On Poetry Slams: post by Michelle Durey


When you see that word written, I bet the last thing you probably think about is poetry…But, put the two words together and you’ve got a curious can of opened worms.

Poetry Slam!

So, what is a poetry slam? Up until a few years ago, I myself was ignorant to its existence. But now that I think about the words Poetry Slam, the reference is very reminiscent of the term “getting slammed” in battle, like a rap battle for example. Are you getting an idea for its meaning, or are you still finding it a little hard to picture?

Imagine this if you will…someone approaches an empty stage, but with a microphone. For three minutes, this odd storyteller takes you on a pictorial journey of words that is so fantastic you’ll wanna snap your fingers and shout “Uh-Huh!” at the top of your lungs. Imagine also that these outbursts of behaviour are encouraged – in fact expected- from you,  the audience. Now imagine somewhere in that audience with you are unsuspecting patrons who will ultimately decide their fate by scoring these poets on the content delivery and the response generated from the audience. Now imagine eleven or so more odd storytellers all daring their amazing points of view, in hopes that their points get them through to the next round.

That’s right – it’s a poetry competition, yes…but it can and has become so much more…

But wait. Let’s back up just a bit. Where did it all begin, this slam business…

Well, most people agree, it all began at a little place called the “Get Me High” in Chicago sometime in the mid-eighties. Its purpose: to pull away from the boring page-reading of poetry that felt like sitting through an insurance seminar, and create a sort of game where the weekly prize was a free drink or a few bucks cash.

This new concept caught on to pandemic proportions and ultimately created a culture all its own. The growth of its popularity was exponential. A national competition naturally followed the demand for the poetry community. Only three teams attended the first National US Slam in 1990, whereas in 2010 there were over eighty teams with a handful representing from around the world!

So, that’s the historical foundation of slam, but what about little ol’ NZ. When were we exposed to the nature of the slam beast?

I have it on pretty good authority that it blew into Wellington first with a man from Melbourne by the name of Michael Rudd. Sometime in 2000 he gave it a kick-start at the “Temple Bar” and it has slowly grown in awareness and participation since then.

So, on whose authority do I have this information that seems so hard to come by in this modern age of technology?

In 2011 Michael Rudd and I began the first National Slam here in New Zealand in the hopes that it would one day help to get our NZ poets to an international slam on a regular basis.

We began with three cities: Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Each city held their own preliminary heats to establish representatives to compete in Wellington at the National Final. Each city sent four reps, and the winning poets travelled to Australia for the first ever Trans-Tasman Slam.

In 2013, fourteen representatives from seven regions across the country competed in Wellington for the National title! The growth is truly a dream come true for a co-founder to experience in an organization.

Michelle Durey

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Tuesday Poem: “Afastina” by Grace Teuila Evelyn Taylor

for Selina & Tusiata

Hey Afakasi
can your palangi hands do the brown siva?
can you Sāmoa siva a show and tell?
Island Monarchs
rebirth a longing for butterfly belongings
I used to hide unknown in their shame

Awkward siva
is my show and tell
I inherited this landscape of cultural monarchs
they whisper stories of missed belongings
white is my shame
for I am, Afakasi

Can you tell?
bowing to tulou for unsighted monarchs
claiming five senses for a sense of belongings
poetry to disguise the shame
speak Afakasi
let your words do the siva

She was known as a wanderer, before a butterfly monarch
black veins on wings atlas her belongings
casting aside her shame
she reclaimed this name Afakasi
dancing a sacred siva
the stories of taboo she can tell

Carving new belongings
no game of shame
she displays a whole Afakasi
quietly siva

share and tell
fluttering on the wings of monarchs

What is so shame
about being Afakasi?
beautifully awkward colourless siva
is the truth of how we tell
cultural monarchs
of newly carved belongings

So shame on the lies they tell
you; Afakasi are modern monarchs
stretch your siva wide, cast your belongings

