New Zealand Poet Laureate Award acceptance speech
Read on National Poetry Day, 25 August 2017, Fale Pasifika, University of Auckland book launch of Tightrope (Auckland University Press).
I accept this award on behalf of the ten-year-old
at St Joseph’s in Otahuhu
who found a word to rhyme with monocle
I accept this award on behalf
of Writers In Schools
whose powers are bionicle
I accept this award on behalf of Pasifika peoples
whose brown faces
aspire to higher places
I accept this award on behalf of women
whose hypothetical babies are born
while running political races
I accept this award on behalf of working class
who press against
windows of privilege
I accept this award on behalf of tangata whenua
— without land,
you know it takes a village
I accept this award on behalf of those
for whom poetry induces vomit
I will woo you with haiku, spoken word, slam, rhyming couplet and sonnet
I accept this award on behalf of mum
who spoke no English
when she came from Samoa
I accept as her daughter
the award of New Zealand Poet Laureate
quite poetic – don’t you think Aotearoa?
Selina Tusitala Marsh is a Pasifika poet-scholar of Samoan, Tuvaluan, Scottish and French ancestry who lives on Waiheke Island. She was the first person of Pacific descent to graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Auckland, and her 2004 doctoral thesis – entitled Ancient banyans, flying foxes and white ginger: Five Pacific women writers – focuses on the first Pacific female poets to be published in English. Tusitala Marsh asserts that literature was an integral vehicle for the empowerment of Pacific women and children in the largely male-dominated post-colonial era: ‘Poetry was used as a political voice. These women were all quite remarkable boundary-breakers.’ She is now an Associate Professor and lectures at the University of Auckland, specializing in Māori and Pacific Literary Studies and Creative Writing.
|Selina Tusitala Marsh, 2013. Emma Hughes Photography
Selina’s poetry has been published in over 70 national and international anthologies, academic books, literary and scholarly journals and on various notable literary websites. Its multicultural appeal is evident; since 2005 she has been invited to take part in over 140 poetic performances, has led over 110 workshops for community and professional organisations, spoken and mentored at over 45 schools and delivered over a dozen keynotes at literary and community events.
Selina’s first collection of poetry, Fast Talking PI (Auckland University Press, 2009) won the 2010 NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry, and it made the top 5 Best Sellers List shortly after publication. Albert Wendt wrote in praise of the book: ‘A new generation of poets has emerged in Aotearoa and the Pacific. Most of that generation are women, and Selina Tusitala Marsh, in this, her first collection, shows she is one of the most gifted and influential members of that generation.’
Cathie Koa Dunsford wrote in the Australian Women’s Book Review, ‘She peppers her poetic narrative with the rhythms and staccato of urban hip hop beats, in tune with slick contemporary themes and voices, showing her and their disregard for the romanticisation of the past and for the politics of the present.’ Nicky Pellegrino writes in the NZ Herald: ‘For Marsh, poetry is an inclusive rather than an elitist art form. She’s particularly enthusiastic about going into schools to perform and encourage students to find their own poetic voices.’
In Dark Sparring (Auckland University Press, 2013), her second book of poems, Selina combats family loss — specifically, her mother’s cancer diagnosis and long journey to recovery — with all the techniques of poetry, ritual and Muay Thai kickboxing that are at her disposal. Dark Sparring has been quoted as ‘an appealing voice, a strong right hook and an affecting, rhythmic heart.’ In her review for the NZ Listener, Lynley Edmaedes wrote that Marsh’s poetry ‘navigates mourning without sentimentality, the vernacular without cultural cringe, and tackles some of the big questions of Pacific diaspora with wit, bravery and poetic and personal integrity. And the result is superb. This collection puts Marsh at the vanguard of contemporary Pacific literature and cements her place as one of the most important poetic voices of her generation.’
Passionate about all poetry, especially that by Pasifika peoples in New Zealand, the Cambridge University Press recently published Selina’s chapter on this subject in A History of New Zealand Literature (ed. Mark Williams, 2016), titled ‘Nafanua and the New World: Pasifika’s Writing of Niu Zealand’. Her poet-scholar efforts are currently focused on writing a book about first-wave (1974–2017) Pacific women poets.
Her most recent book, Tightrope (Auckland University Press) was launched on National Poetry Day, 25 August 2017.
- 2017: Awarded Honorary Literary Fellow by the NZ Society of Authors, Waitangi Day Honours List.
- 2016: Instated as the 2016 Commonwealth Poet and commissioned to write and perform a poem before the Queen at the Commonwealth Day Observance in Westminster Abbey on 14 March on behalf of the 53 Commonwealth member states.
- 2016: Recorded 20 poems with the prestigious UK-based The Poetry Archive, which receives 1.75 million visitors a year and grants access to 500 global poets.
- 2016: Wrote a commissioned poem, ‘NZ Ink’, which was translated by world-renowned Chinese calligrapher Wong Dangling and exhibited at the Gus Fisher Gallery. It will be gifted to the University of Auckland’s Confucius Institute.
- 2016: Wrote and delivered the 2016 New Zealand Book Council Lecture.
- 2015: Winner of the London Literary Death Match, a live poetry slam event held at Kings College London.
- 2012: Represented Tuvalu at the London Olympics Poetry Parnassus event.
Media links and clips about Selina Tusitala Marsh
- Radio NZ interview and reading from Tightrope
- Writers’ file — New Zealand Book Council
- Author — Auckland University Press
- Pasifika Poetry — New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (NZEPC)
- Dark Sparring poetry review — NZ Poetry Shelf
- Fast Talking PI poetry performance — YouTube
- Selina Tusitala Marsh visits (and sasses) the Queen — New Zealand Book Council
- Reciting the first verse of her poem ‘Unity’ on RadioNZ National
- Waiheke poet to perform her specially commissioned work at Westminster Abbey — Stuff