I first met Stellar Pritchard, aka Stell, when I was her mentor at Atawhai, a 12-month programme run by The Kindness Institute that teaches art, yoga and mindfulness to marginalised youth to help with self-esteem and mental health. We spent the first couple of days trying to work out what she wanted to write about.
One day she turned to me and said “Do you want to hear something I’ve already written?” and proceeded to perform an incredible, fully-formed spoken word poem. From that point on it was clear Stell was a gifted poet.
Addressing toxic masculinity
In the last year, the 16-year-old South Auckland poet has come out of her shell and gone on to make her mark on the Aotearoa poetry scene. She recently came second in the Going West Poetry Slam, and won the Word Up! poetry slam with her poem ‘When You Present As Male’, which she performed on John Campbell's Breakfast show. The poem starts quiet with Stell introducing herself, and builds in intensity as she addresses toxic masculinity and the pressures young men face in Aotearoa.
“In our society, when you present as male, you're expected to be an alpha within the pack.
We sign away your emotions. You sign a pact to never cry publicly, to speak mostly when spoken to, to be one of the boys, mask it with anything but gay.”
It’s a powerful poem, and it’s obvious when you hear it why Stell has made such an impact on the poetry community.
Stell on John Campbell’s Breakfast Show
Finding her voice
I recently caught up with Stell to talk about her success, and what role the various organisations she’s been a part of have helped her in finding her amazing, unique voice.
“One of the main stories I’ve been telling is about my journey with my whole sense of identity, and it’s one that was really hard, because I wasn’t the only one going through it,” Stell says when I ask what attracted her to poetry.
“There’s so much bullying and mocking that came along with it, but it was not only a journey of resilience and empowering myself, it was also liberating in a way as well.”
“It was not only a journey of resilience and empowering myself, it was also liberating in a way as well.”
The power of mentors
With so much natural ability and a strong desire to tell her story, I wonder what is it she gets out of being mentored.
“Mentors have a sense of experience that the mentees don’t have yet, and for them to be able to guide you along, that’s important to me.”
She says a good mentor teaches you life lessons as well as art, and that it’s important to be around older people who admit that they are often confused or hurting.
“I learned from everyone sharing their journeys and their determination to reach their goals—that was one of the biggest things for me.” she says. “It’s become a lot easier to write, and to express what I feel inside.”
“There are so many other voices out there, but there’s no voice like yours,”
‘There’s no voice like yours’
I ask her what advice she’d like to impart to any young people reading this.
“There are so many other voices out there, but there’s no voice like yours,” she says. “Keep striving, and keep doing your best, and speak yourself into existence, because we have so many stories to tell and we’re all storytellers. To be able to articulate that in any form is really important because it not only helps other people, it can also help you.
“With my poetry, it’s a way of combating all of my problems, because it helps me express them and put them out into the world and they don’t get held inside me all the time.”