Loose Canons: Grace Iwashita-Taylor
Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
Grace Iwashita-Taylor is a poet, performer and curator of Silo Theatre’s UPU.
When I first met poetry, it was through the lyrics of my favourite songwriters. Meticulously playing and rewinding and replaying their songs on cassettes just so I could write the lyrics down in a notebook. As a teenager I would buy albums and open up the sleeve to read the lyrics before I would even play the music.
The other way I met poetry was through Shakespeare, by way of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Or to be more specific it was Leonardo smoking a cigarette, writing sonnets in his notebook with the Venice sun setting behind him. The alluring cliche of the tragic romantic to a teenager! That then led to me stealing The Complete Works of Shakespeare from my Year 11 English class, the only time I have ever stolen anything. It wasn’t long before I started to write my own words, but I dared not call it poetry for a couple of years. Poetry did become the language that makes the most sense to me, in my world of many languages. When I read poetry that thrills me, resonates with me, it is the same as making slow glorious love. It is orgasmic.
Poetry my greatest lover, forever constant, never stumbling.
THE POLYTRICKS OF AFAKASI
I spent the first six years of my ‘taking it seriously’ poetry writing and performance life navigating the confluence of my mixed bloodlines of Samoan, English and Japanese heritage. Writing about my afakasiness through poems gifted me permission to play with words, images, meanings and concepts and became a tool for me to address the identity politics within myself and my environment. It provided the playground I needed to coin new words to describe my supposed identity mess, to redefine terms and definitions placed on me, release them into the world and see what happens.
My afakasi experience provided me with lenses to see the world. It is never one view because I am constantly in multiple worlds. This is a superpower, because it provides a wide landscape to pull inspiration and dance your imagination within. It allows you to look at a subject from multiple angles all at once. Which in the early days skewed my sense of belonging, but once I realised that it was actually a muscle I could flex, this became one of my greatest assets as a creative.
I take note of the small things. Read between the lines when someone speaks, the inflection in their tone, the body language and more so what they don’t say. I love to study the behaviour of people and how they interact with the environment around them. I am the one that will sit in an airport lounge, watch people and make up stories about where and why they are going to their destination. When I walk down the street, street signs catch my eye and I play with them in my head and create my own images. When I sit as an audience member at a poetry gig, it is the nuances of the poem being shared that will grab my attention the most. It is the nuances that inspire my creative mind to tick and something I focus on building into my poems when I write. This is a characteristic of my personality that has the potential to also cause a little chaos in other areas of my life, but hey, it makes for great content to write poetry.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
I am less interested in the destination and fully obsessed with the creative process, the malaga, of the creation. Any artist I admire, whatever genre, I become a student of their creative process. Any artwork that thrills me, whatever genre, I ask “How did you do that?”. When I am immersed in my creating process it requires me to be selfish. As mother and all the other roles I hold in my life, I have to ensure that I carve that time out intentionally because once fully committed, I am lost in that world for three days straight at a time. For me, writing a poem, theatre work or book is a commitment to entering a sanctuary of tension between something that fully resonates and something that completely fails to make sense. I love this space. The creative process is a golden mess and I am all for it because within it I become an evolved version of myself.
I do not exist by accident. I hold a strong belief that as a creative I am the extension of those before me, a sibling to those in my now and a pathway creator for those that will be after me. It is because of this reason I acknowledge my creative gafa/genealogy always. Especially writers, poets and storytellers of Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa. They have a direct impact on not only my craft but on how I shape myself as a storyteller. It is living one of the well known Samoan values of fa’aaloalo, that act of showing respect. And it is also acknowledging one truth I believe in that in the creative world there is nothing 100% new. Just reimagined, edited, evolved, stripped down, built up and upcycled versions of many creations before you. This is one of the reasons why our show UPU exists.
My spirit of advocacy married my language of poetry through my many years as a youth worker. I would use my poetry as a platform to contribute to truth speaking for unfair situations of my community, namely South Auckland and our Pasifika people. In 2017, when my mother was diagnosed with dementia, the injustice of legislation around the access to financial support for her care hit very close to the bone. Left with navigating the tough health journey of my beautiful mother coupled with the immense financial strain of the thousands of dollars a month for her care due to government legislation quickly shifted the function of how I could use my art for advocacy. My platforms as a poet and creative then became a vital space to raise the silent issue that not just my family experience, but that of far too many others in Aotearoa. This made me realise that my poetry was a privileged platform to speak my truth. A privilege I do not take lightly. This is when my poetry mantra I had adopted for myself a couple of years ago from the Samoan proverb, E le papeva se upu meaning not a word stumbles filled me with purpose that every word I write and voice requires specific intention. Because in this space, storytelling becomes urgent. It becomes vital to the survival of my aiga/family and village. And this is where I land, poetry as life giving.
UPU runs 5–15 March 2020 at Auckland’s Silo Theatre. Buy tickets here.
Feature image: Grace Iwashita-Taylor, photograph by Pati Solomona Tyrell