AT the heart of much Papua New Guinean writing is music and the expression of this musical soul is seen with no greater clarity than in the nation's poetry.
Poetry is a literary form where emotions and truths seem easier to reveal; providing a kind of camouflage where matters otherwise difficult to say can be disclosed through metaphor, imagery and the subterfuge of words.
The poetry award has, in the past, been won by Jimmy Drekore, Michael Dom and Lapieh Landu – all eminent writers. And Michael and Jimmy were in there right at the end of this year's judging, the final selection being a tight decision between some wonderful poets.
A field of nearly 100 writers produced more than 300 poems for the Kina Securities Award, which indicates that Diddie Kinamun Jackson, 28, born in Mt Hagen, can feel especially satisfied with taking out the top prize for her poem, As a Writer. (So far as I know, Diddie is not related to me - although she'd make a great cousin.)
Diddie, who works as an Administrative Officer with the Hugo Canning company in Port Moresby, started to write in high school for friends and family members who had problems or were experiencing emotional breakdown.
“I would write in poetic form so they could give them to their friends or lovers,” Diddie told me. “My said I expressed their feelings much better than they could and that was how I found my voice and a gift for writing poetry.”
The judges’ citation
In some ways, poetry is a second cousin to the short story. A poem seeks to create an emotional response in the reader using an economy of words. The analogy of painting with words is common to both forms but more so and heightened with poetry.
Poetry is like a thought that pops into your head and makes you sit up and think. It also involves the imaginative and often unconventional use of words in verse and rhythms that are not only pleasing to the eye but pleasing to the ear.
With so deft a form it is very easy to write bad poetry. Bad poetry is like a car with square wheels, downright uncomfortable.
Poetry is also about passion, the juices of experience concentrated into a heady and mesmerising mix.
Diddie Kinamun Jackson’s poem, As a writer, has all the right qualities. It evokes and distils the poet’s passion into a stunning set of words that takes your breath away. Not a syllable is wasted and at the end of it you know exactly what motivates a writer. But if you were asked to explain it you would be lost for words; the poem sits in the pit of your stomach, not your head.
I asked Diddie what was the story that led up to the winning entry.
“When I started writing, I wrote on scraps of paper whenever there was a circumstance I faced,” Diddie told me. “One day I told my mum to buy me a scrap book so I could transfer my work to it. Seeing my love of writing, she bought my first book which I still have and that was a beginning of my journey.”
Friends and family told Diddie she was a good but she needed more authoritative approval – and perhaps an opportunity to publish.
“I started hitting the streets looking for publishing companies. I went to Bird Wing Books but the lady there said that there was no market for poetry but I could sell the book to them for K1,000.
“I said I’d think about it and left. When I got home my mum gave the idea a stern no.
“After that I tried a few publishing companies but the answer was that I needed to self-publish. I had no money and self-publishing back then cost a fortune.
“Then I read about an arts workshop organised by lecturers at the University of Papua New Guinea. The gates were flooded with people from all walks of life who wanted to express their passion but I was selected to attend.”
Diddie’s luck seemed to change. She was interviewed by the PNG Post-Courier, which featured her in its New Age Women supplement and then asked to provide regular features for the weekend newspaper.
“I supplied them with poems but it went nowhere and I ran back to the lecturer who had said nice things about me. He said he’d help me with my work and introduce me to the top scholars but to no avail.
“Then he told me to apply to do arts at university but finally I felt he was getting tired of seeing my face, so there shattered another part of the dream.”
Diddie then tried The National newspaper “but the answer was no so I had no choice but to hit the streets and ask bookshops and boutiques if I could support them with poetry.
“Shop after shop said no. It was embarrassing, if you know what I mean.”
At her wits end, Diddie put her name down for one of Port Moresby’s “poetry slams” and found herself with first prize in both the poetry award and the audience choice award.
“That was part of the answer I was looking for: Am I good at what I’m doing. Then I found the Crocodile Prize and this is the journey I’m on - receiving astounding words from the judges portraying me as a talented person.
“And then the words from Keith in the email announcing my win: ‘Congratulations on your winning; it does signify that you are a writer of great talent’. I feel I have been through the worst for my love of writing and I give my best even if the answer is no.”
Diddie said she wanted to thank all the people who made the Crocodile Prize come to life.
“Thank you and thank you so much Kina Securities for believing in boosting a literate society in our country; we share the same vision. I will say thank you in the way I know best, through a poem.”
Diddie's poem 'Thank You' is published in full in the next item.....