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Chris Tse's "Life-Changing Opportunity" As NZ's Latest Poet Laureate

26 Aug 2022
A big announcement on National Poetry Day - find out the reaction to the "glam-rock poetry superstar's" appointment and the difference he plans to make.

Chris Tse collects accolades at a phenomenal rate - it would be alarming if it wasn’t so impressive.

His latest is one that puts him in elite company and comes with a title that will stay on his CV for years to come.

To celebrate National Poetry Day, the Lower Hutt born and raised wordsmith has been announced as New Zealand’s latest Poet Laureate.

His reign covers through until 2024 - and comes with a $100,000 stipend over the two years. Tse is granted $80,000 of that with the rest held by the National Library (who administer the post) to use to support Tse with travel and participation in literary events.

Tse doesn’t hold back his excitement about his new role.

“The number 13 is a lucky number in my family, so it feels very auspicious to be named the 13th New Zealand Poet Laureate.

“Stepping into this role as a queer, Asian writer is an incredible and life-changing opportunity. I’m thrilled and honoured to be following in the footsteps of some of our literary greats.

“New Zealand’s poetry scene is thrumming with diverse and innovative voices on both the page and the stage, and I can’t wait to use my tenure as Poet Laureate to help people discover the riches of this scene.”

Right from his debut full-length poetry collection How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, Tse’s been making an important mark - winning the 2016 Ockham Award for Best First Book of Poetry. His follow-ups HE’S SO MASC. and 2022's Super Model Minority have also garnered critical acclaim.

He’s in demand across a range of genres including fiction and non-fiction - and a regular at literary festivals across the country and around the world, including in the next few days at the Auckland Writers Festival.

Te Pouhuaki National Librarian Rachel Esson has described Tse’s appointment as recognition of “a poet leading a generational and cultural shift in the reach and appreciation of poetry in Aotearoa.”

Chris Tse and Rachel Esson. Photo: Marcelo Duque Cesar.

Fellow poet Freya Daly Sadgrove unsurprisingly waxes lyrically on Tse, stating he “will unite and embolden the full breadth of Aotearoa’s poetry community as well as entice new audiences with his innovation. 

“He’s a glam-rock poetry superstar with a big, gorgeous heart and he will raise the profile of Aotearoa poetry right now like no one else.”

Sam Elworthy, Director of Auckland University Press who have published Tse’s works, wholeheartedly agrees. “As Poet Laureate, Chris Tse will take poetry to new places and new readers and new writers around Aotearoa – we’re going to love watching him do it.

“He'll be the most amazing poet laureate! In three extraordinary poetry collections, up on stage with the Show Ponies, and growing the New Zealand literature pond with the Out Here anthology, Chris brings open eyes and an open heart, a fresh voice and a cutting wit.” 

Chris Tse (left) as part of Show Ponies Poetry. Photo: Roc+ Photography.

The company Tse eluded to that he now keeps as a crowned Poet Laureate is certainly illustrious. The dozen previous appointments showcase the talent it takes to reach this level.

Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare, Elizabeth Smither, Brian Turner, Jenny Bornholdt, Michele Leggott, Cilla McQueen, Ian Wedde, Vincent O’Sullivan, CK Stead, Selina Tusitala Marsh and David Eggleton.

Tse’s addition to these ranks provides a perspective that fits perfectly in the moment - and a voice that can make a difference.