The award of Poet Laureate celebrates outstanding contributions to New Zealand poetry. For a two-year period, the Laureate is supported by the National Library of New Zealand to create new work and promote poetry throughout the country.

The Laureate is an accomplished and highly regarded poet who can speak for the nation’s community of poets, and to their readers.

History

The National Library assumed responsibility for the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award from the Hawke’s Bay winery, Te Mata Estate, in 2007. Te Mata selected Bill Manhire as its first Laureate in 1996, inaugurating a programme modelled on the older British Poet Laureate Award. Just as Alfred Lord Tennyson and others received for their prize a ‘butt of sack’ (108 gallons of sweet wine), the New Zealand Poet Laureate receives a stipend of wine from Te Mata Estate.

Michele Leggott was selected by the National Library as its first New Zealand Poet Laureate in December 2007. Cilla McQueen followed, from 2009 to 2011. The current Poet Laureate, Ian Wedde, will hold the position until July 2013.

Role and Responsibilities

Each Laureate brings a new voice to their term, exploring the role in different ways, but always working to fulfil the responsibilities of the office. They are expected to be an advocate and a public presence for poetry, and involved in events which promote the reading and writing of poetry by children and adults alike. In addition, the Laureate is invited to spend time in the National Library to use its collections or host events.

A key part of the laureateship is the creation of a published work. Michele Leggott launched Mirabile Dictu together with a CD of her recorded poetry at the conclusion of her tenure. Cilla McQueen’s long-form work, Serial, appeared on the National Library’s Poet Laureate blog, and her volume of poetry, The Radio Room, was published in 2010.

Award

The value of the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award is $100,000 over the two-year period. The Laureate receives $80,000 (before tax), with the balance held by the National Library to cover the cost of the Laureate’s tokotoko, events, promotion and related activities.

Tokotoko

Each Laureate is presented with their own tokotoko – a ceremonial carved walking stick – that symbolises their authority and status. The National Library holds the matua, or parent tokotoko, to signify their joint guardianship, with Ngāti Kahungunu, of the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award. The tokotoko is a link to the Hawke’s Bay origins of the award, with each created by Haumoana artist, Jacob Scott. The tokotoko is presented to the Laureate at Matahiwi, the home marae of both the artist and John Buck of Te Mata Estate.

The Laureates

There have been eight Laureates since the inception of the award in 1996:

  • Bill Manhire
  • Hone Tuwhare
  • Elizabeth Smither
  • Brian Turner
  • Jenny Bornholdt
  • Michele Leggott
  • Cilla McQueen
  • Ian Wedde

Nominations

The National Library considers public nominations for the award together with submissions from New Zealand libraries, universities and creative writing programmes. The Laureate is appointed by the National Librarian in consultation with the New Zealand Poet Laureate Advisory Group. Current membership of this group includes Professor Bill Manhire, John Buck, and Ruth Todd.