Poem about a family past wins National Schools Poetry Award
Liberty Beck, student at Takapuna Grammar, is the 2023 winner of the National Schools Poetry Award. Liberty won the award with her poem X-MANGOES-X-SNAKES-X-RED PAPER BOATS-X.
“X-MANGOES-X-SNAKES-X-RED PAPER BOATS-X is a poem I’ve been writing for a while now, and it’s a story I’ll be writing for a long time” Liberty says. “Writing this was, in some ways, a meditation—a means of trying to listen to fragments of the stories of my family through others who share and sing it.”
The National Schools Poetry Award is run by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) with funding from Creative New Zealand, and sponsorship and promotional support from Wonderlab.
“I am still in disbelief and still registering it,” Liberty says of her win. “Sharing writing is often so vulnerable and special.”
As the winner of the National Schools Poetry Award, Liberty received a $500 cash prize, a $500 book grant for her school library, a year’s membership of the Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, a year’s membership of the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA), and a year’s subscription to leading New Zealand literary journal Landfall.
Along with the other finalists, Liberty will also attend a one-day poetry masterclass at the IIML led by poets Leah Dodd and Morgan Bach.
Liberty started writing poetry as a way of creating art for and listening to herself.
“Writing allows me to ask personal questions while letting the ambiguity of such questions exist without an answer,” she says. “It has also become something of a record of stories that would otherwise disappear; writing poetry (and any form of writing) can become a kind of revolt against forgetting.
“I love how freeing poetry can be—it gives you leeway to be as blunt or enigmatic as you want. I never have to try to force a story into a form that is dishonest to how it wants to be told.”
She says her ultimate dream is to keep on writing, and to keep her writing and her poetry as something that serves her and others—whatever that might look like. She would also love to create a collection of different writing mediums in book form one day.
“I know the process of writing doesn’t always look and feel so idyllic, but I have also always loved the idea of writing away in a Ghibli-esque cottage.”
In the immediate future, Liberty also plans to study Literary and Creative Communication, one of the subjects offered as part of the University’s Bachelor of Communication.
“I’ll be moving away from home, which is a bit nerve-wracking—but I’m really excited.”
Liberty has some advice for fellow aspiring poets.
“As long as we write with sincerity—however that looks like for us—someone in the world will be able to resonate with our writing. Above all, honouring the way we want to tell stories is the best way we can listen and become an audience to ourselves (this is me giving a pep talk to myself too).
“Also, try collecting things that resonate with you in some way. Making playlists, collages, or keeping a box of loose ephemera and scribblings help me when I am reaching for something to write about. And keep all your drafts—they are still very much alive.”
X-MANGOES-X-SNAKES-X-RED PAPER BOATS-X will be published in the Spinoff Books section on 25 August 2023 at 2 pm thespinoff.co.nz/books