Celebrating NZ Poetry

This Spotlight celebrates New Zealand's rich history in poetry, with contributions by some of our finest poets — including Allen Curnow, Denis Glover, Sam Hunt, James K Baxter, Cilla McQueen and Hone Tuwhare. Tuwhare turns up in multiple titles, from Gaylene Preston's 2005 documentary, to 1975 interview Review - Hone Tuwhare. Meanwhile Sam Hunt and Gary McCormick hit the road in 1980’s Artists Prepare, then 15 years later, in The Roaring 40's Tour — when the ache of descending middle age is upon them. 

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The Road to Jerusalem

Television, 1997 (Arts/Culture)

Readings from the poems of James K Baxter trace the poet's life through its various New Zealand locations, and provide a biographical voice in this film by Bruce Morrison (co-written with Dr Paul Millar). Baxter's family and friends discuss the man and his work, and the readings and beautifully shot landscapes fill in the gaps. The film won Best Documentary at the 1998 Film and TV Awards. The opening montage, describing "the chugging noise of masturbation from the bedrooms of the bourgeois" of Auckland, is seminal Baxter.

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Artists Prepare: Sam Hunt and Gary McCormick

Short Film, 1980 (Arts/Culture)

Artists Prepare was an National Film Unit series that featured prominent performance-based artists of the time. The edition follows poets Sam Hunt and Gary McCormick (the "John Travolta of New Zealand poetry") on tour in the Nelson region as they give poetry readings, talk to high school girls, drink whiskey, and muse about poetry and life — while Minstrel, Hunt's dog, lies patiently under bar tables. Ultra-tight stovepipe jeans, rock-star scarves, scenes in a milk bar and out on the open road in a Valiant evoke a time when poetry and heartthrob weren't antonyms.

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Hone Tuwhare

Television, 1996 (Documentary, Arts/Culture, Māori)

This documentary offers a glimpse into the life, art, and inimitable cheeky-as-a-kaka style of late Kiwi poet, Hone Tuwhare. In the Gaylene Preston-directed film, the man with "the big rubber face" (cheers Glenn Colquhoun) is observed at home, and travelling the country reading his work; polishing a new love poem; visiting old drinking haunts; reading to a hall full of entranced students; and expounding his distinctive views on everything from The Bible to Karl Marx's love life. He reads some of his best-known poems, including Rain and No Ordinary Sun.

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Early Days Yet

Television, 2001 (Documentary, Arts/Culture)

Early Days Yet, directed by Shirley Horrocks, is a full-length documentary about New Zealand poet Allen Curnow, made in the last months of his life. The poet talks about his life and work, and visits the places of some of his most important poems. It includes interviews with other New Zealand poets about Curnow's significance as an advocate for New Zealand poetry. As Curnow famously mused in front of a moa skeleton displayed in Canterbury Museum: "Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year / Will learn the trick of standing upright here."

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Kaleidoscope - Cilla McQueen

Television, 1984 (Arts/Culture)

Cilla McQueen is a poet, teacher, performer and multimedia artist. In 1983 she won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry and the Jessie MacKay Award for her debut volume Homing In (1982). McQueen has often written about Otago, and in this item she reads poems from the book and draws in varied locales around the region. McQueen also discusses where she sources her inspiration, and explains a creative process which involves stimulus from sight and sound as much as the written word. McQueen later moved to Bluff.

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Weekly Review No. 374 - The Coaster

Short Film, 1948 (Documentary)

The coaster Breeze and her crew are immortalised in this much praised National Film Unit documentary. Poet Denis Glover and narrator Selwyn Toogood provide a rhythmic and lyrical commentary as the Breeze runs from Wellington to Lyttelton, then to Wanganui. Three weeks after the film's November 1948 release, director Cecil Holmes had his satchel snatched. He lost his NFU job after the resulting smear campaign accused him of communist leanings. Although reinstated after a court case, Holmes left for a successful screen career in Australia in 1949.

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Between the Lines: Denis Glover 1912-1980

Television, 2005 (Documentary)

Denis Glover's poems are some of the most enduring in our literary tradition. "And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle" from The Magpies is probably New Zealand poetry's best known line. Glover (1912-1980) also established the first independent literary press (The Caxton Press). This documentary, directed by Bill de Friez, takes a candid look at the poet and reveals a larger than life figure ("a great drinker, a great womaniser, a great poet") connected to all the literary personalities of his day. 

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The Roaring Forties Tour

Television, 1995 (Documentary)

In this documentary, poet Sam Hunt and raconteur Gary McCormick shake out the ache of descending middle age and hit the road for an old fashioned ‘rock and roll style’ poetry tour. Starting in Invercargill, the longtime mates make their way up the length of the country, sharing stories, anecdotes and of course, poems along the way. Here are two people's poets, one arguably great, the other certainly good, captured in full flight during their prime. The Roaring Forties Tour was nominated for NZ Film and Television Awards in 1996, for its editing and music. 

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The Magpies

Short Film, 1974 (Adaptation, Animation)

“Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle”. Denis Glover’s classic poem The Magpies has inspired plays, art by Dick Frizzell, spats about onomatopoeia, and this 1974 short film, produced by publisher Alister Taylor. It centres around Glover musing on Magpies in his smoky Terrace flat in Wellington, during an interview with Glover’s son Rupert. Bookending the interview are two readings of the poem by director Martyn Sanderson. Sanderson’s memorable voice scores scenes of rural decay, and animation interpreting the tragedy of Tom and Elizabeth (the farming couple whose dreams go bad).

