Pacific poets Zech Soakai and Aigagalefili Fepulea'i-Tapua'i (above) share on the importance of uplifting young Pacific voices.

TIA It's an honour to speak with you both. For those that don't know you, want to share a bit about who you are and the work that you do?

ZECH SOAKAI Cool. Thank you Tia for bringing us into this space and to sit and talanoa with you and Fili today. My name is Zech Soakai. I am first generation, New Zealand-born. I have links to Poutasi and Falealili, Upolu in Samoa and Ha'ato'u and Ha'apai in Tonga. Definitely pulling on that fruit salad ancestry. I was born in Palmerston North but I am South Auckland hard. I'm a high school teacher but I like to think of my role as a storyteller and story sharer. I live and breathe and work in the spaces where our young brown scholars are at the moment. I'm also a wearer of many hats and I think wherever our people are able to laugh the most, that's where I want to be. 

AIGAGALEFILI FEPULEA'I-TAPUA'I Thank you Tia for having us. I have so much love and respect for these two people, so I'm really grateful we get to sit down and talk. Hello, my name is Aigagalefili Fepulea'i-Tapua'i. I am an urban orator and spoken word poet. I'm also an ocean protector at the moment. I'm currently at Greenpeace working on stopping deep sea mining and I love anything that has to do with our community, whether that's Pacific or South Auckland communities. I like to say I'm a community weaver, but sometimes I feel like it sounds made up. I'm also a law and environmental science student.

TIA Beautiful. Let's start with you Zech. How did you get to working with Auckland Writers Festival for this exhibition?

ZECH Shout out to my mentor, Grace Taylor. She looped me in with the Auckland Writers Festival team. They have a new team and I think they were looking for a fresh offering so they came to me. It started off having conversations about holding workshops as part of their school programming, then they reached out and said there was an opportunity for Pacific poets and if I'd be interested being a curator and people weaver. I think that's how I came into this work curating Voices from Across the Pacific with Jennifer from Auckland Writers Festival and the Britomart team.

I had a really good conversation with Jennifer about building the literary scene here. She said she was really keen on me finding storytellers who are of the Pacific but are coming from a younger perspective. I think for so many of us, we feel we have to learn a specific language or really understand all of it to be able to know that we have the right to talk on it. But our islands are sinking so when I look at this sort of project, I thought the importance of curating these four beautiful offerings together. I think representation is so important being able to see yourself on different platforms, it's really powerful.

TIA It truly is. How was it writing about climate change and the importance of putting this out?

AIGAGALEFILI I'm not new to writing poetry about climate change. I've written about it in the past but this poem in particular is really special to me because there's almost a profound, always lingering sadness when you have to do this work day in and day out. The reality of it is sometimes the people that you're serving who are in the islands, they don't need our tears or sob stories, we just have to learn how to compartmentalise our emotions to get the work done.

My poem talks about not only being a Pacific person but being someone who is aware of what's going on in the islands. When it comes to art and using poetry as a way to raise awareness, I think it's one of the most important tools we have. The politics and the science is cool but it doesn't hit the fatu like art and poetry does. 

TIA What would you like people to get out of the exhibition and poems?

AIGAGALEFILI I hope that the poems push people to think deeper about these issues. I feel like there's so much controversy around the issue itself, but not enough thinking about the people who live through the issue. So when they see our poems, it talks and humanises climate change. I hope that the realness of it, whether people are on their way to work or catching the train, they stop and read the poems. It doesn't have to change their minds overnight but more so planting seeds. 

ZECH Yeah, I think for me as the curator, I just hope that they're able to see how brilliant we are and how brilliant we can be, even when we are young. I think that's the educator in me coming through. I don't think that age is a prerequisite for the wisdom that you carry. I'm hopeful that the people who already feel passionate about this feel seen, and I am hopeful that the people who are wanting words to be able to grieve and feel sadness are held through that, through poetry.

TIA Was this a big responsibility for you as the curator of this exhibition and if so, how did you navigate it?

ZECH I think with any art, it's about helping people clock their feelings. Not all of us are people who are in tune with our feelings. Some of us spend our entire lives running away from our feelings. I think that's the job of the artist, it's that cliche of making the comfortable uncomfortable. I guess in a climate change conversation, it's about purposely choosing young Pacific poets who don't have degrees. This is probably the first time three out of four poets have been published. Not that we need validation through publication, but wherever possible, my responsibility as the curator is to amplify the voices of our communities and beautiful storytellers. I hope that people are open to taking in the heaviness of this exhibition, but underlying all of it is a strong hope that there's a call to action and that our people are enough to continue to keep going.

TIA Such beautiful and important work you are doing so thank you. Where can people go if they want to check out more of the work you're doing or are apart of?

ZECH Both Fili and I, alongside 87 Aotearoa-Pacific poets just got published in a book called Katūīvei, where we all share our creative process navigating between cultural spaces as Pacific migrants. We also got published together in the Rapture Anthology, which our dear friends, Carrie Rudzinski and Grace Teuila-Taylor, were the editors behind it. That's two ways you can find our work. I'm not really a LinkedIn baddie in the way that I should be, but if you need to find me over-sharing on my Instagram, you can find me at @zechsoakai.

AIGAGALEFILI You can find me on Instagram at I'm also part of a collective called 4 Tha Kulture where we do heaps of cool environmental community stuff.

ZECH They just came back. We love a comeback. Make your comeback bigger than your setbacks. Amen.

Voices From Across the Pacific is in association with the Auckland Writers Festival, with support of the British Council. Photos by Geoffery Matautia. The panels displaying the poetry were designed by Aitken HawkinsAigagalefili Fepulea'i-Tapua'i is pictured in the photograph at the top of this post, and Kapitania Funaki is in the second photograph. You can read all the poems in full at this link