An Amazing Poet, Youth Development Worker and Teaching Artist: Grace Teuila Taylor

Grace Teuila Taylor is of Samoan and European descent. She is a beautiful Mother, a Senior Youth Development Worker at Youthline, a Teaching Artist, a current Masters student at Auckland University of Technology, a published Poet, the 2008 New Zealand Poetry Idol Winner, a co-founder of the South Auckland Poets Collective (SAPC), a co-founder of Niu Navigations, co-founder of the Rising Voices Youth Poetry Movement and she is the fiancée of Poet, Author, Music Artist Daren Kamali (he was a recent guest on this blog). More recently, Grace is the 2012 Vodafone New Zealand Foundation World of Difference recipient! WOW! She is an amazing young Samoan woman who I am blessed to call my Pacific sister and a good friend! I have written and performed spoken word poetry with her as part of the South Auckland Poets Collective (my creative family). In addition, Grace and I have collaborated on a spoken word piece entitled “PASIFIKA WOMAN” where she and I have performed it live in Dunedin and also in Auckland. She has helped many young people to creatively share their life experiences using spoken word poetry as the medium and I admire her passion for youth work and poetry. She is a humble young woman indeed. Her journey is inspirational and I had invited her to share some of her experiences and thoughts on this blog. I am honoured that she was kind enough to lend her time. Enjoy the interview (Note:  MP = Maryanne Pale and GT = Grace Taylor).

MP:  Thank you Grace for your time, I really appreciate it! Teuila is your middle name and it is a Samoan name, can you please explain what it means and also how your Samoan cultural heritage has influenced your life and in particular your poetry writing/performance?

GT:  Thank you for having me be a part of your blog. To answer your question, Teuila is the national flower of Samoa, you probably know it best by the annual Teuila Festival (of which I have yet to attend).  My father wanted one of my names to be after a flower and my mother wanted a Samoan name to reflect my heritage.  My cultural heritage and identity is a massive part of my poetry.  My first well known poem, or ‘goldy oldy’ was based on my childhood experience of being afakasi (half caste) – called “Being Afakasi”.  It was the first poem I performed that received so much response from and my ‘aahh’ moment that I was blessed with a platform through poetry to potentially start conversations, challenge, voice, celebrate voices and stories of not only myself but those that have been unable to do so.

MP:  That is truly beautiful and I love your “Being Afakasi” piece, it’s very moving and you’re right, that particular piece voices out truth that others may shy away from adressing. Growing up, who were the inspirations that influenced your life in general?

GT:  Well if I think back to my high school days I guess I was heavily influenced by people, experiences and things outside of my family.  My friends were a huge part in shaping my decision making and how I developed my ideas about what relationships looked like (love, friends, social).  Music and fashion was a massive part of those years too.  Gwen Stefani from the band No Doubt was a huge style icon for me, which lead to pink hair, blue hair and my first obvious outlet of creativity via my crazy hairstyles.  Music also introduced me to poetry.  I’ve always been around music but I started to pay more attention to lyrics in songs rather than the music. I was fascinated with how words could be put together, I guess I discovered the beauty of words.  Songwriters like Ben Harper and Bic Runga were huge inspirations.

MP:  I believe creativity is expressed in many different ways and it would have been awesome to see you in pink or blue hair LOL! In relation to your poetry work, who have been the pivotal people that have helped to shape you are a poet today?

GT:  My partner in life, love and poetic crime Daren Kamali.  I had never shared my poetry with anyone until I meet him.  Daren and I meet through a youth poetry programme he was running and when he found out I liked to write, he told me to get my journal out of the car and start sharing….literally.  He then went on to push me to audition for Poetry Idol 2008, which I went on to win in classic underdog style.  Daren is my best sounding board for my poetry, always challenges me and inspires me with just doing what he does.

The founding of the South Auckland Poets Collective inspired me as I vibe off seeing others find their voice and share their stories.  SAPC introduced me what can be produced by working in collective creative spaces.  SAPC is my baby for sure, my poetry family.

