"Mystery is the big thing. If poets aren't exploring their way forward into mystery, they might as well give up completely."

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.

Tell Me My Name - cover image

In recent years Bill has collaborated with composer Norman Meehan and singer Hannah Griffin on a range of musical projects which include Buddhist RainMaking Baby FloatThese 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.

 

 

 

Video

2016
Simon and Bill discuss the great success of the fundraising push to save the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship - a residency in Menton, France, which has provided many famous New Zealand writers with time to write some of their best work.
2005
Bill Manhire reads his poem On Originality to animated text by Jared Forbes
Part of Fierce Light

Fierce Light brought together leading poets from countries that participated in the First World War, including Yrsa Daley-Ward, Jackie Kay, Bill Manhire, Paul Muldoon and Daljit Nagra, to create new works that endeavour to understand the incomprehensible; exploring contemporary events while also contemplating the First World War. These works were presented alongside a series of specially commissioned short films, each made in response to the new poems and themes raised within them.

Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, Norfolk & Norwich Festival and Writers Centre Norwich
1946 
Born Invercargill, New Zealand
1967 
Graduated MA (with first-class honours) University of Otago
1970
M.Litt (Master of Literature), University of Otago
1973
M.Phil (Master of Philosophy), University of London
1978
'How to Take Your Clothes Off at the Picnic' New Zealand Book Award for Poetry
1985
'Zoetropes' wins New Zealand Book Award for Poetry
1992 
'Milky Way Bar' wins New Zealand Book Award for Poetry
1996
'My Sunshine' wins New Zealand Book Award Book of the Year
1997
One of Antarctica New Zealand's inaugural arts fellows - Bill reaches the South Pole;Inaugural Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate
2004
Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Fellow, Menton, France
2005
Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award; Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit; Honorary Doctorate of Literature from the University of Otago
2006
'Lifted' wins Montana New Zealand Book Awards Poetry Prize
2007 
Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry
2010
One of 12 top Pure and Applied Science and Humanities researchers elected as Fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand
2014
Retires as director of the International Institute of Modern Letters
2016
Commissioned by 14-18 NOW to write Known unto God, a commemorative work about the Battle of the Somme