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1905 Murder of Chinese Gold Prospector Inspires Poet

Published: Mon 7 Jul 2014 02:37 PM
How To Be Dead In A Year of Snakes
Chris Tse
Paperback, 210 x 165mm, 80 pages
978 1 86940 818 3
Poetry, 20 September 2014, $24.99
Chris Tse performs a sustained and impressive conjuring act, summoning the wandering ghost of Joe Kum Yung out of the shadows cast by his murderer Lionel Terry and offering him a life and afterlife of his own. More urgently than any stone memorial, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes returns a shocking episode from New Zealand’s past to us charged with questions of justice, empathy and tolerance that remain very much alive today. Chris Price, Victoria University of Wellington
Chris Tse’s haunting evocation of a murdered Cantonese gold-miner touched me deeply and remains with me. In lines of quiet strength, Tse lifts the silence spread over intolerance, injustice and lost hope and returns the miner’s ‘untethered’ spirit to its homeland. – Stephanie de Montalk
1905 Murder of Chinese Gold Prospector Inspires Poet
On a Sunday in 1905 – a year of the snake – a man ‘went hunting for a Chinaman’ on Haining Street, Wellington.
In his first full-length collection of poetry, Chris Tse revisits the murder of Cantonese goldminer Joe Kum Yung. By paying ‘proper respect’ to the many lives consumed by the crime, Tse gives a voice to the dead man and his tragic chorus, and allows us to reflect on the experiences of Chinese migrants of the period, their wishes and hopes, their estrangement and alienation, their ghostly reverberation through a white-majority culture.
In poems of quietly polished, resonant language and charged imagery, he circles the events of the murder and the viewpoints from which they could be seen or told and asks us to consider our collective responsibility to remember the dead and the injustices of our past. Tse’s flickering use of imagery, resonant language and flexible pronouns are particularly suited to the historic events he describes and the viewpoints he shifts through.
The world is full of murder /and words are usually / the first to go
The fantails see the whole of the sky / and fill the clouds / with their opinions.
Pondering the gap between then and now, Tse asks who owns the stories, what we should seek from the past, and what we should take forward to the future. In its remarkable lyric narrative, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes is an unusually expansive first collection, and a welcome poetic addition to New Zealand literature.
About the Author
Chris Tse was born and raised in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. He studied film and English literature at Victoria University of Wellington, where he also completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. His poetry and short fiction have been recorded for radio and published in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies, including Sport, Turbine, The New Zealand Listener, Landfall, Cha, Poetry NZ, Takahe, JAAM, Snorkel, Best New Zealand Poems, and Starch. He is one of three poets included in the joint collection AUP New Poets 4 (Auckland University Press, 2011). In addition to writing, Chris is also an occasional actor and has appeared in plays at BATS Theatre and the Gryphon Theatre. He is also a musician, and was the regional winner and national finalist for Best Original Song (V 48 Hours Film Competition, 2012).

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