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Hone Tuwhare

Te Rārawa, Te Aupouri, Ngā Puhi

In 2007 publisher Craig Potton conducted a poll of New Zealanders' favourite poems, from any country or period. Hone Tuwhare's poem Rain was the people's choice by a clear margin.

Tuwhare is often described as having brought an exciting new dimension to New Zealand poetry. Poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell has argued that Tuwhare introduced a "genuine, profound Māori dark note" into the country's poetry.  His work also highlights multicultural and working-class concerns.

Hone Tuwhare was born in 1922 in the far north town of Kaikohe. His mother died when he was five; his father was an accomplished orator and storyteller.

Tuwhare began to write during a five-year apprenticeship at Auckland's Otahuhu Railway Workshops, encouraged by fellow poet RAK Mason.  His first poems were published by his friend, Listener editor Noel Hilliard.

Hilliard and Mason encouraged Tuwhare to put together a collection of his work. No Ordinary Sun (1964) whose first printing sold out in ten days, and was the first book of poetry by a Māori writer in English. The book remains one of New Zealand's most widely read poetry collections. The anti-nuclear poem No Ordinary Sun would become an emblem of the peace movement, and later inspire the title of an evocative short film by Jonathan Brough.

While in Dunedin as a Burns Fellow in the late 60s, Tuwhare met painter Ralph Hotere, who would provide illustrations for several of Tuwhare's poetry volumes.

Many of Tuwhare's poems are a lyrical response to nature and the landscape, exploring a Māori connection to the whenua. His concern with landscape is clear in his screenplay for Eel, an episode in landmark Māori anthology series E Tipu e Rea. Set in the 1950s, Eel chronicles the relationship between an ailing uncle and his teenage nephew.

Eel was based on Tuwhare's prose piece Taniwha, which first appeared in his 1978 volume Making a Fist of It. Some of the story's elements were revisited in his play In the Wilderness Without a Hat, and also in Tuwhare's 1990 short story Don't Go Past Me with your Nose in the Air. In 1982, Don Selwyn directed a stage production of In The Wilderness, and in 1991 adapted Don't Go Past Me with your Nose in the Air into a short film. The film took away the award for Best Foreign Short Film at the 1992 New York Festival.

Tuwhare also took a rare cameo role in the otherwise unremarkable ghost story The Returning (1990). Tuwhare played a grandfather. "People are going to love seeing me come out of church," he joked.

Tuwhare has been the subject of a number of documentaries. He talked about many of his influences in this Review interview from 1975,and in 1981 was profiled by Selwyn Muru and Brent Leslie for this episode of Māori current affairs programme Koha. In TV documentary Hone Tuwhare (1996) - sometimes called No Other Lips: Hone Tuwhare - directed by Gaylene Preston, he talks about his early writing and collaboration with Ralph Hotere, and the influences of landscape and death.

Filmmaker Michelle McGregor approached Tuwhare about making a short film based on one of his poems. McGregor ended up accompanying Tuwhare on a tour of Northland, after poet Glenn Colquhoun famously wrote a poem, asking him to return north. The result was Hone Tuwhare - The Return Home, which played to sell out audiences at the 2004 NZ Film Festival.

The following year Toi Maori Aotearoa commissioned musician Charlotte Yates to put together a compilation album, based on Tuwhare's poems. Songs from the album were performed live at concerts in Wellington and Auckland, and also screened on television. The short film Tuwhare, commissioned for the album launch, includes footage of Tuwhare reciting his poetry at home.

In 1998 Janet Hunt released Hone Tuwhare: A Biography. During this period Tuwhare was named New Zealand's second Te Mata Poet Laureate, and received an honorary Doctor of Literature from Otago University. He would later receive another from Auckland University.

In 2003 Tuwhare received the Arts Foundation of NZ Icon Award.

Tuwhare lived much of his later life in a seaside cottage at Kaka Point, south of Dunedin.  He died on 16 January 2008.

For further details of Hone Tuwhare's literary achievements, please go to the Tuwhare entries on the websites for the NZ Book Council and the Arts Foundation.

Moe mai e te rangatira, moe mai.