Relating to words and writing

Jordan Hamel performs his poetry. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Jordan Hamel performs his poetry. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
New Zealand’s Young Writers Festival begins in Dunedin 
next week with a range of workshops and events to inspire young writers. Rebecca Fox talks to poet and national slam champion Jordan Hamel.


The first time Jordan Hamel stood on stage to perform his poetry, he was so nervous he felt as if he was going to throw up.

It was in front of a couple of hundred people at a friend’s music festival.

"I was absolutely terrified."

But just over six months after that experience, he won the National Poetry Slam competition.

"I got such a rush that first time. I really enjoyed it. So when a friend told me about poetry slam I thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’."

He signed up, won the competition and a trip to

San Diego to compete in the 2019 Individual World Poetry Slam Championships.

"It was an amazing experience; something I never thought I’d do."

He hopes to share some of that experience and insight with participants in a New Zealand Young Writers’ Festival (NZYWF) workshop on exploring different ways to perform poetry and prepare for poetry slam competitions.

"A lot of my advice is around focusing on what you want to say, how you want to say it and honing it. For a certain period of time you have everyone’s undivided attention, you really need to figure out what you want to do with that in a way that engages the audience and feels good for yourself."

Hamel discovered poetry thanks to a couple of teachers at his high school in Timaru.

He was interested in songwriting and music and, with their encouragement, found that poetry was not all "old and boring".

His interest continued through university, but he did not start taking it seriously until he moved to Wellington where he started writing more and discovered performance poetry.

"It’s a good creative outlet because I can’t play a musical instrument and I can’t sing. It’s the next logical one."

Hamel also likes how accessible poetry is.

"It has this history of being oblique or hoity-toity, but I think everyone can relate to words and writing. I really like when it’s accessible and exciting — it can be funny, moving, political or observational. It can be so many things. That’s why I like it — that flexibility."

His poetry is a mix of funny and poignant, but it can also be political.

"The stuff that engages people, whatever way that might be."

When he is writing performance poetry, he concentrates on storytelling, but when writing for reading, his work is more "dense" and he experiments more.

"I just want to entertain people. Being ultra-serious wouldn’t have the same effect for me - you have to sound authentic."

Hamel’s political side is evident in his selection to co-edit a Climate Change Poetry Anthology to be published by Auckland University Press.

"A lot of my work features climate change in one way or another and it is interesting the way art can respond to this looming event and its effect on people."

Submissions for the anthology are open, and a real variety of work has been submitted, he says.

"There is the whole range. The fun part as editor is you get to sift through it to find the gems."

Hamel, alongside co-editors Rebecca Hawkes (NZYWF writer in residence) and Essa May Ranapiri, will hold a workshop during the festival for discussions and readings of climate-conscious poetry.

Poetry has become popular with young people in the past five or so years, he says.

"There are some incredible young poets out there. A lot of young people are taking it up, making it exciting and relevant again."

While he does not take part in slams anymore, he still loves getting up on stage and performing his work.

"I’m still nervous every time. But I enjoy writing and I want to build that side of it, the craft."

During lockdown, Hamel, who has a day job in electoral and constitutional policy at the Ministry of Justice, wanted to do something to help his fellow artists so helped to set up digital journal Stasis and got funding from Creative New Zealand so he could pay artists to publish their work.


New Zealand Young Writers Festival, 
September 24-27, Dunedin.

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