OTHER VOICES: Grace Iwashita Taylor
New Zealand’s Grace Iwashita-Taylor is a Shaper and a poet.
She lives her life as a single mother, as a loving daughter trying to deal with the realities and challenges of her beloved mother’s decline into dementia and as a youth worker in a place that is one of the most expensive places to live on the planet.
She is also an award-winning spoken word and published poet, playwright, and performer.
The poet’s upu (words) circle around and around the varied ideas of self and identity, of race and culture and the politics thereof, and of transcending the ramifications and nuances of living in the modern aftermath of the historic dispossession of the island peoples of Pasifika.
Slam poet Taylor spits out powerful and moving answers to the biggest of life-questions: WHO AM I?
Published poet Taylor has gathered her life-built poems into two books so far.
Her first book, AFAKASI SPEAKS: Poems by Grace Teuila Evelyn Taylor debuted in 2013 and features the work that grew out of her earliest attempts at self-discovery and self-expression.
Her second book, FULL BROKEN BLOOM, was published in 2018 and presents poems that document and expose the ways she navigated through the pain and the anger resulting from betrayal and the end of a long-term relationship and shares how she moved through it towards her own healing and a new beginning.
As a Shaper, she lives her answers out loud as she builds her own life around the truths and the people she holds dear.
LIVING THE ANSWERS LEAVES NOWHERE TO HIDE
Taylor self-identifies as an “afakasi”, the Samoan word for “mixed-blood.” (The connotations of the word are a more intense version of the Harry Potter “mud-blood” epithet.) The poet’s mixed bloodlines of Samoan, English, and Japanese are an important piece of the package.
Growing up, her sensitivity about being afakasi (and “not-belonging”) was her greatest vulnerability. It became the lens through which she focused her exploration of her world, the people around her, and her own sense of self.
She stands on-stage and offers up her guts to her audience. There is no hiding away from Life-Its-Own-Self in her work.
Taylor’s various projects, her collaborations, the causes she advocates for, and her accomplishments – the poems, the organizations she has been instrumental in helping to make come real and the way she continues to live her truths out loud – all grew out of that early beginning.
This 2012 YouTube video, uploaded by Dietrich Soakai, features Taylor reciting her poem, “Being Afakasi”.
Sometimes her thoughts led her to tell stories about the realities of the struggles of the island peoples in our postmodern world, like this poem she spoke at the 2013 Creative New Zealand conference.
And sometimes, like this poem presented at the Auckland Museum’s “Urbanlife 2012: Navigating Spaces” show that showcased the poetry of Polynesian youth, Taylor’s poems hold out gifts of hope and an urging to keep on dreaming, to keep on making your own truths real.
Through the years she continues to grow and evolve as her creative visions expand and embrace the world she inhabits.
GROWING LIKE A TREE
The first video above was produced by the South Auckland Poets Collective (SAPC), a group comprised of champion performance and published poets gathered together by Taylor and her co-founders and fellow poets Ramon Narayan and Daren Kamali.
The group was one of the sprouts that grew from the poet’s work with a fifty-year-old national initiative, Youthline, that nurtures and supports young people throughout New Zealand. The SAPC poet group uses spoken word and written and slam poetry as tools for positive social change.
Another sprout was The Rising Voices Youth Poetry Movement, which grew out of the need to develop a poetry slam for young people outside of the pubs and bars where most slams are held. Taylor collaborated with another champion slam poet Jai MacDonald, to help bring that one to life. It helped to spark an international effort that provides a place for young poets to find their own voices and tell their own stories.
She even has her own TEDx Talk, “The Power of Words,” which she presented in 2013 at the TEDxAuckland event. (You can click the button below to access the talk.)
She has “made theater” as a director and as a playwright. She has even explored digital storytelling. And Taylor still joins with other fellow poets and creatives to organize public shows and exhibits that feature the voices of Pasifika peoples.
THE VALUE OF VULNERABILITY AND BALANCE
In a Serum Digital Magazine post published in 2020, Taylor explains to her interviewer Aleyna Martinez,
“I’m not the best writer, poet or performer but vulnerability…that’s my strength as a creative. It has taken me some time and skill to understand the strength in that, and be able to be open, and from the gut, but to also keep myself safe…
As a fellow-poet, there was another thing she said that really resonated with me:
“I decided for myself, that I really do believe that my words can change shit. Anything I share with anyone whether it’s one-on-one or whatever, it doesn’t have to have a resolution or a pretty ending but it has to be life-giving.”
