Speak for yourself

"Just imagine what Aotearoa would be like if everyone valued their words, if we all believed in the power of words" - Grace Taylor
Grace Taylor tells us about her background, spoken word poetry and youth development work.


Poetry can say the things that are otherwise hard to explain, says self-described 'mother, lover, poet, student, daughter, youth development worker' Grace Taylor.

Which might come in handy for her young innovators 7-minute presentation 'Coz, young people can speak for themselves' at Festival for the Future this weekend.

"It is really a snapshot sharing of how I believe through spoken word poetry, young people hold the ability to speak for themselves.  As a community we hold a responsibility to create the spaces and provide the relevant tools for this to exist."

Grace tells us about her background, spoken word poetry and youth development work.

What is spoken word poetry?

Spoken word poetry is poetry that is written with the intention of it to be spoken, performed and heard.  It is poetry that is bravely breathed life into by the poet that wrote it.

I also would like to say, that there can be a misconception that spoken word poets are just performers, but we labour over our writing.  We are writers just as much as performers.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I am a mother, lover, poet, student, daughter, youth development worker.  I am a product of migration, my mother is from Upolu, Samoa and my father is from Glastonbury, England.  I am a proud product of South Auckland.

Tell us about South Auckland Poets Collective.

SAPC started in 2007 as a creative arts youth development programme for young people in South Auckland.  We workshopped original poems over the summer of 2007/2008 and performed that the Splore Festival 2008.  The young people and audience loved it so SAPC was born and we started to meet weekly. 

We started to get booked for shows, TV appearances and workshops.  2012, 11 of the poets travelled to USA to check out the largest youth poetry slam in the world Brave New Voices, with various performances around LA , NYC and San Francisco.  Myself and Daren (co-founders) went on to University of Wisconsin for a week long professional development conference, Hip Hop in the Heartland.

SAPC now has six new members, with Daren and I both taking a step back for new projects.

What’s the purpose, power and point of poetry?

Poetry is able to say the things that is otherwise hard to explain.

In what way is spoken word poetry relevant to young people?

Spoken word poetry is so popular with young people because it is dynamic and instant.  In our fast moving world, young people connect easily with vehicles that deliver instant messages and responses.  For example,: Facebook, Twitter, YoutTube, Texting.

How is it a ‘vehicle for young people redefining youth development’?

The entire process of writing, sharing, re writing, questioning, researching, re-sharing, re-writing, rehearsing and then performing a poem in a group process embodies the principles of the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa.  I challenge that it actually is redefining it, as it is pushing the boundaries of these existing principles into progressive and future ways of working with young people.  For example, exercising and stretching resilience.  Group processes with young people around spoken word poetry also provides a co-facilitating/mentoring opportunity for young people, meaning a space they can practice taking ownership and contribute to a process that involves them. 

Tell us more about your Masters of Youth Development research. Why is ‘afakasi’ (mixed heritage) identity an important part of this?

My Masters research combines three of my passions, youth development, poetry and identity.  Afakasi is an important topic to me as I am afakasi.  I am a Aotearoa born half Samoan and half English women.  Over 50% of Aotearoa’s Pacific population is of mixed heritage.  Pacific identity is shifting and redefining itself as Pacific diaspora increases.  With our families moving to new lands for ‘better lives’, what is the result of these movements?  How do or can we maintain or re-create our languages, traditions, culture,  ways of being, sense of belonging of our indigenous people?  I believe a sense of belonging is a very important part of someone’s life, and I have seen it on the grassroots level the impact this journey can be for our young people.

These are even more important for me with becoming a mother.  My son is 2nd generation Aotearoa born, Samoan, Fijian, Wallis and Fortuna, English, Japanese.  His accessibility and exposure to all of these cultures is very important to myself and his father.

How does your research translate into the practical?

This research is a product of mahi I have been doing for a long time with young people, things I have facilitated, seen, heard.  There is a need for solid research that provides evidence that working in this way with young people is successful.  This will also provide the opportunity for development of practitioners of this kind of youth engagement.

Tell us about Action Education and idea for the workshops?

ACTION EDUCATION INCORPORATED began in the early eighties with a vision of building a skilled community of people to bring creative programmes to life in our community.

ACTION EDUCATION offers a tailored approach to working with community groups. We work with an interactive action orientated methodology to assist in the engagement and development of young people and those that work with them.

TRAINING AND APPLICATION of facilitated role play and action methods.  Training courses are offered, for those who wish to acquire the skills to enrich their programmes. In particular the workshops and programmes I have been developing are to provide a accessable, safe, creative developmental tool for young people to explore, explain, question and express their experiences of the world around them.

How has it been received? What have you learnt?

The workshops and programmes have been so well received.  What I have learnt from these responses is the need for my focus to shift in supporting and enabling more facilitators/mentors of this work.

How did you get involved with Festival for The Future?

I was invited by Guy Ryan through our connection at Vodafone Foundation.

What are you talking about?

My presentation is entitled, Coz, young people can speak for themselves.  It is really a snapshot sharing of how I believe through spoken word poetry, young people hold the ability to speak for themselves.  As a community we hold a responsibility to create the spaces and provide the relevant tools for this to exist. 

What might it take for a vibrant, sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand?

This is just my point of view, unfortunately money is what makes many things work and exist in our country.  For example: services, education etc... This is just a reality.
I have meet and seen some amazing innovative individuals and organisations that contribute to our community in vibrant and sustainable ways. 

I believe, we need more progressive funders, as Vodafone Foundation, demonstrate that really invest in the heart of mahi, of people.  Otherwise we will continue in a cycle of ticking boxing of issues and not seeking out the root that causes them.

Also, just imagine what Aotearoa would be like if everyone valued their words, if we all believed in the power of words. I am talking from government, teachers, peers, service providers, families etc... That vision really excites me.

What’s your big idea for 2013?

To make Rising Voices Youth Poetry Slam (the only youth poetry slam in NZ) expand out of Auckland and go national. Rising Voices Poetry Project is another of my babies.  Co-founded with my good friend and poet Jai MacDonald and supported by my partner Daren Kamali.  Rising Voices provides a platform outside of the pubs and clubs for emerging writers and poets.

* * * The Big Idea 10th Birthday Questions * * *

What changes have you noticed in poetry in the past 10 years?

Much more dynamic and it is getting younger.  For those of us that have been in this for awhile, I feel a responsibility to encourage those we mentor to tap back into our older generation, our path makers, poetry. 

What are some of the opportunities and challenges for the next decade?  

Wow that is a huge question.  I think the biggest challenge has and always will be time.  Even more so with how fast technology develops.  We can lose the value of quality time with many things, family, work, relationships, things that we are really passionate about. I am very guilty of that.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

15 Nov 2012

The Big Idea Editor Cathy Aronson is a journalist, photo journalist and digital editor.

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