Other poets inspire me, grow me artistically.  Some of my favourites both as writers and as performers would be, one of my mentors Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh, Tusiata Avia, Albert Wendt, John Pule, Craig Santos Perez, Daren Kamali (I know that sounds cliché), All my SAPC family, Sunny Paterson (see link below)

GT:  Lemon Anderson (see link below)

GT:  Now I have to speak about this poet (Lemon Anderson) as he has had a huge impact on the poet I am striving to be.  A real artist.  I meant Lemon in May this year and was honoured to share the stage with him.  He shared so much experience, ideas, education with Daren and I.  Thank you bro! More recently, thanks to my Malaga to USA; Michael Cirelli (see link below)

GT:  Taylor Mali (see link below)

GT:  My audience also shapes my poetry, part of my writing process is starting with ‘what is the purpose of my poem’, is it to educate, inform, inspire, challenge.  My people and my identity hugely influence my writing themes.

Grace Taylor and Daren Kamali’s gorgeous son, Darae!

MP:  Wow! You are definitely surrounded by some amazing people! I love that! You are a Mother which is a blessing! How has Motherhood influenced your writing?

GT:  Yes, I love my son! I think motherhood has influenced my writing in that it has heightened its importance to exist.  It is my history I am writing, my legacy that can be gifted to my son.  More so motherhood has influenced how, where, when I perform and also has forced me to be disciplined to create and value the time and spaces to actually write.

MP:  I love that and Darae is such a lil’ cutie! When you are not writing and/or performing poetry, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

GT:  Aside from my 9-5 youth development worker job and spending time with family, I absolutely love relaxing watch movies and trash TV. Tragic I know, but Shortland Street omnibus, ENews…..bring it on!

MP:  LOL! I know what you mean, I do exactly the same hehe! What would your advice be for readers who have written poetry but have not yet had the chance to share their work in front of a live audience?

GT:  I would say, give it a go. . .there is something so empowering sharing your written word.  I think of spoken word poetry as breathing life into your words.  Everytime you share/perform your poetry it evolves, I love watching my poetry grow and transform.

MP:  Absolutely! You are one of the co-founders for the South Auckland Poets Collective, please explain for the readers how it all began.

GT:  SAPC was birthed out of a youth development creative arts project with Youthline and the Creative Communities Scheme.  Fellow cofounder, Ramon  Narayan and I were asked to carry out a youth engagement programme with youth from South Auckland that produced a creative output to be performed at the Splore Festival in 2008.  We both really liked spoken word poetry, and thought people would just expect dance or music so we thought we would test out poetry, and were overwhelmed with the interest.  We were in no way well versed in it so we asked Daren Kamali to be involved and hold the artistic side of the programme.  We workshopped throughout the summer holidays of 2007 and performed at the Splore Festival.  Audience response was massive but more importantly the young people loved it and they actually initiated the idea to continue to what is known today as the South Auckand Poets Collective.

Grace Taylor performing at the Library Bar

MP:  You guys have done an awesome job and I’m blessed to be a part of SAPC. You toured the States recently with members of the South Auckland Poets Collective for the Brave New Voices Conference, how was that experience?

GT:  I loved it, for a change I was the student a complete sponge to all the knowledge, skills and education I was exposed too.  More than anything though it only cemented even more the need for our Pacific voices to not only be shared and heard on a international scale, but to have a impact.  We have something so unique and deeply rooted, I am so proud of who we are as a people and it was an honour to be an ambassador for my people in USA.

MP:  Amazing and it would have been fulfilling indeed! While you were in the States you travelled to Wisconsin with your fiancée Daren Kamali and you guys were able to meet so many different American Poets. Who were they? And how was that experience for you?

GT:  Our time at the University of Wisconsin – Madison was so fulfilling as a poet and teaching artist.  We meet some amazingly talented young poets that attend a one of a kind school called the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives http://omai.wisc.edu/ – if I already wasn’t in the degree I am now I would be there in a heartbeat.

We were honoured to attend workshops and meet poets such as Taylor Mali (Poet, Teacher), Mahogany Brown (Poet, Host of the home of spoken word poetry the Nuyorican Poets Cafe), Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz (Professor and Urban Education Specialist), Dr Chris Emdin (Hip Hop Scientist, thats right you read right (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYpcqntL8O0) & Michael Cirelli (CEO of Urban Word NYC).

