Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2023

Edited and introduced by Chris Tse

editor Chris Tse photographer Michael Gibson

In February 2023, as the first poems to consider for Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems began to accumulate in my inbox, a poem hit the headlines in Aotearoa and sparked a fiery public debate about poetry and racism. Tusiata Avia’s '250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival in New Zealand' has probably become the most talked about New Zealand poem of the past few years, but the price for that honour has been high. Avia has spoken openly about the vitriolic responses she received throughout 2023, including attacks from MPs and death threats.

The public discourse veered from discussing the merits of the poem, to debates about free speech, hate speech, censorship, arts (de)funding, and 'reverse racism'. The more considered and thoughtful analyses of the poem led to conversations about the legacy of Cook, colonisation, and intergenerational trauma. If ever we needed proof that poetry can still challenge and provoke, this was it. Read the full introduction >