Selina Tusitala Marsh and Tusiata Avia – Fast burning women: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Selina Tusitala Marsh is impressive. Tall and exuding warmth with an open, smiley countenance topped by a mass of long dark curls, she enters carrying her tokotoko which is topped with long hair mirroring her own.

Selina Tusitala Marsh. Image supplied.
Selina Tusitala Marsh. Image supplied.

One immediately feels drawn to her and the packed audience settles down to be entertained. Selina is in conversation with her sister poet and friend, Tusiata Avia. They are obviously at ease with each other and enjoy talking together.

Selina is New Zealand’s current Poet Laureate, the fifth woman to hold this position and the first woman of colour. She feels she has an obligation and responsibility to make everyone feel included as well as showcasing her Pasifika heritage.

Her mission is to get the story of the tokotoko out there and she regularly invites people to come along and touch it. It is fitting that she is the 11th Poet Laureate and the tokotoko breaks down into eleven pieces which is necessary for travel.

Paula Green, NZ poet, says “Hone Tuwhare and Sam Hunt are the two poets that are so beloved by our nation. I predict Selina is our third.”

One wonders how she manages to fit everything in in her extremely packed schedule. She has composed and performed for the Queen and welcomed Barack Obama to New Zealand. As well as travelling extensively both here and abroad, she is involved in the Writers in Schools Programme which is booked up for the next two years.

She feels women find it hard to value their self-worth and to ask for help. With the help of her friend Tusiata, she is learning to be more forthright. She equates life to four burners – Family, Health, Work and Friendship. For a long time the friendship burner was missing. She felt guilty about leaning on friends when she had so little time to reciprocate. She is definitely in the fast burning lane.

Tusiata meanwhile is recovering from burnout, suffering ill health from her fast pace of life. Whilst recuperating at home, they spent many hours on the phone talking. Selina was thrilled. She could now talk whilst running around Waiheke Island, where she lives and maintain two burners at once – exercising for health and friendship by being each other’s sounding board. She also advocates movement of mind and body for relaxation. This is achieved by running, yoga, writing and creating. Running is also where she has inspiration for her poetry. She has boundaries surrounding her family time and makes sure she spends weekends with them when she is in New Zealand, hence her 4pm flight back to Auckland following her appearance.

Tusiata Avia. Image supplied.
Tusiata Avia. Image supplied.

We were treated to Selina reading a poem from her latest book Tightrope titled ‘The Working Mother’s Guide to Reading Seventy Books a Year‘.

Where to now? Her latest project is a graphic mini memoir very aptly titled “Mophead to Poet Laureate” which is due out in 2019.

Colette Squire
Papanui Library

Quick questions with Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh – WORD Christchurch

We are asking four quick questions of writers and thinkers coming to the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival on from 24 to 28 August.  First up, it’s Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh, award-winning Auckland-based Pacific poet and scholar.  She recently performed for the Queen as the 2016 Commonwealth Poet.

Service at Westminster Abbey in the presence of HM The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, together with TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Henry of Wales and HRH Prince Andrew.
Service at Westminster Abbey in the presence of HM The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, together with TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Henry of Wales and HRH Prince Andrew.  Image supplied.

What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?

I look forward to jogging around the city to see resilience in action and get my feet earthed long the Avon River! Also, catching up with Festival participants, soaking up the creative energies of others, writing in my hotel room, enjoying the air.

What do you think about libraries?

I love libraries (and librarians – especially school ones because they are my key contact people when I visit schools to perform and run workshops) and I especially love the relatively recent development of turning them into active, brimming social spaces (we’ve got a cafe in the Auckland City library) with noisy and quiet areas!

CoverWhat would be your “desert island book”?

No island is a desert, there were always people there before us! Plus, I read buffet-style with commonly 5 on the go, so, at the moment my 5 must have’s are Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now, Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour, Austin Kleon’s Black Out Writing journal, the latest Chimurenga journal (picked up in Cape Town – amaaazing!) and Cherie Barford’s most excellent poetry collection, Entangled Islands.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I got caught in an arm bar during this morning’s MMA sparring session and am filled with thoughts of revenge!

Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh appears at WORD in the following events:
Power of Poetry, Fri 26 Aug, 5pm
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
Spirit House/Unity, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm

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