"Towards a New Oceania":On Contemporary Pacific Islander Poetry Networks
This essay maps the network of contemporary Pacific Islander poetry established by print anthologies and literary journals from the 1970s to the present. I focus on anthologies (and include literary journals as a type of anthology) because they were, and continue to be, instrumental in the formation of a distinctly "Pacific" literary tradition. As Māori scholar and poet Alice Te Punga Somerville has argued, anthologies have "shaped the literary navigation of the [Pacific] region" because they function as figurative canoes, or waka: "Pacific anthologies become waka: taking on things and travelers, dropping them off in new places, accruing value and meaning from the diversity of their cargoes" (2012, 28). Te Punga Somerville further notes that the anthological form represents a gathering of diverse voices into a literary kinship network: "The opportunity to 'gather together' writing from a range of sources to produce a nuanced and multivoiced perspective on a time or place is particularly helpful in a regional anthology of the Pacific, a region [with] immense diversity" (29). I highlight Pacific Islander poetry partly because of my own genealogical connections, and partly because it is a body of work [End Page 240] that has remained mostly invisible within networks of transnational, international, hemispheric, world, and global literary studies.
The Pacific encompasses nearly an entire hemisphere, the largest ocean on the planet, and approximately 30,000 islands which were first settled thousands of years ago by sea-faring peoples who developed complex societies and trans-oceanic relations. European imperial nations arrived in the Pacific in the sixteenth century and colonized much of the region by the nineteenth century, naming the ocean "Pacific," renaming many of the islands and indigenous peoples, and even dividing the islands into three geo-cultural categories: Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia. Centuries of colonialism had a devastating impact on Pacific Islanders, resulting in depopulation, environmental destruction, cultural suppression, political disenfranchisement, land dispossession, economic impoverishment, enslavement, militarization, and world war. Despite these impacts, Pacific Islanders persevered and managed to revitalize their indigenous cultures and initiate struggles for decolonization, self-determination, and sovereignty. While many Pacific island countries became independent (beginning with Western Samoa in 1962), several islands have remained colonial territories to this day (including my homeland of Guam). It was during the first decades of decolonization in the Pacific (the 1960s and the 1970s) in which the first wave of contemporary Pacific Islander poetry and anthologies appeared. These anthologies served as the first articulation of an independent Pacific literary voice, providing support and encouragement for emerging Pacific writers, as well as creating a public forum to address cultural, political, social, environmental, and decolonial issues.
The most important literary figure during this time was Samoan editor and writer Albert Wendt. In 1976, he wrote an introduction, titled "Towards a New Oceania," to the inaugural issue of Mana, the first literary journal of the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, which gained its political independence in 1970. In several Pacific languages, "mana" translates as power, prestige, authority, wisdom, or influence. Wendt describes the beauty and complexity of Pacific cultures; the violence and destruction of imperialism; and the ongoing struggle for cultural revitalization and decolonization. Throughout, he details how Pacific writers and artists are unwriting colonial representations of the Pacific and creating new literary and artistic visions of Pacific cultures and experiences. He quotes writers from New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, and Samoa. These voices [End Page 241] illustrate Wendt's important point about the new Pacific literary network: "Across the political barriers dividing our countries an intense artistic activity is starting to weave firm links between us. This cultural awakening, inspired and fostered and led by our own people, will not stop at the artificial frontiers drawn by the colonial powers" (1976, 58). He also mentions the establishment of other literary institutions and literary journals that are fostering the growth of Pacific literature, including the Creative Arts Centre, the Festival of Pacific Arts, and the literary magazine Kovave in Papua New Guinea (which achieved independence in 1975), as well as the establishment of The South Pacific Creative Arts Society and Mana literary magazine and publications in Fiji. Wendt concludes: "This artistic renaissance is enriching our cultures further, reinforcing our identities/self-respect/and pride, and taking us through a genuine decolonization; it is also acting as a unifying force in our region" (60). Returning to the title of his introduction, Wendt conceptualized this trans-oceanic, decolonial network of Pacific artists, writers, editors, journals, and anthologies as linking the colonially divided Pacific into an interconnected assemblage of islands, archipelagoes, cultures, voices, and stories—and helping us navigate "towards a New Oceania."
