be able to fulfil the public role required of a Poet Laureate. The role includes engaging with a wide range of people and inspiring New Zealanders to read and write poetry.

Candidates are expected to reside in New Zealand during their tenure as Laureate.

The term of appointment for the next Poet Laureate will run until August 2021.
Nominations close on Wednesday, 24 July 2019 at 5pm.

Please email your nomination to Ruby.Yee@dia.govt.nz

Email is preferred, but you can also mail your nomination to:

Alexander Turnbull Library
Attention New Zealand Poet Laureate Award
PO Box 12349
Wellington.

Send any enquiries about the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award can be directed to Peter.Ireland@dia.govt.nz




Feb 2019: Dubai Literary Festival


An invitation to the Dubai Literary Festival marked Tokotoko’s first foray into the Middle East — we only managed to get detained once!

We had been scheduled for several events: a live interview with the National Broadcaster; a sole session as the New Zealand Poet Laureate; and as a guest poet for the famous Desert Stanzas event. Tokotoko and I rode our first camel, took in our first desert sunset, and shared our story:

Selina and Tusitala Kapura riding a camel.


Tusitala Kapura and desert sunset.

At the book signing afterwards, I was still AMAZED at how the poem ‘Fast Talking PI’ travels across cultures, countries, and continents.

Tusitala Kapura, a friend and Selina.

Tusitala Kapura, another friend and Selina.


Tokotoko and I trekked up the iconic Burj Khalifa. 

Tusitala Kapura and Burj Khalifa. 
The writers in our tower tour were gambling on whether me and Tokotoko would get through Security.  

James Owen, head of the charity organisation WIJABA (The World Is Just ABook Away ) and author of the book of the same title, explained to Security that Tokotoko was a ‘walking stick’ and elbowed me to limp my walk past metal and bomb detectors — much to the incredulity of my fellow writers.

After a nail-biting 35 seconds from the first to the 145th floor, we walked around the observation deck to survey Dubai — incredible to think that a mere 15 years ago, very few of the massive khaki lego-block city were in place. The money, the man and women power, required to build these structures from the desert floor up was mind-boggling!

Tusitala Kapura and tower tour group at top of Burj Khalifa.


Of course, the best thing about Dubai wasn’t just the incredibly eclectic, often logic-defeating architecture, or the endless flow of 5 star international cuisine, or the stunning hospitality (from flying Emirates Business Class, sponsors of the event, to the provision of free tours) or the fact that I didn’t spend one dollar while away, but the 5 star writers with whom we connected.  Here are some of us, on top of the Burj Khalifa.  Riz Khan lower left.

Tokotoko and I are inundated with photo requests from top-o-the-tower tourists. We happily oblige. The last extended Indian family insist that their great grandfather pose with us.  We are held up and lose track of the other writers.  While trying to exit through the gift shop, a man asks to see, then asks to photograph, then asks to hold the Tokotoko — which turns out to be the local lingo for ‘detain’. 

While calling his superiors, he refuses to let go his grip of Tokotoko.  I wasn’t letting go either.  Stalemate.  I could see the headlines: NZ Poet Laureate Trapped in Tower! Then James and Rhiz Khan wander out of the gift store, laden with mini tower magnets, assesses the situation, and start laughing at my impending imprisonment.

Maybe compared to all the global conflicts Riz — BBC’s first ‘Asian’ correspondent and co-founder of Al Jezeera — has witnessed and reported on, this is a littley.  But for me,  the thought of
 a) Tokotoko being detained;
 b) and me with it, was no laughing matter.

 As soon as Rhiz mentions whose guests we were — Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of the Emirate of Dubai sponsors the festival, and also a poet, '40 Poems From the Desert', — we were politely given our own elevator for an expeditious exit.


‘Look at the long queues we’ve managed to cut!’ giggles James.
‘Now this is service! It reminds me of that limerick, there once was a ...’ begins Riz

 I nearly knock their heads together with the tokotoko.  




Riz holds up his phone to take yet another photo.  ‘One more shot Selina - pretend you’re going to prison!’ 


Tusitala Kupara, James Owen, Selina.  
Me and Tokotoko and the lovely James Owen, who shares a birthday with Jane Goodall (he later sent me a film of both of them blowing out their candles).  Jane was one of his interviewees in The World Is Just A Book Away.  We’ll be doing a podcast together in the near future.

Both James and Riz adore Tokotoko — the  tales of poetic worldviews and travel; of being touched by people and in turn, being touched. Riz reaches out during those dark days after the Christchurch terrorist attack.  I reach back with a poem.

Christchurch Mosque Shootings


Poet, how are you to write?
How are you, on our darkest day
To find and offer light?

I’m texting with Riz
Who offers
Condolences
Offers love and peace
An emoji of praying hands
For our Muslim brothers
And sisters lost
In mosques
In Christchurch.

Riz mirrors
The horror of an open
Mouthed world weeping
For Masjid Al Noor
For Linwood Masjid

Poet, it must be of a Big Love
Aroha Nui

A Strong Love
Aroha Toa

Of which you must write.

A big, strong, call to arms

Of love

Its relentless embrace
Surrounding us from
All parts
All places
In this world.

We are 200 ethnicities here
We are 600 languages here
We remain so.

For if my evangelistic In-Law
Finally walks through
The dark and dusty village
Of her beliefs about ‘muslims’

Finally sees herself
Kneeling in a mosque
Head scarved
Hands steepled in prayer
Sees her own bowed body
Bloody in worship
Sees the same spirit
Shafting through the air

Then there’s the light, Poet,
There’s the light.

Riz sends me pics
From Windsor
He’s wearing his Al Jeezera sweatshirt
He was the BBC’s first ‘Asian’ Correspondent
He’s warming up in
A dawning sun inhaling fog’s breath before
The Long Walk.


Through Riz’s eyes I hear how the rest of the world held its breath as they watched Jacinda carve out a new space in global leadership — one filled with authentic care, compassion and action. The Burj Khalifa we’d been up only the week before, its 180 stories a canvas for spectacular light shows, was now lit up with an image of our own Jacinda wearing a hijab. 

I’d only spent a week in Dubai, the younger, more liberal sibling of the more conservative Abu Dhabi, but two words kept spinning round my head the whole time: opulence and surveillance. 

After discovering I couldn’t make any video or phone calls through FaceBook, Facetime, Watsapp, or Skype, I felt claustrophobic. Although I could still text, if I wanted to hear or see my family or friends I had to go through the one national owned telecommunications company.  Beyond the luxury of the hotel, I felt too self conscious to run — despite the availability of running maps for tourists.  

I only saw one other woman jogger and she was covered head to foot and running in the heat.  I’d only brought my usual running tights and t-shirt.  If it’s possible to feel actively watched and ignored at the same time, then that’s how I felt. 

So, for Dubai to project a 180 story high image of an unmarried, non-Muslim, woman — only the second global leader to give birth while in office — well, there lie the real stories.
  
And because we all know how important our festival Volunteers are…

Tusitala Kapura, Selina and Dubai Literary Festival volunteers. 






Christchurch Mosque Shootings

Poet, how are you to write?
How are you, on our darkest day
To find and offer light?

I’m texting with Riz Khan
Who offers
Condolences
Offers love and peace
An emoji of praying hands
For our Muslim brothers
And sisters lost
In mosques
In Christchurch.

Riz mirrors
The horror of an open
Mouthed world weeping
For Masjid Al Noor
For Linwood Masjid

It must be of a Big Love
             Aroha Nui

A Strong Love
             Aroha Toa

Of which the poet writes.

A big, strong, call to arms

Of love

Its relentless embrace
Surrounding us from
            All parts
                         All places
In this world.