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Tuwhare

Short Film, 2005 (Music, Arts/Culture, Māori)

In 2003 Toi Māori Aotearoa engaged Charlotte Yates to produce an album and stage performance celebrating the verse of poet Hone Tuwhare. Yates co-opted various musicians (including Dallas Tamaira from Fat Freddy's Drop, and the late Graham Brazier) to transform Tuwhare's poetry into lyrics, using a range of music from rock to dub. This short film by Lala Rolls was commissioned for the album launch; the material was also used in the live show. We see Tuwhare at home at Kaka Point and reciting his poetry against the songs, and glimpse his warmth, humour and literary verve.

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Two Rivers Meet / Te Tutakinga O Nga Awa E Rua

Short Film, 1977 (Documentary, Māori)

This 1977 film looks at the meeting of the 'two rivers' (Māori and Pākehā, oral and written) of the Aotearoa literary tradition. Rowley Habib is a guide as hui take place and readings of contemporary Māori poetry are set to images of Māori life, from Parihaka and land march photos to Bastion Point, urban scenes and a Black Power hangi. Poets include Mana Cracknell, Peter Croucher, Robin Kora, (a young) Keri Hulme, Brian King, Apirana Taylor, Katarina Mataira, Don Selwyn, Henare Dewes, Rangi Faith, Dinah Rawiri, Haare Williams, Hone Tuwhare, and Arapera Blank.

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Hone Tuwhare - The Return Home

Film, 2004 (Documentary, Māori)

Poet Hone Tuwhare was born in the far north, near Kaikohe, but forced by poverty to leave as a child. "75 years after Hone Glenn Colquhoun (doctor, poet, Tuwhare fan) wrote a poem in the Listener inviting him back." Hone accepted the invitation and this documentary is a record of his March 2002 Hokianga homecoming, taking in song, readings and plenty of laughs and kai moana. Silver-haired Tuwhare is irresistible, crooning Sinatra, charming school children with bawdy jokes or channelling the fire of his most famous poem: "For this is no mere axe to blunt!"

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Review - Hone Tuwhare

Television, 1975 (Documentary, Arts/Culture, Māori)

This Review episode from 1973 offers an interview with Hone Tuwhare — then 51 years old — at the Māori Writers' and Artists' Conference at Tukaki Marae, in the town of Te Kaha. One of New Zealand’s best-loved and lauded poets, Tuwhare speaks of various influences, including sex, religion, trade unionism and communism. Poet Rowley Habib sits alongside Hone in the interview, and occasionally contributes to the conversation. This documentary also features a poetry reading from Dunedin's Globe Theatre.

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Catching the Tide - Sam Hunt's Cook Strait

Film, 1988 (Documentary)

Poet Sam Hunt goes "between islands" on a home turf tour. To a backdrop of languid 'good day' Strait's scenery, he yarns with locals about stories of land and sea, and recites poetry: "[it's all about just] standing back and listening ... or watching". He chats with poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, goes groper fishing off Mana, and hears of a plan to float on a flax flutterboard across the Strait. Hunt then gets himself across via ferry for whaling stories at Oxley's Rock pub and meets boatbuilders and Cape Jackson farmers. The Costa Botes film includes (brutal) archival whaling footage.

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Mercury Lane - Series Two, Episode Two

Television, 2003 (Documentary, Arts/Culture)

Mercury Lane was a story-driven arts show that generally included a cluster of short documentaries, poetry and musical performances in each hour-long episode. This episode of the Greenstone-produced arts series features Sam Hunt interviewing acclaimed New Zealand poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell. Campbell discusses his early childhood in the Cook Islands as the child of a Pākehā father and Polynesian mother, and reads a selection of poems. The programme ends with Auckland pianist Tamas Vesmas playing a Debussy prelude at the Auckland Art Gallery.

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Sam Hunt: Purple Balloon and other stories

Film, 2010 (Documentary, Arts/Culture)

Sam Hunt is New Zealand’s best known and most visible contemporary poet; and, in an archive excerpt from this feature length documentary, Ginette McDonald calls him “the most impersonated man in New Zealand”. Director Tim Rose, who has known Hunt since he was a boy, decided too little was known about him beyond his flamboyant, public persona. So Rose spent four years making this documentary — mixing a wealth of archive material with interviews with Hunt, and those who know him best, and new footage of him reading his work and performing with David Kilgour.

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Koha - Hone Tuwhare

Television, 1981 (Documentary, Arts/Culture, Māori)

This 1981 Koha documentary, 'No Ordinary Bloke' — poet Hone Tuwhare — reflects on his life and influences in a wide-ranging interview by Selwyn Muru. He recites poems and is shown walking around his Dunedin haunts, where he was living at the time. Tuwhare recounts his early life as a railway workshop apprentice and tells of the workshop library that opened his eyes to the world. Later he’s shown with mate and artist Ralph Hotere and discusses, with emotion, the nature of Māori relationships with the land in light of the then-proposed Aramoana aluminium smelter.