Marsh, Selina Tusitala

Marsh, Selina Tusitala

In Brief

Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh is an Auckland-based Pacific poet and scholar of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish and French descent. She was the first person of Pacific descent to graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Auckland, where she now lectures in both creative writing and Māori and Pacific literary studies. Selina’s work has been widely published and has appeared in a range of online and hardcopy literary journals and anthologies including Blackmail Press, Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English, Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English–Whetu Moana II (Auckland University Press/UHP), Best New Zealand Poems 2006, Niu Voices: Contemporary Pacific Fiction 1 and The Contemporary Pacific (UHP). Her first collection of poems, Fast Talking PI, was published by Auckland University Press in 2009, and subsequently won the 2010 NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry. Tusitala Marsh is the Commonwealth Poet for 2016.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marsh, Selina Tusitala (1971 - ) is a poet and scholar of Samoan, Tuvaluan, Scottish and French ancestry who lives on Waiheke Island. She was the first person of Pacific descent to graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Auckland, and her 2004 doctoral thesis - entitled ‘Ancient banyans, flying foxes and white ginger: Five Pacific women writers’ - focuses on the first Pacific female poets to publish in English. Marsh asserts that literature was an integral vehicle for the empowerment of Pacific women and children in the largely male-dominated post-colonial era: “Poetry was used as a political voice. These women were all quite remarkable boundary-breakers.” She now lectures at the University of Auckland, specializing in Māori and Pacific literary studies.

Selina Tusitala Marsh’s poetry has featured in a range of online literary journals, including Blackmail Press and nzepc. Her writing has been widely anthologized and features in the Montana New Zealand Book Award winning Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English. Her work also features in Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English - Whetu Moana II (Auckland University Press/UHP), Best New Zealand Poems 2006, and Niu Voices: Contemporary Pacific Fiction 1. Tusitala-Marsh has performed her poetry at a range of venues and festivals, and her work has been translated into Ukrainian and Spanish.

As an advocate of Pacific poetry and literature, Selina Tusitala Marsh is the force behind Pasifika Poetry, a companion site of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre hosted by the University of Auckland. Pasifika Poetry is an online hub that celebrates the poetry of tagata o te moana nui (the peoples of the Pacific), featuring video, audio, text, and interviews with a range of Pacific poets.

Auckland University Press published Selina Tusitala Marsh’s first collection of poetry, Fast Talking PI, in 2009. The book won the 2010 NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry, and it made the top 5 Best Sellers List shortly after publication. Fast Talking PI was also named Best First Book at the 2010 New Zealand Book Awards. Albert Wendt wrote in praise of the book, ‘A new generation of poets has emerged in Aotearoa and the Pacific. Most of that generation are women, and Selina Tusitala Marsh, in this, her first collection, shows she is one of the most gifted and influential members of that generation.’

Cathie Koa Dunsford wrote in the Australian Women’s Book Review, ‘She peppers her poetic narrative with the rhythms and staccato of urban hip hop beats, in tune with slick contemporary themes and voices, showing her and their disregard for the romanticisation of the past and for the politics of the present.’ Nicky Pellegrino writes in the NZ Herald, ‘For Marsh, poetry is an inclusive rather than an elitist art form. She’s particularly enthusiastic about going into schools to perform and encourage students to find their own poetic voices.’

In 2012, Marsh was selected to represent Tuvalu in the Poetry Olympics that took place around the UK during the London Olympics and Paralympics. She was selected from among 6000 nominations to participate in the event.

In Dark Sparring (Auckland University Press, 2013), her second book of poems, Selina Tusitala Marsh combats family loss – specifically, her mother’s cancer diagnosis and long journey to recovery - with all the techniques of poetry, ritual and Muay Thai kickboxing that are at her disposal. Dark Sparring has been quoted as ‘an appealing voice, a strong right hook and an affecting, rhythmic heart.’ In her review for the NZ Listener, Lynley Edmaedes wrote that Marsh’s poetry ‘ navigates mourning without sentimentality, the vernacular without cultural cringe, and tackles some of the big questions of Pacific diaspora with wit, bravery and poetic and personal integrity. And the result is superb. This collection puts Marsh at the vanguard of contemporary Pacific literature and cements her place as one of the most important poetic voices of her generation.'

In 2015, Marsh attended the Australia and New Zealand Literary Festival in London, during which she won the light-hearted Literary Death Match for poets.

Selina Tusitala Marsh was honoured with the title of Commonwealth Poet 2016, and commissioned to write and perform a poem before the Queen at the Commonwealth Day Observance in Westminster Abbey on 14 March. The theme of the 2016 service was ‘An Inclusive Commonwealth'. The poem she composed, ‘Unity’, explores this concept through conservation and conversation across the globe: “We’re connected by currents of humanity / alliances, allegiances, histories” (Marsh, 5-6).

Tusitala Marsh's most recent academic contribution is her chapter in Mark Williams' A History of New Zealand Literature (2016), titled " 'Nafanua and the New World': Pasifika's Writing of Niu Zealand."

Marsh is currently writing a book about first-wave (1974-2008) Pacific women poets.

The annual New Zealand Book Council lecture will be delivered by Marsh in November of this year.

Last updated September 2016.

MEDIA LINKS AND CLIPS

Updated January 2017.