In her second visit to Hawke's Bay as New Zealand's latest Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh has spent time writing and presenting taonga to local artist Jacob Scott.

The Auckland-based poet and scholar is the first Pasifika Poet Laureate in New Zealand and is several months into a prestigious two-year post to create and promote poetry throughout the country.

Each Laureate is presented with their own tokotoko (carved walking stick) created by Haumoana artist Jacob Scott and Dr Tusitala Marsh said she had a mandate to actively engage in her tokotoko's design.

"I posed the question to myself, to the nation, to my students, to whoever follows me, that what difference does it make being the first Pasifika Poet Laureate?


"Being Pasifika means being Polynesian and means knowing that inanimate objects hold their own mana and have their own spirit. They are treasures because they hold stories and the older an object is the more stories it holds."

The Auckland-based poet of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish and French descent was also the first person of Pacific descent to graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Auckland.

She now lectures in both creative writing and Maori and Pacific literary studies, where the late Maya Angelou's "A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song" hangs on her office door.

"That's what I want to pass on to students; that for me them figuring out what their song is, even just a little bit, is what university is all about.

"It's the cultivation of an open, curious mind and figuring out what you like and how you can add to that by producing the thing that makes you unique and special."

The Poet Laureate said she was "just an ordinary girl from Avondale" when she found herself at the intersection of what she was passionate about and good at; attributing her success to embracing fear and thriving in her discomfort zone.

"Being thrust into that space of 'being first' actually just means having faith and the true definition of faith is believing without seeing.

"I couldn't see it [becoming Poet Laureate] for myself and now that I'm here it's like, of course'. This is what I do so it makes sense to embody this role in the only way I can."

The Pasifika poet lives on Waiheke Island with her Avondale College prefect partner turned husband David and their three sons aged 15, 17 and 19 years old.

Getting her rugby-loving children to read poetry was a significant personal goal she hoped to achieve during her laureateship, she said.

"I think if I can reach them I can reach any damn person."

Dr Tusitala Marsh said poetry was meant to be enjoyed and created by everyone, adding she wouldn't be the latest New Zealand Poet Laureate if poetry was an elitist pursuit.

"The writing life is all about observing and lots of stuff happens but we forget it happens. That's what poetry does for me.

"It's kind of like these everlasting pockets and moments. It's a life well-observed and well-recorded which makes the richness of it."

She had been writing several poems, starting before her plane landed in Napier, throughout her stay at a cottage on Te Mata Estate.

"I've been thinking a lot about wellbeing and being present. When there are so many things happening to actually just really enjoy the aeroplane ride, the person you're sitting next to and the fact that you've got 30 minutes to write.

"Being present is more of my focus right now because it means you give passion and energy to your work and I think work that has passion and energy will always have its own life."

Dr Tusitala Marsh's tokotoko, which symbolises the authority and status of a Poet Laureate, will be presented to her at Matahiwi Marae on April 14.