In the Serum Digital interview, Taylor admitted that she was still working on developing a synergy that uses and embraces all of the varied elements of her life – the 9 to 5 day job that pays the bills, working on creative projects as a side gig, speaking her own truths, and taking care of her son and devoting time and attention to her mother too – to achieve a better balance in her life.
I think the biggest impact has been becoming aware of my energy as a currency. When I first started in my arts career I’d say yes to everything and I would just run myself fucken ragged.
Now I know my worth as an artist. I’m very clear about my boundaries so I’m not going to say yes to a creative project just for the moment or just because who is involved. It has to align with my own values and my own kaupapa (aspirations, vision and purpose).
At the time of the interview, Taylor was still trying to get the balance right. Like the rest of us she keeps working on it.
Header Photo: “Mysterious Balance” by Andy via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Please note: If you would like to contribute a poem to this blog, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’d be happy to hear from you.
I do ask three things of my guest poets:
- a poem of your own making that has great meaning and mana for you,
- the back-story for the poem — what inspired you or how you made it or whatever you want to tell about it, and
- an image that I can use as the featured photo in the header. (The last is optional. I do ask that the image you share is one you own — either an image of yourself or something that relates to the poem. If you choose not to send an image, then I’ll go find something that works.)
If you click on this thing –> “Guest Poet Portal” you can submit a poem right now.
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
6 thoughts on “OTHER VOICES: Grace Iwashita Taylor”
What a beautiful and inspiring website. You can actually feel the calm confidence radiate through the words on the page and the videos. It’s magical to hear the poem in the artists own voice!
I hope that just a bravo is constructive and helpful to you in this and any future endeavours!
Many congratulations on a beautiful job!
Elaine, I do thank you for your kind words. I appreciate it. I agree that spoken poetry can be magic, especially when it’s the artist talking.
Please come again.
Full broken bloom was Taylor’s job that I first read. The writing style was unique and fascinating. Top of it was how she described her pains from her broken relationship. But she did not leave her readers in pain. She also moved them to her new life.
I love it when you say she builds her life around truths
I enjoyed your take on Taylor’s style: “…she did not leave readers in pain. She also moved them to her new life.” Wonderful!
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Parameter. I do appreciate it.
Please do come again.
Thank you for the inspired article Netta highlighting New Zealand’s Grace Iwashita-Taylor, the spoken word and book publishing poet.
I really enjoyed reading of the circumstances Ms. Iwashita-Taylor lives and breathes in as she creates her artistic poetry.
I notice you call her a “Shaper” and this is a term I haven’t run into before. Is a Shaper sort of like an influencer or do they have to practice some kind of artistic creativity to qualify for that term?
Joseph, I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post.
“Shaper” is a thought-concept that I am playing with and trying to develop as an overall theme for my site, I think. The word comes from the sport of surfing. A “shaper” in that water-world is the artisan/surfer who designs and makes the boards that he or a fellow athlete uses to ride on the waves.
The best shapers are usually very good surfers and water-men and -women who pay attention to how their board reacts and interacts with the water and with their own interactions with the ocean. As they get better on the waves and in their sport, they often become fascinated with the process of making their board a better vehicle for doing their sport.
The very best shapers have many fans who are professional athletes who commission them to make the boards to their own custom specifications. Some of these shapers have factories and shops that produce and sell the boards they design. The best have helped the athletes reach new levels of performance.
There is, I think, one level that’s higher than shaper in this rarefied water-world and that’s boatwright. (They, of course, make wooden boats, which is a whole other level of cool.) I like that about this concept. The coolness has room to grow.
My own thought is that every one of us humans is a born shaper of our own lives and of our own worlds. The decisions we make and how we walk in the world actually creates how our lives and worlds grow and make them our own.
You might like to check out an earlier post, “Beyond Stuff Love (Part 2): Material Mind.” (Here’s the link: https://lifebuiltpoems.com/bey…)
The concept of shaping as a metaphor for making up your own life is explored a little in my story in the post about Dan Kieran, an entrepreneur in the UK who attended a workshop where he learned how to shape a surfboard of his own as he thought on how he was going to grow his business which had reached a crossroads that he was trying to navigate well.
It’s a concept I’m hoping to use as a metaphor that helps people understand and find their own best way of doing their life their own way. It is turning out to be a most interesting exploration.
Thank you for asking.
Please do come again.