University poet to perform for the Queen
Selina Tusitala Marsh is off to London to see the Queen.
She has been commissioned to write and perform a poem at the Commonwealth Day Observance in Westminster Abbey on Monday 14 March.
Selina, a poet and Senior Lecturer in English, was initially approached by the Commonwealth Education Trust last November, but in her modesty she thought they were asking her to find a poet for the event, so she started compiling a list of potential poets.
It was not until two weeks later when they asked her again that she realised that they were actually asking her to be the poet.
The Commonwealth Service is the largest multi-faith celebration in Britain and takes place annually on the second Monday in March at Westminster Abbey. The one-hour service includes a speech from the Queen and also features a mixture of testimonies, readings, songs and musical performances.
The service is based around annual theme. For 2016, the theme is ‘An Inclusive Commonwealth', inviting citizens to consider what it means to live in a diverse yet equitable, fair and tolerant international community.
As well as the Queen, the service is attended by the Head of the Commonwealth, High Commissioners, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, and dignitaries from across the United Kingdom and around the Commonwealth as well as senior politicians and 1,000 school children.
Selina has written a poem called ‘Unity’.
Despite her extensive experience as a poet the verses did not come freely, given the strict parameters placed around the composition. The poem had to be non-political, it had to appeal to children and adults alike, and keep to a strict three-minute limit set by the BBC for filming purposes.
“Then, three weeks ago, sitting at my writing table, aka the kitchen bench, I began chanting a line.”
That line: “There’s a ‘U’ and an ‘I’ in Unity, it costs the earth and yet it’s free” sent her on a journey linking the theme of unity around the world through conservation and conversation. Her poem begins by linking London in the UK to London in Kiribati. It then shifts to Tuvalu in homage to her Tuvaluan granddad, where the smallest Commonwealth Nation speaks for all, and Tuvalu’s oceanic navigational mastery is placed alongside conventionally celebrated European expeditions. Throw in Samoan philosophy and themes of big and small, centre and margin, self and other, and the poem works towards encouraging conservation of the planet through conversations over a cuppa tea.
After the reading Selina will attend a function at Marlborough House where she will meet the Queen.
But it won’t be the first time she’s met royalty. Selina met Prince Charles and heard him speak at Government House in Auckland last November, and found his speech about his charity work with indigenous peoples in Canada inspiring. She recently received a note from him thanking her for gifting a copy of her first poetry collection, ‘Fast Talking PI’ (2009). She had handed it over to him at the reception with ‘Welcome to Auckland, the largest Pacific Island city in the world!’
Whilst in London Selina will attend a function at New Zealand House and speak to staff and students at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of English.
Selina has already had several successful visits to the UK, including attending the Australia and New Zealand Literary Festival at Kings College, where she won the Literary Death Match, where poets square off on stage.