Pacific Islander Poetry and Culture
In the 1960s and 1970s, students and faculty at the newly established University of Papua New Guinea and the University of the South Pacific in Fiji begin to study, write, and publish poetry and stories in broadsides, chapbooks, zines, anthologies, and full-length collections. Other centers of Pacific poetry soon emerged across the Pacific, including Aoteaora (New Zealand), Samoa, Tonga, Hawaiʻi, Tahiti, and Guam. Today, several Pacific writers have become internationally renowned, and their work has been translated into multiple languages and media, including film. Pacific literature courses are now taught in high schools and colleges throughout Oceania, and there are publishers and literary journals dedicated wholly to Pacific writing. Several dissertations, theses, essays, and monographs have focused on the history, theory, and aesthetics of Pacific literature. Book festivals, reading series, open mics, spoken word slams, writing workshops, humanities councils, author retreats, and literary conferences have created a dynamic and vibrant Pacific literary scene.
On one hand, a major thread of Pacific poetry documents, critiques, and laments the legacy and ongoing impacts of colonialism. Poems address issues related to social injustice, economic dispossession, militarization, nuclearism, plantationism, disease, tourism, urbanization, racism, migration, homophobia, and environmental degradation. Conversely, another thread of Pacific poetry explores decolonization and revitalization of native Pacific cultures, nations, customs, languages, kinship networks, histories, politics, and identities. In terms of form, Pacific poetry draws from a range of styles, including formalism, free verse, projectivism, ecopoetics, documentary, avant-garde, postmodernism, beat, confessionalism, surrealism, vis-po, vid-po, protest poetics, spoken word, performance, conceptualism, queer poetics, multicultural poetics, multilingualism, and more. Pacific poetry is as diverse as the cultures of Oceania.
Contemporary Pacific Islander poetry most commonly includes oral and written poetry composed by authors who are genealogically linked to the indigenous people of the areas of the Pacific known as Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. While many of these poets live within the “Pacific Basin,” there are also many residing in the United States. Because Pacific Islanders are one of the fastest growing populations in America, it is essential that we read Pacific literature, which has for too long been invisible within discussions of American and Global poetry.
The editors would like to thank Craig Santos Perez for his significant help in compiling this page and for guest editing a special section in the July/August 2016 issue of Poetry magazine. This collection is intended to be inclusive, in order to introduce new readers to a broad range of poets. Please contact us if you wish to make suggestions for additions to this sampler, or if you are listed here and wish to be removed. (Last updated March 2017.)
Watch over 200 videos of Pacific Islander poets on YouTube