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Dominic 'Tourettes' Hoey - the poet who challenges everything

When Dominic "Tourettes" Hoey appears at Womad in March, audiences could hear tales of love, politics and a toy dog. 

The self-confessed Marxist, who accepts many of his friends are capitalists, comes with a wordy rap sheet and dreams.

As the artist known as Tourettes, the Aucklander has released four critically acclaimed rap albums, two books of poetry (Feel Like Shit Looking Great and Party Tricks and Boring Secrets), his debut novel, Iceland, written a one-man play about an auto-immune disease he lives with, teaches writing workshops and mentors young people in need. 

From his bedroom overlooking the water at Titirangi in west Auckland, kereru warbling outside the window, Hoey says he's excited to be attending Womad for the first time.

"I've always wanted to go," he says. "I even applied to perform before, so I'm stoked."

But those were the days when he was best-known as the rapper Tourettes, who performed loud, often angry songs (many with explicit warnings) bearing titles like John Key's Son's a DJ, No Losers at WINZ and New New Zealand. 

It needs to be said here, that Hoey doesn't have Tourettes. It's the rapper name he came up with when he was 19 and had tattooed across his chest. He's since learnt a lot about the neurological disorder and is sympathetic to those who live with it. 

At the March 15 to 17 festival, Hoey will be there as a performance poet and judge in the poetry slam, which is part of Womad's World of Words, supported by the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki.

Poetry Slam entries open on November 22 and entries can be submitted via www.womad.co.nz under the "get involved" tab.

As a judge, Hoey will be looking for poems that shout originality. "I want to feel after I've read something, I know that person better. Academic stuff lacks that."

Hoey enjoys visiting New Plymouth to stay with his good mate rapper Todd Williams, aka Louie Knuxx. The friends met in the early 2000s, and have since lived together, made music in the same collective, and hosted a weekly podcast called How Not To Be An Asshole. It ran for 53 episodes and finished a couple of years ago.

Another of Hoey's many word-fuelled personas is as a teacher of Learn to Write Good workshops, which he holds all over New Zealand. 

Jordan Hamel, the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam Champion, attended a two-day class at Poneke in summer last year. 

"Before that workshop the only people who had ever heard my poetry were close friends and girls I was trying to impress," Hamel says, on a shared Instagram post. "I don't think I would've had the guts to try performance if I didn't attend."

In June and July, Hoey stayed in Port Chalmers and threw himself into the pages of his second novel, a tale about a kick-ass woman fighter. He knocked out the first draft of about 50,000 words. But he suspects it will end up about 60,000 words; the same length as Iceland. He's now working on his third draft. 

"I try and make my prose as immediate as possible for a number of reasons, partly because I've got learning disabilities and a lot of people close to me do, so I want them to be able to read it. And you're competing with social media whether you like it or not. There's no point writing as though we're living in the '70s."

The central theme of the book is money versus passion, and it highlights the compromises made to get funds, especially by someone who is poor. "Technology versus nature is another theme and it's about a woman called Monday, who's a kickboxer."

Hoey says the novel should be published in 2020, although it would be out sooner if he received a grant enabling him to take a year off to finish it. 

Along with writing and teaching, Hoey is a mentor for The Kindness Institute's Atawhai programme. He works with marginalised Auckland youth aged 13-18, who have low self-efficacy but lots of potential. 

"It's definitely the best thing in my life," he says. 

Hoey has been a mentor for the past five years and has seen young people turn their lives around.

With a double diagnoses of dyslexia and dyspraxia, Hoey can relate to people who struggle at school, although he believes his different way of working with words has helped him become the poet and writer he is.

His parents read to his constantly when he was a kid, but he couldn't read until he was eight or nine.

And yet, he was burning to write. "It's always been there. Your mind works different than the average person – you don't think in a lateral way. You jump from A to C. Most of my friends who are creative are dyslexic."

At age 12, he wrote a poem about the Iraq war and people thought it was special. 

Then he moved on to rapping, which he alternated with working as a cook. He'd quit his job, go on tour, and when he ran out of money would go back to cooking. 

But then, Hoey got so sick he had to give up hospitality work and was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a rare form of arthritis that fuses together the spine. 

He spent the first six months mostly in bed, but says the silver lining was he was able to work on Iceland. To raise awareness of the disease, he wrote an auto-biographical one-man show called Your Heart Looks Like A Vagina. 

The hour-long show is about he lost his lifestyle, had to navigate the health system and WINZ, then found his way back to a good place. The show, full of Hoey's in-your-face humour, didn't suit the Aussies. He was invited to perform it at the Melbourne Writer's Festival on the proviso that the title of the show be changed. Hoey declined. 

When writing, the 41-year-old uses a laptop for everything. "I couldn't be doing what I'm doing now if it wasn't for a word processor. My handwriting is completely illegible, even I can't read it."

He also recommends having a dedicated writing space ready to use. 

And he may have a four-legged muse.

While the poet-rapper-author-teacher is well-known in many circles, it's his toy Pomeranian dog, Prince Chilli, who's starting to steal the limelight. 

The ginger fluff ball with a sardonic sense of humour has more than 300 Instagram followers and rising. 

Hoey says the six-year-old canine he shares with an ex-girlfriend was a rescue dog. Prince Chilli was emaciated when they got him, but is now healthy, well-plumed and well-behaved (although he may bite Hoey now and then). 

People recognise him in the street, he gets "hey, Prince Chilli" shout outs in the street and he's been on stage with his human. 

Hoey adores the dog and is actually a sucker for love.

"If we lived in an egalitarian paradise, I would probably just write love poems or about dogs," he says.

By Virginia Winder
Originally published by Stuff