Opening of “Long Waves of our Ocean: New responses to Pacific poems” exhibition

Chris joined us at the National Library recently for the opening of  Long Waves of our Ocean: New responses to Pacific poems and premiered his poem, the longest wave as a response to the central place of poetry in the exhibition.

The title of the exhibition is a line from the poem Stepping Stones by Albert Wendt:

"...and our islands are your anchor and launching site
for the universes that repeat and repeat

like the long waves of our ocean like Tagaloaalagi’s
compulsive scrutiny of what is to come and fear"

— Peter Ireland

~~~the longest wave~~~

I run from the mountains / through urban sprawl / through shopping malls / through air-conditioned office buildings / I run from desperation / and headlong into a joy that I hope will crush me / I run from ransom notes left on shattered windscreens / dead ends / bad weeks that won’t end / I run from narrative and happy endings / history presented as spillage / everybody involved making a petty mess /  I run from storms swallowing the skies / through fire and locust plague / I run with zoo animals released back into the wild / like public servants unshackled from security clearances and !P@55wordS / I run from social media and porn bots / from influencers selling me plastic bodies / from the urge to sleep through the anthropocene / I run from Christmas decorations in October and hot cross buns in January / through time-lapse decay and benefits realisation / through the haze of burning press releases about liveable cities / I run from my embarrassing teenage poetry / from thinly veiled metaphors jumping in and out of closets / in and out of the shared body heat of a crowd / out of breath / out like a light / but still wired / let me sleep / through white noise and bird song / through neighbours’ squabbles about boundary lines / I run from borders / away from units and definitions / away from inboxes overflowing with flattering comments / I run from infographics and statistics / that explain why we are miserable / from proof of our self-inflictions / I run in search of direction / away from need and want / from could’ve, should’ve, would’ve / I run from the canon / from my catalogue of ailments / past the sun and moon locked in their orbits / past the billboards advertising an impossible future / away from the party / each of us saving the best parts for later / but never finding the time to enjoy / I am here for a good time / I am here in salt / preserved for good measure / I am the longest wave / stretching beyond myself / I run to be lost and found / I run towards land / I run home

— Chris Tse

Chris reading ~~~the longest wave~~~ at the opening of  Long Waves of our Ocean: New responses to Pacific poems, National Library, Wellington. Photo by Celeste Fontein.

More about Long Waves of our Ocean: New responses to Pacific poems

Welcome to Chris Tse our new Poet Laureate

The National Library is delighted to celebrate National Poetry Day by announcing Chris Tse of Wellington as the New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2022-2024.

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

Fellow poet Freya Daly Sadgrove says Chris “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.”

Chinese man in coulourful jacket standing in front of a large round mirror.
Self-portrait Chris Tse. Photo provided. 

For Tse, his appointment was a thrill and an honour.

“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.”

Congratulations Chris we look forward to hearing more from you.

Why Hollywood won’t cast poets in films anymore

1. There are public reasons and there are private reasons.

2. The public reasons are toothless exaggerations

3. In private, we recount the times we’ve been made to feel damaged.

4. The night writes its power ballads behind closed doors.

5. We have dressed our wounds with the sins of our tormentors.

6. When we were happy, we filled our suitcases with fresh bread.

7. Now that we are filled with rage we choke our duck ponds with dry crusts.

8. There was a time when the colour of a nightclub brawl did not exist.

9. Nowadays, a bookstore drive-by shooting no longer elicits social media outrage.

10. We must acknowledge that there are no more wars left to cry over.

11. Except for the wars we wage against ourselves, which we refuse to acknowledge.

12. We carved our names into every building to remind ourselves never to return.

13. You can dance for a destination, but you will never get there in one piece.

14. Careers based on public humiliation are no longer worth curating.

15. At no point have we accepted responsibility for casting the first stone.

16. If it’s all lies, we must pretend not to notice.

