Wesley College are one of fourteen high schools that have made it through to share their spoken word stories in the semi-finals for ‘Word the Front Line.’ Students along with their teacher Sophie Jones (C16) have put this piece together reflecting on the project.
Expression is Perfection
“What are you thinking? Thinking? Think... I’d love to get inside the brain of a girl. What happens in there? Is there anything in there at all, or just butterflies flapping ’round a tank?”
“Come with me. Let’s shrink ourselves down to the size of the last smartie in the packet. Come and crouch on the hand of this South Auckland born and bred girl. Tiptoe up her sleeve, stand between her shoulders, between the whispering voices of her devils and angel. Crawl through the whispers, up her muttering ear canal, into the swirling mix of colour and brain chemistry.”
This is an excerpt from one of the Wesley College Spoken Word team’s poems, and articulates one of the best things about Spoken Word poetry: it allows the speaker to express their thoughts, and allows the audience a rare insight into someone else’s mind. In this field, expression is perfection. Spoken Word encourages young people to tell their own stories, and values honesty, integrity, and creativity. It embraces oral literacy, and there’s a definite beauty in the freedom from technical concerns that it encourages. No one’s listening for missing apostrophes or casting judgement for straying from some ‘perfect’ formula. Ken Arkind, one of the facilitators of the competition describes this form of poetry as “a way to end an argument from months or years ago.” It's a place to put unresolved issues, to speak up when you have felt silenced in the past. For those minutes with the microphone, you are given the space to speak your truth.
Word the Front Line
Traditionally, the idea of a ‘frontline’ brings bloody battlefields and muddied camouflage print to mind. The frontline soldiers are typically the bravest: they are the first to face the machine gun fire, or in this case, the first to speak up for their generation; the first to step up to confront their challenges. ‘Word the Front Line’ is a competition that is as much about developing leadership as it is about honing wordcraft. In this sense, it is the only creative battlefield of its kind. For all the connotations of warfare, this competition fosters community and collaboration, not only between team members, but also between schools. After the auditions, this year’s competition was whittled down to include fourteen schools from all over Auckland (believe me – we’re about as far South as you can get!)
Our Spoken Word team’s experience
“Throughout my school life I’ve always hated the idea of speeches and performing in front of people. I managed to avoid speeches in class for 10 years; yet somehow found myself convinced enough to join Wesley College’s Spoken Word team. It has been a great confidence boost, and overall I’ve fallen in love with it” - Calais McSheffrey, year 11.
One striking part of the competition was the way the teams support and encourage one another. Instead of keeping an eye out for a weak defence, or a flaw in the opponent’s shooting style, the backstage of ‘WTFL’ feels more like one big theatre company. This has been particularly powerful for our students, as our school is relatively isolated. It has also been a space for female voice to be strongly heard, which again is important within the heavily masculine context of Wesley College.
For year 11 student Gabrielle Togiatama, “Spoken word is cool because it gives voiceless people a platform to tell others what is on their mind. I have gained and developed poetic skills, and learnt to really connect with my emotions.”
Another aspect to the competition is the ‘community challenge’, which recognises that ‘ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi. Engari, he toa takitini.’ Success is not the work of one, but the work of many, and this encourages the teams to give back to the communities that have nurtured their growth. Sharon Tuipala (year 12 student) describes her experience of the Wesley College Community Challenge:
“Every time we attended workshops on Saturdays, we were sad to see so many homeless people without food, blankets, families, or roofs over their heads. We wanted to help in a practical way. There’s nothing to say that communities that don’t have much can’t give what they have, so we got in touch with our families, school and Churches to ask for their support, and ended up collecting bags and bags of donations - of not only clothes, sleeping bags, and food, but also kind words, prayers and personalised Bibles. After a workshop one cold, dark Saturday evening, the team and some supporters wandered the streets of Auckland, giving out our donations. We were blessed to be able to spread the love with this project and see some amazing people getting the warmth they deserve.”
After attending ‘Slam Camp’, and numerous workshops held in the beautiful Auckland Art Gallery, and battling through semi-finals, just six high schools will make it through to share their stories in the final poetry slam. Whilst we are hopeful and prepared, this competition is definitely not centred around victory. To quote Miley Cyrus (arguably a hypocritical ending to an article emphasising the importance of being original): “it’s [about] the climb.” Wesley College feels extremely privileged to have been part of this experience, and we owe a huge thank you to Action Education, the South Auckland Poet’s Collective and our amazing coaches: Billy Revell, Viola Johansson, and Damian Pereira.
Wesley College are part of the semi-finals for Word the Front Line this Saturday the 12th of August at the Town Hall at 1pm. Gold coin donation. See more details HERE.
Image Credit: Oliver Macdonald Oulds