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This report is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

Letter from New Zealand from an ex-Poet Laureate Elizabeth Smither

I am walking down rue Casimir-Delavigne to buy a bouquet at Christian Tortu. I am standing beside the New Zealand ambassador to France at the embassy in rue Leonard da Vinci reading a story called `Francophilia'. (The ambassador does the French dialogue.) I am in a country house in Chandon in the Loire valley, drinking an aperitif in front of an ancient bread oven. Or leaning against a cream stone wall at the University of Avignon with the notes of my lecture in my hand. I have been poet laureate for one year and eighteen months and I feel constantly as though I have consumed a box of chocolates at one sitting.

The Te Mata New Zealand Poet Laureate award is based on the American, Library of Congress model. One or two years (Te Mata is two), an emphasis on raising the public profile of poetry. A British touch is the supply of fine wine from Te Mata Estate. Unlike the British laureate, however, there is no need to compare the late Queen Mother to a six-rooted tree. Te Mata also provides a $5000 fee, paid in two instalments (to claim the second the laureate must not rest on his laurels but produce a book), and a tokotoko. A tokotoko is a Maori orator's stick. Mine has a silver head and ferrule and two carved sperm whales' teeth; Bill Manhire's a local river stone crossed with silver; Hone Tuwhare's is unabashedly sensuous while that of Brian Turner ...


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