An Inspiring German/Samoan Author & Poet | Serie Barford

At the beginning of this year, Serie Barford was one of the amazing Pasifika poets who performed at the Stars of Pasifika Poetry event which was held at the Auckland City Library. I had the pleasure of attending that event and it was there that I got to see her perform live for the first time. She was truly inspirational! She is a writer that has had her poems and short stories published in journals and anthologies, among them are Whetu Moana, Niu Voices, Landfall, Poetry New Zealand, Dreadlocks, Writing the Pacific, Trout, Blackmail Press, Snorkel and Best New Zealand Poems. I have one of her collections of poetry which was published by Huia entitled Tapa Talk and I highly recommend it (click HERE to purchase the book). It is with great pleasure that I share with you Serie Barford’s sentiments about her poetry work.

Thank you once again Serie for providing us with a glimpse into your world of writing. You are an inspiration to me and I truly appreciate the time that you have taken to do this. To be able to hear from you personally is a blessing. May your work continue to inspire many others around the globe. ‘Ofa lahi atu xox

Some thoughts about my poetry by Serie Barford

My mother identifies as German-Samoan and emigrated to Aotearoa in the 1950s, my father is Palagi and I was born in Aotearoa and I was a child in West Auckland when it had gravel roads and no one even thought of locking their doors at night and man had yet to land on the moon.

I was delighted to receive an invitation from Maryanne to share some thoughts about my poetry on her blog.  It got me thinking about how the whole poetry scene has changed since the early 1980s, when I was first introduced to public poetry readings at the Globe Tavern. That’s where I met or listened to other poets of Maori and Polynesian descent such as John Pule, David Eggleton, Albert Livingston Reffiti, Michael O’Leary, Hone Tuwhare, Apirana Taylor and Haere Williams.

The Dawn Raids and the Springbok Tour were fresh in our minds.  I remember reading ‘Plea to the Spanish Lady’, the title poem of my first poetry collection (Plea to the Spanish Lady: Hard Echo Press: 1985) to a disbelieving Globe audience. Spanish influenza followed soldiers home after World War One and was personified as the Spanish Lady.  New Zealand administered Western Samoa at the time and completely bungled any attempts to quarantine or treat the ill.

“What do ya mean New Zealand was responsible for the deaths of 22 per cent of Western Samoa’s population?” the audience heckled. “Never heard of Colonel Logan….. You’re  pushing poetic license too far girl! …Who dies from the flu?”  There are mass graves in Samoa as well as in Waikumete Cemetery in Auckland where the victims of this devastating flu were shovelled.

Plea to the Spanish Lady (extract)

 Today the Samoan Times is all news:

death notices and a front page

Today the editor died

Today Teuila’s screams awoke me

as she lay between her parents

dipping fingers in their sweat


Her name means flower Lady

see her tremble and wilt

We will bury her in lavalava

scented with frangipani


At Papauta Girls’ School desks are empty

Colonel Logan shouts ‘I do not care if they

are going to die.  Let them die and go to hell.’…….

That same night Apirana Taylor read ‘Sad Joke on a Marae’.  Many of the audience seemed pretty stunned by the themes in our poems.  Others were fully aware of how lives and stories exist in the ‘between spaces’ of dominant narratives in colonised lands. It’s still like this…..

In 1984 we were reading poetry against the backdrop of ‘The Kia Ora Controversy’.  This was when Naida Glavish, a tolls (telephone) operator began greeting callers with ‘Kia ora’.  Her supervisor insisted that she use formal English greetings.  She refused and lost her job.  The debate was fierce, the Prime Minister intervened and some poets stood in the spotlight and deliberately prefaced poems with Kia ora.

I was consciously shaping verse from a ‘working class-mixed marriage’ background.  ‘Covering Exercise Books’ from my second collection Glass Canisters (Hard Echo Press: 1989) examines the distance between the home/parents and the school/child when a teacher asks the class to cover their exercise books.  The child wants everything shiny and new and wants to please the teacher who is the new fountain of knowledge in his life, but his parents carefully and lovingly iron old brown paper and cover his books with pictures of asparagus they cut out of a magazine while he was asleep.

