Four New Zealand teenagers who discovered slam poetry while watching YouTube videos two years ago are the first ever Australasian poets ever invited to the world's largest slam poetry competition.
Matariki Bennett, 16, Arihia Hall, 17, Manaia Tuwhare-Hoani, 16, and Terina Wichman-Evans, 17, hope to travel to the 2019 Brave New Voices Festival in Las Vegas in July. Founded in 1996, BVN attracts more than 500 13–19 year olds from around the world and audiences that number in the thousands.
Bennett, now studying at South Seas Film & Television School, describes slam poetry as spoken word performance art - a bit like rap without music. As well as the content of the poems, competitors are judged on their presentation with how it sounds one of the main criteria.
Called Ngā Hine Pūkōrero, the quartet makes work about indigenous, gender and youth issues. Last year, Ngā Hine Pūkōrero, who met at Western Springs College, competed against 44 other Auckland high school teams and won Word - The Front Line, the largest poetry slam in Aotearoa. Two months later, they won the Trans-Tasman Poetry Youth Slam in Melbourne.
Hall believes their performances stand out because they use te reo Māori and waiata. They spend a considerable amount of time writing then joining forces to craft and rehearse each poem with guidance from Action Education mentors Roman Narayan, Ken Arkina and Stevie Davis-Tana.
Narayan, also a founding member of the South Auckland Poets Collective, says Action Education has found slam poetry to be particularly effective in getting young people to engage more at school and discuss issues of especial relevance to them.
"We've seen kids sitting at the back of a classroom not really taking much notice or engaging with anything then we see them start to sit up and talk," he says. "We've had teachers tell us after, 'that's the most engaged he's been all year…'"
Narayan says it allows young people start thinking more about and confronting the challenges their generation faces and share new perspectives that often go unheard. Tuwhare-Hoani and Bennett, who started Ngā Hine Pūkōrero after seeing videos on YouTube, say they were attracted to the immediacy of slam poetry and the chance to give young people a voice.
"It's so different to any other art form," Bennett says. "You know what you are saying is being heard, received and taken in. Seeing others get on the stage and just own it is an incredible thing to witness and be part of."
Tuwhare-Hoani, the great granddaughter of acclaimed NZ poet Hone Tuwhare, reckons her tupuna would be extremely proud of the way young people are making poetry their own.
While the plan is to leave in July for BNV, funds are still needed to get the young poets to the USA. They've started their own Givealittle page where people can donate and tonight pizza and poetry will come together. Domino's stores across Auckland will be holding a "Doughraiser" from 5pm to 8pm tonight