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A couple of weeks ago I posted a poem by Chris Tse from the recently released collection ‘AUP New Poets 4’.  To find out more about his poetry, his trip to China and what else he’s doing these days, read on…

Your collection in AUP New Poets 4 is called ‘Sing Joe’ and this is also the title of two of the poems.  Can you tell us a bit about that title.

‘Sing Joe’ is a transliteration of the Chinese phrase ‘to have the surname Joe’ (the family name on my Mum’s side). Also, music is a strong influence on my writing so it seemed appropriate.

 Many of your poems draw on your own family stories and your great grandfather’s immigration to New Zealand.  Some of the most poignant poems in the book (for me) were the ones about your great-grandmother, left behind in China.  What led you to focus on these family stories and what sort of reaction have you had from family members?

In the first week of my MA year I wrote a poem about my great-grandfather as part of a writing exercise and from that point on my classmates encouraged me to explore this topic. It was an area I had consciously avoided writing about because I thought no one would be interested, but I soon realised that these stories deserved to be heard, and that there is an audience for them.

My family have been really supportive and generous with letting me share these stories. Hopefully they see that I’ve approached it with the utmost respect for my ancestors, especially since I have written about some fairly delicate moments in their lives. My great-grandparents’ situation wasn’t uncommon back then – many Chinese men remarried when they came to New Zealand because it was near impossible to bring their wives out too. My great-grandmother wasn’t mentioned much when we were growing up so these poems were a chance to give her a voice.

 You spent a month in China as part of your research and you explore that experience in poems like ‘Deracinate’.  Can you tell us more about your visit to China and how it shaped the poems in the book?  Was it your first visit?  

 The NZ Chinese Association holds an annual tour to China for young Chinese New Zealanders. It’s a chance for them to visit China and connect with their roots in addition to experiencing Chinese culture on a number of levels. I was a member of the 2005 group along with 39 others, including my brother and a cousin. We left for China just weeks after handing in my final folio for the MA. It was my first time there, and though I enjoyed the trip I won’t be rushing back anytime soon – for now I feel like I’ve gained all I need from China. Maybe in a few years I’ll feel the need to reconnect or explore further.

My Aunty, Janet Joe, has been the tour guide since its inception and part of her job is to help people find where their ancestral villages are. That aspect of the trip was by far the most memorable experience for me and, having spent a year writing and thinking abut my ancestors, being in my great-grandparents’ house was like coming full circle. The experiences and memories I gathered on that trip helped to revisit the poems I’d written from a new perspective. For example, ‘Deracinate’, in its finished form, is actually a composite of material written before and after the trip.

 What’s next on the agenda with your writing?

 I’ve had a few ideas for future poetry collections, but I’ve settled on one to focus on this year. I’ve just been accepted into the NZSA’s mentor programme so that’s going to be the much-needed motivation to get on with it. In addition to poetry I’m also working on a feature film script that’s been brewing for a few years and I’ll continue tackling the scary world (for me at least) of short stories. My mum of all people keeps nagging me to move into fiction!

 Do you set aside a particular time and place to write?

 I’ve tried being one of those writers that sets aside time everyday but I find that it ends up being too much of a chore and counter-productive. Like most writers I have my lulls in output, but it doesn’t bother me as much as it did when I started writing seriously –  I’ve always got so many projects in the pipeline that I always feel like I’m working towards something. With the mentor programme this year and the goal of finishing a new collection I’ll need to be a bit more disciplined but I guess knowing that someone will be expecting me to produce work will help.

 What occupies your time when you’re not writing?

Aside from the shackles of a 9-to-5 job I’ve been working on an online TV series with my filmmaking friends. I’m constantly tinkering away with music too and have a few projects on the go at the moment. I’m an avid Ultimate Frisbee player too so one day I might have to try my hand at writing the definitive Ultimate Frisbee poem!

Thanks Chris! Great to see one of your poems in Wellington newspaper The DomPost today.

Verily I say unto you, the . . . harlots go into the Kingdom
of Heaven before you.
I MET ‘er one night down in Leicester Square,
With paint on ‘er lips and dye on ‘er ‘air,
With ‘er fixed glad eye and ‘er brazen stare,–
              She were a gal on the streets.

