PANZA celebrates this year’s National Poetry Day, 26 August 2016, with verses by a Samoan-New Zealand poet Sefulu Ioane, a Hamilton teacher of the 1970s.
Sefulu interestingly goes by the same surname as the well-known Auckland rugby brothers Reiko and Akira, two All Blacks Sevens players at this year’s Olympics in Rio.
It’s not known, however, whether there is a family connection between the three men.
Sefulu’s poem is a remarkable tribute to a deceased former Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk (1923-1974), and breaks through the boundaries of politics, race and culture with poignancy and ease.
Perhaps one of the books missing in New Zealand’s poetry history is a reliable anthology of well rendered portraits of, and tributes to, politicians and including poems by poet-politicians themselves.
In the 19th century and early 20th century such poet-politicians/statesmen were the norm in New Zealand, e.g. Alfred Domett and William Pember Reeves.
Nowadays they are not so common but current Labour Opposition leader Andrew Little has delivered a poem in the House (republished in Tony Chad’s poetry magazine Valley Micropress).
More standard are political lampoons, protests and satirical attacks on politicians and their particular policies and taxes affecting the everyday life of Kiwis.
Former Prime Minister David Lange’s first wife Naomi published poetry (Itineraries, 1990), and Lange’s education aide Harvey McQueen wrote the sequence Beehive. More recently former Labour MP Bill Sutton has written and published poetry. His second book Billy Button: A Life was published this year by the HB Poetry Press.
Ioane’s poem is a memorable portrait in contrast to the usual political satires that have become well-known via newspapers.
The poem appeared in Norman Simms’ edition of the small magazine Cave, which he took over from the late Trevor Reeves, of Caveman Press. Cave became The New Quarterly Cave then Pacific Quarterly Moana then Rimu and later Cross Current.
TRIBUTE TO NORMAN KIRK
Poem adapted from the Original Samoan by Sefulu Ioane
They’ve lowered the balloon at Mururoa
Its airy splendor withers in quiet dissipation.
Nuclear fury now wallows underground;
Formidable wild boar of our age,
Tameless snorting sends tremors
To the dark confusion of the subterranean world.
In the brief hours of sunshine
The fisherman lays his net.
Once more, the star-fish are free
Dancing to the tango of sensuous rhythm,
In tune with the music of the night:
Tumultuous revelry in that twinkling paradise.
The Octopus is wise and a sitting majesty
Master of ancient ceremonies;
Its ritual, so clever
Was nearly forgotten.
Upon the reef, our mother, the sea smiles;
Her snowy hair befits her age.
Carefree children, gathering shell-fish;
Their hearts are gay, like their ancestors of yester-years.
Tomorrow is another day
But are now singing in the moonlight
And Trade winds bring showers
Of Clean, sparkling water.
They say the Big Man, with the beating heart
And his friends, brought the balloon down.
Fearlessly that note resounded across the Sea,
Summoning warriors to the defence of Peace.
Was it madness or mere adventure,
Buzzing of the bee that the elephant should care?
Must the Sandpiper cry all day
Till its voice is heard?
I think not, but time will tell.
Yachtsman shared the sea with their Maori brother,
Faithful sisters, Waikato and Otago,
Obedient but gay at the altar.
The willing sailor whistles his tunes
Oblivious of unseen danger.
His country before him: the politician and the scientist,
Task masters of this century
Eagerly looking at Freedom’s eyes.
Sefulu Ioane, an associate editor of Cave; teaches biology at a Hamilton school.
(From Cave No. 7, c 1975)
[Sefulu Isaia Ioane wrote the Foreword to fellow poet Talosaga Tolovae’s 1980s book The Shadows Within and Other Poems, published by Rimu and held in the Archive.
Ioane also authored the teaching aid Handbook for Teachers of Pacific Island Children, 1977, 1978, 1982]