Selina Tusitala Marsh wondered whether she'd ever find time to tour with Sam Hunt after finding out she was the new Poet Laureate. He'd invited her once after they'd performed together on Waiheke.

"Where would we go?" she'd asked.

"Howick?" he'd responded with that twinkle.

Hunt's the reason Tusitala Marsh became a poet - she knew the moment she saw him perform at her school in Avondale, when he'd turned up in his convertible and was told to leave his dog in the car.


But he's not the only poet to inspire Tusitala Marsh. She has connected with a few in her first 77 days as Poet Laureate, seeking counsel about how best to inhabit the two-year mantle, including former Poets Laureate, CK Stead and Michele Leggott, plus National Library Laureate steward Peter Ireland. Nobody, however, has the answer, she explains from her Waiheke home.

"They, wisely, kept getting me to reflect back on me, saying, 'you need to slow down and think about how you want to do it - your way'."

From the outside, it appears as if Tusitala Marsh is very good at being herself and doing things her way. "It's taken a long time," she admits. But slowing down is not in her DNA. For somebody who's already performed in front of the Queen at Westminster Abbey (and 300 other dignitaries, including Kofi Annan), been the first person of Pacific Island descent to get a PhD in English, written critically acclaimed poetry books, and inspired poetry in hundreds of children and the Pasifika community before becoming Laureate, what else is on the list?

Well, there was a third book, Tightrope, to launch within five days of finding out about her new post. There have been speaking opportunities and literary festivals, classes to teach at the university and poetry workshops to run where she's taken the Matua Tokotoko, the Laureate's carved orator stick, with her.

"The tokotoko's a talking stick, not just a walking stick. It's a national taonga so the nation needs to see it and imbue it with their mana." Usually it is in a glass case in the National Library but Tusitala Marsh has set out to get 1000 people to touch it before exchanging it for her own. She's up to 974.

There were trips overseas to plan. And trips to turn down, including all-expenses-paid excursions to France and the United States. "I was raised to walk through every door ajar. That mindset has served me well but now I need to be more selective - for the benefit of the work and my life."

Life includes being a mum to three sons. When Tusitala Marsh got the call about the award she hesitated initially - not because she wasn't sure but she was trying to wrangle car keys from her teenage son, Davey, in the rain. "We have all these gears we operate and thrive on and we change between them so fast."

Did Davey care about his mum becoming Poet Laureate? "My kids care that I'm there when they need me. All the other stuff is 'meh'," she says.

There has also been criticism to endure, the dark shadow of success. At the launch of Tightrope, somebody called the award "another bit of Jacindamania" - where young(er) women are claiming high(er) positions. Within seconds a response flew out, "It's not part of a trend, Selina thoroughly earned this!"

People have, throughout her career, tried to reduce her achievements down to being female, attractive, young and brown. "You have to be doubly excellent, you have to work doubly hard, you have to be better than better so nobody can say that."

She rises above it all. With that hair and grace. And writes about it. Being awarded Poet Laureate was recognition for Tusitala Marsh "from the broader community that she's doing okay". And "reaching people."

After accepting the title she was told the laureate committee appreciated her nominations came from "such diverse groups: fellow poets, school teachers, business leaders, influential figures in education".

Tusitala Marsh touches a lot of lives with her energy, her poetry - and now the tokotoko. Eventually she'll get her own carved orator's stick and she's spent two days in Hawke's Bay with carver, Jacob Scott from Matahiwi Marae. She'll also find time to work with the team behind Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls, who want to create a fairy tale about her.

Tusitala Marsh has carved her own path and achieved a lot of firsts but doesn't think of herself as a rebel, or see her life as a fairy tale. Mostly it's been years of hard work and support from others such as Dave, her husband. She continues to the build upon the legacy handed down to her. Tusitala is the name of her Tuvaluan grandfather - named after another Tusitala [storyteller]: Robert Louis Stevenson. But that's another story.

During the remaining 653 days as Poet Laureate she'll continue to write, teach, perform, travel, run poetry workshops for children and the community, be a mum, wife, friend and inspiration. She'll also pursue the "scholar" part of her title.

She's scheduled to go throughout the Pacific Islands, with the tokotoko, picking up poems for her book on the first wave of female Pacific poets who are "barely on the literary landscape". They'll be no tour with Sam Hunt. Tusitala Marsh would love to perform with him one day "on the road" but he's officially retired from touring. Howick's off the list.

Bumper Anthology, a book of poems from school children Tusitala Marsh has been working with launches on Wednesday, November 2. You can follow Tusitala Marsh's journey, including photos of people touching the Tokotoko, on the Poet Laureate's blog.