Interview with Chris Tse

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.


  1. Thanks Janis. This is great. The stories Chris tells in his poems are terrific – strong and poignant. I read them in my MA year and am thrilled to see them published at last, and I hope to read more of them soon in poetry or fiction form.

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