Photo credits: Rebecca McMillan Photography
On a drizzly Saturday at the end of April, I travelled to Matahiwi Marae in the Hawke’s Bay with friends, family, and whānau to be officially inaugurated as New Zealand Poet Laureate. Although I’ve been in the role for just over eight months, the inauguration is a significant and special milestone – not only is it when I receive my tokotoko, it’s an opportunity to recognise the Poet Laureate role’s connection to Te Matau-a-Māui, where it all started.
My tokotoko was presented to me by Jacob Scott, who has created the tokotoko for all the previous Poets Laureate. Mine is made of bone and pounamu, and features carvings that are reminiscent of symbols from ancient Chinese calendars and almanacs. Jacob named the tokotoko “知識”, which means “knowledge”. He spoke of the mystery in the carvings and how it’s my job now to untangle the meaning behind them. There’s something very poetic about being guided by the unknown into knowledge and understanding.
Naturally the weekend was filled with poetry – my guest poets Emma Barnes, Louise Wallace and Nathan Joe read beautifully at all of the weekend’s events, introducing people to the breadth of contemporary Aotearoa and world poetry. (Nathan’s reading of Chen Chen’s ‘Winter’ is going down as a capital-M Moment in New Zealand poetry history.) I was also delighted to be able to include other writers in the line-up for the Saturday night public event: David Chan, Leah Dodd, Gem Wilder (who also read a poem by Claire Mabey), Ash Davida Jane, Rose Lu (who read a new poem by Nina Mingya Powles) and Rebecca Hawkes. One of the new poems I read is an 85-line acrostic acknowledging the Poets Laureate who have come before me. You can read it on the New Zealand Poet Laureate blog.
It’s safe to say I wasn’t quite prepared for how emotional the whole weekend was – many happy tears were shed and I tried my best to not look embarrassed as people said very nice things about me all weekend!
I’m so grateful to everyone who played a part in making it all happen: Matahiwi Marae, the National Library, Hawke’s Bay Readers and Writers, Toitoi Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre, Wardini Books, Ben Fagan, Emma, Louise and Nathan, and everyone else who spoke or performed during the weekend. Thank you to you all.
Chris Tse, May 2023
NZ Poet Laureate page
Here are some photos from the weekend taken by my very talented friend Rebecca McMillain: