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Tapa Notebooks


Tapa Notebook 2011  |  Tapa Notebook 2006-2007

Selina Tusitala Marsh Tapa Notebook (2016-2017)  

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Full text of Selina Tusitala Marsh's Tapa Notebook (2016-2017) [PDF: 8MB]

Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FRSNZ) is the former Commonwealth Poet, New Zealand Poet Laureate and an acclaimed performer and author. In 2019 she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to poetry, literature and the Pacific community. In 2020 Selina was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. An Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Auckland, Selina teaches Māori and Pacific Literature and Creative Writing. Selina's area of research focuses on first wave Pacific women poets and bringing silenced, marginalised indigenous literary voices to light. She designs and facilitates the leadership programme Growing Niu Leaders with Capability Group, which aims at bringing cultural selves through corporate doors. Selina has performed poetry for primary schoolers and presidents (Obama), queers and Queens (HRH Elizabeth II). She has published three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, Fast Talking PI (2009), Dark Sparring (2013), Tightrope (2017). Her graphic memoir, Mophead (2019), won the Margaret Mahy Supreme Book in the 2020 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It also won the Elsie Locke Best Non-Fiction Award. Its sequel, Mophead TU: The Queen's Poem (2020) tells the tale of how she abided by and broke the rules set out by the Palace for the composition of a poem commissioned by the Commonwealth Education Foundation to be performed in Westminster Abbey in front of the Queen, for Commonwealth Observance Day in 2016.

Selina writes:

I wish my notebooks were rich, inky works of art. They are not. I can't even make up my mind about which handwriting to use on any given day. These pages are messy, stained, cobbled together thoughts in situ. It's only right. For me notebooks are catch-alls. They catch all the musings, all the sitings, all the interesting and mundane observations that make travel magical. My trip to London to visit the Queen was magical. It was also work. When I was instated as the 2016 Commonwealth Poet it came with a Great Commission: to write and perform a poem for the Queen at Westminster Abbey for Commonwealth Observance Day. I made a book about the experience (Mophead TU: The Queen's Poem) capturing the magic and the moppy-headed mayhem that ensued. I ran along the Thames. I spilled coffee on my pages. I got nervous and bored and tetchy. I was charmed and disarmed and grumpy. And throughout it all, I was grateful. Because I got to make stuff. Notebooks help me honour that about the creative process. Scribbles and doodlings and collages in notebooks say 'this matters, here and now'. For this, I am grateful and humble and happy. That's the life of the poet!


Selina Tusitala Marsh
Photo credit: Davey Marsh



Selina Tusitala Marsh Tapa Notebook (2011)



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

Selina Tusitala Marsh Tapa Notebook (2006-2007)


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 12th 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.




Last updated 14 April, 2021