Photo by Ana Faatoia
What can be more of an honor and a privilege for your book – then to have an award-winning poet and scholar write an original performance poem about it and then have her present it at your book launch? I was nervous about what such an internationally renowned leader in Pacific fiction would have to say about my book – and Dr Selina Marsh blew me away with this creation.
For the launch of Telesā by Lani Wendt Young
(13 December 2011, AUT, Manukau Campus)
Written and performed by Selina Tusitala Marsh
Mills and Boon Pasifika style this novel is not
it’s more than corny romance set to a cliché plot
it’s contemporary mythology so that the next generation
Relates to our pre-colonial stories in post-colonial fabulation
or should I say, ‘ab’ulation, given the stunning cover
and the page by page reminder of this ab-flexing Samoan brother
you see, when I read it on the boat, or in the English department kitchen
I blush a little when some one says ‘hey girl, that’s my kinda fiction’
and my husband wasn’t too thrilled with my recent bedside reading trend
the kids kept saying ‘hey mum, whose ya one armed tattooed boyfriend?’
‘Salapu your mouth, get to bed’ and my husband would give me the eye
then Air, Water, and Earth would Fire Waiheke skies!
But enough about me…
Lani’s first novel is a kind of ‘Sex in the City meets hex in the bush’
when our heroine Leila is finally pushed
to discover her Samoan roots, her internal ‘Other’
and finding Nafanua, her estranged mother
a sophisticated stilhouetted goddess reincarnated
this classic story of teenage identity angst is exacerbated
by supernatural elements grounded in Samoa of old
the reading and seeding of myths and legends and lores untold
genealogy and story strung in the integrity of line
Pacific epistemologies wrapped in passion sublime
the unexpected plot turns allow our eyes to see
into the fire’s bluest flame of Pasifika sensuality
with the earth and its the elements, and the unspoken but unforgotten
the telesā who reigned from afar, and the daughter once begotten.
She’s Leila Folger, who grows bolder and bolder,
throughout her identity journey
courageously endeavouring to answer questions
that have kept her constantly yearning
she is fallible and relatable
the key to a captivating heroine
she is courageous and scared, intimidated and feared
a smouldering contradiction.
There’s Nafanua- the Covenant Keeper,
absent mother, Grim Reaper, entrepreneur and fashionista
holder of knowledge ancient before time
bestower of gifts through a supernatural line
but she is the embodiment of power without heart
manifesting an imbalance wrenching apart
cultural and social equilibrium
but throw the first stone, you without sin
she’s a recognisable part of our community
we as humans, do not have immunity
to the corruption of power, the sway of greed
the dictatorial serving of our own need.
And then there’s Daniel- almost inflammable
who needs a manual to read his instructions?
Turn to page ‘torso’, paragraph ‘muscle’, line ‘ab’ to get reader-combustion
but this boy raised by his grandmother is intelligent and caring too
high moraled, and determined to protect Leila’s virtue
(much to her own disappointment-it’s true)
Those cool blue black midnight pools in secret locations
give us great cause for contemplation
when we witness their romantic ruminations
her lava illuminations
the climactic culmination
of Leila’s over-active imagination
Daniel, superb control without deviation
Leila’s growing, pent up frustration
but there won’t be any fire and damnation
cos their relationship would stand up to any Biblical investigation.
There’s a book my teenager can read without any sex-before-marriage implication!
And who could forget
gregarious Maleko and fobalicious Simone
and Jase, that blond blue eyed
Its ancient mythology meets teenage biology
Pele’s fire meets adolescent desire
it’s Matavanu’s eruption meets after school detention
it’s him always staring at her, it’s pesky mate Sinalei’s ‘whateverrrr…’
it’s a finished malu and it’s painful bleed
it’s salty limu seaweed, raw fish and coconut cream.
It’s when love comes right down to the wire
fevers, night sweats, nightmares and fire
it’s when lava would rather cover all desire
it’s when the heart of Pele begins to inspire.
But for me, Leila’s ultimately love story takes place within her moa
the synchronising of two spirits in the afakasi diaspora
Lani’s tackled the afakasi / half caste myth and imploded it on the page
she’s tenderly captured the fissures, ruptures, and deep volcanic rage
of what it means to always be seen as ‘less than’, always incomplete
half of someone, two warring sides, always ready to compete
rather, Leila discovers, like all of us, her power lies within
no one can think less of us, without our permission
Leila, rather than being ‘less than’ is ‘more than’ and then some more
the deficit half caste is rendered full afakasi embracing several shores
the afa, the rope of many stories, that characterises these lovers’ lives
and kasi- tasi – one weave, binding all our cultural ties.
This is the tale from Lani Wendt Young
as writer, teacher, wife, daughter and mum
this is the tale sung from her tongue
lucky for us, she’s only begun
Lani, with Telesā you’ve set the bar
for this Young Adult Teen Supernatural Romance-Thriller
full of SamCo students, church goers, earth healers and psychotic mother killers.
Congratulations forever Lani, you’ve begun a page anew
but while evil Sarona is missing
and schemexy Daniel is kissing
we’re hanging out for number two!
Award-winning poet and scholar, Selina is the first person of Pacific descent to graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Auckland, where she now lectures in English and Pacific literary studies. She established Pasifika Poetry, an online hub that celebrates the poetry of tagata o te moana nui, the peoples of the Pacific. Her first collection of poems, Fast Talking PI, was published by Auckland University Press in 2009, winning the 2010 NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry.