Selina Tusitala-Marsh victorious in Literary Death Match

05 June 2015
Selina Tusitala-Marsh subverts Amisian expectations in her Literary Death Match victory © Elixabete López Photography

Senior Lecturer in English, Dr Selina Tusitala-Marsh, has just returned from the Australia and New Zealand Literary Festival at King’s College in London, where she won the Literary Death Match.

The Literary Death Match has been run 50 times around the world, and on this occasion provided an opportunity for Australian and New Zealand poets to square off in a fun and challenging poetic environment.

Four writers from both sides of the Tasman were given a 7-8 minute time slot in which to present their prose or poetry in the atmospheric surrounds of the chapel at King’s College, presided over by MC and Literary Death Match founder Adrian Todd Zuniga. Competing alongside Selina were New Zealand writers Duncan Sarkies and Paul Ewan, and Malaysian-Australian rapper and poet Omar Musa.

Paul presented an imagined conversation between his literary alter-ego and Margaret Atwood from inside a cage, Duncan a short story about an attempted escape from an old person’s home during a performance of Annie, and Omar took on the cult of ANZAC Day in his poetry.

But it was a series of poems that subverted the white male gaze of Gaugin by “talking back” to him as a Pacific woman that got Selina voted through to the second round by the judges: Novelist and theatremaker Stella Duffy, Australian comedian Sarah Kendall, and British comedian Tim Fitzhigham.

In the final round contestants had to move audience members holding letters of the alphabet around against the clock to spell an author’s name. Selina won by spelling with her available letters, not the expected English author Martin AMIS, but MISA Telefoni Retzlaff, a well-known Samoan author.

Selina explains that while the Death Match was “heaps of fun,” it did also enable her to centre Pacific Literature on the global stage. By winning the 50th Literary Death Match through spelling the name of a Samoan author that the MC was not aware of, Selina hopes to have “brought an awareness of an often unconscious Eurocentric reading bias by temporarily subverting Euro-American margin/centre reading norms.”

Alongside the Death Match, Selina took part in four events, including the opening event where she performed in response to a national debate that took place a few years ago where the moot was: Australia is the Lucky Country. Her response was the poem, ‘New Zealand, the Lucky Country’, which featured in her second collection of poetry, Dark Sparring (AUP, 2014).

Selina was congratulated on this performance by both the New Zealand and Australian High Commissioners.

Find out more about Dr Selina Tusitala-Marsh