Orsman, Chris

Orsman, Chris



In Brief

Chris Orsman is an award-winning poet. Since his debut collection Ornamental Gorse was published in 1994, his poetry has featured in journals and anthologies. His second collection South was published in 1996, and reissued in 1999. Orsman launched Pemmican Press as a publisher of new poetry in 1998. He has won and been nominated for several key awards and he was the 2002 Writer in Residence at the Glenn Schaeffer House.


Orsman, Chris (1955– ), made an impressive debut as a poet with his collection Ornamental Gorse (1994). Its poems mostly recreate and reflect on episodes from family and national history, with strong images recurring of ships, houses, people at work and the often tragic hazards of New Zealand’s natural environment, especially the sea. Their verbal resourcefulness perhaps reflects the poet’s lexicographic parentage (see Harry Orsman) but is always rigorously controlled to serve a moral and intellectual seriousness. The effect is of intense cerebration, rich in wordplay but never merely playful, which makes Orsman (for New Zealand) an unusually metaphysical poet. John Donne would enjoy the erotic astronomy of ‘Orbit’.

Orsman’s second book, South (1996), is a sequence in different voices recreating Scott’s tragic last expedition to the Antarctic: ‘each man saw his face imprisoned / by his reflection in the ice.’ It was praised by Alan Riach as the product of ‘a careful imagination at work with a genuine humility’, its images ‘resonating with a sense of the modest human scale against which the vastness, both real and imagined, of Antarctica could be measured’. Autobiographical prose passages frame and give a personal dimension to the imaginative evocation of the expedition, ‘stealthily out of its element, / eyeing the near forbidden’. In 1998 he added Black South.

Born in Lower Hutt, educated in Wellington, Orsman studied architecture at Auckland University and practised briefly before working as an ambulance officer, travelling, and taking Victoria University’s creative writing course in 1993.

He lives in Wellington. His poems have been published in Sport, Landfall and Bill Manhire’s 100 New Zealand Poems and included in An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English (1997). In 1998 he launched Pemmican Press as a publisher of new poetry.



Ornamental Gorse won the 1995 NZSA Best First Book of Poetry Award. South was shortlisted in the 1997 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

Also in 1997, Orsman was was awarded the Antarctica New Zealand Arts Fellowship. The programme seeks to increase understanding of Antarctica and its international importance through the work of New Zealand's top artists.

A revised and expanded edition of South was published by Faber and Faber in the UK in 1999.

Chris Orsman was the 2002 Writer in Residence at the Glenn Schaeffer House, 16 Wai-te-ata Road. This Fellowship programme is now run under the auspices of the International Institute of Modern Letters.

Orsman had a poem included in Shards of Silver (Steele Roberts, 2006), a book investigating the interplay between photography and poetry.


Updated January 2017.