Hone Tuwhare, 1922–2008

Nga Puhi iwi; hapu Ngati Korokoro, Ngati Tau­tahi, Te Popoto and Te Uri-O-Hau.

Hone Tuwhare is the people’s poet. He was loved and cher­ished by New Zealan­ders from all walks of life. Tour­ing tire­lessly, Hone shared his tal­ent and inspired audi­ences in every cor­ner of the coun­try from pri­mary and sec­ondary schools to uni­ver­si­ties, fac­to­ries to art gal­leries and pris­ons. As he trav­elled, Hone encour­aged oth­ers to write, express them­selves, cre­ate and cel­e­brate life.

Born in 1922 in the small set­tle­ment of Koke­wai, just south of Kaikohe, Hone spent much of his child­hood in Auck­land with his father Ben, fol­low­ing the pass­ing of his mother Mihipaea when he was five.

Hone became a qual­i­fied boil­er­maker and through his trade, a mem­ber of the trade union move­ment and the Com­mu­nist Party. He remained pas­sion­ate about human rights for the rest of his life. He was par­tic­u­larly active in the 1970s when, among other things, he was an organ­iser of the first Maori Writ­ers and Artists hui at Te Kaha and walked in the Maori Land March in 1975.

Although he was too young to fight in Europe in World War II, Hone served in Japan as part of the post-war occu­pa­tion force. A year after his return in 1948, he mar­ried Jean Agnes McCor­mack and after liv­ing in Welling­ton where their eldest son Rewi was born, the fam­ily moved to Man­gakino and later Te Mahoe in the cen­tral North Island. Hone worked on hydro-dams and twins Andrew and Robert were born.

A move to Beach Haven on Auckland’s North Shore in 1963 with the pub­li­ca­tion of his first book, No Ordi­nary Sun, in the fol­low­ing year, was life-changing for Hone. The col­lec­tion was widely acclaimed and estab­lished him as a sig­nif­i­cant and unique pres­ence on the New Zealand lit­er­ary scene. Over the fol­low­ing four decades he pub­lished 12 more col­lec­tions of poems, some short sto­ries and a play, and immersed him­self in writ­ing, per­form­ing and tour­ing both in New Zealand and over­seas. He was the recip­i­ent of many awards and fel­low­ships and was twice win­ner of the Mon­tana NZ poetry award. Hone was Te Mata Poet Lau­re­ate in 1999 and received two hon­orary doc­tor­ates in lit­er­a­ture. He was named one of New Zealand’s ten great­est liv­ing artists in 2003.

By 1992, Hone was look­ing for a secure place to live and write for the rest of his life and pur­chased a mod­est crib over­look­ing the sea at Kaka Point on the coast of South Otago. He was a colour­ful and much-loved fig­ure in the com­mu­nity and con­tin­ued to write and tour, pub­lish­ing his four last col­lec­tions from there. In his later years, he was assisted by store­keep­ers and friends Nor­man and Glen­nis Woods.

Hone passed away in Dunedin, on 16th Jan­u­ary 2008.

“Tuwhare writes about his life. He immor­talises the peo­ple he meets, knows and loves, their com­ings and goings and pass­ings; he records the small hap­pen­ings of his days and the large occa­sions of his time; he describes the land and its crea­tures and sea­sons; he observes the effects of the years and puts into words his feel­ings: about love and loss, faith, spir­i­tu­al­ity, jus­tice and injus­tice. He is a sto­ry­teller who draws from wher­ever he is and who­ever he is with, absorb­ing and reflect­ing tex­ture, colour, nuance, shades of light and dark. Like Maui, he enjoys a good joke, and the joy and com­edy of life are ever present.“
Janet Hunt – Hone Tuwhare, A Biog­ra­phy

Books and Awards

1964: No Ordi­nary Sun
Hone’s first pub­lished poetry col­lec­tion, appeared to wide­spread acclaim, and was reprinted twelve times over the next 40 years. It remains one of the most widely read indi­vid­ual col­lec­tions of poems in New Zealand his­tory.
1969 and 1974: awarded the pres­ti­gious Robert Burns fel­low­ship
1970: Come Rain Hail
1972: Sap­wood and Milk
1974: Some­thing Noth­ing
1978: Mak­ing a Fist of It
1980: Selected Poems
1982: Year of the Dog: Poems New and Selected; In the Wilder­ness With­out a Hat (On IIkla Moor ba’t ’at) – Play writ­ten by Tuwhare and directed by Don Sel­wyn
1983: Awarded the Hocken Library Research Fel­low­ship
1985: Was wirk­licher ist als Ster­ben, a 12-page broad­sheet of 31 poems in Eng­lish and Ger­man
1987: Mihi: Col­lected Poems
1992: Short Back and Side­ways, Poems and Prose writ­ten dur­ing his tenure as the Uni­ver­sity of Auckland’s lit­er­ary fel­low­ship; awarded a Schol­ar­ship in Let­ters by the Queen Eliz­a­beth II Arts Coun­cil of New Zealand; Deep River Talk: Col­lected Poems
1997: Shape-Shifter (Poetry win­ner, Mon­tana NZ Book Awards 1998)
1998: Received an hon­orary Doc­tor­ate of Lit­er­a­ture from Uni­ver­sity of Otago (“Me…! A Doc­tor!? I can’t even fix me blimin’ foot!”)
1999: Named New Zealand’s Te Mata Poet Lau­re­ate
2001: Piggy Back Moon (Poetry win­ner, Mon­tana NZ Book Awards 2002)
2003: Named as an Arts Foun­da­tion of New Zealand Icon Artist, received the inau­gural Prime Minister’s Award for lit­er­ary achieve­ment.
2005: Hone’s last book Oooooo.…!!! pub­lished; Received an hon­orary doc­tor­ate of lit­er­a­ture from Uni­ver­sity of Auckland

Hone Tuwhare: A Biog­ra­phy by Janet Hunt was pub­lished in 1998.
tuwhare – CD released in May 2005, a selec­tion of Hone’s poems set to orig­i­nal music by some of Aotearoa’s top musi­cians.
Hone Tuwhare – The Return Home, DVD by Michele McGre­gor, 2005

“Hone came to our high school in the 70s as part of a trav­el­ling poetry show. He was this sham­bling, surly, larger than-life bloke not at all like my image of the clas­sic poets we were study­ing. He made poetry seem dangerous.

When I first heard his poem To A Maori Fig­ure Cast In Bronze Out­side the Chief Post Office, Auck­land – the one where the statue, dying for a drink, ogles pass­ing miniskirted girls and longs to be up on the marae where he can watch the ships come in, curl­ing their white mous­taches — I could feel a light going on.

Some­one was speak­ing directly to me, about my town — and it made me realise how pow­er­ful that could be. It was a great hon­our to be asked, a cou­ple of years ago, to set a poem of his to music. He was one of my heroes.”
Don McGlashan – New Zealand singer, song­writer, com­poser and writer


I can hear you
mak­ing small holes
in the silence

If I were deaf
the pores of my skin
would open to you
and shut

And I
should know you
by the lick of you
if I were blind

the some­thing
spe­cial smell of you
when the sun cakes
the ground

the steady
drum-roll sound
you make
when the wind drops

But if I
should not hear
smell or feel or see

you would still
define me
dis­perse me
wash over me