Making Starfish

to the untrained eye
starfish have no front or back

but village women know better
these days they cut stencils
from discarded x-ray plates

create whole beds of starfish
on bark cloth and cotton sheets

when you cut x-rays
they utter a peculiar cry

but starfish split silently
make more of themselves
to fill up empty spaces

something the lonely could do

Serie (Cherie) Barford is a performance poet of Samoan, Celtic, Scandinavian and Algonquin Indian ancestry.  She was born in Aotearoa in 1960 and grew up in West Auckland on the Te Atatu (the dawn) Peninsula.  The headland opened out to the Waitemata harbour, mangrove swamps, bush-clad hills and farmland.  City-sprawl eventually tarsealed roads, installed footpaths and gobbled up orchards and farms.  It was a poor part of town, but she didn’t realize that at the time. Serie regards herself,

“… as both a Pasifika woman and a syncretic being – one who is forever reconciling opposite tendencies and worldviews resulting from generations of relocation to the antipodes.”

Serie’s mother migrated to Aotearoa from Samoa in the 1950’s.  Her grandfather was a child POW on Motuhe (an island in the Waitemata Harbour) during World War 1 and was an adult POW during World War II on Sommes Island (in Wellington Harbour).  He was in hospital at the same time as the Japanese POWS who were hospitalized after the Featherston riots and could communicate with those who spoke the Chinese he’d learnt from plantation workers in Samoa. Serie grew up knowing that the stories she heard in her community were not always valued or told by teachers at school or university and were hard to find on bookshelves in libraries or shops.  This has affected her choice of subject matter and writing style. Different stories are told differently.  She tells stories that are not usually found in mainstream New Zealand culture.

Serie completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Auckland and also acquired a Diploma in Teaching.   She was a secondary school teacher and ESOL tutor for many years, then left the state education system to manage a NGO called the Waitakere Adult Literacy Centre.   She now works in the field of Adult and Community Education in Waitakere City (West Auckland) and is a member of Te Roopu Mauta, the governing body of Waitakere Adult Literacy Inc. and sits on the education subcommittee of the Waitakere Pacific Board. She is also a Trustee of WEST (Waitakere Education Sector Trust) and the current Chair of The Going West Trust, which overseas the annual Going West Books and Writers Festival.

‘Making Starfish’ is found in Tapa Talk, a collection of Serie’s poems which were published by Huia Publishers in November 2007 and can be ordered from them online.

She is currently working on a compilation of poems based around the theme of Disrupted Narratives. They will be performed with other items written by the Auckland-based Pasifika Poetry Collective (found on the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre site) at the Queensland Poetry Festival in August 2008. The collective is performing under the name POLYNATION.

Barford comments: ‘I was writing poems for Tapa Talk and doing lots of research around siapo (tapa) – its history, production methods, as well as elements of traditional and contemporary design.  Starfish frequently appear in the gallery of motifs incorporated into works of tapa.

I became fascinated by these creatures and read up about them – how they feed, reproduce and colonise the seabed and reefs.  Some starfish reproduce asexually by fragmentation.  I was thinking about the use of x-rays as a stenciling material and about lonely people I’d come across in the community, in particular a man who was dying. He told me that he didn’t have the energy, trust, skills or inclination to create new relationships and wished he had a twin or could clone himself in order to have company.  That’s how this poem was born.’

Poem source details >



Huia Publishers author page
Going West Readers and Writers Festival
nzepc—New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre
Tinfish 16/Trout 13
Auckland University Press: Whetu Moana
Snorkel  #1 and #5
Blackmail Press
Poetry New Zealand
New Zealand Book Council author page