Grace Teuila Evelyn Taylor

“Afastina” appears in Grace Taylor’s enormously satisfying debut poetry collection Afakasi Speaks, which was recently launched in Auckland and Wellington. The collection explores the poet’s Samoan and English heritage in an engaging, socially connected poetic. The poet is a co-founder of the South Auckland Poets Collective, and the Rising Voices youth poetry slam. She has also performed her work in the United States, and nationally. The book is published by innovative Hawaiian publisher Ala Press. There will be a launch in Honolulu in December. Here is a link to the Amazon site for readers interested in purchasing the collection: http://www.amazon.com/Afakasi-Speaks-Teuila-Evelyn-Taylor/dp/1492876062

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New post by Amber Esau: Just Poetry

When I first started getting into writing poetry, I tried to emulate my favourite poets: Charles Bukowski, Maya Angelou and Jim Morrison. (I don’t care what you say, Jim’s a poet!)

Our most basic and natural way of learning is through imitation and that is no less apparent in creating poetry. To have a voice we need to have a listen and I had entered into a conscious attempt to share my ideas and words with the help of the few poets I had access to at the time.

You may wonder why I use “creating” instead of “writing” poetry. Poetry is essentially the language of the universe and I really don’t want to riff off into the cosmos (as Robert likes to say in his classes) but that’s the way we roll as poets. It is a birth, a creation and we are a channel through which our understanding of the human condition and the unknown of our world interact. Yes, I did just say that. Don’t hate, poets generally have more feelings than everyone else except maybe pizza delivery guys because they have to part with so much delicious pizza, you know it’d destroy you too.

The three poets that I initially learned from are all quite contrasting against each other. Charles Bukowski is considered the “laureate of American lowlife” according to Time magazine. He has been canonized as a saint of our generation. (Gen Y or Z, I can never keep up these days.) I was attracted to the raw and blunt portrayals of alcoholics and sex-crazed perverts and relationships and the act of writing and ordinary life because I felt like it held no punches. The unquestionable truth of his poetry, (regardless of whether it was actually true or not,) is what I was drawn to and was what I wanted to recreate in my own poetry.

Maya Angelou wrote about gender and race struggles as affirmations and the strength in her words got me through a lot of dark times (Particularly of the procrastination hue.) I have two quotes from her poems tattooed on me as a reminder of her influence in my life and in my poetry. She inspired me to be strong in my voice and in my identity as a Brown female poet.

I could have picked William Blake, who I love dearly and with all my innocence, but it was through my addiction to Jim Morrison that I even found out who William Blake was. (I know, Gasp!) Jim wrote some pretty psychedelic poetry. His obsession with death and dark imagery mirrored that aspect in me and so I related to his prayer. I tried to imitate the mysticism that he created. I was also drawn to his stage presence and the unusual way he presented himself to his audience. Also through my fascination with the man I discovered many other poets and writers such as Blake and Kerouac and Ginsberg and more who would help me to further develop my poetry.

Only now that I’ve become more aware of who I am as a poet can I see the long shadows that their influence has cast on me. I have become more interested in spoken word poetry and I feel like I’ve been set up in a position of inspiration and learning, to straddle both page poetry and spoken word poetry. I think that it’s bullshit that it’s a bit segregated though. There is an elitist view of spoken word as an understudy of “real” poetry, that stories can’t be poetic. But we live poetry every day.

I think the new voices will be a bridge between page and stage and inspire a new generation of kiwi poetic identity. I am grateful to be a part of that movement between discourses. There has been a surge of spoken word in the written form and it is inherent to us as New Zealanders and Polynesians. We come from a tradition of oratory and it is being refined more and more.

The cemented proof of history for the written word is I think what gives written poetry the arrogance to claim a richer story. Since language begun, there were stories, and we’ve already established that stories are poetry. It’s about marrying the refined and the raw into a new frequency for our New Zealand poetic voice.

