Poetry personified? I’ll drink to that!

coverWhat do you call a gathering of New Zealand poetry rock stars (a.k.a. Poet Laureates)? A diligence of describers? A ponderance of poets? A promise of perfection?

There have been many notable poets to have held the post of Poet Laureate (including the late Hone Tuwhare, 1999-2001), so having the opportunity to hear four past and the present Poet Laureate perform together is a rare delight indeed.

At the 2011 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, we’ll be treated to well-crafted words from Bill Manhire (inaugural Poet Laureate 1997-1999), Elizabeth Smither (2001-2003), Jenny Bornholdt (2005-2007), Michele Leggott (2008-2009) and Cilla McQueen. Brian Turner, who held the post from 2003-2005 is presently overseas.

The Office of Poet Laureate has been in existence since at least 1389 when Geoffrey Chaucer was titled thus and granted an annual allowance of money and wine. The salary has varied over time, but alcohol is still traditionally included.

John Dryden in the 1670s had a pension of 300 pounds and a ‘butt’ of canary wine – equivalent today to 477 litres of sherry. One would need to drink 1.3 litres/day in order to get through the annual stipend – conducive to either incoherent ramblings or inspired genius!

New Zealand’s Poet Laureate Award was established by Te Mata Winery in 1996, its centenary year. From 2007 the Award has been administered by the National Library of NZ. The Award is selected biennially and as a distinct improvement from a butt of canary wine, the Poet Laureate is awarded with a tokotoko (carved walking stick) for ceremonial use, as well as a stipend of Te Mata wine.

A Poet Laureate’s drafts, podcasts, readings, online and published works are preserved in National Library’s Digital Heritage archive, and in collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library.