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This report is taken from PN Review 125, Volume 25 Number 3, January - February 1999.

A Conversation with Bill Manhire Caroline Sylge

Bill Manhire was made the first ever Poet Laureate for New Zealand in 1996 when he had just turned 50. He was given a carved wooden stick created especially for the role, the Tokotoko, a little bit of money, a lot of nice wine (the laureateship is sponsored by a wine company), and told to come back in two years with a new collection to publish. Born in the New Zealand town of Invercargill in 1946, he has six poetry collections and various books of prose behind him, and is a Reader in the Department of English at Victoria University in Wellington. Like most New Zealanders, he spent a large part of his youth being away from his home country. 'New Zealanders grow up and realise they are in a small country at the edge of the world so they leave as fast as they can,' he says.

Manhire's home town is right at the bottom of the Southern Island - what Rudyard Kipling called 'the uttermost land post of the world'. 'You can't go further, there's nothing after that but lots of ocean and then Antarctica, which for a lot of Southern New Zealanders has the same sort of importance as the Australian desert for Australians. You might not go there, but you're aware of it as a sort of mental place.' Manhire's parents were publicans, and he grew up in small hotels in Otago and Southland. 'It was a sort of countryside atmosphere, and we ...

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