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Bill Manhire

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  • Bill Manhire was born in Invercargill, New Zealand in 1946. He was his country's inaugural Poet Laureate and has won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry four times. He headed the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington, establishing and directing the university's prestigious creative writing programme. His volume of short fiction, South Pacific, was published by Carcanet in 1994. His poetry collections include Lifted (2007), and his Collected Poems (2001) and Selected Poems (2014). In 2018, he was made one of the Arts Foundation Icon Artists, an award given to only 20 living artists for their lifetime achievement and contribution to the arts in NZ.

    Bill Manhire was born in Invercargill in 1946 and educated at the Universities of Otago and London. He now heads the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington and directs their prestigious creative writing programme. Graduates of the course include many of New Zealand's most accomplished contemporary writers (among them Barbara Anderson, James Brown, Kate Camp, Catherine Chidgey, Barbara Else, Kapka Kassabova, Elizabeth Knox, Emily Perkins and William Brandt).

    In 1997 he was made New Zealand's inaugural Poet Laureate, in a scheme sponsored by Te Mata Estate, and the collection of poetry What To Call Your Child was published to celebrate his term as Poet Laureate. At the heart of the book is a sequence of poems which arose from Manhire's visit to Antarctica in 1998. He spent two weeks on the ice, and 45 semi-heroic minutes at the South Pole. His fascination with Antarctica has resulted in The Wide White Page: Writers Imagine Antarctica, an anthology of writing about Antarctica edited and introduced by Bill, published by Victoria University Press in November 2004. It was shortlisted for the 2005 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

    He has published many books of poetry (four times winning the New Zealand Book Award) and also a number of volumes of fiction. He has edited a number of best-selling anthologies of New Zealand poetry and short stories and a collection of his essays and interviews called Doubtful Sounds was published by VUP in 2000. His regular conversations with Kim Hill on National Radio had a wide following and did much to raise interest in poetry throughout the country.

    His Collected Poems 1967-1999 was published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand in July 2001 and by Carcanet in the UK. He has also recently published a memoir in the Montana Estates Essay series called Under the Influence about growing up in the Otago and Southland pubs run by his family.

    Bill Manhire was awarded the 2004 Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Fellowship, NZ's most prestigious literary fellowship and he spent six months working at the Villa Isola Bella, Menton, in the south of France.

    In June 2005 Bill Manhire was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. In November 2005 Bill was named as one of the five Arts Foundation of New Zealand 2005 Laureates.
    'Bill Manhire's poetry is always lyrical whether the lyricism is the lyricism of the ballad or the lyricism he finds in ordinary, unmetred New Zealand conversational speech. Sometimes it seems as if you can hear a poem tuning up, finding its rhythm before it turns itself into song. As it lifts into song, it lifts, too, into meaning... when a Manhire poem takes flight, and when loneliness is taken for a stroll, the epic vision that the lyric can also, he shows, give rise to is all the more resonant and all the larger for being distilled into song.'

    Anna Jackson, Academy of New Zealand Literature

    'Though Manhire is full of foreboding about the future, he mixes the serious with the playful across a range of short, experimental poems... This is a poet who shares his learning with an appealing accessibility and ease'

    Tom Williams, Literary Review

    'Read Wow and you get story and song, light and dark, the surreal, constant surprise, but there is also always wit and humour ... Wow will haunt you'

    NZ Poetry Shelf 

    'Wow offers further intriguing snapshots and glimpses, sometimes half-familiar but never monotonous... Here the light mist over everything teases you with where you are and what's what. Things constantly shift and change shape and being, even as you seem to have grasped them.'


    'Being the leading poet in New Zealand is like being the best DJ in Estonia, impressive enough on its own terms. But Bill Manhire is more than that: he's unquestionably worldclass. As with Seamus Heaney, you get a sense of someone with a steady hand on the tiller, and both the will and the craft to take your breath away.'
    Teju Cole, Boston Globe
    'I love this latest collection of poems. . . They are hauntingly beautiful.'
    Alexandrina Ellis, Salient 
    'He has matured sturdily, and grown to an impressive height, and put down roots so tenacious in their grip on the world that it’ll take the devil of a wind to topple him.'
    Michael Hulse, New Zealand Books
    'An event to be celebrated . . . a powerful collection.'
    Tom Weston, The Press
    'Manhire risks accusations of sentimentality and produces a triumph. This is richly human work, which acknowledges its – and our – limitations and keeps reaching for the high windows, regardless.'
    Hugh Roberts, NZ Listener
    "A poet of considerable subtlety and strength, a 'dangerous writer'..."
    Charles Causley, Landfall
    Awards won by Bill Manhire Commended, 2020 Poetry Book Society Recommendation (Wow)
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