We are 200 ethnicities here
We are 600 languages here
We remain so.

And if my evangelistic In-Law
Finally walks through
The dark and dusty village
Of her beliefs about ‘muslims’

Finally sees herself
Kneeling in a mosque
Head scarved
Hands steepled in prayer
Sees her own bowed body
Bloody in worship
Sees the same spirit
Shafting through the air

Then there’s the light, Poet,
There’s the light.

Riz sends me pics
From Windsor
A dawning sun inhaling fog’s breath
The Long Walk.

Conversations: Selina Tusitala Marsh

Today is International Women’s Day, as every day is, and the perfect moment for the National Library to celebrate our Poet Laureate: local, national, and international woman nonpareil.

We love this documentary created by E-Tangata and think you will too. Conversations: Selina Tusitala Marsh

The E-Tangata Conversations crew joins Selina for a visit to St Joseph’s School in Ōtāhuhu, to hear her reflections on the responsibilities that come with being 'the first', and the experiences, challenges, and people who have shaped her path and her craft.

E-Tangata website

Great expectations

The first time I meet Lloyd Jones is nearly my last.

He’d promised me breakfast and a dip near Captain Cook’s Lookout – I should’ve suspected something then. Indigenous encounters and all. We were both at the Bryon Bay Book Festival and I was curious about meeting him kanohi ki te kanohi, ever since 'that review'.

I know that Karl Stead, my fellow Poet Laureate, knows a thing or two about getting up people’s noses with less than favourable reviews of their work. This isn’t my area of speciality. I enjoyed reading Mr Pip, and had written as much in my review. It was, to appropriate the Hopi saying, a story that I hadn’t known I’d been waiting for.

But I did mention a couple of things that let me, as a brown woman reader, know instantly, that this was a white male author writing with the voice of a young brown girl. Why would Matilda objectify her own hair and call it stiff and fuzzy? Why would women, hiding from guerrilla soldiers, squat in the bush while their babies sucked their teats rather than their nipples? Don’t cows have teats? Humans have nipples last time I’d checked.

null
L to R: Selina Tusitala Marsh and Lloyd Jones. Photo courtesy of the Spinoff. 
I shared these observations in my review for the Dominion Post. I’d heard it didn’t go down well with him. Not my problem 8 years ago.

But now they’d stuck me on a Three New Zealand Writers panel with Lloyd Jones, and the wild dog in the room would have to be addressed. The other writer was Courtney Sina Meredith. We’re meant to be on the same plane. I spot her in front of me in the boarding queue. A woman in a floral shirt behind me grabs my arm.

'I’ve just read about you in the Kia Ora magazine! You’re the New Zealand Poet Laureate aren’t you?'

'Yes. Hello. How are you?'

Floral shirt lady begins telling me about her high school sonnets as we file past business class. She grabs my arm again.

'Ooo, that’s Lloyd Jones! How come he’s in business class and not the New Zealand Poet Laureate?'

'Ah well, you know how it is between novelists and poets,' I reply, thinking the same thing.

At the baggage claim at Gold Coast airport, I spy Lloyd at the front of the conveyer belt, waiting for his priority luggage. Best to bite the teat and introduce myself. I stride over, holding out my hand.

'Lloyd? Hi. I’m Selina.'

He’s broader than in the pictures, but has the familiar looking hairline, and is about the right age and colour.

'Yes? Hmmm. Well.' He limply takes my hand.

'I thought I’d come up and say hi, since we’re sharing a panel.'

Deadpan stare. He obviously hasn’t forgotten about that review.

'I’m on the New Zealand Writers panel with you?'

'No.'

“Excuse me?” My throat is itchy. I didn’t think we were going to get into it this early. We haven’t even left the terminal.

'No. My name’s Ian.'


When I finally meet the real Lloyd at the Writers Tent he’s actually quite friendly. We find a point of connection almost immediately: running, sons, rugby, Courtney’s future. Courtney tells me later how when she was just starting out as a writer, Lloyd spent three hours mentoring her through the minefield of publishing in and beyond New Zealand.

