WORD Christchurch 2023: Dirty Passports and Diverse Experiences

When I signed up to attend this show, I asked myself what I would expect from it. I am not a poet, although I am interested in issues related to the passport and love the wisdom put into words. Now, I can tell you that attending the event of Dirty Passports is joyful and thought-provoking. 

Bringing this sell-out show to his hometown, Chinese-Kiwi playwright Nathan Joe has curated a celebration of the six finest BIPOC storytellers and spoken word artists. They presented poetic works to a crowd of audience in Tūranga in the evening of Thursday 24 August.

Josiah Morgan (Kāi Tahu, Ngāti Maniapoto), a young talent majoring in history, English and anthropology, read a poem called Fragments. Josiah read a few fragments and dropped off envelopes to three members in the audience as the last fragment. Nathan commented on his usage of fragments as reconstruction and deformation. It seems that there is nothing to do with the passport in Josiah's presentation. However, he showed the audience a way of discovering and rediscovering the world. 

Khadro Mohamed, one of the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2023 Poetry Winners, read poems from her book We're All Made of Lightning. The audience was impressed by the simplicity of her writing style and her ability to capture life moments. Khadro described the experience of being a Muslim woman in Aotearoa. Her journey of self formation would be attributed to simple lessons that built on each other over time, like learning about the fact that the Julian calendar is 10 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. Her poems explored the diversity and reminded the audience of differences between individuals. She found it was easy to express herself and her relationship with whakapapa through poetry. 

Vanessa Crofskey read poems from her phone on which her passport was saved. She amusingly shared her experience in growing up in a Malaysian immigrant family in New Zealand, explored values of friendship and ideas of desire, sexuality and love in the cross-cultural context. 

At this point, Nathan Joe summarized how previous artists spoke about individuals as the agency to do what they wanted. Nathan then examined the passport in a broad context through his poems. He retraced his ancestors, arts, culture and the paradigm which he had to leave behind and how our practices in New Zealand colonize cultures. He commented,

"the passport is dirty in numerous countries including this one".

Kevin Jared Hosein, a special international guest, shared his own experience in using his passport on the boarder when he travelled to New Zealand recently. His poem about the passport examined its meanings to individuals. His second poem was about his experience of the World Cup, during which a company would promise its citizens $20 for every score the country gained. He criticized how this practice has put everyone in a single pair of lenses. 

Zephyr Zhang read the poems she wrote about her daily life, like visiting a mall and taking sick leave. She explored her Chinese culture origin and reflected on celebrating Chinese New Year and the colour of red. The amusement of her presentation generated lots of laughter and applause from the audience.

Juanita Hepi (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, Ngāti Mutunga, Moriori, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Wai, Ngāpuhi) discussed indigenous storytelling and being a Māori woman. She criticized how institutional practice has excluded non-white storytelling. 

Finally, Nathan summarized presentations by these word artists and noted that conversations mentioned in these presentations were not happening and things were being forgotten. He hoped that conversations, thoughts and confessions shared in the evening would be a starter. We are different while being regulated by the passport, a universal institutional tool. The voices in the poetic form by these artists indicate how individuals as the agency can make changes. 

Find out more