The New Zealand Poet Laureate award was established by Te Mata Estate winery in 1996. The award was for two years, provided a substantial stipend, and each poet received a carved tokotoko (a walking stick traditionally symbolising eloquence and authority). Bill Manhire, seen here at the centre of the group, was the first poet laureate (1997–99), reflecting his very considerable reputation. Like fellow poet Ian Wedde, Manhire was born immediately after the Second World War. He displayed a great verbal wit and clever use of language in his poems, which have become rather less personal over time. In the sound file you can hear Bill Manhire read 'Visiting Mr Shackleton'.
The other poets laureate standing with Manhire are (from left) Brian Turner, the Otago landscape poet who was the fourth laureate (2003–5); Jenny Bornholdt from Wellington, who was the fifth laureate (2005–7); Michele Leggott (2007–9), the first laureate appointed by the National Library when it took over the award in 2007; and Elizabeth Smither from Taranaki, the third poet laureate (2001–3). Hone Tuwhare, the second laureate (1999–2001), had died by the time this photo was taken. The subsequent poets laureate (to 2015) have been Cilla McQueen (2009–11), Ian Wedde (2011–13) and Vincent O'Sullivan (2013–15).
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Photograph by Maarten Holl
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Sound file from New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre