Us Two: Selina and Javan Marsh

"My three sons are all ball crazy. No one’s really that interested in poetry."
LAWRENCE SMITH

"My three sons are all ball crazy. No one’s really that interested in poetry."

Selina Marsh is a poet and lecturer at the University of Auckland. Her eldest son Javan is a student at Auckland Grammar School, and part of the North Queensland Cowboys U18 rugby league training squad.

SELINA/ I'm part of a testosterone-driven household. Javan's completely sports-mad, into his rugby league and, currently, athletics. My three sons are all ball crazy. When Javan's playing, I have to ask other parents about the positions. Mum supports him 100 per cent; I just don't understand the game. No one's really that interested in poetry.

He's quite single-minded and competitive. He has high inner-expectations. He got a scholarship to Auckland Grammar's Tibbs Boarding House. At first he found boarding really, really challenging. For the first three years it was plain upsetting for everybody. He's in his seventh form now. Because he's there, his brothers are able to attend the school, so he can stick it out when he has to. Being Samoan, that's often the role of the eldest child. But you get perks as well – he makes his brothers bow down to him.

He's able to let things go. Once I betrayed his trust. I told my sister in-law something he'd told me in confidence and it got back to Javan. He was really disappointed; he'd never been that devastated by me before. I felt terrible, and I apologised. I was expecting weeks of not talking, bitterness, resentment, but the next morning, it was just gone.

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He has quite intimate conversations with me that he couldn't have with his dad. Driving in the truck has been the best place to have our one-on-one chats. In the truck, when we're not forced to look at each other, it works. I say to him, "This is my first time as mum of a 17-year-old. You've got to forgive my mistakes and I'd rather be more open with you than not, so whatever the situation is, I'll check on you."

I want to teach him that it's a big life, and there are many paths out there that are distinct from each other, and he should always be open to opportunities. I do worry about him. I've gone through every single possible scenario I can think of – the bad stuff that could happen. But the thing I try to communicate is that home is a soft place to land, that me and Dad will always be there. I think that's the best I can do – he knows that somewhere in the world, someone loves him unconditionally.

JAVAN/ I would have been in year six. There were a lot of people there. Me and my brothers and cousins were giving out M&M's. That's the performance that stands out to me. I think she was releasing her first book and she'd dedicated it to her mum, my grandma. When I watch her perform I get a lot of pride thinking, that's my mum. I'm real confident in her – I know she'll do a good performance, so I don't get nervous for her.

She's very good in terms of having a lot of patience and believing in her kids. My brothers and I definitely push her to the limits, physically and mentally. When I think about it now, I realise how hard it must be for her. She's pretty hard-out with kickboxing. It's probably to get the anger out that we provoke in her.

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We're pretty open with each other. If she's wondering about anything she won't be afraid to ask me. Anything. I'm pretty honest with her and she's pretty honest with me. I guess it was embarrassing growing up, but it's important to be open with the people you're close to.

I've read a lot of her works. She has quite a few she won't show anyone, that she keeps to herself. She wouldn't ask, 'Is this poem good?' or anything. I don't know what's a good poem and what's a bad poem. As long as it's rhyming, I guess.

She's humble. She doesn't really get the attention she deserves, coming from a family of all boys. It's mainly just footy, sport and school. But now she's definitely getting more recognition from us, as we grow up. She'll talk about how she's going to England to perform in front of the Queen. I reckon it sounds pretty unreal. Well, she deserves it, but it's still pretty amazing. Normally it's her saying she's proud of me, but I'm real proud.

The most important thing that she's taught me is to follow my dreams and follow what I love doing. I'm still trying to find that, whereas hers is definitely poetry. She doesn't want us to be too cruisey. She said, "It would be best to do [NCEA] level 3 English," even though I'm pretty terrible at English myself. She makes sure I'm doing what I have to do. 

 - Sunday Magazine

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