MP:  You have returned to NZ with a wealth of knowledge about Spoken Word poetry and how they present it in the States. How will you use that information to share it with the young people here in New Zealand?

GT:  I don’t even know where to start to explain, USA did remind us (Daren and I) and fuel a huge inspiration to have our Pacific voices in spaces that haven’t been touched.USA was only the start of the movement we leading, so I guess what I can say is WATCH THIS SPACE – Niu Navigations on the move and its big.

Grace Taylor during a poetry workshop.

MP: Speaking of Niu Navigations, this is you and your fiancée Daren Kamali’s new company right, what is the vision for this company?

GT:  Niu Navigations holds a vision of ‘navigating Pacific voices through poetry’.  For centuries our stories and histories were told for us, Niu Navigations is about taking ownership for our own past, present and future through the vehicle of poetry both written and spoken.  The spoken word movement in Aotearoa and the wider Pacific is growing so fast and there exists a need for leadership, for a place where poets can come for artistic development, creative community, resources, support, networking and professional development in the Arts.  We have been working really hard to make poetry accessible to our people and to develop wider audiences for poetry.  We want to share our knowledge, our blessings and opportunities for our people. Watch This Space!  We have some very exciting projects coming up and can’t wait to share them with everyone.

MP:  You are currently working on your Masters thesis and your topic is based on spoken word poetry. Please share with us briefly on your goals in your academic pursuit?

GT:  Anything I do academically is only in pursuit of strengthening the vision of what I do practically. My Masters Research is “Young people redefining youth development through the vehicle of spoken word poetry: A case study of afakasi identity in Aotearoa.”  My research is not for me, it is for my people and the movement of spoken word poetry in Aotearoa and the wider Pacific.

MP: I love it and I can’t wait to read your thesis! Your passion for youth work and poetry is carried into all aspects of your life which is amazing! Working with young people is something that you do on a professional level and you have incorporated spoken word poetry into your work. How have your experiences empowered you to further share your passion with spoken word poetry within the community?

GT:  I truly believe in the power of spoken word poetry. I am a lover of words, of speaking truths, of initiating conversations,of reading, of listening, of inspiring and being inspired.  The entire process empowers people.  From being an audience member, taking a leap into writing, sharing, editing, thinking critically, performing, taking critique and advocating.  All I have achieved and am aspiring towards with my poetry is (to quote Lemon Anderson) “a rhythmless void” unless it can pave way for other people.

“I am the movement

Liberating a pollution of resistance.

I am the disturbance

To congested souls.

I am a sea

Exceeding the volume.”

MP:  What would your advice be for young people who are interested in writing and/or performing poetry?

GT:  Find a community of writers, whether it be 1 or 5 people. Creatively feed yourself. Spoken word poetry is 50% your voice and 50% listening to other poets. Read. Write. If you ever slam – always stay to the end to listen to the others even if you get eliminated in previous rounds. Honour the stage – it is a privilege to be on the stage, not a right. Hit as many open mic nights you can. Tell other poets what you like about their poetry. Be honest, dig deep. What is your story? Never forget the heart of your poem.

MP:  I love the last part! Thank you so much sis for your time! I truly appreciate it!

GT:  Much love sis and thank you for having me as a guest on your blog!

Grace Taylor and fellow Poet Jai MacDonald will be hosting the 2012 Rising Voices Youth Poetry Slam which will take place on the 22nd September 2012. Check out the link below for more details:

2012 RISING VOICES YOUTH POETRY SLAM

For more information on Grace Teuila Taylor you can click on the link below and follow her poetic journey through her Vodafone New Zealand Foundation World of Difference Blog, click HERE!

God bless xox

4 thoughts on “An Amazing Poet, Youth Development Worker and Teaching Artist: Grace Teuila Taylor

  1. Saane Fifita says:

    Hi Maryanne,
    I can tell from the interview that Grace’s heart is set on poetry and helping the youth. That’s awesome to see! Thank you for sharing this. Grace’s journey is inspiring!
    Malo,
    Saane

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