American poet, educator and activist Carrie Rudzinski first came to New Zealand on a backpacking trip in 2011. She fell in love with the country and relocated to Aotearoa with fellow poet and soon to be partner, Ken Arkind. Both poets are big names in the international slam poetry scene, and have worked hard to help grow the local poetry community, organising competitions and workshops around the country.
On the 22nd of September, Carrie is kicking off a tour of her poetry show How We Survive with Wellington poet Olivia Hall. Carrie describes the show as “a fierce, funny and personal look at what it is to be a woman alive in 2019”. I caught up with Carrie to talk about the show, her recent TED talk and the importance of political poetry.
The production started as a one off show back in 2016. The Facebook event was attacked by misogynist trolls, who reported the event until it was taken down. But this turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Their plan backfired,” Carrie says. “Our event not only sold out but spawned into a seven city tour and How We Survive was born.”
With Olivia currently living in London, both the show and tour were put together remotely.
“We’re very excited to finally be together in the same place” Carrie says “We just really love performing on stage together - we genuinely are friends and love sharing our poetry and stories with a captive audience.”
“We just really love performing on stage together - we genuinely are friends and love sharing our poetry and stories with a captive audience.”
The version of the show they’re taking on the road has had a complete rewrite, and Carrie promises that they don’t hold back, saying the show is about “joy and pain and survival and celebration. We want to celebrate this survival with our audience.”
As well as booking a nationwide tour and rewriting her show, Carrie recently traveled to Christchurch to be part of a TEDx event. Her theme was Turangawaewae “which roughly translates to the place I belong or stand. My first poem was directly about this: my experience as an American moving to New Zealand and grappling with what it means to have or not have a place to belong to.”
When I ask about getting that idiosyncratic TED talk tone, Carrie explains she watched a number of different talks to figure out what she liked and didn’t. From all reports the talk was a huge success
“I say in my talk that I don’t feel like I’ve done my job unless I or my audience is crying - and I cried with and hugged like 600 people after the talk, so it was good!”
American poet, educator and activist Carrie Rudzinski
As we're both poets known for the political nature of our work, the conversation soon turns to politics, and the importance for artists to use their platforms to push back against power.
“We look back at the great artists and activists of the past and we say look how brave they were - but this is who we are now.”
“I am honestly not sure there is anything more important,” Carrie says. “We look back at the great artists and activists of the past and we say look how brave they were - but this is who we are now. I cannot separate the political from the personal - it is such a part of who I am and what I write about. Art is what pushes me to think, to reflect, to better understand the world around me and the systems of power that need to be dismantled.”
It’s no secret that Aotearoa is in the middle of a poetry renaissance, Carrie describes the country’s voice as unique and unspoiled.
“It’s vibrant and varied, with a genuine love of personal storytelling, Auckland is more political and serious, Wellington tends to have quite a bit of humour, Christchurch has a heartwarming storytelling ability, Golden Bay has those classic great bush poets you can’t replicate”
If people want to catch some live some poetry, Carrie recommends Aucklanders check out the JAFA Poetry Slam “a monthly poetry slam I co-run. But there is such a boom in poetry events in New Zealand you can’t go wrong - check out New Zealand Poetry Slam for more info on National and local events.”