17. If it’s all truth, we must pretend not to care.

18. Either way, it’s meant to hurt.

19. It’s meant to make you want to leave your husband for a tax accountant.

20. It’s the way we step out of a burning theatre as if nothing’s wrong.

21. As if the smoke in our eyes is a lover’s smile caught in sunlight.

22. An uncontrollable fire is perfectly fine, given the state of the world.

23. Then why do I feel so angry?

24. Are you angry?

25. I’m angry.

— Chris Tse

Poster announceing Chris Tse as new Poet Laureate, includes a poem called ‘Chris Tse and  his imaginary band’ and biographical information about Chris which is available on the Poet Laureate blog.
Poster announcing Chris Tse as the new Poet Laureate.
Thank you to Phantom Billstickers for the poster.

Whale Psalm

The whale, says Jonah, is the black night filled with terrible screams.
The whale is missiles that winnow the grain from the wheatfields.
The whale is the city with bombed-out basements and burning high-rises.
The whale is the country, bogged down in booby-traps and wreckage of tanks.
The whale shoulders the load, a tower of coffins.
The whale is village-fiddlers tuning up a death march.
The whale is soldiers shouting their poems in the ruins.
The whale is a prayer on the lips of children.
The whale is liberty pecked at by birds of prey.
The whale is the enemy, with its taboos, its vanity and its ignorance.
The whale is life incarnate and a desperation to survive.
The whale is the weight of creation stranded on the tipping point.
The whale is always further away than first thought, but inescapable.
The whale wants to save us.
The whale wants to win the war.
The whale turns the spotlight on the whale-hunters and the war-generals.
The whale has climbed the diving board above the dried-up sacred fountain.
The whale must dive into the circus barrel, and there is no way out.

— David Eggleton

Mostly Black

Before, as it was, it was mostly black,
dark beaks, polished talons, feathers, a black
regime drenched in the melancholy black
of rains that took tides further towards black.
From hinges of sunlight hung blocks of black,
and risen humps of islands were matt black.
Cinders sailed from bush burn-offs, carbon black.
Beads on antimacassars gleamed jet black.
Through pine's silent groves possum eyes shone black.
Above tar-seal a melted rainbow turned black.
At disintegration of monolith black,
green, all that blue can be, then back to black.
Green of pounamu lost under lake's black.
Blackout's lickerish taste, blood-pudding black,
and midnight mushrooms gathered from deep black.
Tattoos drawn with bent nib and homemade black.
Batman's mask, a dull sheen of cue ball black.
The primeval redacted, placed in black
trash bags, or else turned out as burnt bone black.
Pull on the wool singlet of shearer's black,
for blacker than black is New Zealand black,
null and void black, ocean black, all black.
In Te Pō's night realm, from Te Kore's black,
under the stars spreads the splendour of black.

— David Eggleton

Te-Ara-a-Parāoa, Path of the Sperm Whale

Aotearoa's white peaks spyhop above waves,
seeking albatross worlds of mislaid moons.
Screeching kākā skim fast through tree-tops.
Parāoa breaches in a frost-smoke chrysalis.
Iwi on the shore perform haka of welcome.
Drizzle dances on the head of the whale.
Hoisted up out of water, blowing a guffaw,
blunt headlands slap and wallow in their turn.
A living wall slides past, gentle-eyed, vast.
Luminous planktons glow in dark ocean;
neon flying squid flash through salty air.
Silvery-bubbled, ripple-driven, Parāoa
tilts her tail-flukes, keels and plunges:
guiding her calf down Kaikōura Canyon.
Bob of a fur seal pup snouts through
seaweed wrack, in the surf's long swell.
A breeze licks over spun gobbets of foam.
A green tendril climbs sunwards in a spiral

— David Eggleton


Matariki's eyes are fiery in the night.
Feather-shawled mountains gleam their beaks.
Great trunks, sawn through, tumble and tilt.
Bold carvings, auctioned in whispers,
echo as prophecies, sung by wind-swept trees.
The hangi smokes great boars, basted in juices.
Plagued by caterpillars, slithered by eels,
a patchwork quilt of farm unravels.
In lightning and hail, each snail snivels;
learned visitors take shelter with skinks,
under rocks from nesting angry falcons.
Ghosts hoard waka in marshes, under silt.
An arcade is roofed with engraved glass;
a pedestal is bound by polished brass;
faces are wound tighter than a watchspring.
Wigs become a sheep flock gathering.
There's daughter of the kauri, Amber Reeves,
sailing for London from the Antipodes.
Through cavern gloom, suspended by ooze,
many worms glow as the matrix broods.

— David Eggleton

Key to the Hermit Kingdom

Once far to the back, now far out in front,
to bear the brunt and wear the shame,
the minister for health arrives by stealth;
children have assembled for the last bull-run.
The basis of life in these islands is sun.
Random offence takes knee-jerk exception
to a nation's internet solipsism.
They want to topple Cook's statues, wave through
freedom protestors, tweeters who invite you
to burn replicas of J.K.Rowling at the stake,
or shout cancel in Putin's graffitied face,
then pose on Instagram to game the blame.
As yesterday's cassette static unspools,
white noise buzzes across the tells
of a whole world in bruise-coloured blue,
globe mortified by heat-wave distortion,
though too we might die of rabid exposure,
our tarpaulins snatched away by storm-cells,
Our gathered thoughts await their closure;
while all look on, thanks to their lit devices;
and beware the naked blade that flashes
in dearer chainstore supermarket aisles;
beware pop pop pop of police gunshots,
attempts to liberate property from capital.
When asked, step away from those unmasked;
accept the chill vaccine that burns the arm.
Everything depends on the arrival
of red wheelbarrows from China for big box stores,
before global supply links break again:
ever-remoter quotas of autumn's dry spell
frozen, like jagged truths of rock pools drained,
those barren rocks where marooned sailors listen
for the lure of mermaids and police sirens.
Winter's stew of anonymised outrage
lasts lockdown season in the Hermit Kingdom.
Then jet-set Spring arrives, tanned and smiling,
in a jeep towing Summer's caravan,
which brings an all-weather finish to year's end.

— David Eggleton

Poet Laureate Award call for nominations

Kia hiwa ra!
Kia hiwa ra!

The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa is seeking nominations for the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award.

Poetry is a quintessential part of New Zealand art and culture, and through the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award the government acknowledges the value that New Zealanders place on poetry.

The National Librarian Te Pouhuaki will appoint the New Zealand Poet Laureate after reviewing nominations and seeking advice from the New Zealand Poet Laureate Advisory Group.

Nominees must have made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand poetry, and be an accomplished and highly regarded poet who continues to publish new work. They must also be a strong advocate for poetry and be able to fulfil the public role required of a Poet Laureate. The role includes engaging with a wide range of people and inspiring New Zealanders to read and write poetry.

Candidates are expected to reside in New Zealand during their tenure as Laureate.

The term of appointment for the next Poet Laureate will run until August 2024.

Nominations close on Friday, 29 July 2022 at 5pm.

Please email your nomination to

Email is preferred, but you can also mail your nomination to:

New Zealand Poet Laureate Award
National Library of New Zealand
PO Box 1467

Attention: Lily Reid

Enquiries about the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award can be directed to

The End of History, and Warhead

The End of History

1989, when the fall of Berlin's wall
chiselled away loose masonry,
brought promise for humanity,
as tank man stood tall in Tiananmen Square.
Dignity seemed worth more
at the end of the Cold War than ever before.
Lovers kissed for cameras, which made
every photograph special, like a bouquet,
while wires that held the whole shebang
upright were hidden well away.
They placed white carnations in rifle muzzles.
They dumped Klashnikovs for bumpers of champagne.
They waved banners and the snare drum beat.
They climbed to the top of decline and fall.
The fix was in, nothing for it but to swim.
