My first profession, after graduating with a science degree from the University of Otago, was as a DSIR scientist.
I greatly enjoyed this occupation, which supported me and my growing family from 1969 to 1984. By then I had published around 30 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and had been promoted into the top 10 per cent of the nearly 1000 scientists in the former DSIR's order of merit, which in those days determined one's salary and longer-term career prospects.
I retired from science to take up politics and was first elected MP for Hawke's Bay in the 1984 parliamentary election.
This was the famous occasion when Sir Robert Muldoon, the National Party Prime Minister who had dominated Parliamentary debates for a decade, called a snap election when visibly affected by alcohol, and was heavily defeated.
I became the only Labour Party MP ever to represent the Hawke's Bay Electorate under its pre-MMP boundaries, which included large parts of both Hastings and Napier, as well as large areas of the surrounding countryside. I continued as an MP until 1990, despite many people assuming I'd be defeated by the National Party in 1987.
After losing my seat in the 1990 election, as part of the big swing back to National, I changed course and sought election to the Hawke's Bay Regional Council, serving 3 years as a councillor from 1992-5 before being narrowly defeated. Councillors were of course paid much less than MPs, so my family situation became rather more difficult.
In 1996, I moved to Wellington to work full-time as a senior policy analyst for the former Ministry of Forestry for 2 years, then for MAF for 4 years, and lastly 5 years for the Ministry of Maori Development Te Puni Kokiri.
Then in 2007 I retired from paid work and returned to live in Hawke's Bay. I've since enjoyed a number of retirement projects, but the longest lasting and most satisfying has been writing poetry and organising poetry meetings.
Like many people I first tried my hand at writing poems as a teenager. In my 20s, a few of my early efforts were published in student magazines.
In my 40s, I had a few more published in a monthly political magazine edited by Chris Trotter. In 1992, I began attending meetings of the Hawke's Bay Live Poets' Society. But only since 2007 have I sought and achieved publication, alongside more recognised poets, in literary magazines.
Last time I counted I'd had around 30 poems accepted in edited literary publications including Takahe, Poetry New Zealand, Broadsheet, Catalyst, JAAM, and Blackmail Press.
In 2014, my first poetry collection, Jabberwocky, was published by Steele Roberts, a well-regarded Wellington publisher whose output has included collections written by a range of recognised poets including Glenn Colquhoun and the late Hone Tuwhare.
These days I feel entitled to call myself a poet, but what exactly is a poet? The Concise Oxford Dictionary (8th edition, 1990) gives us two definitions: "1 a writer of poems. 2 a person possessing high powers of imagination or expression etc." This would be a tough description to challenge or defend in a court of law!
Even a court deposition can display high powers of imagination, as some defence lawyers take delight in demonstrating. And the dictionary definition of poem is even less help.
Unsurprisingly, the numbers of people claiming to be poets have soared in recent years, and the products claimed to be poems now come in a bewildering range of shapes, sizes, and sounds.
There is however, in my opinion, a way through all this murk, as I'll attempt to show in my next column.
-Bill Sutton is Secretary/treasurer of the Hawke's Bay Live Poets' Society. He was Labour MP for the former Hawke's Bay electorate and later served as a Hawke's Bay Regional councillor.
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