IN TOUCH - Drinking With Li Bai

We chat to poet Doc Drumheller about his IN TOUCH Arts Commission work in which fellow poets, friends and dignitaries in New Zealand and Asia read poems from his 2018 collection of poems Drinking with Li Bai.
Doc standing outside a building with a banner welcoming him hung across the entrance

Doc: "My intentions are to provide audiences new ways to engage with poetry..."

What’s the inspiration behind the work – why did you want to create it?

While travelling in China and India, I was inspired to write many haiku, poems, and songs, as I was stimulated by the places I visited. But it was the people I met along the way that enriched these experiences and I wanted to showcase them in this digital artwork.

It reminds me of the whakataukī (Māori proverb): He aha te mea nui? Māku e kii atu, he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

What is the most important thing in the world? Well, let me tell you, it is people, it is people, it is people.

My intentions are to provide audiences new ways to engage with poetry, and to take them on a tour of the towns, cities, and provinces I visited by filming in locations in Asia, to see and experience where the literature was created through performances by poets in China, and India.

Can you tell us about the original Drinking with Li Bai publication – how/when did that come into being?

I composed over 500 haiku while travelling in China, and more than 300 while I was in India, and this collection features the 100 haiku that have been published, and featured in Ōrongohau Best New Zealand Poems in 2018 and 2020, as well as other journals around the world.

The book was published by Cold Hub Press in 2022, as a bilingual edition, English, and Chinese, with translations by Liang Yujing, Chinese poet, translator, and scholar who writes in both English and Chinese. Liang Yujing is the Chinese translator of Best New Zealand Poems 2014 (Wai-te-ata Press, 2016).

Who did you collaborate with to create the digital work?

I work for the Waimakariri Libraries and have collaborated with our past and present mayors and the New Zealand Hubei Economy Trade Culture Association to host Sister City events celebrating Chinese culture in our libraires.

I was honoured to represent Waimakariri, and New Zealand as a cultural ambassador to Enshi, and feel deeply indebted to Yang Qin Zhou, who worked very hard to help organise this cultural exchange with Enshi. This digital artwork is one of the fruits of our many collaborations.

Watch Doc Drumheller's 2022 IN TOUCH Arts Commission work Drinking with Li Bai (edited by Ciaran Findlay)

I met most of the poets included in this project in China and India, or at literary festivals in other countries. Networking is a huge part of my arts practise, and I have been collaborating with most of the people in this project for many years, as well developing long lasting friendships through our shared love and passion for poetry.

The Drinking With Li Bai digital work features readings of my haiku by:

  • Doc Drumheller, Poet, Musician, Editor
  • David Ayers, Former Mayor at Waimakariri District Council
  • Yang Qin Zhou, Vice President, New Zealand Hubei Economy Trade Culture Association
  • Dan Gordon, Mayor at Waimakariri District Council
  • Dr Yafei Zhou, President, New Zealand Hubei Economy Trade Culture Association
  • Zheng Jiajie, Teacher
  • Bei Ta, Chinese Poet, Critic, and Translator
  • Liang Yujing: Chinese poet, Translator and Scholar
  • Dr. Karunesh Kumar Agarwal, Poet, and Managing Editor,
  • Ruchi Agarwal - Founder (Rochak Publishing)
  • Prabal Kumar Basu, Bengali Poet and Editor
  • Trina Chakraborti, Bengali Writer, and Editor
  • Dr. Ramakanta Das, Poet, Member of Parliament

You have a history of collaborating with artists/poets in Asia – what do such collaborations add to your practice/works?

I have been fortunate to travel to China twice, India twice, and Japan three times.

I write many haiku and am a member of the World Haiku Association. The president of this association is Ban’ya Natsuishi, and we met in New Zealand in 2004 at the Wellington International Poetry Festival and have stayed in contact ever since, often collaborating to publish work by young writers from New Zealand in Japan.

At the same festival, I met Prabal Kumar Basu, and we have continued to publish Bengali poets in New Zealand in my literary journal Catalyst.

These collaborations led to more opportunities to participate in festivals, to publish and promote New Zealand literature overseas, and provide opportunities for other writers.

Collaborations with my fellow poets and artists in Asia and around the world are essential to my development as an artist and have led to the creation of many books of poetry, and have helped me to provide numerous opportunities for other writers to have their work showcased in publications all over the world.

Doc Drumheller standing in front of the Taj Mahal

Doc Drumheller was inspired to write haiku by the places and people he met while travelling in China and India

You've had a long running connection to the Sister Cities programme – what makes the  Sister Cities idea interesting to you?

In 2018 I represented the Waimakariri District as a Cultural Ambassador to Enshi, China, in a Sister City Cultural Exchange, with a letter of introduction from the Waimakariri District Mayor David Ayers.

Before departing for China, I published a special edition of the literary journal Catalyst, for which I am the publisher and editor in chief. I dedicated this volume of Catalyst to celebrate our connection with China, and our Sister Cities, with the hope that this cultural exchange would provide more opportunities to collaborate with our Sister City, Enshi, in the future.

As part of this trip, I was also invited to represent New Zealand at several international poetry Festivals, the 38 World Congress of Poets, the 2nd China Suiyang Twelve Back International Poetry Tourism Week, and the Shengze Silk and Poetry Festival in Jiangsu Province.

As result of the success at the festivals and cultural exchange, I represented New Zealand, with the support of an Asia New Zealand Foundation Arts Practitioners Grant, at the 39 World Congress of Poets 2019, based on the theme “Compassion through Poetry".

Most recently Waimakariri Libraries, and the NZ Hubei Economic Trade Cultural Association celebrated the Sister City relationship between Waimakariri, and Enshi, China, and 50 years of diplomatic relations between China and New Zealand at a unique cultural event in Word Christchurch in September 2022.

As well as NZ poets: Ben Brown, Erik Kennedy, Annabel Wilson, and Ciaran Fox, Chinese musicians from the NZ Hubei Economic Trade Cultural Association, and a special performance by young Chinese writers from Write On School for Young Writers.

It is a special privilege for me to connect with our Sister City, Enshi, and to represent my hometown of Waimakariri both locally and on the world stage.


Drinking with Libai features Chinese translations by Liang Yujing, calligraphy by Dr Gong Qin.