They’ve kept in touch. I like Lloyd for this.

The panel goes well. We have a friendly disagreement about voice. I speak about wearing the mantle of representation — when you’re the only brownie in any given context, you find yourself representing all brownies everywhere. I’m not talking about Girl Guides. It’s only natural that you straddle the writerly line between your personal voice and a more political one.

'I disagree,' says Lloyd. 'I can only write for me.'

After the panel I lean over to Lloyd.

'Has anyone ever come up to you and thanked you for representing them? Told you that you speak for them?'

'No.'

'That happens to me all the time. It’s not something I choose — it's chosen me.'

'But you can only tell the story as you see it.'

'On that, we both agree.'
Later, I tell Lloyd I plan to run up to the Bryon Bay cape lighthouse. Lloyd’s being hosted at the Treehouse, a place one back from the beach.

'Come over for breakfast and we’ll go for a dip.'

I run the 5kms to Lloyd’s accommodation. He’s already gone out earlier to buy us organic muesli and fresh blueberries. Lloyd tells me there’s been a slight change of plan. Christine, his neighbour and owner of the Treehouse, has invited us to swim before brekky. She’s been ocean-swimming at the bay for the past 35 years.

She swims with a tribe of 60 and 70-something-year-old women weekly. When we walk the path down to the beach, there they are. Waiting with extra masks and snorkels. I even get handed wetsuit togs. I’ve never worn a wetsuit before. Lloyd is given the sole pair of extra flippers.
Lloyd Jones (third from left) and Selina Tusitala Marsh (third from right) go swimming. Photo courtesy Selina Tusitala Marsh. 
'Take one, it makes a difference,' says Lloyd, handing over a thin yellow piece of rubber. A difference for what? I’m wearing a bikini top for goodness sake. I chew my lower lip as I look out at the expanse of blue, the rising and falling. But Lloyd’s up for it. He keeps reminding me of the ages of our escorts, but they look like sleek dolphins to me.

And so they prove to be. The group swims out and soon split off. I keep close to Lloyd. His neighbour is out a little farther, the others are now well ahead. Somehow I thought they’d be within arm’s reach should I start sinking.

I follow Lloyd. I wonder what surfers are doing out here and then soon see. The waves build up from nowhere. Their white foaming crests rise behind me and, somehow, to the side of me as well. We’re out deep. The coast is now a kilometre away.

I see Dave and the boys standing on the beach yelling 'What the hell are you doing?'

My husband and sons are, of course, at home in New Zealand, watching league. But I imagine them on the beach. I catch glimpses of them as the waves rise and fall. My leisurely stroke turns into a bid to stay afloat in the churn. I can’t catch my breath. I turn to Lloyd.

His neighbour calls out, 'You okay dearie?'

'Um, I’d quite like to go in now please.'

I swallow another mouthful of salt water. It occurs to me that if I lose my shit I will sink and drown. While the sun is in the blue sky. While bathers heat themselves on the beach. I count slowly: 10, 9, 8…

Lloyd swims over.

'Selina, it’s okay. The beach is just there, but we’ve got to head out before we can head back in. Just follow me.'

It’s now that I realise maybe Lloyd is trying to kill me on purpose. Maybe he never did get over that review. The ruse with the octogenarian ocean-swimmers to lull me into dangerous waters begins to make sense. Another of the tribe pops up. She is a lithe 70-year-old.

'You’re okay. Don’t follow him. Follow me.'

I watch Lloyd swim off. I follow her. She cuts across the water. Calm, lean strokes. In the murky sea I track both her flippers with my one flipper. Pink fins, up, down, up, down, up, down.

We clear the breaking surf. The beach is still a slip of yellow. My breath is still ragged. A 65-year-old pops up next to me.

