• NZ Booklovers

Interview: Chris Tse talks about Super Model Minority


Chris Tse studied English literature and film at Victoria University of Wellington, where he also completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Tse was one of three poets featured in AUP New Poets 4 (2011), and his work has appeared in publications in New Zealand and overseas. His first collection How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (2014) won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry, and his second book He’s so MASC was published to critical acclaim in 2018. He is co-editor of AUP’s Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers from Aotearoa, published in 2021. Chris talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about Super Model Minority.

Super Model Minority is my third full-length poetry collection. It brings together and elaborates on themes and topics from my first two books – race, sexuality, family, art – but has more of a future-focused outlook. There’s a lot of anger, frustration and sadness in these pages, but I was also conscious of including some hope and love to ensure that there’s a bit of light for readers. Expect some dumb jokes and lots of pop music references.

What inspired you to write this collection of poetry?

Most of the book is a response to events of the past few years, and how they prompted or framed public conversations about race, and sexuality and gender. One of the key drivers was seeing how some of the themes in my first book, which was about a hate crime in 1905, were sadly still resonant and had taken on new meaning in light of events like the Christchurch shootings.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

After we sent HE’S SO MASC to print I started thinking about what a third book might look like, but I didn’t have a particular timeline in mind for having something ready. I’m not one to get worried if I don’t write for long periods – I know the muses will come visiting when they’re ready. I figured I’d just see what comes and maybe it would lead me down some interesting paths. In mid-2018 the title Super Model Minority came to me and that presented many possibilities – sometimes having a working title for a project can get the creative energy flowing and provide a point to write towards. Later, I had this idea of using the rainbow pride flag as a framework or structural device. This idea became the middle section of the book, which is a sequence of poems based on the meanings attributed to the colours of the rainbow flag. ‘The end of the world’ became a recurring theme in the poems I was writing, so I kept exploring that idea until I had more than enough for a manuscript. I cut quite a lot from the first draft.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

I love making playlists for my books! A few songs that sum up the vibe of Super Model Minority are ‘STFU!’ by Rina Sawayama, ‘This Was My House’ by Bright Light Bright Light, and ‘Future Forever’ by Björk.


What did you enjoy the most about writing Super Model Minority?

I really wanted to challenge myself with both form and content. In particular, I wanted to play around with the use of prose blocks to completely fill the page – a way to claim space for voices that have been marginalised or silenced. I’ve touched on some of the themes of the book in the book in some of my previous works, but this time everything felt so much more charged and pointed so that’s how it’s ended up on the page. Figuring out how to harness that anger was a challenge, but one that taught me a lot about my own writing process and habits. I want to give a shoutout to the incredible Emma Neale who edited the book. Emma’s perceptive feedback and suggestions helped me to reshape several lines and poems to give them that extra spice and seasoning.


If you had to select your favourite poem from the book, what would it be, and why?

There are two that I’m particularly proud of: ‘Identikit’ and ‘Love theme for the end of the world’. Both are about family and how love is expressed in different ways. They’re also two poems that went through several rewrites, so landing them felt like a major accomplishment.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I don’t think I’ll consider it ‘finished’ until it’s physically in stores and I see it on display! We’re postponing the launch until its safer for us to gather and party so I’ll toast the book on publication day at home with a beer or a martini.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I’ve really enjoyed 30 Queer Lives, edited by Matt McEvoy. It’s a multi-faceted collection of stories that reflects the breadth and depth of queer experience in Aotearoa. Even though we’ve made great strides with queer visibility, I think there’s still some misunderstanding about queer people and lives. Books like 30 Queer Lives are integral in countering stereotypes and helping everyone, including those in the rainbow community, to understand that the queer journey isn’t the same for everyone.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

My to-read pile has gotten out of control in the last couple of years so I’ve got plenty of books to make my way through. I’m in no hurry to start writing my next book, but I do have some other projects on the go that’ll keep that part of my brain occupied for the next while.


Auckland University Press