Heading

This is some text inside of a div block.

How this activist uses poetry to raise awareness about the climate crisis

E Wen Wong. Illustration / Sara Moana

This story is part of the 'Earth, Body & Soul' series of profiles showcasing incredible women who use their bodies to fuel their climate activism. This week, E Wen Wong on poetry; next week, Soltice Morrison. 

E Wen Wong was 10-years-old when she realised she cared more than her friends about climate change. She was part of a ‘Gifted and Talented’ programme at school, opening her young brain to creative writing and problem-solving. They were given a bleak scenario: a world ridden with plastics set in 2040, and they had to find an underlying problem to solve, and then create an action plan.

It was quite the challenge for such young minds and the other three around Wong’s age solved the problem, then moved on to the next one. “I was like, hold up!” she says. “We haven't really solved this yet. This is something happening now and what are we going to do to fix it?”

She calls her brain ‘a kind of crazy⁠’. “I have a different way of processing information and viewing issues and the Gifted and Talented programme taught creative and critical thinking skills letting you think about big issues, be challenged by them, and look towards solutions. I was really lucky to be part of it as so much of that is tied to what I do now.”

The Environmental Science and Law student, activist, poet, musician, and founder of PS Our Beaches has produced a prolific number of poems making people aware of climate change. She wrote her first poem at four - about apples - but it wasn’t until she penned an environmental poem two years into the Gifted and Talented programme that she realised poetry could be a tool for action and a possible means to try and fix the problem. 

She created an anthology with different voices speaking about plastic pollution - the earth, the ocean - and saw the beauty of tackling a difficult subject through prose. “People would read it and tell me it made them think about the issue in different ways. Poetry is not going to resonate with everyone. Some people can understand the issue best by looking at facts and figures, but for others, it's a way to get into their hearts. I realised that it was pretty powerful. It’s not really beautiful, because it's kind of grim, but the idea of it is beautiful.”

A lot of ideas for poems come from nature when she’s outside walking or running. “I can't just sit down and write poetry because nothing good ever comes from that in my experience.”

E Wen planting at Mulloon Institute. Photo / Supplied

It’s the connectedness in the environment that this 19-year-old likes to tap into, feeling like she’s “at one with nature”, she says. “That sounds weird, but nature’s giving you the ideas and then you're imparting it out.” 

She also has ideas when she’s playing music. One of Wong’s poems, ‘Six Degrees’, describes the impact of one degree more of global warming, inspired by playing a scale of six notes on her oboe. You can catch part of the poem at a TED talk she did when she was 16, talking about plastic pollution.

READ MORE: Activist Brianna Fruean is using dance as a tool to help protect our planet

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Wong developed a love of nature living with her grandparents for a year and a half in the small Malaysian town of Masai, while her parents set up a new life in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). Her grandparents' house had a forest in the backyard, with lots of different fruits and trees, and was a place of exploration. Resourcefulness was important too; her grandfather worked on a rubber plantation.

“Where I was from, you did a lot of things in a way that is repurposing and finding value in things that we might take for granted in New Zealand. You always see things being reused and trying to extract the most value and not taking resources for granted.”

Scarcity creates resourcefulness and considerateness, says Wong, rather than the capitalistic disregard for resources and discarding of things. Malaysia’s a developing country and when it comes to climate change, she thinks there are lessons to learn from developing countries and vice versa. 

“It's interesting because, in a developing country, you've got different priorities. Sustainability’s difficult because you're basically just wanting to stay alive - and that's something that we're seeing today with the burden-sharing that arose from the Paris Climate Agreement, and our obligation to help developing countries to develop sustainably - but at the same time, there's not such a convenience culture in developing countries. It’s got two prongs to it.

She also talks about the importance of indigenous knowledge. “On one side of the coin, there are super technocratic carbon sucking technologies but they're not going to create the difference in the time that we need them to. Whereas there’s all this knowledge held within people who have a strong connection to their place and land, which we really need to be listening to a lot more.”

Wong’s connection to the land, our planet, started at her grandparents' place in Malaysia and continued through her upbringing in Ōtautahi. “I had a huge amount of energy when I was young, so I had to find some way to channel it and for me, that ended up being writing and running around being crazy.”

Being a first-generation Kiwi and having her ‘crazy brain’ meant that Wong often felt there was a certain mould to conform to, but was one she didn’t fit into. “At all!” she says. “It circles back to resourcefulness and not feeling squeezed or jammed into an environment that doesn't suit. So, it’s about finding a space, making the most of resources and reshaping them in different ways to position yourself and let those roots form in a way that's comfortable, rather than having to be in a space that’s already pre-prepared for me.”

E Wen at Ko Aotearoa Tātou at WORD Christchurch. Photo / Supplied

That space combines poetry, problem-solving, the oboe and environmentalism all into one talented body. And to keep doing her mahi, and protect herself from harmful ‘ideals’ often thrust upon young women, Wong leans on poetry. 

“I'm a writer of poetry but I'm also a reader of poetry. There are so many poems about identity and conforming and body image so I listen to different voices speaking about these issues. As much as poetry is a tool to communicate on climate issues, it's also a tool for me to understand things as well.”

Wong was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award and her poems have been published in many places, including one in a new anthology, A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand last year, but this celebrated poet still feels the nerves when performing. “I’m not the best reader of poetry. I don't get into otherworldliness when I'm reading it. I get nervous.”

Regardless, she shares a lot of her poems with young people hoping to inspire others to become kaitiaki of the environments around them. “Poetry is something that they can pick up instantly and feel like they can do as well.”  

She was asked recently what she says to young people who are feeling anxious about climate change. “I told them to view learning as a tool for hope. If you don't know about climate change or don't understand it, you're not in the best position to be able to make a positive difference. You have to go towards the fear and find hope within that.”

The writer wishes to acknowledge the support of YWCA Aotearoa for their help and aroha with this series.

No items found.
E Wen Wong. Illustration / Sara Moana

This story is part of the 'Earth, Body & Soul' series of profiles showcasing incredible women who use their bodies to fuel their climate activism. This week, E Wen Wong on poetry; next week, Soltice Morrison. 

E Wen Wong was 10-years-old when she realised she cared more than her friends about climate change. She was part of a ‘Gifted and Talented’ programme at school, opening her young brain to creative writing and problem-solving. They were given a bleak scenario: a world ridden with plastics set in 2040, and they had to find an underlying problem to solve, and then create an action plan.

It was quite the challenge for such young minds and the other three around Wong’s age solved the problem, then moved on to the next one. “I was like, hold up!” she says. “We haven't really solved this yet. This is something happening now and what are we going to do to fix it?”

She calls her brain ‘a kind of crazy⁠’. “I have a different way of processing information and viewing issues and the Gifted and Talented programme taught creative and critical thinking skills letting you think about big issues, be challenged by them, and look towards solutions. I was really lucky to be part of it as so much of that is tied to what I do now.”

The Environmental Science and Law student, activist, poet, musician, and founder of PS Our Beaches has produced a prolific number of poems making people aware of climate change. She wrote her first poem at four - about apples - but it wasn’t until she penned an environmental poem two years into the Gifted and Talented programme that she realised poetry could be a tool for action and a possible means to try and fix the problem. 

She created an anthology with different voices speaking about plastic pollution - the earth, the ocean - and saw the beauty of tackling a difficult subject through prose. “People would read it and tell me it made them think about the issue in different ways. Poetry is not going to resonate with everyone. Some people can understand the issue best by looking at facts and figures, but for others, it's a way to get into their hearts. I realised that it was pretty powerful. It’s not really beautiful, because it's kind of grim, but the idea of it is beautiful.”

A lot of ideas for poems come from nature when she’s outside walking or running. “I can't just sit down and write poetry because nothing good ever comes from that in my experience.”

E Wen planting at Mulloon Institute. Photo / Supplied

It’s the connectedness in the environment that this 19-year-old likes to tap into, feeling like she’s “at one with nature”, she says. “That sounds weird, but nature’s giving you the ideas and then you're imparting it out.” 

She also has ideas when she’s playing music. One of Wong’s poems, ‘Six Degrees’, describes the impact of one degree more of global warming, inspired by playing a scale of six notes on her oboe. You can catch part of the poem at a TED talk she did when she was 16, talking about plastic pollution.

READ MORE: Activist Brianna Fruean is using dance as a tool to help protect our planet

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Wong developed a love of nature living with her grandparents for a year and a half in the small Malaysian town of Masai, while her parents set up a new life in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). Her grandparents' house had a forest in the backyard, with lots of different fruits and trees, and was a place of exploration. Resourcefulness was important too; her grandfather worked on a rubber plantation.

“Where I was from, you did a lot of things in a way that is repurposing and finding value in things that we might take for granted in New Zealand. You always see things being reused and trying to extract the most value and not taking resources for granted.”

Scarcity creates resourcefulness and considerateness, says Wong, rather than the capitalistic disregard for resources and discarding of things. Malaysia’s a developing country and when it comes to climate change, she thinks there are lessons to learn from developing countries and vice versa. 

“It's interesting because, in a developing country, you've got different priorities. Sustainability’s difficult because you're basically just wanting to stay alive - and that's something that we're seeing today with the burden-sharing that arose from the Paris Climate Agreement, and our obligation to help developing countries to develop sustainably - but at the same time, there's not such a convenience culture in developing countries. It’s got two prongs to it.

She also talks about the importance of indigenous knowledge. “On one side of the coin, there are super technocratic carbon sucking technologies but they're not going to create the difference in the time that we need them to. Whereas there’s all this knowledge held within people who have a strong connection to their place and land, which we really need to be listening to a lot more.”

Wong’s connection to the land, our planet, started at her grandparents' place in Malaysia and continued through her upbringing in Ōtautahi. “I had a huge amount of energy when I was young, so I had to find some way to channel it and for me, that ended up being writing and running around being crazy.”

Being a first-generation Kiwi and having her ‘crazy brain’ meant that Wong often felt there was a certain mould to conform to, but was one she didn’t fit into. “At all!” she says. “It circles back to resourcefulness and not feeling squeezed or jammed into an environment that doesn't suit. So, it’s about finding a space, making the most of resources and reshaping them in different ways to position yourself and let those roots form in a way that's comfortable, rather than having to be in a space that’s already pre-prepared for me.”

E Wen at Ko Aotearoa Tātou at WORD Christchurch. Photo / Supplied

That space combines poetry, problem-solving, the oboe and environmentalism all into one talented body. And to keep doing her mahi, and protect herself from harmful ‘ideals’ often thrust upon young women, Wong leans on poetry. 

“I'm a writer of poetry but I'm also a reader of poetry. There are so many poems about identity and conforming and body image so I listen to different voices speaking about these issues. As much as poetry is a tool to communicate on climate issues, it's also a tool for me to understand things as well.”

Wong was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award and her poems have been published in many places, including one in a new anthology, A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand last year, but this celebrated poet still feels the nerves when performing. “I’m not the best reader of poetry. I don't get into otherworldliness when I'm reading it. I get nervous.”

Regardless, she shares a lot of her poems with young people hoping to inspire others to become kaitiaki of the environments around them. “Poetry is something that they can pick up instantly and feel like they can do as well.”  

She was asked recently what she says to young people who are feeling anxious about climate change. “I told them to view learning as a tool for hope. If you don't know about climate change or don't understand it, you're not in the best position to be able to make a positive difference. You have to go towards the fear and find hope within that.”

The writer wishes to acknowledge the support of YWCA Aotearoa for their help and aroha with this series.

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

How this activist uses poetry to raise awareness about the climate crisis

E Wen Wong. Illustration / Sara Moana

This story is part of the 'Earth, Body & Soul' series of profiles showcasing incredible women who use their bodies to fuel their climate activism. This week, E Wen Wong on poetry; next week, Soltice Morrison. 

E Wen Wong was 10-years-old when she realised she cared more than her friends about climate change. She was part of a ‘Gifted and Talented’ programme at school, opening her young brain to creative writing and problem-solving. They were given a bleak scenario: a world ridden with plastics set in 2040, and they had to find an underlying problem to solve, and then create an action plan.

It was quite the challenge for such young minds and the other three around Wong’s age solved the problem, then moved on to the next one. “I was like, hold up!” she says. “We haven't really solved this yet. This is something happening now and what are we going to do to fix it?”

She calls her brain ‘a kind of crazy⁠’. “I have a different way of processing information and viewing issues and the Gifted and Talented programme taught creative and critical thinking skills letting you think about big issues, be challenged by them, and look towards solutions. I was really lucky to be part of it as so much of that is tied to what I do now.”

The Environmental Science and Law student, activist, poet, musician, and founder of PS Our Beaches has produced a prolific number of poems making people aware of climate change. She wrote her first poem at four - about apples - but it wasn’t until she penned an environmental poem two years into the Gifted and Talented programme that she realised poetry could be a tool for action and a possible means to try and fix the problem. 

She created an anthology with different voices speaking about plastic pollution - the earth, the ocean - and saw the beauty of tackling a difficult subject through prose. “People would read it and tell me it made them think about the issue in different ways. Poetry is not going to resonate with everyone. Some people can understand the issue best by looking at facts and figures, but for others, it's a way to get into their hearts. I realised that it was pretty powerful. It’s not really beautiful, because it's kind of grim, but the idea of it is beautiful.”

A lot of ideas for poems come from nature when she’s outside walking or running. “I can't just sit down and write poetry because nothing good ever comes from that in my experience.”

E Wen planting at Mulloon Institute. Photo / Supplied

It’s the connectedness in the environment that this 19-year-old likes to tap into, feeling like she’s “at one with nature”, she says. “That sounds weird, but nature’s giving you the ideas and then you're imparting it out.” 

She also has ideas when she’s playing music. One of Wong’s poems, ‘Six Degrees’, describes the impact of one degree more of global warming, inspired by playing a scale of six notes on her oboe. You can catch part of the poem at a TED talk she did when she was 16, talking about plastic pollution.

READ MORE: Activist Brianna Fruean is using dance as a tool to help protect our planet

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Wong developed a love of nature living with her grandparents for a year and a half in the small Malaysian town of Masai, while her parents set up a new life in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). Her grandparents' house had a forest in the backyard, with lots of different fruits and trees, and was a place of exploration. Resourcefulness was important too; her grandfather worked on a rubber plantation.

“Where I was from, you did a lot of things in a way that is repurposing and finding value in things that we might take for granted in New Zealand. You always see things being reused and trying to extract the most value and not taking resources for granted.”

Scarcity creates resourcefulness and considerateness, says Wong, rather than the capitalistic disregard for resources and discarding of things. Malaysia’s a developing country and when it comes to climate change, she thinks there are lessons to learn from developing countries and vice versa. 

“It's interesting because, in a developing country, you've got different priorities. Sustainability’s difficult because you're basically just wanting to stay alive - and that's something that we're seeing today with the burden-sharing that arose from the Paris Climate Agreement, and our obligation to help developing countries to develop sustainably - but at the same time, there's not such a convenience culture in developing countries. It’s got two prongs to it.

She also talks about the importance of indigenous knowledge. “On one side of the coin, there are super technocratic carbon sucking technologies but they're not going to create the difference in the time that we need them to. Whereas there’s all this knowledge held within people who have a strong connection to their place and land, which we really need to be listening to a lot more.”

Wong’s connection to the land, our planet, started at her grandparents' place in Malaysia and continued through her upbringing in Ōtautahi. “I had a huge amount of energy when I was young, so I had to find some way to channel it and for me, that ended up being writing and running around being crazy.”

Being a first-generation Kiwi and having her ‘crazy brain’ meant that Wong often felt there was a certain mould to conform to, but was one she didn’t fit into. “At all!” she says. “It circles back to resourcefulness and not feeling squeezed or jammed into an environment that doesn't suit. So, it’s about finding a space, making the most of resources and reshaping them in different ways to position yourself and let those roots form in a way that's comfortable, rather than having to be in a space that’s already pre-prepared for me.”

E Wen at Ko Aotearoa Tātou at WORD Christchurch. Photo / Supplied

That space combines poetry, problem-solving, the oboe and environmentalism all into one talented body. And to keep doing her mahi, and protect herself from harmful ‘ideals’ often thrust upon young women, Wong leans on poetry. 

“I'm a writer of poetry but I'm also a reader of poetry. There are so many poems about identity and conforming and body image so I listen to different voices speaking about these issues. As much as poetry is a tool to communicate on climate issues, it's also a tool for me to understand things as well.”

Wong was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award and her poems have been published in many places, including one in a new anthology, A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand last year, but this celebrated poet still feels the nerves when performing. “I’m not the best reader of poetry. I don't get into otherworldliness when I'm reading it. I get nervous.”

Regardless, she shares a lot of her poems with young people hoping to inspire others to become kaitiaki of the environments around them. “Poetry is something that they can pick up instantly and feel like they can do as well.”  

She was asked recently what she says to young people who are feeling anxious about climate change. “I told them to view learning as a tool for hope. If you don't know about climate change or don't understand it, you're not in the best position to be able to make a positive difference. You have to go towards the fear and find hope within that.”

The writer wishes to acknowledge the support of YWCA Aotearoa for their help and aroha with this series.

No items found.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program

How this activist uses poetry to raise awareness about the climate crisis

E Wen Wong. Illustration / Sara Moana

This story is part of the 'Earth, Body & Soul' series of profiles showcasing incredible women who use their bodies to fuel their climate activism. This week, E Wen Wong on poetry; next week, Soltice Morrison. 

E Wen Wong was 10-years-old when she realised she cared more than her friends about climate change. She was part of a ‘Gifted and Talented’ programme at school, opening her young brain to creative writing and problem-solving. They were given a bleak scenario: a world ridden with plastics set in 2040, and they had to find an underlying problem to solve, and then create an action plan.

It was quite the challenge for such young minds and the other three around Wong’s age solved the problem, then moved on to the next one. “I was like, hold up!” she says. “We haven't really solved this yet. This is something happening now and what are we going to do to fix it?”

She calls her brain ‘a kind of crazy⁠’. “I have a different way of processing information and viewing issues and the Gifted and Talented programme taught creative and critical thinking skills letting you think about big issues, be challenged by them, and look towards solutions. I was really lucky to be part of it as so much of that is tied to what I do now.”

The Environmental Science and Law student, activist, poet, musician, and founder of PS Our Beaches has produced a prolific number of poems making people aware of climate change. She wrote her first poem at four - about apples - but it wasn’t until she penned an environmental poem two years into the Gifted and Talented programme that she realised poetry could be a tool for action and a possible means to try and fix the problem. 

She created an anthology with different voices speaking about plastic pollution - the earth, the ocean - and saw the beauty of tackling a difficult subject through prose. “People would read it and tell me it made them think about the issue in different ways. Poetry is not going to resonate with everyone. Some people can understand the issue best by looking at facts and figures, but for others, it's a way to get into their hearts. I realised that it was pretty powerful. It’s not really beautiful, because it's kind of grim, but the idea of it is beautiful.”

A lot of ideas for poems come from nature when she’s outside walking or running. “I can't just sit down and write poetry because nothing good ever comes from that in my experience.”

E Wen planting at Mulloon Institute. Photo / Supplied

It’s the connectedness in the environment that this 19-year-old likes to tap into, feeling like she’s “at one with nature”, she says. “That sounds weird, but nature’s giving you the ideas and then you're imparting it out.” 

She also has ideas when she’s playing music. One of Wong’s poems, ‘Six Degrees’, describes the impact of one degree more of global warming, inspired by playing a scale of six notes on her oboe. You can catch part of the poem at a TED talk she did when she was 16, talking about plastic pollution.

READ MORE: Activist Brianna Fruean is using dance as a tool to help protect our planet

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Wong developed a love of nature living with her grandparents for a year and a half in the small Malaysian town of Masai, while her parents set up a new life in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). Her grandparents' house had a forest in the backyard, with lots of different fruits and trees, and was a place of exploration. Resourcefulness was important too; her grandfather worked on a rubber plantation.

“Where I was from, you did a lot of things in a way that is repurposing and finding value in things that we might take for granted in New Zealand. You always see things being reused and trying to extract the most value and not taking resources for granted.”

Scarcity creates resourcefulness and considerateness, says Wong, rather than the capitalistic disregard for resources and discarding of things. Malaysia’s a developing country and when it comes to climate change, she thinks there are lessons to learn from developing countries and vice versa. 

“It's interesting because, in a developing country, you've got different priorities. Sustainability’s difficult because you're basically just wanting to stay alive - and that's something that we're seeing today with the burden-sharing that arose from the Paris Climate Agreement, and our obligation to help developing countries to develop sustainably - but at the same time, there's not such a convenience culture in developing countries. It’s got two prongs to it.

She also talks about the importance of indigenous knowledge. “On one side of the coin, there are super technocratic carbon sucking technologies but they're not going to create the difference in the time that we need them to. Whereas there’s all this knowledge held within people who have a strong connection to their place and land, which we really need to be listening to a lot more.”

Wong’s connection to the land, our planet, started at her grandparents' place in Malaysia and continued through her upbringing in Ōtautahi. “I had a huge amount of energy when I was young, so I had to find some way to channel it and for me, that ended up being writing and running around being crazy.”

Being a first-generation Kiwi and having her ‘crazy brain’ meant that Wong often felt there was a certain mould to conform to, but was one she didn’t fit into. “At all!” she says. “It circles back to resourcefulness and not feeling squeezed or jammed into an environment that doesn't suit. So, it’s about finding a space, making the most of resources and reshaping them in different ways to position yourself and let those roots form in a way that's comfortable, rather than having to be in a space that’s already pre-prepared for me.”

E Wen at Ko Aotearoa Tātou at WORD Christchurch. Photo / Supplied

That space combines poetry, problem-solving, the oboe and environmentalism all into one talented body. And to keep doing her mahi, and protect herself from harmful ‘ideals’ often thrust upon young women, Wong leans on poetry. 

“I'm a writer of poetry but I'm also a reader of poetry. There are so many poems about identity and conforming and body image so I listen to different voices speaking about these issues. As much as poetry is a tool to communicate on climate issues, it's also a tool for me to understand things as well.”

Wong was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award and her poems have been published in many places, including one in a new anthology, A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand last year, but this celebrated poet still feels the nerves when performing. “I’m not the best reader of poetry. I don't get into otherworldliness when I'm reading it. I get nervous.”

Regardless, she shares a lot of her poems with young people hoping to inspire others to become kaitiaki of the environments around them. “Poetry is something that they can pick up instantly and feel like they can do as well.”  

She was asked recently what she says to young people who are feeling anxious about climate change. “I told them to view learning as a tool for hope. If you don't know about climate change or don't understand it, you're not in the best position to be able to make a positive difference. You have to go towards the fear and find hope within that.”

The writer wishes to acknowledge the support of YWCA Aotearoa for their help and aroha with this series.

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.
E Wen Wong. Illustration / Sara Moana

This story is part of the 'Earth, Body & Soul' series of profiles showcasing incredible women who use their bodies to fuel their climate activism. This week, E Wen Wong on poetry; next week, Soltice Morrison. 

E Wen Wong was 10-years-old when she realised she cared more than her friends about climate change. She was part of a ‘Gifted and Talented’ programme at school, opening her young brain to creative writing and problem-solving. They were given a bleak scenario: a world ridden with plastics set in 2040, and they had to find an underlying problem to solve, and then create an action plan.

It was quite the challenge for such young minds and the other three around Wong’s age solved the problem, then moved on to the next one. “I was like, hold up!” she says. “We haven't really solved this yet. This is something happening now and what are we going to do to fix it?”

She calls her brain ‘a kind of crazy⁠’. “I have a different way of processing information and viewing issues and the Gifted and Talented programme taught creative and critical thinking skills letting you think about big issues, be challenged by them, and look towards solutions. I was really lucky to be part of it as so much of that is tied to what I do now.”

The Environmental Science and Law student, activist, poet, musician, and founder of PS Our Beaches has produced a prolific number of poems making people aware of climate change. She wrote her first poem at four - about apples - but it wasn’t until she penned an environmental poem two years into the Gifted and Talented programme that she realised poetry could be a tool for action and a possible means to try and fix the problem. 

She created an anthology with different voices speaking about plastic pollution - the earth, the ocean - and saw the beauty of tackling a difficult subject through prose. “People would read it and tell me it made them think about the issue in different ways. Poetry is not going to resonate with everyone. Some people can understand the issue best by looking at facts and figures, but for others, it's a way to get into their hearts. I realised that it was pretty powerful. It’s not really beautiful, because it's kind of grim, but the idea of it is beautiful.”

A lot of ideas for poems come from nature when she’s outside walking or running. “I can't just sit down and write poetry because nothing good ever comes from that in my experience.”

E Wen planting at Mulloon Institute. Photo / Supplied

It’s the connectedness in the environment that this 19-year-old likes to tap into, feeling like she’s “at one with nature”, she says. “That sounds weird, but nature’s giving you the ideas and then you're imparting it out.” 

She also has ideas when she’s playing music. One of Wong’s poems, ‘Six Degrees’, describes the impact of one degree more of global warming, inspired by playing a scale of six notes on her oboe. You can catch part of the poem at a TED talk she did when she was 16, talking about plastic pollution.

READ MORE: Activist Brianna Fruean is using dance as a tool to help protect our planet

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Wong developed a love of nature living with her grandparents for a year and a half in the small Malaysian town of Masai, while her parents set up a new life in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). Her grandparents' house had a forest in the backyard, with lots of different fruits and trees, and was a place of exploration. Resourcefulness was important too; her grandfather worked on a rubber plantation.

“Where I was from, you did a lot of things in a way that is repurposing and finding value in things that we might take for granted in New Zealand. You always see things being reused and trying to extract the most value and not taking resources for granted.”

Scarcity creates resourcefulness and considerateness, says Wong, rather than the capitalistic disregard for resources and discarding of things. Malaysia’s a developing country and when it comes to climate change, she thinks there are lessons to learn from developing countries and vice versa. 

“It's interesting because, in a developing country, you've got different priorities. Sustainability’s difficult because you're basically just wanting to stay alive - and that's something that we're seeing today with the burden-sharing that arose from the Paris Climate Agreement, and our obligation to help developing countries to develop sustainably - but at the same time, there's not such a convenience culture in developing countries. It’s got two prongs to it.

She also talks about the importance of indigenous knowledge. “On one side of the coin, there are super technocratic carbon sucking technologies but they're not going to create the difference in the time that we need them to. Whereas there’s all this knowledge held within people who have a strong connection to their place and land, which we really need to be listening to a lot more.”

Wong’s connection to the land, our planet, started at her grandparents' place in Malaysia and continued through her upbringing in Ōtautahi. “I had a huge amount of energy when I was young, so I had to find some way to channel it and for me, that ended up being writing and running around being crazy.”

Being a first-generation Kiwi and having her ‘crazy brain’ meant that Wong often felt there was a certain mould to conform to, but was one she didn’t fit into. “At all!” she says. “It circles back to resourcefulness and not feeling squeezed or jammed into an environment that doesn't suit. So, it’s about finding a space, making the most of resources and reshaping them in different ways to position yourself and let those roots form in a way that's comfortable, rather than having to be in a space that’s already pre-prepared for me.”

E Wen at Ko Aotearoa Tātou at WORD Christchurch. Photo / Supplied

That space combines poetry, problem-solving, the oboe and environmentalism all into one talented body. And to keep doing her mahi, and protect herself from harmful ‘ideals’ often thrust upon young women, Wong leans on poetry. 

“I'm a writer of poetry but I'm also a reader of poetry. There are so many poems about identity and conforming and body image so I listen to different voices speaking about these issues. As much as poetry is a tool to communicate on climate issues, it's also a tool for me to understand things as well.”

Wong was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award and her poems have been published in many places, including one in a new anthology, A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand last year, but this celebrated poet still feels the nerves when performing. “I’m not the best reader of poetry. I don't get into otherworldliness when I'm reading it. I get nervous.”

Regardless, she shares a lot of her poems with young people hoping to inspire others to become kaitiaki of the environments around them. “Poetry is something that they can pick up instantly and feel like they can do as well.”  

She was asked recently what she says to young people who are feeling anxious about climate change. “I told them to view learning as a tool for hope. If you don't know about climate change or don't understand it, you're not in the best position to be able to make a positive difference. You have to go towards the fear and find hope within that.”

The writer wishes to acknowledge the support of YWCA Aotearoa for their help and aroha with this series.

No items found.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program

How this activist uses poetry to raise awareness about the climate crisis

E Wen Wong. Illustration / Sara Moana

This story is part of the 'Earth, Body & Soul' series of profiles showcasing incredible women who use their bodies to fuel their climate activism. This week, E Wen Wong on poetry; next week, Soltice Morrison. 

E Wen Wong was 10-years-old when she realised she cared more than her friends about climate change. She was part of a ‘Gifted and Talented’ programme at school, opening her young brain to creative writing and problem-solving. They were given a bleak scenario: a world ridden with plastics set in 2040, and they had to find an underlying problem to solve, and then create an action plan.

It was quite the challenge for such young minds and the other three around Wong’s age solved the problem, then moved on to the next one. “I was like, hold up!” she says. “We haven't really solved this yet. This is something happening now and what are we going to do to fix it?”

She calls her brain ‘a kind of crazy⁠’. “I have a different way of processing information and viewing issues and the Gifted and Talented programme taught creative and critical thinking skills letting you think about big issues, be challenged by them, and look towards solutions. I was really lucky to be part of it as so much of that is tied to what I do now.”

The Environmental Science and Law student, activist, poet, musician, and founder of PS Our Beaches has produced a prolific number of poems making people aware of climate change. She wrote her first poem at four - about apples - but it wasn’t until she penned an environmental poem two years into the Gifted and Talented programme that she realised poetry could be a tool for action and a possible means to try and fix the problem. 

She created an anthology with different voices speaking about plastic pollution - the earth, the ocean - and saw the beauty of tackling a difficult subject through prose. “People would read it and tell me it made them think about the issue in different ways. Poetry is not going to resonate with everyone. Some people can understand the issue best by looking at facts and figures, but for others, it's a way to get into their hearts. I realised that it was pretty powerful. It’s not really beautiful, because it's kind of grim, but the idea of it is beautiful.”

A lot of ideas for poems come from nature when she’s outside walking or running. “I can't just sit down and write poetry because nothing good ever comes from that in my experience.”

E Wen planting at Mulloon Institute. Photo / Supplied

It’s the connectedness in the environment that this 19-year-old likes to tap into, feeling like she’s “at one with nature”, she says. “That sounds weird, but nature’s giving you the ideas and then you're imparting it out.” 

She also has ideas when she’s playing music. One of Wong’s poems, ‘Six Degrees’, describes the impact of one degree more of global warming, inspired by playing a scale of six notes on her oboe. You can catch part of the poem at a TED talk she did when she was 16, talking about plastic pollution.

READ MORE: Activist Brianna Fruean is using dance as a tool to help protect our planet

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Wong developed a love of nature living with her grandparents for a year and a half in the small Malaysian town of Masai, while her parents set up a new life in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). Her grandparents' house had a forest in the backyard, with lots of different fruits and trees, and was a place of exploration. Resourcefulness was important too; her grandfather worked on a rubber plantation.

“Where I was from, you did a lot of things in a way that is repurposing and finding value in things that we might take for granted in New Zealand. You always see things being reused and trying to extract the most value and not taking resources for granted.”

Scarcity creates resourcefulness and considerateness, says Wong, rather than the capitalistic disregard for resources and discarding of things. Malaysia’s a developing country and when it comes to climate change, she thinks there are lessons to learn from developing countries and vice versa. 

“It's interesting because, in a developing country, you've got different priorities. Sustainability’s difficult because you're basically just wanting to stay alive - and that's something that we're seeing today with the burden-sharing that arose from the Paris Climate Agreement, and our obligation to help developing countries to develop sustainably - but at the same time, there's not such a convenience culture in developing countries. It’s got two prongs to it.

She also talks about the importance of indigenous knowledge. “On one side of the coin, there are super technocratic carbon sucking technologies but they're not going to create the difference in the time that we need them to. Whereas there’s all this knowledge held within people who have a strong connection to their place and land, which we really need to be listening to a lot more.”

Wong’s connection to the land, our planet, started at her grandparents' place in Malaysia and continued through her upbringing in Ōtautahi. “I had a huge amount of energy when I was young, so I had to find some way to channel it and for me, that ended up being writing and running around being crazy.”

Being a first-generation Kiwi and having her ‘crazy brain’ meant that Wong often felt there was a certain mould to conform to, but was one she didn’t fit into. “At all!” she says. “It circles back to resourcefulness and not feeling squeezed or jammed into an environment that doesn't suit. So, it’s about finding a space, making the most of resources and reshaping them in different ways to position yourself and let those roots form in a way that's comfortable, rather than having to be in a space that’s already pre-prepared for me.”

E Wen at Ko Aotearoa Tātou at WORD Christchurch. Photo / Supplied

That space combines poetry, problem-solving, the oboe and environmentalism all into one talented body. And to keep doing her mahi, and protect herself from harmful ‘ideals’ often thrust upon young women, Wong leans on poetry. 

“I'm a writer of poetry but I'm also a reader of poetry. There are so many poems about identity and conforming and body image so I listen to different voices speaking about these issues. As much as poetry is a tool to communicate on climate issues, it's also a tool for me to understand things as well.”

Wong was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award and her poems have been published in many places, including one in a new anthology, A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand last year, but this celebrated poet still feels the nerves when performing. “I’m not the best reader of poetry. I don't get into otherworldliness when I'm reading it. I get nervous.”

Regardless, she shares a lot of her poems with young people hoping to inspire others to become kaitiaki of the environments around them. “Poetry is something that they can pick up instantly and feel like they can do as well.”  

She was asked recently what she says to young people who are feeling anxious about climate change. “I told them to view learning as a tool for hope. If you don't know about climate change or don't understand it, you're not in the best position to be able to make a positive difference. You have to go towards the fear and find hope within that.”

The writer wishes to acknowledge the support of YWCA Aotearoa for their help and aroha with this series.

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.