I think that reading more written poetry helps one to establish a self outside their self. It sets up a foundation to create incongruous images and flowery descriptions and then going into spoken word you can talk about social issues or personal issues or whatever is affecting you. They each work hand in hand. They encourage a dialogue between the concrete and the conceptual. I think they’re working in a yin and yang type of situation and it’s awesome.

I think the emerging voices of young poets are going to encourage this new standard of what is poetry and what isn’t and it’s really exciting to see how it’s shaping.

Amber Esau

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Post by Jillian Leach

Man Booker Prize 2013

The morning of the announcement of the Man Booker Prize saw students and lecturers in the Creative Arts Faculty at Manukau Institute of Technology gather in the main teaching room to see the announcement on live streaming TV with the BBC.  The room was abuzz with anticipation.  Cakes and home baking with juice was spread out for everyone to enjoy.  A hush came over the room as the hand on the clock struck 9.45.  The announcer in his very staid British accent talked about the nominations slightly confusing us as to when the winner would be revealed.  Then the moment we will all not forget.  The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is the winner of the Man Booker Prize. The room erupted into cheers of joy, people clapping and screaming.  It was the students making the most noise.  A guy fell off his chair.

We all watched as the camera shone on her like a deer in the headlights.  I openly wept as did other students admiring her poise, dignity and humility.  We were proud of her as she took the award and then total silence as she delivered her speech.  She thanked her publishers for allowing her the time to write the book which she described as a publisher’s nightmare given the 832 pages, but it was the recognition she gave to her partner saying he was on every page.  This young woman had endeared herself to every one she taught at Manukau Institute of Technology.  Her generosity, her ability to help our stories along and the time she spent on our assignments.  She gave selflessly.  We all felt like we were a part of her success.  We knew about her kittens who tumbled down the hallway in her flat.  Her TV shows she watched.  She would talk about nearly falling asleep at the wheel after helping out with the screenwriting projects over a weekend at the Creative Arts Faculty.  As students and staff we had fallen in love with her and we knew she would win this.

It’s summed up when your 78 year old mother rings you up and says, I’ve kept all the clippings from the paper where your friend won that book prize.

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NZ Poetry Slam Auckland Heat

Dear Poets
The last Auckland Heat of the NZ Poetry Slam will be held here at the Faculty of Creative Arts on Wednesday evening, 23rd October, from 7pm. 50 Lovegrove Crescent, Otara.

Good luck!

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Post by Rachel Nessia

The first class of fourth term went exceedingly well. This is one of those times where the door has opened and you can see down the corridor; only you choose to linger within the frame just to get a sense and smell of what lies ahead. I wonder if anything died ahead. Will there be any horrible smells? Will there be nice smells.

I couldn’t decide which face to put on today. I put on at least three or four, I think, because my personality changed at least three or four times. I had my hair done, so people were inclined to notice me more; notice the crimson cracks through my mask. I broke 3 rules and not necessarily inside or outside the classroom; nor inside or outside of this world or in fantasy. I was a bad girl. An “evil” girl, whatever that means. In some cultures, evil means good and good means evil.

What it means to me is to let go.

The people here are sweet. They laugh a lot though…. and I’m not sure if I should reciprocate, or if I should be worried. Laughter (especially the higher-pitched and breathy variety) can be an indication of several emotions such as: nervousness, intimidation, awkwardness, cheerfulness, over-grown festivity, the habit to attempt ice breaking in awkward situations, a fumbling of topic choices…you see, plenty of things. I fear there are more but I’m no pessimist. I’m assuming they are somewhat nervous though; what, and I would be as well…with faces staring back at me and relying on me to guide them over a series of rusty train tracks.

We all need oiling. I will say however, that the writing exercises which are to be formulated at the start of each class are a great way to oil one’s mind and especially in the midst of a learning environment. It’s nice that a fair handful of us are familiar with each other already, having returned from last year.

In one class we were asked, ‘what is poetry?’ and I wanted to ask what the meaning of life was. There is no fact, only opinion; art is art, to make; to make an audience, to make enemies, to cut yourself open on the page but not to expect all the colours of your insides tobe recognized.

