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Cilla McQueen, poet laureate

When, finally, the Minister announced her name, I cried. And cried again as she approached the podium. Stopped crying when she started to speak. She creates magic behind the microphone, as well as on the page. You’ve guessed it. I’m thrilled that Cilla McQueen’s the new poet laureate.

I always think of Cilla as courageous. I remember her Aramoana protest work for instance (like the image above: Graffito on Miller & Tunnage fence, Port Chalmers: “The Sweet Slag Song of Aramoana” 1980). And there she was, in a Stuff interview this morning, coming out as a writer and artist who lives ‘below the breadline’. Her poet laureateship, first of all, will help her pay the bills. Just last week, I spoke with an artist who sounded desperate about his power bill in this harsh winter. A little earlier, I’d written about women artists, especially “the older ones who were part of the women’s art movement, who on this very cold morning (like me) wear many layers of clothing, hats, gloves and scarves as they work in unheated rooms…are chronically ill, care for elderly relatives and for grandchildren, live in penury, live under leaky roofs, search the garden for a few leaves of silver beet to add to this week’s lunchtime soup. And keep on working.” And Development-the-movie tries to portray aspects of this poverty.

Maybe, as the government searches for ways to increase tourism, it could create a programme that jumpstarts the cultural worker economy, acknowledging that if artists and writers like Cilla contribute so much from below the breadline, some extra bread—and a heater or two—will quickly enhance our contribution to the collective ‘cultural capital’ (hard to include, that term).

I can’t wait to see what Cilla does during her tenure, to have more opportunties to listen to her and to watch her perform. Here’s some links to her work, including more of her Aramoana images.


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