As an editor, Wendt created the first series of chapbook-length, staple-bound anthologies, published by Mana Publications: Some Modern Poetry from Fiji (1974), Some Modern Poetry from Western Samoa (1974), Some Modern Poetry from Vanuatu (1975), Some Modern Poetry from the Solomon Islands (1975), and Some Modern Poetry from the New Hebrides (1975). While this network of short anthologies was focused on single island nations, Wendt wrote in the introduction that they were meant to be read together: "The [modern poetry] series is an attempt to bring to readers the new and dynamic literature now being written about the Pacific by Pacific Islands writers" (1974). Wendt's next editorial project became the first full-length anthology of Pacific literature: Lali: A Pacific Anthology, published in 1980 by the Aoteaora/New Zealand-based publisher, Longman Paul. This 300-page anthology attempted to provide a "representative view of what has been written in English in nearly all the English-speaking countries of Oceania" (Wendt 1970, xix), including the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Samoa. Wendt edited a follow-up anthology, Nuanua: Pacific Writing in English Since 1980, which was published in 1995 by Auckland University Press and the University of Hawai'i Press as part of its Talanoa Series of Contemporary Pacific Literature [End Page 242] ("talanoa" is a word in several Pacific languages that refers to the process and ceremony of communal dialogue). In the introduction to Nuanua, Wendt also expands the network of Pacific Islander literature to a global network of literary production: "[Pacific] literature was part of the process of decolonization and the cultural revival that was taking place in our region, inspired by and learning from the anti-colonial struggles in Ireland, Africa, the Caribbean, and India, the civil rights movement in the United States, the international student protest movement and the opposition to the Vietnam War" (Wendt 1995, 2). The title of the anthology, nuanua, means "rainbow," and—like a "New Oceania" and "talanoa"—functions as a metaphor of the diverse, interconnected network of "cultures and languages, of fauna and flora found in Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. It also aptly describes the richness and variety of [Pacific] literatures" (1).
While Lali and Nuanua were the most widely circulated and influential anthologies of Pacific literature, there were other, lesser known texts that contributed to the formation of Pacific literature. The first, A Pacific Islands Collection, was a special issue of the Hawai'i-based literary journal Seaweeds and Construction, edited by Richard Hamasaki and Wayne Kaumualii Westlake and published by Elepaio Press in 1983. The second anthology, Te Rau Maire: Poems and Stories: Poems and Stories of the Pacific, was edited by Marjorie Tuainekore Crocombe, Ron Crocombe, Kauraka Kauraka, and Makiut Tongia, and published jointly in 1992 by a network of institutions across the Pacific: the Ministry of Cultural Development in the Cook Islands, the Institute of Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific, the South Pacific Creative Arts Society in Fiji, Cook Islands Studies at the University of Victoria in Wellington, and the Center for Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland.
Alongside the production of the aforementioned "Pacific" literary anthologies and journals, many anthologies that focused on specific island nations, cultural groups, and regions appeared. For example, Maori writer Witi Ihimaera edited an impressive five-volume anthology series, Te Ao Marama, featuring contemporary Māori writing, which was published from 1992 to 1996 in New Zealand. Two other Māori writers, Robert Sullivan and Reina Whaitiri, collaborated with Wendt to co-edit two Polynesian literature anthologies. The first, Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English, was published by Auckland University Press in 2003. The second, Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English (Whetu Moana II), was [End Page 243] published in 2010 by the University of Hawai'i Press. Hawaiian writers were also active in creating their own anthologies and journals. In 1985, Dana Naone Hall edited Mālama, Hawaiian Land and Water, a special issue of Bamboo Ridge: The Hawaii Writers' Quarterly. In 1989, Dellzell Chenoweth edited Aloha 'Āina: The Native Hawaiian Issue, a special issue of The Hawai'i Review, and Joseph Balaz edited Ho'omānoa: An Anthology of Contemporary Hawaiian Literature, published by Ku Pa'a Press. A decade later, a hui (group) of Hawaiian writers and editors established 'Ōiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal. From 1998 to 2009, four volumes (featuring over two hundred authors) were published by Kuleana 'Ōiwi Press, a native Hawaiian publisher. While I have mostly focused on the "Anglophone Pacific," there have also been efforts to anthologize the "Francophone Pacific." Two major projects include the Tahiti-based series of journals, Littérama'ohi: Te hotu Ma'ohi (Ramées de littérature polynésienne), which launched in 2002 and published its twenty-fourth volume in 2018. An anthology of translations, Varua Tupu: New Writing from French Polynesia, edited by Frank Stewart, Kareva Mateata-Allian, and Alexander Dale Mawyer, was published in 2006 by the University of Hawai'i Press.
