Prominent Auckland poets are helping to lead an innovative community poetry project, which will start this week during Matariki, the Maori New Year.
Michele Leggott and Selina Tusitala Marsh, known as the rap poet, are involved in the project, which has been developed as a partnership between The University of Auckland, local communities and the Michael King Writers’ Centre in Devonport.
The project kicks off this week with a series of school poetry workshops around the theme of Matariki. The workshops, involving at least 10 schools at primary, intermediate and secondary level, are being held in Otahuhu, Devonport and the North Shore. Students are challenged to write a million poems for Matariki.
Several posters have been designed to celebrate different aspects of Matariki, including stars, kite flying and harvesting. Students are able to choose the theme they like and write their poems on the posters, which will be gathered up and displayed in local communities. Adults are also welcome to write a poem.
As part of the project, a resource kit for teachers has been developed, along with a community kit and other resources.
Matariki will be only the first of a series of topics developed as part of the project that is designed to encourage creative writing as well as helping build to build local communities.
All of the resources, teaching and community materials, as well as samples from the community projects will be brought together in a major new feature on the nzepc (New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre) web site, which is supported by The University of Auckland.
A Million Poems for Matariki was initially developed by Devonport Community Coordinator Maire Vieth in 2009. Professor Leggott worked with her on several school workshops in Devonport. More than 1,000 poems were written and due to the popularity of the project, they decided to extend the concept to cover a wider range of community poetry activities.
The project has been funded by a grant from the North Shore City Council’s ARST fund, a fund established especially to support the arts across the Auckland region. The grant is being used to develop the poetry posters, teaching material and community resource kits, as well as to develop the web site.
This year the project involves 10 schools on the North Shore and in Otahuhu. The schools taking part are Fairburn Primary School, St Josephs School, Otahuhu Intermediate School, McAuley High School and Otahuhu College. On the North Shore, the schools include Devonport Primary School, Vauxhall School, Belmont Primary, St Leo’s Catholic School and Northcote College.
The workshops will be held during Matariki, which starts this week and runs for about a month. Students will be invited to read their poems at local community events later in an event to celebrate their work at the Auckland City Library as part of New Zealand Post Poetry Day on July 30.
Later in the year, the project will be extended to schools in West Auckland, where it is proposed to offer poetry workshops on different topics.
Karren Beanland, Manager of the Michael King Writers’ Centre, says writing poetry is a fun and effective way to introduce children to creative writing and to encourage them to play with language.
“Workshops require few resources other than pen and paper, and can be easily made available to large numbers of people. Poetry can also involve performance, so it incorporates the oral traditions of many cultures. The 2009 experience ofA Million Poems for Matarikishows that poetry can be used as an agent to strengthen community ties. We are trying to build on that idea this year.
“This project is an exciting partnership involving the arts, community development and education across the Auckland region and the nzepc is a key partner. It is a well-established, well-supported and recognised poetry web site run by The University of Auckland and can provide the enduring infrastructure to ensure ongoing access for the community.”