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281 Karangahape Rd Auckland

Chris Tse

How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes


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.

In poems of quietly polished, resonant language and charged imagery, Tse circles these events and the viewpoints from which they could be seen or told: The fantails see the whole of the sky / and fill the clouds / with their opinions. Pondering the gap between then and now, he asks who owns the stories, what we should seek from the past, and what we should take forward to the future. In its remarkable lyric narrative, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes is an unusually expansive first collection.