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