'Okay, luvvie, you’re doing well. Just swim in a bit more otherwise you’ll get caught by the current and it’ll carry you all the way out then you’ll have to swim to the next bay.'

Breathing becomes laboured again. Bloody Lloyd! I spot him near where the other current is meant to be. I have no air to call out to him.

'Turn over on your back. Isn’t the sky a pretty blue?'

I look at her glowing face and see her rainbow-coloured swim cap for the first time. I feel calmer with my head above the water. I look up at the blue sky I could still drown under. Dolphin lady keeps encouraging me. 'Nearly there luvvie.'  I turn and see that the beach is nearly there. I freestyle towards it.

'Come around a bit, there are stones there.'

I want the fricken stones. I want solid ground beneath my feet and I don’t care if they get cut. Lloyd is now right behind me.

'Alright then? Well, that was a bit more than a dip wasn’t it? You were so polite out there.'

Flipper you, Lloyd Jones. I’m gonna drown you in a poem.

This blog was originally published on the spinoff.co.nz.

Mana muses

On September 30th, artist Penny Howard launched the Mana Muses Exhibition at Whitespace Contemporary Art Gallery

Lynn Freeman interviewed both Penny and me on Radio New Zealand — Penny Howard's four muses

The four muses are Marama Davidson, co-leader of the Green party (pictured), Anika Moa, musician and television personality, Sia Figiel, Samoan author, and myself.

Penny Howard, Marama's portrait, Marama and Selina Tusitala Marsh.

I think this makes the perfect official New Zealand Poet Laureate Portrait (do we have these?) and I think it's extraordinary how Penny has placed each of us in our dynamic context.

Marama Davidson, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Selina's portrait.

I wrote 'Mana Muses' to gift back to Penny, which brings together her culturally-infused visual storytelling in this very special year of anniversaries and celebrations:

Mana Muses

She who paints the red thread line
She who brushes mortal into divine

She who beats a wing to ways
The past through whakapapa always stays

She whose eye casts North to South
She whose canvas is her mouth

She who sprouts East with roots in West
She who rises to each test

It is She who stories Mana Muses
This 125 year of She who Choses

Left to right: Davey, Selina's son, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Selina's portrait. Sam, Selina's sister, Selina and Selina's portrait. 








Harry, Gandalf and the Tokotoko

At the Governor General's invitation, I performed an adapted version of my poem 'Lead' at the Royal Reception for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Government House, Wellington on the 28th of October. The theme for the evening was 'Women's Words: Where To From Here?'

My speech before the poem follows:

Each New Zealand Poet Laureate receives a specially carved Tokotoko, a Maori walking stick, made by Jacob Scott from Matahiwi Marae, to reflect their unique poetic contribution to the country. Mine, as you can see, has a LOT of hair [lots of laughter from the audience]. As the current New Zealand Poet Laureate I lead through words. So, I say this to you, fellow wild women of worded whirlwind, and those who stand with you (yes, there were about 6 men in the room):

'You're a leader in the making, you're making history...'

 and so begins the poem 'Lead':

I changed the last stanza to:

Lead through action, lead through word
Lead with your voice, lead and Woman, be heard.

After my poem, Le Art, three glorious song-makers (they write their own material too) from Porirua College whose YouTube clips have gone viral with over a million hitstook centre stage. Radio New Zealand covers their viral-ity.

Selina and the song-makers Rosetta Lopa, Me, Anastasia Sirila and Tiresa Foma'i.


We didn't get to meet Meghan in the shortened time we had due to the unexpected alarm and evacuation just prior to the reception, however, we four did speak with Harry.  My conversation went something like this:

Harry: Yes, I remember you!
Me: Oh, pishaw! [Pishaw? Was this my nod to using royally in/appropriate Old English to voice my disbelief?]
Harry: You were all in blue.
Me: Yes, I was!
Harry: But your hair was different.
Me: Erm, no it was the same. Except for this silver streak. Watch out, it's coming for you!

