4 July 2019 saw for the first time the Suzanne Bastien Fondation hosting a “Poetri Pawa” (“Poetry Power”) event in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Poetry is the art form linking oral narrative with music. It is a way humans map their journeys: to know who they are, and where they come from.

‘Poetri Pawa’ is linked to the month-long International Women’s Day (IWD) exhibitions at the Fondation held from 6 March. Three women writers with deep connections to Vanuatu who submitted writings to the IWD were invited by Bastien to read their pieces: Mikaela Nyman, Nancy Gaselona Palmer, and Rebecca Tobo Olul-Hossen.

Featured in the readings were: “pull tug stretch cut” by Rebecca; “And she wept” by Nancy; and two collaborative pieces by Mikaela and Rebecca called “I Love You?” and “And then there’s silence”.

Poems highlight challenges women face as they navigate paths from innocent girls to womanhood and wise old age. Women have to stand strong in the face of cyclones, droughts, economic hardship and family matters.

Women have to stand even stronger when facing discrimination at work, personal loss, unwanted pregnancies and personal illness – or abuse at the hands of someone considered a loved one. In the digital age a new set of obstacles face women with social media’s use rising across the globe and at their doorstep.

Women have to dig deep inside themselves together with friends and family to find strength to face what life throws their way.

The women writers talked about what inspires their writing, why poetry matters and the power of poetry to rise above every language.

Introduced to the comfortable crowd present was “Rock of Strength”, the first self-published poetry collection by Nancy, a labour of love spanning 20 years, featuring art work from her late son.

“Poetri Pawa” touched on why it’s important to write about recognisable people and places and writing in the writers’ mother tongues. All three writers started writing poetry in English.

Talking about her own experience of writing and publishing a poetry collection in Swedish, her mother tongue Mikaela touched on how she had to relearn poetry writing in her own language world.

These women are part of a network of creative writers, including the likes of prolific Bislama writer, Helen Tamtam; self-published poet, Telstar Jimmy; haiku-creator, Jane Kanas; and founder of Sista- Online Magazine, Yasmine Bjornum, supporting each other across countries including Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and New Zealand.

Herein lies the power of creative writing to connect and amplify ni-Vanuatu women’s voices across borders.

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