Hadassah Grace: The Power of Storytelling

Hadassah Grace. Photo Credit Moana Minson
Described as "a poet who tells millenial fables", Hadassah Grace weaves the tales of her own experiences into poignant reflections on life as a woman in contemporary New Zealand.

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“I think one of the really powerful things about art is the ability to tell the stories of people who might not otherwise be listened to or respected.” These are the words of poet, Hadassah Grace, who alongside writing and performing, works for a domestic violence charity and is a vocal advocate for sex workers. With a bold openness, she discusses the essential place that writing holds for her personally and considers thoughtfully what art contributes to social change.

Hadassah’s poetry is filled with humour and tells tales and snippets of experiences from her life. These stories are personal, yet they resonate beyond the author. Like all good storytellers, she writes about herself, but simultaneously taps into a much bigger story of the human condition. A place we can all relate to. “I’ve had some pretty fun adventures so far, and I sometimes do things to the extreme. Most of the time I’ll sit down to write a funny story and once it’s done I start to realize that even though the experience was unique, it works as a metaphor for the same stuff I think a lot of people my age are going through.” 

Take this one for example..

Find a Job You Hate

Find a job you love, and you'll never work a day in your life

Whoever said that was probably boring
or rich
probably both
works in advertising, but has a girlfriend who plays the ukelele
they use handcuffs every now and again to spice things up
says he wants a tattoo but he can't decide what to get

whoever said that
lacks the creativity for depression
thinks she might have been a musician
but her parents didn't push her hard enough
says Inception really made her think

Find a job you hate
just like every other job you've always hated
one that will kill you, slowly
with a thousand tiny paper cuts
a thousand tiny burns from a thousand tiny candles
on birthday cakes for jenny and sarah and greg
a thousand thoughts of suicide before lunchtime

put into it softly, resentfully
make a voodoo doll
Of suit jackets and sensible shoes
fill a suitcase with costumes
of someone who's never been called stupid or lazy

stand in the shower dissecting your coworkers’ conversations
like that frog in science class when you were 14
spread them open, pull up heart and stomach
smaller, rotting versions of yourself

Work the job you hate
make money so dirty you can plant your dreams in it

Coming from family of musicians and writers, Hadassah was always encouraged in her creative endeavours, however it was from the dark depths of depression and anxiety that she began writing. “I started writing when I was in a pretty bad place. I went through some abuse when I was younger and never really dealt with it in a healthy way. It wasn’t something I knew how to talk about when I was growing up, but it had a big influence on the way I was living. Even though I’ve never written about it directly, writing helped me learn how to access emotions in a healthy way.”

The practice of putting pen to paper was such an effective salve for what she was experiencing that she no longer knows how to live life without it. “For me the discipline of sitting down to create something every day is a way to manage my mental health, and it’s not even really an option now. I write just like I brush my teeth - it has to happen every day or something will start to rot.” As well as writing poetry (which she often performs live at The Menagerie, a monthly variety show held at the Fringe Bar, Wellington), Hadassah has a blog where she explores in long form the world she sees around her. 

“Lately”, Hadassah says, “I mostly write to and for women.” At this time in our history, women have reached legislative equality but the social reality remains in stark contrast. Hadassah reflects on how this conflicted messaging can be at the very least murky, and often destructive for young women.

“It creates this kind of cognitive dissonance where we’ve grown up being told our whole lives that we can do anything now, but at the same time we’re living in this society that’s dangerous and demoralizing for us to navigate through. We’re still so underrepresented in politics, media, pop culture etc and still so overrepresented when it comes to our experiences of violence. We’re told we have to be smarter, stronger, skinnier, softer, nicer, better, more chill, more powerful than every other woman out there if we ever want to get ahead. That kind of things fascinates me, and I like being able to tell stories or use poetry to find different ways to display it.”

She tells tales of her time working in the sex industry, a topic close to her heart. With her ability to write personal stories that people can relate to, Hadassah brings an incredibly rich insight into an industry that many know little about, and are quick to throw judgement at. A vocal advocate for women working in the industry, she says that she uses her writing as a way “to humanise the industry a little bit, and let people know that sex workers are just people and sex work is real work.”

Her experience working for a domestic violence charity surrounds her with some of the darkest realities for women everyday. This work has led her to question the power that art and social commentary has to change the world around us. “I think about this a lot, and I’m not sure I have the answer. As nice as art can be at the end of the day the ones really making a difference are the people with their feet in the mud, working on the frontline.”

However, the power of the storyteller comes with their ability to give the voiceless a voice. Used in the right way, they can communicate across social boundaries, bring to life the complexity of all individuals and perhaps most importantly, share stories so that those who have remained silent can recognise that they are not alone in what they are experiencing.

“I’ve written a couple of poems that a lot of people have said really changed their outlook on life. And a few times after a blog went viral I had so many survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault reach out to let me know how much what I wrote meant to them. That’s a big deal to me - the thought that something I wrote might change the way someone thinks, or make a survivor feel like someone is speaking up for them.”

Hadassah will be performing one of her poems about her time spent working in the sex industry at the upcoming Menagerie Deluxe soon to be unleashed on the stage of the Opera House, Wellington.  

The Menagerie Deluxe promises a show as grand and as large as the days of vaudeville and music hall entertainment. It’s an extravaganza of the exciting, intriguing and strangely compelling. Emulating the grandeur of The Royal Variety Performance and the frivolity of The Muppet Show, The Menagerie Deluxe offers vaudevillian variety with a risque edge. The show features 16 different acts involving circus, dance, magic, opera, kapa haka, burlesque, comedy, poetry, drag, music along with many more oddities. Hadassah’s hot tip to look out for: Hannah Tasker-Poland - "she’s a contemporary dancer, and she’s just absolutely mind blowing. Honestly I’d watch that woman read the phonebook and I think it would be entertaining."

Don't miss out!

Menagerie Deluxe
Saturday 2nd September, 2017
The Opera House, Wellington 
7:30pm doors, show starts at 8pm

Tickets are on sale through Ticketek

Written by

Hannah Mackintosh

4 Aug 2017

Hannah is a Wellington-based writer, community organiser and lover of stories.

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