Then, when the ring of photographers had all turned away to capture Meghan in yet another engrossing conversation.

Me: Would you like to touch the Tokotoko?
Harry: I would. Wow. [Harry feels the weight of it and runs his hands along the carvings, then suddenly widens his stance and stamps it on the ground]
Harry: You shall not pass! [As in Gandalf's famous line in Lord of the Rings]
Me: Ah...yes, thanks. [Reaching for my Tokotoko, straightening her tousled hair]

End.



Prince Harry meets Selina, Tiersa Foma'i and Anastasia Sirila. Photo: NZ Heral





Making stones

Black Stone poem Black Stone by Grace Mera Molisa

Black Stone

Black Stone
Molten lava
solidified.

Solid
jagged forms
starkly
awe inspiring.

Black Stone
flowing free
from depths
unknown
a viscous form
coagulated.

Jet black
sleeping fortress
weather rock
come wind or shine.

Black Stone
hard
and obstinate
indelible
solidity.

Black Stone
bird of wealth
solid bedrock
dwelling of death.

Eternal essence
of immortal soul's steadfast fixture
founding Man's
physical cosmos.

Threshold
of the spirits
transfixed
to the stable
equilibrim
of constancy
and permanence.

Black Stone
immovable
immobile
Black Stone.

I look at this poem on the page, as you have.

I see the short lines of physical language simultaneously rise up and fall down the page. Its adjective-heavy lines offer material descriptions of volcanic rock: ‘molten lava / solidified’. But its spare language lures me into digging for more. Something more simmers beneath its calm surface. I Google images of Vanuatu’s volcanoes. Obsidian is found throughout its volcanic areas. Black basalt rock lines the shores of Molisa’s birthplace, Ambae, home to the nation’s most voluminous live volcano, the formidable Manaro Voui. Reminds me of Grace Mera Molisa herself.

I look again at the poem on the page. Now I see a volcanic fissure vent on the page with oppositional activity murmuring beneath and spilling up through it. I move from stone, ‘solid’ and ‘jagged’, to ‘free flowing’ and ‘viscous’ forms; I move from what is immediate and knowable to intangible ‘depths unknown’. Black stone is a source of life and ‘wealth’ and yet a ‘dwelling of death’; it is a tangible ‘fixture’ yet holds ‘Eternal essence’; it is a ‘threshold’ of ‘spirits’ who are at the same time ‘transfixed’ by the materiality of black stone. Black stone embodies physical and spiritual properties.

I move between this poem and other of Grace’s writings, where black stone is synonymous not only with the land, but its people. In ‘Blackstone Milestone’, the epigraphic poem in her book Local Global Indigenous Network, Grace writes ‘Blackstone means Vanuatu....Blackstone is Vanuatu’. The idea that the land and its people are one and the same reflects the NiVanuatu principal of manples, the Bislama transliteration of ‘man’ and ‘place’.

Anthropologist and long time friend of Grace, Margaret Jolly, defines manples as the ‘condensation’ of the land and its people, noting that the term is often used to differentiate between local Melanesians and Europeans. Both the term and the idea then, is loaded with political agency in Vanuatu’s postcolonial era. The description of black stone as a ‘sleeping fortress’ links its protective potentialities against foreign incursions with the intensity of the stone’s ‘jet black’ colour in the previous line.

Then I turn back to the title of this poem — just two words, ‘black’ and ‘stone’.

I see the word ‘black’ releasing contestable cultural and political meanings. ‘Melanesia’, a label first applied by European explorers, stems from the Greek translation for ‘black islands’. Today Melanesia and the racial marker ‘black’ has been reclaimed from its origins in imperial racialist taxonomies. Molisa employs both terms as proud identity markers, most strikingly conveyed by the line drawn portrait on the covers of both Black Stone collections.

Black and white drawing of Grace Mera Molisa Image from front cover to Black Stone.

