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Selected Poems

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This generous selection of Bill Manhire's poems moves from playful early pieces like ‘On Originality’ and ‘How to Take off Your Clothes at the Picnic’ to major works of recent years such as ‘Hotel Emergencies’, a powerful response to contemporary atrocities, and ‘Erebus Voices’, written to be read by Sir Edmund Hillary at the 25th anniversary of the Mt Erebus tragedy.

Bill Manhire was born in Invercargill in 1946 and grew up in the lower South Island, where his father was a peripatetic publican. Educated at the University of Otago and University College London, he has taught since 1973 at Victoria University of Wellington, and is the founding director of Victoria’s Institute of Modern Letters.

He has published many books of poetry (four times winning the New Zealand Book Award and the poetry category in the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards), several works of fiction, and an autobiographical essay called Under the Influence. As an editor, he is responsible for numerous best-selling anthologies of New Zealand writing. A collection of his essays and interviews, Doubtful Sounds, was published in 2000, and he initiated and co-edited The Exercise Book: Creative Writing Exercises from Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters in 2011.

In 1997, Bill Manhire was made New Zealand’s inaugural Poet Laureate. He was an Antarctica New Zealand Arts Fellow in 1997–1998, and Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellow in Menton, France, in 2004. In 2005 he was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and named an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate. In 2007 he received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry.

'Bill Manhire Selected Poems is my favourite 2012 VUP publication. It celebrates the book as beautiful object. It’s small and intimate as poetry is, its drawing on the dust jacket as elusive and playful as the poems within, and the marker hints that this is a book that you read, reflect on and return to.

Inside, Hotere’s Portrait provides a further clue to the complexity of the poetry – the lines are writing or tracking, or mark-making, I am the man who writes with a twig, and the dark shades, the depth and darkness of living, Eventually we all shall go / Into the dark furniture of the radio. The surprising and lyrical blue rectangle – the poet’s mouth – appears to contain a wise old owl – what emerges from this poet is beautiful and profound, And what’s joy? Even a pencil will point to it.

And simple. The epigraph establishes immediate and generous connection – this is a book to accompany and keep you –I will place the paper in your hand is so deliberate – quite apart from the understated poetry of place and paper, the verb suggests formality, the hand touch. But not only – the paper is for you to read when you are alone – the 'I' gives to 'you'.

I like the chronological order of content. If you have never read these poems before, here is a way to start – from the beginning. If you know them, you take pleasure in their growth, their explorations, their circling back to particular preoccupations. I like how the voice grows from the artful wisps of the early work to something more declaratory which reaches back to rhyme and salutes childhood, memory and fragility. And always there is music.'

Catharina van Bohemen

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