Getting to Know Bill Manhire

November 6th 2020

New Zealand's inaugural Poet Laureate, short story writer and VUW professor, Bill Manhire, is one of the highlights of Verb Festival this weekend. With just two days to go until he launches his new poetry collection, Wow, at Meow on Sunday at 12:30pm, we thought we'd give you a sneak peak into Bill's tips for the festival. Come meet Bill and get your hot off the press copy of Wow signed by the man himself. 

What is your day job?

I haven’t worked as a teacher for years, but you never really stop working as a poet. As the great Lorine Niedecker puts it: “No layoff / from this / condensery”.

What is your connection to Vic Books?

It’s a long-term thing for me. I remember when Vic Books was in Mount Street, in the building that’s now Pasifika Haos. It was managed back then by the novelist Chris Else. I hope you stock his books!.

What are you working on at the moment?

Just pottering with poems.

Latest publications?

Wow!

Have your writing and reading habits changed this year with the pandemic? Was lockdown a creative time for you?

No real changes. I thought things might come in a big-pressure rush, but mainly I just kept "finishing" Wow – adding things in and taking things out. Like a lot of people, I found lockdown a very peaceful time, at least in retrospect.

Vic Books greatly enjoyed hosting MA students from the International Institute of Modern Letters recently. You have played a central role in the development of the IIML. What do you take most pride in its achievements?

Well it’s an astonishing list of writers and books that has come out of the IIML. But the thing that I'm most pleased about is the esprit de corps. The students are part of a community. They're there to help each other write what matters to them, yet at the same time they’re learning how to be true to themselves. They don’t end up sounding like each other or – a greater danger – like their workshop teachers.

What are you most looking forward to about appearing at Verb Festival?

Trying to dodge Kim Hill's questions.

Who are you most excited to see at Verb?

I'd love to be at Kate Camp's session. 

Some quick fire book recommendations please!

James Brown, Selected Poems
Mick Herron, Slow Horses
Penelope Fitzgerald, The Beginning of Spring
Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means
Damien Wilkins, Aspiring
Alice Oswald, Memorial
Italo Calvino, The Baron in the Trees
Grace Paley, The Collected Stories

What are you reading at the moment?

Caroline Bird, The Air Year

What do you like about it?

What the poet herself says: “The Air Year was written during a time of complete uncertainty in my life, when I felt I was mid-air between rooftops with nothing beneath me, trying to knit a future for myself out of the air in the same way that I knit a poem out of the blankness of the page. The speakers of the poems are often falling from planes, cliff-tops, windows, or evaporating and dissolving—the things they want most in the world seem unattainable; their shame is just as loud as their love.”

Which literary character do you most identify with?

Feste, the clown in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Why?

He can hold a tune.

Hardback or paperback?

Both!

Favourite coffee?

Anything extravagantly milky.