The University of Auckland’s first Pacific Islander to graduate with a PhD in English will this month publish a poetry and CD collection hailed for its confidence and musicality.
Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh’s Fast Talking PI (University of Auckland Press, 2009) reflects the poet’s own focus on issues affecting Pacific communities in New Zealand, and indigenous peoples around the world—including the challenges and triumphs of being afakasi (half-caste).
Dr Tusitala Marsh is of Samoan, Tuvalu, English, and French descent; “Tusitala” means writer of tales in Samoan. The book, Dr Tusitala Marsh’s first published collection of poems, lives up to that name with stories of the poet’s life,family, community, ancestry, and history. Her poetry is sensuous and strong, using lush imagery, clear rhythms and repetitions to power it forward. Although the list poem is a favourite style, she also writes with a Pacific lyricism entirely her own.
Fast Talking PI is structured in three sections, “Tusitala” (personal), “Talkback” (political and historical) and “Fast Talking PIs” (dialogue). In poems such as “Guys Like Gauguin” she writes as a “calabash breaker”, smashing stereotypes and challenging historic injustices; but in other poems she explores the idea of the calabash as the honoured vessel for identity and story. Ultimately, though, Marsh exhorts herself to “be nobody’s darling”; as a writer she is a self-proclaimed “darling in the margins”.
“The title poem of this collection has become my signature trademark. I’ve had fantastic responses to it from within and beyond the Pacific community. Its message, and that of the collection, is that if you can name your identity, you can claim your destiny and become exactly who and how you were meant to be, even in the face of outside limitations and proscriptions. After embracing a ‘calabash breaker’ genealogy, my work here at the Department of English has become a strategic place to empower and inspire others through creative writing. For those contemplating study at University, there are a lot more calabashes to go around,” says Dr Tusitala Marsh.
Acclaimed writer and Professor of English Witi Ihimaera praises Dr Tusitala Marsh as “the sassy hip-hop streetwise Samoan siren of South Pacific poetry and poetics. No, correct that: her poetry and poetics are world class. Her aesthetics and indigenous politics are meld-marvellous and her ideas will blow you away”.
Dr Tusitala Marsh will be reading from Fast Talking PI at Auckland’s annual Pasifika celebrations from 11.30am-12 noon at The University of Auckland stage on Saturday 14 March (Western Springs Park).
Dr Tusitala Marsh lectures on New Zealand and Pasifika literature in the University’s Department of English. She is developing a Pasifika Poetry website in conjunction with the NZ electronic poetry centre and working on a critical anthology of Pacific women poets writing in English. Her poetry has been anthologised already, including in the award-winning Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English.
Video and audio files of Selina Tusitala Marsh reading her poems and the text of some of her poems are available on http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz