Everyday Vegan: Plant-powered Poet


Kyra Gillies: Plant-Powered Poet

Adrian Hatwell speaks with poet and songwriter Kyra Gillies about her muses in the natural world, working to end violence, and her path to veganism. 

It begins with water. Poet Kyra Gillies speaks of the bodies of water that have pervaded her life with the sort of power and passion you would expect from someone whose craft lies in language. Having grown up in different areas throughout the Otago region, she’s spent quality time with many different picturesque shorelines and tributaries: the Kakanui coast, industrious Oamaru Harbour, the mighty Clutha River. Just as the waters shape the whenua, the poet feels they’ve had a hand in shaping her life.

“Whether it’s oceans or rivers or lakes — the water has provided so many memories of peace and nourishment,” Kyra explains. “As so many people have said; water is life.”

As a poet must, Kyra has a good eye for connections, and her predilection for waterways has helped make clear the connection between the health of the natural world — of the land and the people — and the impacts of our food systems. These connections all trickle into the themes of her provocative poetry practice, underpinned by concerns for justice, peace, and the path towards a healthy society.

Poetry in the blood

Asked how she came to poetry as a medium, Kyra explains it is something that has always lived in her: “It’s ancestral, it’s in the bloodline.”

Born in Western Australia to a mother from Aotearoa and father from the US, she can trace genealogy back to Irish and Romani origins; two peoples with strong poetic traditions. These ancestors gave Kyra “some good gifts”, which began to express themselves around the age of five when, under no tutelage but her own, she first started along her journey of rhyme and writing. 

“We had no TV in the house until I was about 11, but my mother always supplied lots of arts and crafts. I remember I would get up super excited at 5am before school, and would write a poem each morning to honour a different thing in nature — a tree, a cloud — and also make a collage to go with it.”

It is a passion that has only grown over the years, through university study and work with numerous peace-focused organisations (People Against Prisons Aotearoa, among them). Kyra regularly performs her poems at various events around the country, saying that, for her, it’s the spoken element rather than the written in which the magic lies.

“To me it has always been an oral tradition. I write things down later so I can remember and show it to other people, but ultimately I’m speaking or singing out loud to myself, that’s my starting point.”

Vegan journey

Kyra has been vegan for six years and, given the role nature plays in her poetic inspiration, it’s not surprising she found her way to a plant-based perspective.

She was exposed to plenty of vegetarian and vegan food while living at home, as her mother was vegetarian. Lentil burgers and falafel were already mainstays in the household, so she was acquainted with plant-based food, if not particularly enthused by it: “I was a meat-lovers pizza obsessed kid.”

But this was one of many experiences and relationships that planted the seeds of veganism within the poet’s consciousness, ahead of her making the leap. She describes the trigger point event that would eventually have her give up the meat as “kind of laughable” but, as many vegans will attest, it’s not always the big dramatic moments that prompt change.

In her early university career, Kyra attended a Philosophy Club event in which attendees watched the 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner as a prompt to discuss life, sentience, pain, and ethics through the lens of the story’s biologically engineered ‘replicants’. She came up with her own thought experiment: Imagine there are two little munchkin creatures and a machine that can graph pain and distress in real-time — one of the creatures gives no outward signs of pain but its graph is off the charts, the other screams bloody murder but it’s graph records no pain.

“I said I wouldn’t feel good or comfortable with inflicting pain or being part of testing for pain in either. I painted myself into quite a lovely corner; my tutor said, ‘If you’re not on board with inflicting pain on other species, are you vegetarian?’”

At home that night, while contemplating a meal of stir fried rice with pork, Kyra felt all those planted seeds begin to sprout through the surface.

“As I was eating this pig, I was remembering the replicants, and the munchkins, and ‘are you vegetarian?’… I was really confronted and repulsed, I couldn’t finish eating that meal.”

Poetry for peace

Kyra has generously shared one of her poems with us in this issue. SpillOver is a piece she wrote the morning after attending an inspiring World Vegan Day event in Ōtepoti, where she heard Jessica from Mothers Against Dairy and activist Chris Huriwai speak.

The poem traces the intertwining facets of violence in society, from the interpersonal to the systematic: “It’s a birds eye view of the issues we face as a people.”

It’s also an impassioned call for change, inspired by the people Kyra has come into contact with whose lives have been impacted by violence, but who have been able to embrace possibilities beyond violence and search for peaceful alternatives.

“I see people wake up to their heart and to their humanity, and find ways to heal, and different ways of living and creating and contributing in the world. We’re in a time of epic transition and co-evolution.”

For more from Kyra, visit her blog at kyragillies.wordpress.com and follow her on Instagram (@kyraspeaks). If you’re in the Whangarei area, Kyra will be performing at the Creating Space event on Saturday, 25 June (www.facebook.com/creatingspace333).


by Kyra Gillies

Mistreating animals for profit and consumption,

Where to begin?

Separating babies, stealing their milk,

Eating their flesh and wearing their skin.

Greenwashing happy cow ads,

The facade is paper thin.

Where there is violence it’s gotta be named,

Cuz violence spills over it can’t be contained 

Separating families, hurting our animal siblings,

That kinda mahi don’t inspire joy,

So migrants and formerly incarcerated is who they employ

Violence is normalised inside the home

Violence is normal if that’s all that you’ve known

Violence is normalised inside the prison

If violence is normal then, overgrow the system!

Where there is violence it’s gotta be named,

Cuz violence spills over it can’t be contained 

Did you know? Cops, soldiers & slaughterhouse workers,

All perpetuate more violence to women & whānau,

Violent professions lead to more oppressions,

Cuz violence breeds violence, there ain’t no question

Where there is violence it’s gotta be named,

Cuz violence spills over it can’t be contained 

Violence from parent to child is how it’s ingrained

Intergenerationally the cycle’s sustained

Violence spills over it can’t be contained

Let’s stop all the violence, live, eat, be the change

The way animals, people, te taiao are treated is poor

Physical, sexual, verbal abuse

They say a lot goes on behind closed doors,

Yeah, a lot goes on behind closed doors

On these isolated farm sites with no oversight,

It’s gotta be said, 

an awful lot goes on inside the farming shed

Yeah, an awful lot goes on inside the farming shed

The truth is hard to bare so don’t bury ya head in the sand

Come join with us to take a stand

Protect Papatūānuku, she who sustains our life,

Respect this land.

If it doesn’t concern you now, it’ll surely concern you soon,

As the rivers fill up with runoff ‘n’ the air fills with factory fumes

The verdict is clear, we need clean Awa and breathable air

Where there is violence it’s gotta be named,

Cuz violence spills over it can’t be contained

On the ads they have them smiling and waving at the gate

Want you not thinking about the blood phosphate.

Stolen from Western Sahara and then brought into our harbour. 

For the grass for the cows for the milk

From one colonised land to another,

Solidarity with our Saharawi sisters and brothers

It’s a dodgy colonial lie,

Don’t trust their chain of supply

Where there is violence it’s gotta be named,

Cuz violence spills over it can’t be contained

Whether it’s Aotearoa or Western Sahara,

Colonised by England, Morocco or Spain.

Minefields, pollution, choking, deaths and disappearances,

It’s all causing indigenous pain.

Shift the mindset and the industry 

Transform the supply chain

Open ya heart and feel what’s happening, 

Expand your circle of compassion

We need a food system lovely ‘n’ healthy for all living beings

The water, the women, workers, children, humans, 

mothers, mountains, animals, air

Sustain and affirm life for all living things

Gotta live life with care, gotta make this world fair

Violence to animals, violence to workers,

Violence to women, violence to children,

Violence to water, violence to air

Where there is violence it’s gotta be named,

Cuz violence spills over it can’t be contained

Respect the principle of interconnection

Love the water and air, give them protection

Awhi animals, humans, te taiao, make the connection

Put our loving values into practice

Ensuring there’s excellent access

So we shiftin’ to plant based,

Cuz I don’t want none of my siblings,

Human or animal, living their life in a cage,

Fueled by our love, fueled by our rage,

We got the vision this the abolition age,

Movements converging, we on the same page,

Compassion not capitalism, I rest my case.



Aotearoa Vegan and Plant Based Living Magazine
This article was sourced from the Winter 2022 edition of The Vegan Society magazine.
Order your own current copy in print or pdf or browse past editions.

The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.

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