How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes
Auckland University Press, 2014
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, 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 asks us to consider our collective responsibility to remember the dead and the injustices of our past.
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
Winner of the 2016 Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry.
Shortlisted for the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (Poetry).
Named one of the New Zealand Listener’s best poetry books of 2014.
“With Tse’s work we enter an ornate textual space… Intensifying adjectival richness and metaphor take us deeper into Joe’s disappointment and isolation.” – Emma Neale, New Zealand Books
“… a brave traversing of fiction and New Zealand history.” – Elizabeth Morton, Booksellers NZ
“The themes of the book are hefty, rich and sometimes imposing… But these themes are made alluring by being couched in layers of craftsmanship, formal experimentation and a kind of kaleidoscopic poetic play. The result is curious and original…” – Lynley Edmeades, Landfall 230
“This is an ambitious collection, its poems akin to chapters of an expansive novel… a welcome and accomplished poetic publication.” – Siobhan Harvey, Beattie’s Book Blog
“This exciting book is a heartfelt meditation on place and people… [Tse] paints vivid pictures in words.” – Hamesh Wyatt, Otago Daily Times
“This collection shows so beautifully, so movingly, the power of poetry to give renewed presence to history…” – Paula Green, NZ Poetry Shelf
“This collection demonstrates [Tse’s] emotive power of language and creatively striking narrative coherence. This new addition to New Zealand literature offers an expansive collection from a unique cultural and historical perspective.” – Eleanor Wright, Lucire