 Covering Exercise Books (extract)

Teacher asked the children

to cover their exercise books

Basil felt grown up in his new uniform

He imagined bright contact

from Mr Smith’s hardware store

covering each subject in a gaudy pile

Teacher would be pleased ……


His parents wanted to surprise him

Joan ironed brown paper

‘till it looked almost new

and John cut it into lengths


they worked quietly

swapping glances

like in the early days

before they held hands


Joan cut asparagus from magazines

pasted them above SCIENCE

and wrote Basil in italics

so her son would look special…….

I got the idea to examine the impact of school on families from a slender poetry anthology (Some Modern Poetry from Western Samoa, Mana Publications: 1974) that I bought in Samoa in 1975.  It was edited by Albert Wendt and one of the poems I really liked is ‘Kidnapped’ by Ruperake Petaia.    It opens with:

 I was six when

Mama was careless

she sent me to school


five days a week

In between Glass Canisters and my third poetry collection (Tapa Talk, Huia: 2007) I’d worked as a secondary school teacher, had a child, got married, had another child, divorced, returned to the family home to live in a four generation household, moved out, had some disastrous experiences which culminated in a breakdown, was reunited with a man I’d met in Samoa in 1982, had moved into community work and was also living between Aotearoa and Kanaky (New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands).  I’d hardly had time to breathe – let alone write for years and a new generation of poets who were influenced by technology and a post man-on-the-moon world were on the stage.

Tapa Talk was inspired by my time in various locations on the mainland and islands around Kanaky.  I decided to explore the universe via the concept of teu le va – the relationship between distances, places and people in the visible and invisible worlds.

‘Connections’ is written in seven parts with the Biblical creation story and the suppression of siapo (tapa) motifs which were associated with the Samoan creation story in mind. I was fascinated by the endurance of the symbolic language of tapa and how it was being adapted to link the old and new worlds of Pacific nation people.

Connections (extract)

there’s no such thing as empty space

just distances between things


made meaningful by fine lines

connecting designs and beings

in the seen and unseen worlds ….


I’ve bought a new siapo

for the overcrowded living room


it’s harmonious


the land, the sea and the sky are in accord…..

‘Culture Shock’ explores my entry into the New Zealand university system.  I was brought up the old way within the church and with chaperones and found myself alone in a strange place at the height of the feminist movement in the late 1970’s.  Every time I opened my mouth in a tutorial I felt like I was being mocked and that my world view was being ridiculed.  It was a terrible time. When I graduated I was offered the chance to do a Masters degree but couldn’t wait to escape. Once my parents had the graduation family portrait on the wall I got out and went wild for a few years. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere and that I was surrounded by conditional love.  ‘Be a good girl and you’ll be loved.’  The definition of ‘good’ was strangling and suppressing me, but at the same time I didn’t want to hurt the people I loved.

 Culture Shock (extract)

 she didn’t understand my bolt for freedom

the gamble for my future on a piece of paper

my family could ostentatiously frame


their eyes moist as they wrote home

the future full of answered prayers

their sacrifices rewarded


until we all understood

the unchartered frontier of academia

had unhinged me forever from my elders

 I’ve since resigned myself to the fact that I live in the margins and that’s okay because I can create from this space and it’s my ‘inner world’ that keeps me anchored to the ‘outer world’. Tapa Talk is full or connections and disconnections and transformations and it’s a portrait of my life at that time.

Found Again (extract)

 our love is a tracking device

more sure than any global

positioning system…..


we have many stories of

losing and finding each other


of getting lost

and losing others


but today all is well…..

I’m in another chapter of my life at the moment.  I’m deliberately giving voice to the silences between spaces and places and people – the voids that are full of potential.  I’m writing short stories that are really poems with the words running into each other.

Fa’afetai tele lava Maryanne for giving me the chance to include some of my thoughts in your blog.


  1. I was quite sleepy, but gathered pillows on my bed and thinking ‘MUST READ’ in the darkness and stillness and light of my magic machine, I half cried, half smiled lots arrhd and awed.
    Absolutely interesting journey, MAGIC. Nga mihi na Georgie.

    1. Hi Georgie,
      That is wonderful feedback. Thank you for taking the time to read Serie’s post and share your moving words with us. Serie’s journey is inspirational!
      God bless xox

  2. Hi Mariana,
    I absolutely agree with you there and I am so honoured to have had Serie share her inspirational journey with us all. Many thanks for stopping by.
    God bless xox

  3. SO BEAUTIFUL AND AMAZING! Thank you Maryanne and Serie! You are both inspirations and world leaders to me. Sending so much LOVE from NYC and I can’t wait to meet both of you!

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