1989, when the world-wide-web's pipedream lit up;
telexes hiccupped, telephones tittered, faxes coughed,
though so many were soon to return
in coffins from whatever war was next.
Some had paintstripper to remove the pain;
some smooshed their wonted ancient grain.
Sir Galahad rode in with leather apron on,
making light of the massacre, the heavy weather,
the forked lightning, the stacks of stooks
in summer stubble, scorched for yonks.
Choppers prepared for evacuation.
Citizens rejoiced in satellites, holding hands,
blindly high on their own resolution,
across the ocean and down in the deeps,
whose dungeons opened and released the Fates,
in bubbles of oxygen that seemed herculean.
Yesterday's progress ended and was rebooted.
Deplorables became renewable; edibles became incredible.
Assemblies clanked through flung-open gates.
And you will know us by our toppled hopes,
the flogged scars and stripes that bless the bloody flag.
We were going forward, the damned, on our five-year plan,
in spirit of prayer to stardust of paradise,
with lassoed monuments and new statues raised;
but hope is the thing that scatters,
through tarred and feathered streets,
as tear-gas arrives and water cannon swings.
There were human pyramids and plagues
of new missiles; jogging shoes hung from gallows.
The blow-up globe was punctured and hissed
with escaping breath as another dream
began to count down to lift-off;
and then we were stuck in the 1990s,
with a long night coming on,
and very few left to sing revolution's song.

— David Eggleton


Say no to the Mad Emperor of the Russians,
in thrall to his own truth-flubbing trolls,
and his judo-player skills and his steroid flushes.
An unholy fool, dancing like a very angry bear
on the hot coals of burning Ukrainian cities.
Let him be deposed and shunted to a far-off gulag,
drowned like Rasputin, stopped like Trotsky with a pick-axe.
Let him not die in his bed like the monster Stalin,
for he is one of those tyrannical jerks,
photo-shopped all ripped veins and vascular,
as bigged-up as Josef Stalin's Collected Works.
What Pootin doesn't know isn't knowledge,
because Pootin went to KGB Spy College.
He's a rabid mole who has swallowed a wasp;
a death guru with a cobra's cross-eyed stare,
who flicks his forked tongue out to test the air.
A total mass murderer as Mister Anonymous,
a radioactive creature from a toxic lagoon.
Sputnik space-case they should have sent to the moon;
makes like he's in a North Korean restaurant: dog eat dog.
Expressionless face of a long-term drunk,
he's a breezeblock Brezhnev, a pisspot Lenin;
he's in a rusted suit made of the Iron Curtain;
he's the skull and crossbones on a bottle of poison.
Everything he touches turns to smashed-up melamine;
he wears a fake tan like his pal Trumpentine.
He's an old-shoe Communist, placed as People's Tzar,
in an oligarchical Formula One racing car:
leads the pack with World Domination blah blah blah.
Pootin be like the psycho comrade in wolf's clothing,
he's the very dead soul of serfdom resurrected,
another well-known germophobe, always well-protected.
A barren rock, a cement mixer mixing a dunce's lies;
a minuscule human blob with rage-filled eyes;
a villainous Marvel figurine: Incandescent Vlad Puteen.

— David Eggleton

For Tom

Words and aroha for Tom Mulligan

In terms of a place to stand, for New Zealand’s Poets Laureate, there is no warmer invitation for them to feel at home than at Matahiwi marae near Clive in Hawkes Bay. It’s onto this marae that they have been welcomed since 2007 by kaumātua Tom Mulligan. And it is to Tom that Marty Smith addresses her fond acknowledgement in this recent essay.

Marty Smith, teacher, and poet has played a key role in shaping the special weekends where the Laureate, their family and friends, National Library staff, John and Wendy Buck of Te Mātā Estate Winery, artist Jacob Scott, students from local schools and others are welcomed onto Matahiwi. The weekend during which the Laureate receives their own tokotoko created by Jacob.

