It's the end of slam season for Motif Poetry, the biggest in our five year history. Otago, Tauranga, Hawke's Bay, Wellington. Heats, finals, structure, support. New friends, growing communities, a lot of poetry and a lot of spirit. It's everything we could have hoped for five years ago.
This country is lousy with poets. In every town, city, corner dairy and public pool (true story) there are poets who deserve to be on a stage. Wherever we run events they come out of the woodwork in droves. Unique, unpublished, under-appreciated. We had 20 people compete for 12 spots at this years Hawkes Bay Slam. Tauranga, 30. Wellington, 40. There are sign-ups for next year already.
These events always feel against the odds. Sticking out like an underfunded thumb, surprising punters. One audience member in Hastings looked baffled by the packed room. "They must all know someone in the show" she said to me, not believing poetry could find a diverse, vibrant audience.
Poetry slam brings people together. It gives direction to poets and entices the public. A remarkable thing for a format that turns 38 this month.
It's also really, really weird. Slam is paradox. Poems are scored by random, often first-time audience members, yet the winners are treated to profile and opportunity. We focus on safety and support because the structure is so judgemental. We know the scoring is never fair, so we define the kaupapa with catchy catchphrases like: the point is not the points, the point is the poetry.
More accurate (though less pithy) is that the points are just one character in the play. Focus on them too hard and you lose the plot. Other characters are just as compelling. The kid in the audience who is desperate to be on stage. The unexpected conversation between poems. The first time performer getting that spotlight rush. The zeitgeist that the writing reveals.
Slam pushes. It takes the all-welcome of the open mic and adds ✨stakes✨. Comedy has the pass/fail of laughter, which hones the writing. Poetry, especially performance poetry, benefits from slam in the same way.
It's certainly not for all performers (I've never won a slam in my life) but the point really is not the points. Most of the magic happens offstage, in the interval, in the kōrero and the experience. The format is weird but when everyone is on board it becomes weird in a good way. A game we're playing. A joke we're all in on.
My sincere congratulations to the poets who have performed at our events this year. You're all winners. Keep writing & see you next year.
Did you hear the Prime Minister of New Zealand had a baby?
We put together a poem to mark the occasion, bringing together five well-known kiwi and New Zealand-based poets to each contribute a few lines. Then the final piece was edited together by our Lead Artist and Education Director Sara Hirsch. Since we posted it on facebook last Thursday we've reached over 25 000 people, 3 000 of whom have clicked on the poem to take a closer look. A really great reach for our first group poetry project. We're grateful to a couple of our friends who passed the piece on to the Prime Minister.
Let us know if you think there are any other upcoming events you'd like to see kiwi poets respond to, otherwise enjoy our poem entitled How-to New Zealand.
Kia ora whānau ruri, and welcome to our first blog post. We've been working hard since February to bring more poetry to more places in Aotearoa, and thought now would be a good time to say kia ora. While we're here, check out a couple of videos we've released on facebook over the last few weeks, showcasing the work of Sara Hirsch and Jess Holly Bates. Filmed at the National Youth Drama School in Havelock North.