BY KEITH JACKSON
When I was in Port Moresby last month for the inaugural Crocodile Prize awards, I had the great pleasure of hearing the veteran Papua New Guinean poet and novelist, Russell Soaba, talk about his literary career and his writing.
I absent-mindedly left my notebook at the Australian High Commission, from where it has now been recovered, and I want to share the notes I scrawled while Russell was presenting to our writers workshop….
“I SPEND so much time writing about Papua New Guinea that I feel as much part of it as it is part of me,” says academic and leading PNG writer, Russell Soaba.
“I started writing in the seventies, and I had immediate success. Perhaps I was too successful too soon.
“After two volumes of poetry and two novels, I became so famous I felt I could never again measure up to the quality of that early work.”
Speaking of the practicality and utility of pursuing a literary career in PNG, Russell said: “I tell my students not to worry – if you can’t get a job, you can always write!”
“The joy I felt,” Russell said of judging the 178 poems entered in the 2011 Crocodile Prize (the poetry award was won by Jimmy Drekore).
“There were so many various new voices coming into PNG literature. Some of the work was new, some traditional, but mostly it was exciting stuff; probably the most exciting I’ve ever read.
“I got the thrill of our poetry today!
“Writers should not be discouraged by critics; we should be challenged by them.
“A poem is a poem only because of its dramatic force. Never forget that.”