For Tom weaves threads of just such a weekend with a ‘party’ given to acknowledge Tom’s role in the Laureate story. For this, Marty wrote a poem for Tom, had it printed and housed. To say more will give the show away. The marvellous photographs of Matahiwi and Tom are by Florence Charvin. Words and aroha by Marty Smith.

Writing on behalf of the National Library, it is a special pleasure to share Marty’s story with you.

— Peter Ireland

For Tom

Part I — Tom

There’s a cold wind cutting in from the South, and Tom’s got his woolly Magpies hat down over his ears, jacket collar up. The urupa in behind him, he turns and pays respect to the dead, turns back to the living, raises his arm, and sweeps it out wide to Te Mata, then up to Maui Pōtiki, high and proud on top of the tekoteko, braced against Te Ika, straining on the rope that holds heaven to earth.

John’s jacket is zipped right up, he’s tucked in beside Jacob, listening, soaking everything in. On Jacob’s knees, the tokotoko is waiting, wrapped in cloth, and everyone glances away and back at it, trying to make out the shape. (What is it? Hone’s one was a wine thief). Peter’s sitting by John, head gravely tilted, listening to Tom. His team from Wellington are over with the manuhiri, in the wind a little. Beside them, the student performers are staunch, sitting up straight, trying not to shiver in thin shirts and blazers. The poets on the paepae are directly out of the southerly, warmly enfolded.

It’s always like this (except for it’s mostly sunny, and sometimes boiling) when we turn out to manaaki the new Poet Laureate at Matahiwi. John and Tom, right in the centre. Jacob, who can call him Uncle Tom, shapes every tokotoko true to the nature of its poet; each is famous in its own right. These days, Peter Ireland and the National Library run the events, and I help, and God help us if we programme anything when a Magpies game is on. Once, our night-time celebration was a real corker, jazz singers sang in a low light in front of autumn-gold grapevines draped over wineboxes from Te Mata Estate, people sipped John’s first-class wines and sighed at lines from our finest poets; John and Tom went to the rugby.

Tom needs his stick to walk now, and he tells Peter he’s going to step back. I think of Tom and John, settled in their seats, listening to the poets on the paepae, everything they’ve worked for coming alive. It’s like Maui himself above them, hauling up the patterns of words.
And I think, I’ll make Tom a poem of his own.
A picture comes of Peter and me with Tom in his office, making plans, peaceful in the space where he turns ideas. We’re quiet and patient, and wait, and the silence turns into leaves stirring in the gentle breeze. Jacob says Tom makes space for others to let their ideas unfold; space that stretches so they can build pictures like building blocks on top of their idea. He says Tom’s especially good at underpinning foundations.

Tom Mulligan and Marty Smith. Marty is reading Tom this story. They are laughing at the line about John and Tom going to the rugby. Photo Florence Charvin.

Part II — Hairy process

So, the poem has chosen itself.  The words that spring into shape are all single syllables with short stops, just as I think: Tom’s poem should be hand printed.

Neville did say to me once that I could come and use his press. Neville’s a sort of cousin, he’s a Smith, and we have the same great-grandparents. He has a collection of printing presses, loves them: trays of print, blocks, the works. He learned to set type and he printed with hand presses when he started in the trade, and he never gave up loving it. After he retired from Brebner Print, he moved some of his printing gear into a lock-up, along with his collection of art deco cars, which he polishes to a high shine and parks precisely. There are shelves and shelves of old valve radios in a small room to the side.
Neville says he’ll help me make Tom’s poem, he’s glad to. He knows Tom through the Magpies and Hawkes Bay Rugby Union.

It’s a hairy process. You have to pick the letters out from the print tray one at a time and put them into the composing stick back to front and upside down. They have a nick in the front, and if all the nicks line up, they’re right. The trouble is you can’t find them in the print tray by looking at them: very little looks like what it is. The ‘p’s look like ’b’s, and they’re right beside each other in the tray, and that’s just the start of it. You have to follow a chart to pick the right one out and some of them are bastard ones – crooked, or italics, or with a worn bit. Neville throws them straight on the floor. I’m cack-handed and he gets impatient with me for not remembering to keep the pressure on the letters with my thumb, because if they fall out, it’s a disaster. The letters are tiny and hard to read and only an expert – Neville – could put them back, and it would take ages. And he’s wanting to go back to working on the car he’s fixing. When he’s (fairly) sure I’m not going to drop them, he goes off to glue something inside it. I’m nosing around in his trays and trays of letters, and he comes to show me the printer’s blocks. Pictures. Now we’re talking. He patiently pulls out one drawer after another, and in the Sports drawer, he finds a silver fern. Yes, for the Magpies. So, I hunt through the trays, sliding them in and out. Some of them are Victorian. He finds me the rugby block, and I find a tūī in ‘Birds’. I want a tūī, my gardening tūī walks on the ground beside me.

I get right down to the second to the last line and then I run into the amateur’s mistake: there are too many letters in my line to fit into the composing stick. It only has twenty-four spaces. I have to change the line. And change it quickly because Neville is waiting to put it into the chase and lock it in safely (before I drop it and lose the morning’s work and create an afternoon’s work for him) and get off to his afternoon.

And I’m panic rearranging the lines in my head while I’m arranging the letters and hoping for the best.

        ‘You won’t change anything, will you? Because that’s it, it’s all done.’
         ‘No,’ I say, ‘I won’t.’
Then later that night I have a cold horror because I forgot to put my name on it.

Part III — Plate glass photos

And all this is happening the weekend after the Christchurch Mosque shootings, after I’d been to Blenheim to see Mum, about to shift out of her home and into a ‘home’. We’d sorted through dozens of Aunty’s plate glass photos from the early 1900s. We’d held them to the light to see her grandfather and father, each on the handle of a cross-saw, heads only half as high as the trunk of the tree beside them. Silver collodion plates of bullock trains and packhorses; lilies in glass bottles; eleven cats on a ladder, all sitting still.
Mum’s the only person left alive who saw them moving, who knows what their voices sound like. She never heard her grandmother speak Māori in the house.  She got a hiding for it at school, Mum says, and only spoke with her brother in the garden, when he came down from Taranaki to visit. Her garden was all flax, no flowers. Mum used to hide in the flax bushes and listen. Miriam Ellen, her fierce cheekbones in silver light against the flowered wallpaper, frozen in glass by her daughter.
I like to think they helped me make that last line.

Part IV — Last say to the home side

I run my poem by Hinemoana Baker, who lives in Berlin now. We’ve been writing together for twenty years, and she knows Tom. She came to Matahiwi as one of Ian Wedde’s poets, and sang a waiata to Ian, and to Maui, who is of the sea, as she is. Hinemoana says it’s right that the last word should be Tom, because on most marae, the home side have the last say.

I’m listening to the memorial service on the car radio the next morning, then I go back to the print shop, and I’m thinking, I just straight up have to say to Neville that I’m sorry, but the name really has to be on there, for Tom. He doesn’t turn a hair, and he lets me change two more words around, too.
           ‘Are you sure?’, he asks, looking at me hard.
He screws it back into the chase, and then he puts it in its place in the press. It’s an electric press and it’s only a small job, so he has to paint the ink on by hand.
           ‘Can I have two colours?’
           ‘Are you sure?’
I say I want the text to be green for the marae, and the tūī and the fern to be black.
He just looks at me. He doesn’t say that it will take him another two hours, he
just patiently picks out the tūī and the fern and screws the case back, puts it in its place in the press, and paints the green ink onto the roller.
           ‘Stand back,’ he says, ‘You don’t want to get hit by moving parts.’
Then he pushes the industrial button and the printer whirrs into a mass of moving parts and makes some printing noises and a poem flies out. It says, birds burst out pells and whistles.
Humming, he puts the chase back on the bench, and picks out the p with his printer’s tweezers and I hurry to the tray to get a b, like a nurse getting things for the surgeon.
