Dark Sparring: Poems

Selina Tusitala Marsh


I had never danced the fatele before. Then, five days after mother died, our Tuvalu relatives came to the house, rolled up the mats on the floor, and started drumming. We moved around the coffin, feet stamping an escalating rhythm while hands and heads swayed, tilting right then left. Voices filled the lounge as mother’s body was carried out the front door.

A few weeks after the funeral, I took up Muay Thai kickboxing. I had never punched or kicked anything before. In sparring, my body learned to swing, pivot, move with a raw instinct in defence and in attack. My mind began following my body, and the ropes inside the ring grew to become a stage that became a classroom that became a dining room that became a nation.

Both forms of movement taught me new things. And over months of grief and mourning, the movements began to echo each other – and to take shape in words.


In Dark Sparring, Selina Tusitala Marsh combats family loss with all the techniques of poetry, ritual and Thai kickboxing at her disposal. The book and accompanying CD brim with fluid, humming list poems, literary shoutouts and personal elegies, as Marsh takes us through her mother’s diagnosis with cancer and the long journey out the other side of her illness. Along the way, she shows us other parts of her world: scenes from Matiatia to Ōrapiu to Apia; classroom politics; the importance of leadership; and the reasons New Zealand is a ‘lucky’ country. Dark Sparring has an appealing voice, a strong right hook and an affecting, rhythmic heart.


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Of Sāmoan, Tuvaluan, English and French descent, Selina Tusitala Marsh was the first Pacific Islander to graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Auckland and is now a lecturer in the English Department, specialising in Pasifika literature. Her first collection, the bestselling Fast Talking PI, won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in 2010. She represented Tuvalu at the London Olympics Poetry Parnassus event in 2012. Marsh’s work has been translated into Ukrainian and Spanish and has appeared in numerous forms in schools, museums, parks, billboards, print and online literary journals.


October 2013, 210 x 165 mm, 104 pages
Paperback w/ CD, ISBN 978 1 86940 786 5, $27.99