Bill Manhire was born in Invercargill in 1946, and grew up in small hotels in Otago and Southland, an experience beautifully evoked in his short memoir, Under the Influence.
His first book of poems, The Elaboration, was published in 1972, and contained drawings (including a portrait of the poet) by artist Ralph Hotere (Icon). Over the years, Bill has worked often with Ralph Hotere, especially in the MALADY poems and paintings, and in the dance-performance work Song Cycle.
He has published many collections of poems, winning the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry five times. He is also the author of a prize-winning collection of short stories. He was the inaugural Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate, and a Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton, France.
Bill is probably one of the few poets ever to reach the South Pole. A long-standing interest in Antarctica took him to the ice as one of Antarctica New Zealand's inaugural arts fellows. The experience is reflected in a major sequence of poems, Antarctic Field Notes, and in the innovative anthology The Wide White Page: Writers Imagine Antarctica, which includes work from the great Italian poet Dante through to more recent writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Vladimir Nabokov, and Pablo Neruda. Bill also wrote the moving poem Erebus Voices for Sir Edmund Hillary to read at the commemorative service at Scott Base to mark the 25th anniversary of the Erebus tragedy .
Bill has been a significant figure in promoting New Zealand poetry and literature - not only through his internationally acclaimed creative writing course at Victoria University but also through his work as a critic, anthologist, and broadcaster, and in his appearances at writing festivals around the world.
In 2004 Bill received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award and in June he was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. In that same year he received an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from the University of Otago. Bill's book Lifted won the Poetry Category of the 2006 Montana Book Awards.
In 2007 Bill was involved with the editing and publication of Janet Frame’s posthumous poetry collection The Goose Bath, and was joint project leader with Sir Paul Callaghan of Are Angels OK?, a sci-art collaboration between leading New Zealand writers and physicists. In the same year he was honoured with the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in recognition of his significant contribution to New Zealand poetry. His collaboration with composer Eve de Castro-Robinson, These Arms to Hold You – a work for orchestra and children's choir – won the SOUNZ Contemporary Award at the 2007 APRA Silver Scrolls.
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In recent years Bill has collaborated with composer Norman Meehan and singer Hannah Griffin on a range of musical projects which include Buddhist Rain, Making Baby Float, These Rough Notes, and Bifröst. Another major project, Tell Me My Name (with settings by Norman Meehan and images by Arts Foundation Laureate Peter Peryer) explores the world of poetry, song and riddles. Bill’s latest publications are The Stories of Bill Manhire and the poetry collection Some Things To Place in a Coffin.