He picks out a bastard o that doesn’t make a complete circle and drops it on the floor. I scurry to the tray for a round o. When he’s satisfied, he prints the green. He washes every speck of green off the roller and wipes it clean. He unscrews the chase again and puts back the tūī and the fern. He paints the roller with black ink, and then he prints the black. Then he washes off the roller and wipes it down.
          ‘That’s it,’ he says, ‘You put the letters away.’
And I undo my poem, letter by letter. I carry each individual letter back to the tray and check each one against the chart and the other letters in the tray before I put it in. I’m deadly serious. I’m thrilled by the ephemeral nature of printing. There are the copies for Tom, and that’s it. No going back.

Neville’s gluing carpet inside the car when I go to find him. He’s pleased. He keeps a copy for the Printers Association.
           ‘Tom’s a good guy,’ he says.

Part V — Little whare

So, I have my beautiful poems, and now I want a box for them. I mean to paint it the colour of Matahiwi but I can’t find my stash of boxes after the Christmas clear up, and I can’t buy one small enough. I don’t want the poems slopping around. I think of my friend, Andy Macfarlane, who makes exquisite things with wood: delicate and full of grace. He’s an artist whose art is private and prolific. I take him a rough print of the poem for size.
           ‘What do you think of my new head?’ he says, gesturing towards a massive standing head, staring out into the rain as if out to sea at Easter Island. It’s made all out of small pieces of off-cut wood so that it looks also like one of the giant president heads, cut from granite, staring out over America. The head has his characteristic punk earring, made from bolts and rings. All Andy’s heads have a grave bearing, with comic dashes of levity. This one’s staring at the back porch, the summer table with the canvas chairs covered with wood of all lengths, a vice, saws and clamps and all manner of tools; containers of small pieces of wood of various thicknesses. I look at these and think about sides and edges for what I think of as the arms.
          ‘What are you thinking of doing?’
I show him the poem so he can see the size.
          ‘I want it to hold all the poems. I want it to be able to stand up so you can read the poem, and take them out easily, if he wants to give one away, and for them not to fall out. I’d like it to look like a little whare, and have arms, and the little part at the top for the head. I can’t remember the names.’
          ‘Like a pataka?’ he says. And he rolls a smoke, while he considers it. ‘What about like that little shrine at Fernhill?’
I think about that blue and white Madonna behind the plate glass and the pure pitch of the roof pointing to the blue sky.
          ‘That would be the right feel, but it still has to look like a whare, eh? And I want to paint it green.’

We start picking through the wood. He takes some fine small flat pieces and says, ‘What about this for the sides?’
          ‘Do you want them upright like this? Thick here? How wide would you like the bottom?’
          ‘Only wide enough to hold them in.’
He squints through his smoke, head back, while he considers the bits of wood.
          ‘We could make a little lip, and put a little wedge at the back, so they’re tilted. Then they won’t fall out.’
We wander along the table, picking up bits of wood. He has a small container of fine pieces, just like the bits which slide between each letter-print line to hold it in place and create the white space between lines. He starts pulling pieces out.
          ‘Which parts would you like coloured?’
          ‘The arms, definitely. And maybe somewhere inside, do you reckon?’
          ‘What do you think of this colour?’
He has a steely-grey green.
          ‘I need it to be the green of Matahiwi,’ I say.

Intricate green carvings on the edges of the roof of a marae.
Matahiwi marae Te Matau-a-Māui. Photo Florence Charvin.

Part VI — Green of Matahiwi

I’ve studied the colour in photos and in the background of the video of Selina’s celebration, (so colourful, it’s changing the green). I go looking in my test pots — I have about twenty different greens — and mix the colour. I mix the colour in my deep memory of all the times I’ve gazed at Maui, listening to Tom. I have to cover the colour with clingfilm to take to Andy, it dries at least two shades lighter.
          ‘It’s this green.’
          ‘Put it on here,’ he says, and gives me a brush. He has an upturned white bucket.
          ‘On there,’ he says, ‘You can see the colour.’
