TZE MING MOK was born in Auckland in 1978 to migrant parents. As well
as being a writer of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, reviews and journalism,
she makes occasional forays into political activism and full-time bureaucracy.
Her writing has appeared in the NZ Listener, Sport,
Meanjin, Poetry New Zealand, JAAM, and in
Landfall issues 206, 207 and 208. In 2004 she was co-winner
of the Landfall Essay Prize. That year she also organised a multicultural
march to Parliament against racism and hate-crimes. During the year
of the Tampa asylum-seeker crisis off the coast of Australia, she was
a Refugee Status Officer for the New Zealand government. She has lived
in Chengdu, Cairo and Wellington but always returns to Auckland, where
she currently works for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.
Mok comments: ‘Did I really write this poem? Or did he slide
it across the desk to me, folded into his ID card, the price for Charon
to ferry him out of Hell?
‘I’m not allowed to say. I can hear the SIS tapping on
my window. There was a period of three years in which I had given up
on writing, a condition initially brought on by attending a university
Creative Writing class. In particular I decided to despise poetry: the
stories heard daily in my job demonstrated the impossibility of its
existence. In 2002, in different countries and different prisons, I
interviewed two Arabic asylum-seekers who proved otherwise. The first
was a professional poet – his poem is not for release, though
he, like W., made it out alive.
‘It occurred to me then that if writing poetry is self-indulgent,
then forgoing the writing of poetry is even more self-indulgent. Writer’s
block has no place down the cell block. If there seems to be no space
left in the world for poetry, write smaller poems. We can make them
Poem: An Arabic poetry lesson in Jakarta