About Selina Tusitala Marsh
Playful, impassioned, deftly musical and energised, Selina Tusitala Marsh’s poems leap off the page and bet to be read aloud. Hers is a poetry often balanced between two seemingly distinct worlds: a modern New Zealand that is urbane, cultured and self-aware, and a tribal history of rich Pacific Island heritage. In Marsh’s hands, however, these worlds blur and combine, emphasising what her poem ‘Unity’ describes as the ‘currents of humanity’ that bind us, ‘alliances, allegiances, histories // for the salt in the sea, like the salt in our blood / like the dust of our bones, our final return to mud’. Fiercely proud of her variously Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish and French descent, Marsh is well-placed to sing of our common identity, and the warm conversational currents of her oceanic verse flow with a persuasive and entertaining quality. One moment Marsh is utilising the form’s connection-making capacity to create ‘An explanation of poetry to my immigrant mother’, while the next she is lamenting ‘The Day Amy (Winehouse) Died’, recalling ‘her rebellious, soul-fulling, jazzy voice’ with a fondness for the captivatingly performative, the authentic voice, that clearly imbues the poet’s own style.
Selina Tusitala Marsh was born in 1971 in Auckland, New Zealand, and was the first Pacific Islander to gain a PhD in English from the University of Auckland. As a powerful performer of her work, Marsh represented Tuvalu in the Poetry Olympics in London 2012, was named the official Commonwealth poet in 2016, and was appointed to the position of New Zealand Poet Laureate 2017 – 2019. Commending her appointment to the latter post, Professor Helen Sword commented how ‘laureates are all too often poets of the past, chosen for their accomplishments over many decades, whereas Selina Tusitala Marsh is a poet of the present, one of the brightest starts in our literary firmament’. It is not surprising that Marsh ‘speaks to all kinds of readers and writers about the role that poetry can play in helping us claim our own identities’, as this Poetry Archive recording reveals. Its celebratory qualities are in ample evidence, but the poetry is also unafraid to take received culture and imperialist hegemony to task: the sequence ‘Guys like Gauguin’ is a barbed critique of Western artistic appropriation of Polynesian history, while ‘Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach, 1894’ gives voice to the silenced women of that post-Impressionist work.
Listening to this Archive recording, Marsh’s poetry’s rewarding complexities and pleasurable immediacy come to life through her directly, luxuriant and accomplished reading voice. Like her childhood poetry idol, fellow New Zealander Sam Hunt (also featured in the Poetry Archive), Marsh waxes ‘oh so lyrical, tragical, comical’, ensuring, as Karlo Mila has claimed, ‘the precision and principles of the Western English literary tradition sway rhythmically with the fluid and flowing oratory of Polynesia.’
Selina Tusitala Marsh's recording was made on 1st April 2016.
Poems by Selina Tusitala Marsh
Featured in the Archive
Books by Selina Tusitala Marsh
Literary Death Match for poets at the Australia and New Zealand Literary Festival
official Commonwealth poetPrize website
New Zealand Poet LaureatePrize website
Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Best Book of Poetry for 'Tightrope'Prize website
Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to poetry, literature and the Pacific communityPrize website
Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.Prize website