I do a bit of a smear and it looks too emerald, too vivid on top of pure white. He mixes a bit of the grey-green in. It’s close, but I mix a bit more of my green in, and then make a proper mix. I reckon I’ve got it near enough, and I don’t want to dull it.
          ‘Do you want me to paint it?’
          ‘No, I’m going to put it together with little pegs to see how it looks, and get it fitted together, then I’ll paint it and glue it. I’ll give you a ring when it’s done.’

About a week later, he puts a note in my letter box to tell me it’s done. Andy eschews cell phones and we don’t have a land line any more.

I know it will be great. I’m thinking of the eerie, delicate, funny crown he made for Oberon in the school play. Wire bent delicately as twigs, nuts and berries (literally nuts and bolts) hanging like delicate charms. I’m thinking of his pop-art paintings of the queen, a gold sun like a halo behind, both mocking and elevating her beautiful coronation self. I’m thinking of the time something sad happened to Henry at school, and Andy made him a tiny perfect grand piano out of balsa wood to take with him when he left home to go to med school, that he still takes from house to house with him.

And when I see it, I really don’t know what to say.  It makes me feel like crying. The little whare sits delicate and calm, the poem sitting inside, looking out. The walls, with the layers of slightly different woods, like a real home. There are always surprises – I’m not expecting the fingers at the end of the maihi to be there, or those perfect circular shapes. Later he tells me he made them by holding them down with a board while he drilled half holes through.
          ‘It’s so beautiful,’ I say, ‘Tom will love it.’

Tom Mulligan even in his quiet office when Tom speaks under the earth, the roots stir to listen.   Water shush-shushes  trees shine like sugar and tui sings birds burst out bells toots & whistles to keep time with Tom.   by Marty Smith
Poem Tom Mulligan by Marty Smith. Photo Marty Smith.

Part VII — So much aroha

Peter organises a special occasion for Tom, and it’s not only the kaikaranga, bending down to shake leaves, who wear black. Maui’s eye glows white under the knot of his hair, the wind wisps streaks across a very blue sky.

We’re in the wharekai, under the murals Jacob made years ago with his art students. They tell the story of work, rows and rows of stone-fruit trees for Watties; long lines of fat chops for the works at Whakatū, closed-down for years. The site is just across the creek from where Tom is seated, to the side of the honour roll of soldiers who died in the war; some, four or five sons are on the end wall, alive and glowing as he fights the fish. The line of his frown and the perfect curves of the waves make me think, Jacob did that himself.

The space around Tom is warm; peaceful and full. He listens carefully to John telling the story of their past. Peter speaks, and John leans back in his chair, absorbed, hand against his cheek. Jacob stands, clears his throat, and walks ceremonially to the table, bearing back something wrapped. (What is it?) Everyone cranes forward. The tokotoko comes clear: a simple spiral, rich in colour like rimu, and smooth, and solid. It’s grounded by a round knob on top, to fit into Tom’s hand. Tom is overcome, and Jacob, speaking, is close to tears.

I’m completely undone when I read Tom his poem, and he seems stunned. I talk about Neville, and Andy, and the wood, and the Aunties murmur, ‘So much aroha’. When I kiss Tom, his whānau stands and sings, and everyone joins till the room fills and swells and I’m not the only one crying.  

Man sitting at a table in his house. There are pictures on the wall above him.
Tom Mulligan. Photo Florence Charvin.

 Marty Smith biography 

Marty Smith’s Horse with hat was a finalist in the Poetry Award in the 2014 NZ Post Book Awards, and won the Jesse Mackay award for Best First Book of Poetry. She is writing about the people on the Hastings racecourse with the help of an arts grant from Creative New Zealand.

Marty helps Tom and the community of Matahiwi as MC for the poetry readings and performances at the inauguration of the Poet Laureate. She helps Peter and the National Library as MC for Poets Night Out, the evening celebration. Big shout out to her mate, Carla Crosbie, and the team at HB Readers and Writers, who run a beautiful event, every time.