7 July 2022

Poetry elevates a powerful voice

As part of our process of engagement, we invited Wellington-based poet and writer Emma Sidnam to present two spoken word poems based on the priority questions of the Review.

Poetry elevates a powerful voice

Emma, who is also a fifth-year law and literature student, selected two issues to explore through spoken word. 

“Local councils do amazing mahi for local communities, and that’s what I’m all about. I want to bring people together and help communities feel represented,” says Emma.

Nō Tāmaki Makaurau ahau

Representation is the focus of her poem Nō Tāmaki Makaurau ahau. As a fourth-generation Chinese New Zealander on her father’s side and Malaysian-Chinese on her mother’s side, Emma asks “what about those that fall in between?”

From the forms we all fill in that limit our cultural identity to the ‘mainstream’ options and the attitude that Auckland’s diversity stops it from being considered as ‘real’ New Zealand, Emma holds to account the misconceptions that leave so many people feeling unseen. 

A self-confessed ‘huge advocate’ for representation, Emma says she’d love to see a more empathetic Aotearoa. 

‘“Everybody deserves to feel seen. I strongly believe we need to see art showing different ethnicities, sexualities, genders, abilities, religions and body types. I make art because I have to, because I love it, but I also hope that by adding my voice I’m helping somebody feel seen.”

“I love having the opportunity to reach people through my writing. If even one person feels seen by my poetry, I feel like I’ve succeeded.”’ — Emma Sidnam

Dear future daughter

Emma’s second poem, Dear future daughter, focuses on the effects of climate change that will be the legacy we create for the next generation. This letter from the poet to an imagined future daughter apologises for the difference between Emma’s own world, where in her childhood she “could stand barefoot in the grass at dusk, feel soft mud oozing through the gaps in my toes, Papatūānuku pregnant with the odour of dirt,” and laments “how easily we let nature disappear in our hands."

‘“Eventually, the earth that birthed us needed us to save her and we failed.”’ — Emma Sidnam

Emma issues a warning that we must move now to reduce the impacts of climate change; a concern shared by youth via Get Vocal in Your Local submissions who urge councils to take greater responsibility to care for the environment. 

How Emma’s words are making an impact

Emma’s bold and confronting discussion of representation in Nō Tāmaki Makaurau ahau and her haunting warning regarding climate change in Dear Future Daughter will be used to extend our discussion and thinking in preparation for the draft report. It is our genuine hope that these poems inspire conversations around representation and climate change in the local government space.

Where to next for Emma

Emma is currently revising her debut novel, which presents her family heritage and racial identity, as well as preparing for a year-long exchange in France and Colombia to finesse her French and Spanish language skills. If you’d like to connect with Emma, you can find her on Facebook at Emma Sidnam – Performance Poet and Writer and on Instagram @emmasidnam.