I was done with leave-on my way to France,
To the ball of death and the devil’s dance;
I was raving mad-and glad of the chance
              To meet a gal on the streets.

I went with ‘er ‘ome–to the cursed game,
And we talked of men with the talk of shame;
I ‘appened to mention a dead pal’s name,
              She were a gal on the streets.

“Your pal! Do you know ‘im?” she stopped and said
“‘Ow is ‘e? Where is ‘e? I once knowed Ted.”
I stuttered and stammered aht–“‘E’s gorn–dead.”
              She were a gal on the streets.

She stood there and swayed like a drunken man,
And ‘er face went green where ‘er paint began,
Then she muttered, “My Gawd, I carn’t”; and ran–
              She were a gal on the streets.


Rev Geoffrey A Studdert Kennedy, (1883 – 1929), was born in Leeds, in England and served as a padre on the Western Front in World War I.  He was nicknamed ‘Woodbine Willie‘ for giving Woodbine cigarettes to injured and dying soldiers.  He became a pacifist during the war and wrote many poems expressing the experiences of ordinary soldiers and others affected by the war, like the one above. 

A Gal of the Streets is from his collection The Unutterable Beauty, a book I’ve had for many years.  Many of his poems are religious (as you might expect from a minister), but it’s the “dialect poems” at the end of the book I’ve always liked best.   The entire text of The Unutterable Beauty is now online, if you’d like to read more.

I wanted to post something to acknowledge Anzac Day.  I chose this poem because it talks about the effects of war on the loved ones left behind, as well as the terrible effects on the soldiers themselves.

You can read the other Tuesday poems by clicking on the quill to the left.

painting by Mary McIntyre

Here is an invitation to a book launch
Animalia Invitation

You will notice (if you click on the link) that the invitation is upside down. No amount of rotating it and saving it will make it appear upright. You’ll just have to stand on your head. I have also failed to insert it into the post properly; all I can manage is the link.  C’est la vie. Please come anyway.

This is what it says:

Janis Freegard hereby requests the Pleasure of Your Company at an
Exciting Social Event on the occasion of the
Launch of her Poetry Book entitled
Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus
published by Auckland University Press

Venue:     the Terrace Bar at the Garden Club (13 Dixon St, Wellington,
just around the corner from Taranaki St, next to Subway)

Date:       Wednesday 4 May 2011
Time:      5:30pm to 7:00 pm

There will be Animal Biscuits, Cheese Straws and Alcoholic Beverages for your Delectation and Delight.  You are kindly invited to wear a Mask (although this is Not Compulsory).  All welcome.  Do tell your friends.

The Second Wife

Splintered roots,
new roots and
shadows cast on past lives.

But shadows don’t erase
they just conceal and feed
the knot at the back of his head.

Strings across land and sea
tied to the feet of his first wife,
the new bride poised with scissors.

Chris Tse is a Wellington poet and one of three authors of the joint publication AUP New Poets 4 (Auckland University Press).   Chris’ collection in the book, Sing Joe, is centred around family stories concerning his great grandfather’s migration to New Zealand from China, and his great grandmother who was left behind.  The poem above gives us one peek into this story.  You’ll need to read Sing Joe in its entirety to find out the rest – and it’s well worth the read.

As well as writing, Chris is an editor, actor, musician and occasional filmmaker. He studied English literature and film at Victoria University where he also completed an MA in Creative Writing. In 2009, he won the NZ Chinese Association/Listener short story competition.

Happy Birthday Tuesday Poem

The Tuesday Poem bloggers are celebrating our first birthday this week (thanks to the tireless efforts of Mary McCallum), by writing a collaborative poem.  You can watch it unfold by clicking on the quill above.



Janis on Twitter

  • RT @amjutel: Here's a creative writing contest: In exactly 55 words, tell us what the Covid-19 pandemic is/was like for you by 23 Oct. Ema… 3 days ago
  • RT @minhealthnz: Watch our Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, sign a message as part of the New Zealand Sign Language Leader… 6 days ago
  • RT @ANZLiterature: Writers please apply!! 2 weeks ago

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April 2011

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