When things go south ... We'll deal with them like south

South Auckland poet Caitlin Jenkins has won the IIML National Schools Poetry Award with her poem South. From the villages of Fatai (in Tonga) and Toi (in Niue) and of New Zealand European descent, the Year 13 student at Papatoetoe High School won this year’s IIML National Schools Poetry Award that celebrates the rich cultural histories of South Auckland.

Of the winning poem, Judge Tayi Tibble says that it “cleverly explores the relationship between people and place, tangata and whenua.”

She adds that “the poem reminded me of a chant, or a prayer. It hit a perfect chord of being both staunch and critical, but also forgiving and hopeful.”

Caitlin says, “I’m feeling very honoured and grateful to receive this award. ‘South’ is a poem dedicated to my Pasifika and Māori communities of South Auckland. 

“We have forever been taught to accept the mould the rest of New Zealand has put us in, but this poem is proof that only we can shape us, that we can reverse the damage and grow from it something beautiful. Please take this poem and welcome it into you, and when you enter our streets, remember us by it.”


our streets grow tread marks in the pattern of tapa cloth,
the men in blue roam them recreating
Da Vinci —
bronze skin mona lisa.
who knew your last supper would be a $2.50 Big Ben pie and a bottle of stars—
will we ever breathe the same freedom
as our brothers north and west?
cause oceania’s waves feel a little too familiar in the backseat
gps broken cause somehow it only circles round these streets—
you are but a direction on auckland’s map,
folded tightly into the plastic corners of
red and blue led lights,
police siren jams but not the jawsh 685 type
… forever branded as the bottom
the south of new zealand…
but it’s okay,
we’ll tau’olunga on their disrespect
wake them up at dawn with our cheehoos
breathe a brown colour palette back into their colourless minds
love us enough to not need it from anyone else
grow with each other
be strong with each other
block out their white noise with white noise
fill the cracks of Aotearoa’s pavements with more reasons to love south…
and put us back on the map…
unfold us out of the plastic corners of red and blue led lights
help reverse the damage of our roots with the healing of our new generations
cause leaves still bloom even more beautiful after the fall
for when our streets grow tread marks
we’ll repaint them with coconut oil and fala paongo,
when the world wants our faces to kiss the concrete
we’ll still be safe in the arms of papatuanuku
cause when things go south—
we’ll deal with them like south—
with the love our roots nourish us in….
bronze skin mona lisa,
who knew your last supper would be a feast of the colonised minds…
undo the bleaching of your brown colour palette
refill them with all shades of you
cause no direction will define where we’re really from,

Poet – Caitlin Jenkins

The 2021 National Schools Poetry Award is organised by the IIML with the support of Creative New Zealand with sponsorship and promotional support from Wonderlab. CLICK HERE



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