All the editorial projects I mentioned thus far have been produced in Melanesia and Polynesia; Micronesia, unfortunately, has not had the same amount of resources and support to anthologize our own literature or to make major contributions to Pacific literature. However, this is changing with the recent appearance of three new anthologies, including Local Voices: An Anthology, edited by Guam's Literary Arts Publications Committee and published in 2016. The following year, Kinalamten Gi Pasifiku: Insights from Oceania was published, the first project of Ta Tuge' Mo'na, a non-profit organization that supports literary communities in Guam and Micronesia.
Beyond the Pacific region, Pacific anthologies are beginning to appear in the continental United States, where many Pacific Islanders have migrated to over the last fifty years. The most prominent example is a 2016 special issue, New Pacific Islander Poetry, that I edited for Poetry Magazine, which is based in Chicago and is known as the oldest monthly devoted to poetry in the English-speaking world. While this history of Pacific anthologies has inspired me to contribute to this literary movement as an editor, it has also influenced my own poetic practice and sensibility. To me, anthologies represent and celebrate connection and coalition, as well as diversity and difference. Reading Pacific anthologies taught me about the [End Page 244] major themes and shared aesthetics of Pacific literature, as well as the beautiful diversity of our own unique styles, forms, and voices. Reading anthologicially, then, encouraged me to address the major themes that past generations have addressed but from my own perspective and experience—weaving my own voice to my Pacific literary genealogy inherited via the anthology. Moreover, reading anthologically also gave me permission to explore diverse aesthetics knowing that there is no single style that defines Pacific literature.
Since the decolonization and cultural revitalization movements of the 1970s, Pacific writers and editors have worked to create the first anthologies and literary journals of contemporary Pacific literature. These anthologies can be imagined as maps of the New Oceania, as vessels upon which readers can imaginatively journey across and learn about the region, and even as islands themselves that house a diversity of Pacific voices. These anthologies can also be imagined as gathering places for the talanoa of Pacific writers who are spread across a vast ocean, thousands of islands, and a global diaspora. These anthologies represent the formation of literary kinship networks and literary genealogies from which new generations of Pacific poets can read, learn from, be inspired by, and inherit the voices of our elders. As Te Punga Somerville reminds: "One of the important functions of the anthology is to create a sense of 'us'" (2012, 32).
To conclude our journey of this essay, I want to share one final project. In 2018, I became the series editor of The New Oceania Literary Series with the University of Hawai'i Press. We aim to continue the anthological legacy inaugurated by Wendt and sustained by many other Pacific editors by publishing a series of anthologies focused on vital and urgent themes of Pacific literature today. The anthologies will gather a multi-genre, multi-lingual, and intergenerational network of Pacific authors. Our first anthology, published in 2019, was the Indigenous Literatures from Micronesia, the first ever full-length anthology of Micronesian Literature. We are currently working on anthologies that address environmentalism and climate change; gender and sexuality; food colonialism and food sovereignty; migration and diaspora; and Pacific-futurism and speculative literature. For years to come, we hope to inspire and empower Pacific Islanders by producing anthologies that will be useful tools in the classroom and cherished gifts in the community. We hope the books will spark civic engagement and literary [End Page 245] activism. And we hope to engender talanoa that reach far beyond island reefs, creating the space for Pacific authors to continue writing towards a New Oceania.
DR. CRAIG SANTOS PEREZ is an indigenous Pacific Islander (Chamoru) from Guam. He is the author of four collections of poetry and the co-editor of four anthologies. His scholarship has been published in English Language Notes, American Quarterly, Studies in American Indian Literature, and the Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature. He is an associate professor in the English department at the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa.