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Tapa Notebooks


Tapa Notebook 2006-7  |  Tapa Notebook 2011

Selina Tusitala Marsh took a Tapa Notebook to Paris in March 2006 then to BLUFF 06 in Southland the following month. The notebook travelled on through a year of teaching, talking, reading and editing in and around Auckland and the poet’s home on Waiheke Island. It was delivered 8 May 2007 to Special Collections by a delegation of students from the University of Auckland’s English 347 Poetry off the Page after an outing to Albert Park to video and photograph Selina’s performance of ‘Not Another Nafanua Poem,’ recently published in Best NZ Poems 2006..

Selina’s Tapa Notebook selections

Paris : Quick poetic scrawls made on a piece of A4 paper while sitting in the middle of a dark, dank 12 th C church in Bordeaux. It’s an attempt to capture in a stream-of-consciousness the mix of modernity and ancient time, the mesh of mythological and doctrinal images, the porous sensations of power and powerlessness lurking in the arches spanning the ceilings The piece of A4 turned out to be a step-by-step instruction guide that Tim Page (our multi-media expert here at Auckland) had put together for me so that my presentation on Pasifika Poetry (for which I was in Bordeaux in the first place) would work seamlessly. However, I did not manage to show Pasifika Poetry (on the internet nor on the backup copy on disk) because, to put it simply, and despite me pointing it out to the conference organisers, a dvd player is not a computer!

Bluff: A banal thing such as a supermarket receipt also tallies up the emotional cost incurred by a mum away from her young family again. I just had to stick the receipt in there.

Nafanua: The scribbled out comment was written in frustration. It happened to end with what became the title of the poem. These parenthesised comments feed and shape the main text and this page reminds me of the difference between a rant and a line.

Ha`akula: A draft poem written to celebrate Mark Kneubuhl's novel Smell of the Moon, launched in 2006 and hailed as the first American Samoan novel written by a Samoan. I had left my draft incomplete when, unknown to me, my seven year old son Javan picked up the notebook where it was lying (kitchen table, floor of the van, couch in the lounge . . . ) and finished the poem. He then went on to compose his own poem, accompanied by drawings (à la Albert Wendt-style in Book of the Black Star). As in life, my space and his space are essentially one.

Last Page: The Samoan proverb ‘E lafulafu a tama seu gogo’ (]It is the dirt of the youths catching seabirds’) is applied to things that look unpromising but end well: an apt descriptor of this Tapa Notebook! Handing it over into the public domain was much harder than I expected. It’s messy, incomplete, with irregular handwriting and scribbles around the place, hastily sellotaped pictures and glued in entries that were written elsewhere. It’s not even 'creatively messy' or 'artistically disorganised' – its just messy messy. But that's the way I work, in unromantic splurges of thought and emotion, doing what I can when I can and saying 'if not now, when?' So the Tapa Notebook is ‘dirty’ but it’s a good dirt. It’s the dirt that precedes caught seabirds offering nourishment or navigational guidance. There's even a youth in the Notebook! As a mum and poet, I know that passing on a love for words, imagery, and language, is one of the best ways Javan can nourish and navigate his soul around in this world.






Selina Tusitala Marsh’s (Second) Tapa Notebook



 I was thrilled to take away a Tapa Notebook for the International Literary Festival in Lviv, Ukraine, in 2011. I was invited as a guest poet, had my work translated, and eventually had Tusitala published, filled with a selection of poems translated into Ukrainian from my book Fast Talking PI (Auckland UP, 2009). It was called Tusitala because, after seven hours of samohonka shots and endeavoring to translate ‘Fast Talking PI’ stanza by stanza, we gave up. It was too culture-specific. I’d have to write a ‘Fast Talking Ukraine’ poem, a distinct, separate animal in order for the nuances to find resonance. ‘Tusitala’ was much easier to translate – everyone loves and tells stories. The Tapa Notebook is a handy size and so, it travelled with me most everywhere. In it are a bunch of new poems responding to Lviv and Ternopil, the broken backs, the striving, surviving, thriving of a once broken people. Dr Yury Zavadsky, a performance poet and creative intellectual, was an incredible host and poems were written in his family home and in his car as much as walking on the street and sitting in the park.

A week before I left for Ukraine, I had the pleasure of attending Joy Harjo’s reading at the Auckland City Library. She was marvelous! I was given the honour of thanking her and so, while she read, I composed the poem ‘Thanking Joy Harjo’ on the only paper I had with me (the newly presented Tapa Notebook). Joy had some horses, and I had some tapa, and together we forged a connection. I invited her to visit me on Waiheke Island the next day, which she did (with Robert Sullivan) and boy, we put together our horses, tapa, sun, sand and the island beauty that Waiheke offers, and made poetry!

Selina Tusitala Marsh is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, where she teaches New Zealand and Pacific Literature and Creative Writing. Of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English and French descent, her critical and creative work focuses on giving voice to Pacific communities. She was a Poet Olympian for the 2012 London Olympics, and her award-winning poetry collection, Fast Talking PI (Auckland UP,, 2009), featured at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair. It has been translated into Ukrainian and Spanish. She is currently writing a book investigating first wave Pacific women poets (1974-2008). Her second poetry collection, Dark Sparring, is due in September 2013 from Auckland UP. The collection connects the act of sparring with how one faces life’s adversaries: death, addiction, disempowerment. She is the designer and facilitator of Best Leadership Academy’s Pasifika Mat programme, which examines leadership through creativity.

Selina Tusitala Marsh at Pasifika Poetry

Last updated 1 March, 2017