Black dominates this cover. Wearing her trademark Afro, Molisa stares directly into the reader’s eyes, defiantly asserting an indigenous visibility. Her portrait is drawn in white on black for the cover of Black Stone and on feminist purple for its sequel. Here, black is the basis for proud Melanesian identity, politically and poetically.

I also see the word ‘stone’ releasing paradoxical elements. Stone is fluid and in flux while also solid and constant. The stone foundations of these volcanic islands are also used to build roads, buildings, walls, and paths. Stones literally ‘build up’ the nation. Likewise, the one to three words per line, building-block layout of Molisa’s poems, build up words on the page. Both stones and Grace’s poems evoke the nationalistic Bislama phrase that urges everyone to ‘build ‘em up’ — to build the nation.

Building one nation was always going to be a volcanic experience. With over 80 distinct languages and clan groups, Vanuatu is a cultural and linguistic kaleidoscope, captured by the Bislama phrase ‘wan wan aelan’ — each separate island. With two colonial systems operating on a ‘divide and conquer’ basis, the challenge of transitioning from diverse, multiple and independent clan and regional allegiances to one politically unified base to thwart foreign powers, has been volatile. Despite eruptions from competing French, British, and NiVanuatu political parties, an equilibrium was maintained long enough so that in 1980 the New Hebrides (1906-1980) became the new nation of Vanuatu.

Equilibrium is crucial to both the formation of a nation and to the formation of black stone. Black stone is made when lava is produced, cools, then solidifies. Too cool and there is no lava; too hot and lava won’t solidify. When hot fluid comes into contact with cool air or water, stone is formed. This counteraction of forces — equilibrium — creates new land.

Molisa’s political and poetic writings are like the sentiments of her visionary father. Both aim for unity in diversity. Both proffer ways that multiple and conflicting forces can work in productive counterbalance to make one nation. One tactic for creating unity is to find a way to tell the new nation’s story that connect all its citizens. As a poet, Molisa understands the power of metaphors to bridge cultural and linguistic divides. Black stone does exactly that.

Part 2 of a 3 part blog about the poet Grace Mera Molisa

Read Part 1 of the blog — National Poetry Day — want to know a secret?

Sunrise Celebration — Suffrage Day, 19 September 2018

I was invited to speak at the above event with the following promo:
Join Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and MC Jennifer Ward-Lealand as we honour the fight for gender equality in Aotearoa. The morning’s Suffrage 125 celebrations will continue with renowned songstress Annie Crummer and New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh performing live, along with other women leaders and musical guests.

Be a part of history at this special event that marks 125 years since New Zealand became the first country where women were able to vote in a general election. This event is hosted by the National Council of Women, Auckland Council and Auckland Live.

Buy your breakfast or a hot beverage from one of the visiting food trucks while you enjoy the entertainment. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is scheduled to speak just after 7am, so make sure you arrive with plenty of time to get a good spot.

Free admission.
I thought it 'appropo' to share the speech I gave to a crowded Aotea Square in Auckland. I titled it ‘Inappropriate Woman’:

My mother was an Inappropriate Woman

Today is her birthday.

Sailigi Tusitala was born in 1944 on 19 September, in Samoa. Her name, Sailigi, is the Samoan transliteration for siren. On the night of her birth, a year before World War 2 ended, the sirens rang out in Apia. And my mother, who had the loudest voice in the village, certainly lived up to her name.
I am wearing one of the dancing tops she wore in the late 1970s. Mum:
  • danced her way through New Zealand’s economic boom when the immigration floodgates opened its arms wide to the Pacific
  • danced her way through the economic downturn in the late 1970s when our house was Dawn Raided
  • danced her way through sexism and racism, ageism and classism
  • danced on Avondale RSA tabletops and, in turn, taught me how to be an Inappropriate Woman.
I define ‘inappropriate’ here as being ‘not proper or not suitable for the occasion’.

Kate Sheppard was an Inappropriate Woman.

You, Jacinda, are an Inappropriate Woman.

Because when one is ‘not proper or suitable for the occasion’ one changes the occasion, forever.

And we, as a nation, were hanging out for change, as the awarding of me as your NZ Poet Laureate attests. As the voting in of a Prime Minister who gave birth while holding office, attests. I wrote this poem to mark the occasion:

Jacinda and Clarke and the Baby and Us: A Rondeau

The baby’s here, the baby’s here!
Aotearoa, New Zealand, what a year!
Jacinda, our partnered and pregnant world first
Has, this 125 Suffrage year, given birth
To a wee girl so dear

Women are extending the frontier
In Census 2018 let’s be clear
And count the ways women in the stats have reversed
The baby’s here, the baby’s here!

Patsy, our Governor General is near
Sian’s our Chief Justice, Lianne’s Christchurch Mayor
Jenny and Carmel for Labour (but Winnie came first)
Marama co-leading Greens, another burst
But the real labour has happened, let’s be clear:
The baby’s here, the baby’s here!

In this year of new beginnings and anniversaries, my fellow Inappropriate Women, we still need to Lead.

Lead

For
You’re leaders in the making
You’re making history
You’re redefining this nation’s

Gender equity
It’s trailblazing from all over the country
It’s Kate Sheppard and Xena in the city

And now
In tautua, service, lead our community
Lead through uniqueness, your diversity

Lead through leaning, lead through learning
Lead through others, lead by earning
...............................................................Your own way in this world.

Lead in alofa, lead in compassion
Lead in fun, lead in your own fashion

Lead by falling forward when you make a mistake
Lead by giving more than what you take

Lead when your strategy is a forward-thinking story
Lead when the task in front of you holds no glory

Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, let your ‘No’ be ‘No’
Lead and follow in the footsteps of all your heroes

Lead by creating out of happy accidents
Lead by taking risks when there’s no precedent

Lead by following the cup of tea trail
Sit, listen, eat, and they’ll follow without fail

Lead by digging up diamonds in those around you
Lead when you scale the heights, then plummet to ground zero

Lead with transparency, lead with laughter
Lead in celebration, lead in disaster

Lead with your strengths, lead in honesty
Lead when you see between the lines of policy
...............................................................And into the people’s eyes.

Lead, even in the times you just want to follow,
Lead for today, lead for tomorrow

Lead and when you want to end all injustice
Lead in the crowd, lead when it’s just us

Lead when you want to revolutionise
When you no longer want to be hypnotised

By what everybody else says is right
Lead when you have your vision in sight

Lead from the front, lead from behind
Lead from the middle, wherever you find
...............................................................Your standing place.

In the workplace, in the home
Lead when everyone’s watching, and when you’re alone

Lead with an eye on your dream, an eye on the rest
Lead when you can look at yourself and assess
Your weaknesses and strengths with clarity
Remembering humility and charity

Lead when you’re brave enough to ask different questions
And when the answers aren’t good enough, to raise objections

Lead and give yourself permission to fail
Lead and take the less-often-walked trail

Lead and never forget to be kind
Lead with the heart bound up with the mind

Lead with a child’s curiosity
Lead with the end goal of unity

Lead with national excellence and innovation
Lead through intimate conversation

Lead with courage and determination
Even in the face of discrimination — Lead.

Lead with balance, a sense of fair play
Lead to help others lead in this way

Lead through connecting, lead through informing
Lead through changing, lead by transforming
your own patch of earth in this world

And now,

Lead.

Pics and coverage

Selina with Annie Crummer
With Annie Crummer

Selina with Jennifer Ward-Lealand
With Jennifer Ward-Lealand

'Within the ordinary stands the extraordinary': 125 years of women's suffrage

The Friday Poem: ‘Jacinda and Clarke and the Baby and Us’ by the NZ Poet Laureate