Bill Manhire (b. 1946) was born in Invercargill, New Zealand, and joined the English Department at Victoria University, Wellington, in 1973, where he has held a Personal Chair since 1997. As a ‘young’ New Zealand poet of the late 1960s, he has ever since played a leading role in the development and promotion of the country’s contemporary poetry. Apart from a dozen collections, Manhire has edited several anthologies and, more recently, has also published short fiction, essays and interviews. His creative writing course set up at Victoria University in 1975 has been highly influential on young writers. It was transformed in 2000 into the Creative Writing Programme of the International Institute of Modern Letters. Five times the recipient of the New Zealand Book Award, he became the inaugural Te Mata New Zealand Poet Laureate in 1997 and was Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellow in Menton, France, in 2004.

With that of other ‘Young New Zealand Poets’, Manhire’s poetry has turned away from poetic practices of an older generation and enjoys experimenting with the open form as demonstrated in ‘On Originality’, ‘The Prayer’ or ‘Wulf’ – an interpolated famous Old English poem. Yet his knowledge of prosody also provides him with a wealth of different metres and stanzas, utilized for a range of purposes like the seeming simplicity of ‘A Song about the Moon’, parody as in ‘Out West’ or an episodic sequence forming a narrative in ‘Dogs’. While brevity is a trademark of many lyrics which at times convey images elliptically if not enigmatically, as in ‘Love Poem’, a longer form, noticeable in his more recent poetry, takes up the narrative mode of earlier work that often relates to the poet’s family, friends or personal feelings. Here, experiences of uncertainty or loss contrast with those of love and self-assertion. Their unpretentiousness finds its equivalence in everyday language and simple syntax but can be broken by a sudden sidestepping as in “I don’t know where the dead go, Kevin. The one far place I know is inside the heavy radio.” Such ostensible playfulness, at times bordering on the whimsical, permits the poetic voice to distance itself, to avoid being drawn into a particular mood. It is as much a modern if not modernist gesture of hesitancy, of non-commitment, as it displays an enjoyment of the fanciful. Yet then again, poems of a romantic nature like ‘The Polar Explorer’s Love Song’, the elegiac tone of ‘Opoutere’ and ‘Death of a Poet’ or the forcefully serious exploration of ‘sound’ in ‘Hotel Emergencies’ underline that Manhire’s work refuses to be easily tagged.

The poet’s reading, at times halting, emphasizing the single word or brief phrase in an almost monotonous voice, at other times in joyfully exploring narrative cadences coloured by a New Zealand way of speaking give life to a wide range of moods, tones and linguistic registers that locate his work firmly in a present by no means specifically New Zealand but of the multi-faceted modern world.

His recording was made on October 2nd 2007 at the Audio Workshop, London, and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.

Poems by Bill Manhire

The Polar Explorer’s Love Song - Bill Manhire
Death of a Poet - Bill Manhire
Hotel Emergencies - Bill Manhire

Books by Bill Manhire



New Zealand Book Award

Prize website

inaugural Te Mata New Zealand Poet Laureate

Prize website

Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellow in Menton, France

Prize website

Appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to literature

Prize website

Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement

Prize website

Featured in the Archive