There are tender nerves and waters we can’t tread due to withholding respect. I am okay with respect, as long as it is served on the same platter I served from. Let it be said that an artist isan artist for himself and no one else.

When I was two, I welcomed myself into the world of art; by crayon by paper by enthusiastic teachers by boys who thought it would be funny to scribble all over it and scrunch it up. It was a drawing for my mother; the little idiot had to wait inside all play time for his punishment. The picture destroyed; not my determination, I was determined to make more of it. The more art there is, the harder it is to destroy. Destroyed not, but only to resurface in rippling mind ripples that expand over seas too great.

I welcomed myself into the world of art; only this world has no gravity or lines of enclosure.

Art is freedom; do you agree?

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Fantastic news for Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize. We’re all thrilled for her at MIT. Nga mihi arohanui.

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Post by Geraldine Warren: Pimping Otara Poet Trees

Hone Tuwhare visited Tangaroa College Otara, when I was a pupil in fifth form (year 11), he conversed with purpose and ease to the teenage audience. Tuwhare was the first poet I saw performing his work live – the profound No ordinary sun a nuclear protest from Aotearoa .

But since then poetry for me has been like buds in limbo on the tallest of trees, not used for every day, but just picked for special occasions and adorned in times of great need. Yet within Te Ao Maori, the duality of beauty and function are intertwined, pepeha and whakatauki (tribal sayings) garnish whaikorero (speeches). It is endemic in the sacred and the secular.

It seems that I have circled back to Otara, education and poetry after attending a Manukau Technical Institute of Technology free poetry workshop at the Fresh Gallery with special guest tutor Courtney Meredith and a writing workshop at Manurewa library. This led to enrolling at the MIT Creative Writing programme in 2011, the advertisement said ‘Study with Great Writers while you work.’

An immense part of the first year of the writing programme is poetry. This is due to the influence of Robert Sullivan Head of Creative Writing and author of nine poetry publications and multifaceted MIT faculty such as Vivienne Plumb and Witi Ihimaera .

But my desire is to be a short story writer, playwright or novelist, with poetry somewhere in the outer universe, so the poetry component has been very humbling. At the first class, Robert took us all outside and asked for a poem from what we could see in the physical world. I found myself defaulting to the mood remembered from Hone Tuwhare so I could begin.

      Bless this tree, warning the sun above, as it shelters me
      under shiny, wrinkled, snarly branches
      glaring through bars and beyond the creek.

In order to write poetry I have to READ poetry while for fiction the advice is to READ WIDELY, in order to recognise the clichés. I am now in Year two of the program and have found a voice emerging from my own experiences, whanau and culture.

The school encourages students to submit work for publication and MIT students are in print in Ika Journal ; Landfall 225 ; Ora Nui 2012: Maori Literary Journal ; with the 2011 student of the year Daren Kamali launching his first poetry collection in Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World.

Five MIT Creative Writing students’ are published in ORA NUI [2], Special Edition: A collection of Maori and Aboriginal Literature, due to be launched in March 2014 at the Wellington Arts Festival – Ngarangi Chapman, Amber Esau ; Wikitoria Smith ; Munro Te Whata and Geraldine Warren.

I am honoured to be part of the literary tradition within Aotearoa and MIT Creative Writing.

Ora Nui 2013 Cover

Ora Nui 2013

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Tuesday Poem: Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless patient spider”

A noiseless patient spider,
I marked where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Marked how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launched forth filament, filament, filament out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to
         connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be formed, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Walt Whitman

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Congratulations to our MIT Creative Writing lecturers on the Nielsen Fiction Bestsellers list!

Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries, and The Rehearsal)
Anne Kennedy (The Last Days of the National Costume)
and Witi Ihimaera (White Lies, and The Parihaka Woman).

The Nielsen Bestsellers’ lists can be found here:


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