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Review: Fast Talking PI, by Selina Tusitala Marsh

Selina Tusitala Marsh lives on Waiheke Island, off the coast of New Zealand. She identifies herself as a person of mixed ancestry (Samoan, Tuvalu, English, French). Fittingly enough, the poems in Fast Talking PI interweave motifs from ancient tribal history with glimpses of modern urban environment. They are linguistically heterogeneous, featuring numerous expressions from Samoan, Mori, Tongan, Tahitian and Hawaiian (helpfully translated in the notes). They are also formally adventurous, combining lyric, epic and dramatic attributes... none of them look or sound the same. Even the opening poem, Googling Tusitala signals that we are in completely different artistic territory. In Samoan tusitala means 'writer of stories', yet a simple internet search enacted by the poem renders a myriad of unexpected appropriations of the word from all around the globe. Other compositions are conceived as streams of consciousness, folk tales, advertising slogans, dramatic monologues, quotations, lists, chants.

In many of her poems marsh speaks specifically, though sometimes in the third person, from a woman's perspective. In Things on Thursday she offers an extended ironic commentary on the difficulty of reconciling the challenges of writing and parenthood: If Updike could do it / why couldn't she?

But she reserves most of her attention to the legacy of the colonial past in the pacific world. As a Pacific Islander (the PI of the title), March laments the history of European exploitation in the region, which even today manifests itself in the difference between / being / and owning. A series of sarcastic poems points to the metaphorical rape and pillage of indigenous cultures by European explorers, scientists and artists.

To be sure, Marsh's poems do not recover or revise history, but simply respond - in a passionate manner she would be the first to acknowledge - to the accumulated evidence of oppression. They are not poems of investigation, but poems of indignation. .. Marsh finds self-fulfilment in the act of speaking for the Pacific culture and its inhabitants.