Launching ‘Still Is’

On Friday 21 June, the National Library hosted the launch of former Poet Laureate Vincent O’Sullivan’s last poetry collection Still Is, published less than two months after he passed away in April.

Book cover of Still Is (Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2024).

The evening was a heartwarming celebration of Vincent’s life and career, with contributions from Vincent’s family and those who knew him well. Te Herenga Waka University Press’ Fergus Barrowman shared lively anecdotes that highlighted Vincent’s wit and talent, shedding light on what it was like to work closely with him for 40 years.

I was honoured to be asked to read at the launch alongside former Laureates Bill Manhire and Jenny Bornholdt, and poets Gregory O’Brien and Diana Bridge who all spoke movingly about their friendships with Vincent. We each read a poem from Still Is as well as one of our own poems to complement Vincent’s. I wrote a new poem for the occasion in response to Vincent’s poem ‘The Trouble With Windows’.

Subtitles missing

Lately I have become untethered from stillness.
Here, in my little brown house caught in the shadow
of a neighbouring tower block, every room
rattles my patience. The tui and the sparrows
frolick at my kitchen window. I have never been
able to read their intent. I watch my neighbours
watch the day go by, each window a screen
of unquiet resolution. I feel as if we are
collectively haunted by some outdated expression
of freedom because the day is a dream we dream
when we have no other way to take flight.
On this side of the glass the view is idyllic
and industrious: every car on the motorway
is a passing vignette and every container ship
works against silken blue. Across the harbour,
the Eastern ranges remain staunch in their place.
Time collects on the wind, unbothered, while
my attention divides and scatters itself again
and again in search of an elusive synchronicity.
My imagination’s fieldnotes are entirely made up
of subtitles for every window I look into or
out of. Nearly all of them are questions, like
‘How can we prove what never occurred?’
and ‘What waits for us on the other side?’.
Like daybreak, the tui and the sparrows reappear.
They ask for so little. A lesson, surely, given
we are prone to asking for what must be earned.

— Chris Tse

Chris at the Still Is book launch and reading. Image credit Marcelo Duque Cesar.