Politics

Prime minister startles nation by quoting poem: ‘Lead’, by Selina Tusitala Marsh

In his first speech after getting the formal tick from his caucus, and ahead of a trip to Government House to be sworn in as prime minister, Bill English has proved his literary credentials by reading a line from a poem. Go poetry. Go English Lit Bill. Here we publish the poem in full.

Prime minister designate Bill English addressed the press alongside his soon-to-be-deputy, Paula Bennett, this morning.

Many will pluck out from his remarks the apparent departure from the position of his predecessor, John Something-or-other, in leaving the door open to a change in the qualifying age for superannuation. But here at the Spinoff, we recognise that easily the most significant part of this historic press conference was his decision to read a line of poetry.

This is what he said: “Last Thursday, after it was apparent that I may succeed in the leadership of the National Party, I went to a women’s leadership conference I’d been booked in to speak at, and there I heard a poem performed, by Selina Tusitala Marsh, in which she said, ‘Lead and dig up the diamonds around you.’ That is our task, together.”

A slight misquote, perhaps, but after some of the disappointment of the last guy, this is a huge fillip. Will English Literature BA (Honours) graduate Bill English, or English Lit Bill as he must henceforth be known, take the culture portfolio? Probably not. But still.

New Zealand's new leadership team: Bill English, Selina Tusitala Marsh, and Paula Bennett

New Zealand’s new leadership team: Bill English, Selina Tusitala Marsh, and Paula Bennett

Acclaimed Auckland-based poet and academic Selina Tusitala Marsh, asked if she had any advice for her new fan and the new PM, offered this: “When you’re trying to decide which line to tow, choose the poetic one!” She added: “You could also ask if he’s bought the book yet.”

Here’s the poem, originally written for Pasifika leaders …

Lead

By Selina Tusitala Marsh

   for BEST Leadership Academy

You’re a leader-in-the-making, you’re making history
Redefining this nation’s brown legacy

Poly-saturated activity
It’s Nafanua graduating from university

And now

In tautua, lead our community
Lead through uniqueness, your diversity

Lead through leaning, lead through learning
Lead through others, lead by earning

Your own way in the world.

Lead in alofa, lead in compassion
Lead in fun – lead in your own fashion

Lead by falling forward when you make a mistake
Lead by giving more than what you take

Lead when your strategy is a forward-looking story
Lead when the task in front of you holds no glory

Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, let your ‘No’ be ‘No’
Lead and follow in the footsteps of your heroes

Lead by creating out of happy accidents
Lead by taking risks when there’s no precedent

Lead by following the cup-o’-tea trail
Sit, listen, eat and they’ll follow without fail

Lead by digging up diamonds in those around you
Lead when you scale the heights, then plummet to ground zero

Lead with transparency, lead with laughter
Lead in celebration, lead in disaster

Lead with your strengths, lead in honesty
Lead when you see between the lines of policy

And into people’s eyes.

Lead, even in the times you just want to follow
Lead for today, lead for tomorrow

Lead when you want to end all injustice
Lead in the crowd, lead when it’s just us

Lead when you want to revolutionise
When you no longer want to be hypnotised

By what everybody else says is right
Lead when you have your vision in sight

Lead from the front, lead from behind
Lead from the middle, wherever you find

Your standing place.

In the workplace, in the home
Lead when everyone’s watching, and when you’re alone

Lead with an eye on your dream, an eye on the rest
Lead when you can look at yourself and assess

Your weaknesses and strengths with clarity
Remembering humility and charity

Lead when you’re brave enough to ask different questions
And when the answers aren’t good enough, to raise objections

Lead and give yourself permission to fail
Lead and take the less-often-walked trail

Lead and never forget to be kind
Lead with the heart bound up with the mind

Lead with a child’s curiosity
Lead with the end goal of unity

Lead with national excellence and innovation
Lead through intimate conversation

Lead with courage and determination
Even in the face of discrimination – Lead.

Lead with balance, a sense of fair play
Lead to help others lead in this way

Lead when you learn your failures are a test
Lead as you learn to lead from the best

Today we celebrate Pacific success
Now, Lead.


Reproduced with permission from Dark Sparring (AUP, 2013). Music by Tim Page

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