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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