Selina Tusitala Marsh
Former New Zealand Poet Laureate and Associate Professor
at Auckland University.
If the language emanating from sports administrators becomes just a little more colourful in coming times, it might well be being guided by the hidden hand of former New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh.
A professor at Auckland University’s Faculty of the Arts who lectures in creative writing and Māori and Pasifika literary studies, Marsh gave delegates at Sport NZ’s Connections 2022 conference a crash course in poetry writing - and was impressed with the results.
“Know who you are when you tell your story,” professor Marsh implores.
Sport is full of compelling narratives – and so too, it transpires, is the world of literary academia.
“Tell your story or someone else will. Because if you don’t tell your tale someone else will - or won’t!”
For Marsh, the lone Pasifika professor at Auckland University, the story she most wanted to tell was about being crowned Commonwealth Poet and invited to perform for the Queen in Westminster Abbey - and how it felt to perform that role as someone who had been colonised.
“It really was that space of ‘how do I serve my people and serve the Queen as a colonised person at the heart of colonialism? How do I do that?’ The thing is not to shut down the conversation. The thing is to be present and represent and be open to hearing stories and being able to speak your story.”
So Marsh wrote a book about it. A kids book. A kids book about writing a poem that isn’t really a kids book. And a poem that contains no shortage of cheeky, subversive messaging while masquerading as a straightforward homage to the Commonwealth.
“It is a poem so there are multiple subtexts operating beneath the line,” says Marsh with a sparkle. “It’s that squishy space in between.”
Marsh’s sporting experiences traverse participation and high performance.
She revels in the lack of coordination that meant she never had to take sport too seriously: “I never made an A-team but that gave me the freedom to try everything - basketball, netball, softball. Because I wasn’t great at any of them I just got to enjoy them.”
And she has seen first-hand through rugby league playing sons who gained contracts with the Wests Tigers and Brisbane Broncos how brutal the high-performance journey can be.
“It was amazing but also they get dropped off the edge if they don’t perform.
“There is life after footy so having really strong Pasifika role models that show them that you can do footy and have a skill and think more in terms of how you live long-term, not get caught in a box, not get jammed into that, is important.
“The transferable skill that sport offers is the soft skill base. Things like courage, tenacity, work ethic and fun. Those are the things that I have tried to instil in the boys as opposed to the end score of the game or if you manage to play a full half or not.”
Much like academia, Pasifika people were “over-represented at grass roots and under-represented in leadership and management roles”, Marsh noted.
Her impromptu poetry workshop at Connections 2022 showed everyone – including sports executives – had a creative steak they could tap into.
“Creativity is a muscle and you build muscle by doing exercises - and creative writing exercises is what I specialise in.
“It is just giving people the tools to explore that part of them. If you don’t have the tools it is almost like an impossible world - it’s like ‘oh no I’m not a creative writer, I can’t write poems I write memos’. But I love taking poetry to un-poeted spaces and just giving a couple of tools.”
They play with pure joy
Oranges add to the fun
Finish with wide smiles
- Raelene Castle