Poetry Review: Rising Voices
Town Hall Concert Chamber
September 15, 2013
The packed crowd wore goosebumps during an inspiring haka last night – and I’m not talking about the All Blacks challenge to the Springboks at Eden Park. After Rising Voices finalist Te Kahu Rolleston delivered his final spoken word performance of the night his supporters in the audience rose to their feet and hammered out a deafening tribute to the 23-year-old Aucklander. “Is that cheating?” quipped MC Zane Scarborough. He had a point. Audience reaction counts for a third of the points in the poetry slam competition and Rolleston had the entire concert chamber on the edge of their seats. But it was Mohamed Hassan, 24 (pictured), who took out the title with his rousing poems digging into Islamic stereotyping, prostitution and self-awareness with some powerful writing. “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing them they didn’t exist,” Hassan roared into the microphone.
In the first half, each of the 12 contestants performed their own poems within a three-minute time limit. A dominant theme soon emerged – identity. That’s not surprising considering these young 16 to 24-yearolds are seizing the opportunity to talk publicly about what they care most about. The poems attacked identity from various directions exploring culture, childhood, family, sexuality and genetics. A notable exception was Claudia Jardine from Christchurch doling out a funny and hard-hitting critique on sexual harassment that ran too long and was sadly cut off by the timekeeping whistle. Teenager Courtney Petelo started the night off with a remarkable tearjerker on a 15-year-old’s pregnancy and depression.
Judges Jai MacDonald, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Feleti Strickson Pua had the tough task of cutting the field in half to six finalists who come out in the second half to perform another poem. This round threw up more varied and interesting subject matter and also showed the depth of preparation that the competitors had put into the event. I can’t say I fully concur with the judges’ choices – but then I doubt anyone in the audience would. The nature of spoken word is that it’s so personal that responses are similarly unique. All the contestants laid out their souls and it was fascinating to see the range of backgrounds, experience and delivery style. Ileana Lameta practically whispered into the mike, yet the maturity of the 16-year-old’s writing on suicide and mental illness had the crowd hanging on every word. Rolleston boomed with a fierce Maoritanga message that led Marsh to fittingly describe him as a “contemporary oral traditionalist”.
And then there were two. The judges picked Rolleston and Hassan – the two commanding senior males of the group – to battle it out for the title. The audience was given the deciding vote and (in spite of that haka) the crowd favoured Hassan. Look out for this talented young man. His prize includes opportunities to perform over the next few months and he’s well worth checking out. But also look out for the other wonderfully diverse names on the finalists list below. These are the young rising voices of our nation, voices worth hearing.
Champion: Mohamed Hassan
Runner-up: Te Kahu Rolleston
Ashleigh Fata Colcord