Tuwhare, Hone

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Nationality: New Zealander. Born: Kaikohe, 21 October 1922. Education: Campbell's Kindergarten, Victoria Park; Kaikohe Primary School; Avondale Primary School; Mangere Central Primary School; Beresford Street School, Auckland; Seddon Memorial Technical College, Auckland, 1939–41; Otahuhu Technical College, 1941. Military Service: Maori Battalion, 1945, and the New Zealand Second Divisional Cavalry, 1945–47. Family: Married Jean Tuwhare in 1949; three sons. Career: Formerly member, Wellington Boilermakers Union, Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Wellington Public Service Association, Freezing Workers Union, Wellington Tramway Workers Union, and district executive, Communist Party of New Zealand; president, Te Manhoe Local, New Zealand Workers Union, 1962–64. Since 1964 member, Auckland Boilermakers Union. President, Birkdale Maori Cultural Committee, Auckland, 1966–68; councillor, Borough of Birkenhead, Auckland, 1968–70; organizer of the Maori Artists and Writers Conference, Te Kaha, 1973. Awards: Internal Affairs Department travel grant, 1956; New Zealand Award for Achievement, 1965; Robert Burns Centennial fellowship, University of Otago, 1969. Address: c/o Longman Paul Ltd., Milford, Auckland, New Zealand.



No Ordinary Sun. Auckland, Blackwood and Janet Paul, 1964.

Come Rain Hail. Dunedin, University of Otago Bibliography Room, 1970.

Sapwood and Milk. Dunedin, Caveman Press, 1972.

Something Nothing. Dunedin, Caveman Press, 1973.

Making a Fist of It (includes stories). Dunedin, Jackstraw Press, 1978.

Selected Poems. Dunedin, McIndoe, 1980.

Year of the Dog. Dunedin, McIndoe, 1982.

Mihi: Collected Poems. Auckland, Penguin, 1987.

Short Back & Sideways. Auckland, New Zealand, Godwit, 1992.

Deep River Talk: Collected Poems. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

Shape-Shifter. Wellington, New Zealand, Steele Roberts, 1997.

Recording: Wind Song and Rain, Kiwi, 1975.


Critical Studies: By M.P. Jackson, in Landfall 74 (Christchurch), June 1965; "The Poetry of Hone Tuwhare" by Ron Tamplin, in New Quarterly Cave (Hamilton, New Zealand), 1(4), 1976; "No Ordinary Rain: The Poetry of Hone Tuwhare" by Ingrid Glienke, in Voices from Distant Lands: Poetry in the Commonwealth, edited by Konrad Gross and Wolfgang Klooss, Wurzburg, Konigshausen & Neumann, 1983; "Hone Tuwhare, the Carvet Poet" by Tia Barrett, in Commonwealth Essays and Studies (Dijon, France), 7(2), spring 1985; "Ready to Move: Interview with Hone Tuwhare" by Bill Manhire, in Landfall (Dunedin, New Zealand), 42(3), September 1988.

Hone Tuwhare comments:

Strongly influenced by translated works of Mayakovsky, Mao Tse-tung, García Lorca, Louis Aragon, Pablo Neruda, and Shakespeare, and R.A.K. Mason of New Zealand, together with a close study of Nga Moteatea me nga harikari o te Iwi Maori, a collection of untranslated Maori songs. Also the Old Testament.

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Hone Tuwhare is the first Maori to achieve a reputation for poetry written in English. The fact that he is a Maori and that elements of the native culture find their way into his work has helped him attract wider attention than most New Zealand poets receive. In addition, Tuwhare is an attractive personality who reads his poetry well in public and is frequently in demand and on tour. His work is already studied widely in schools, and his books go on being reprinted.

Tuwhare's early work (which appeared, however, when he was already in his early forties) is lyrical, with a strongly aural quality, full of assonance and half rhyme within a tightly written free verse form. Trees, mountains, rivers, sun, wind, and rain are personified and addressed directly; the universe is animate. This is a Maori quality, yet it is also "literary," even artificial, and there is a sense sometimes of confusion between the two. The weaker poems can descend into whimsy, or they may at times remind the reader of the faded nineteenth-century language into which Maori poetry was customarily translated by early scholars. Tuwhare is often more effective when he speaks directly and plainly than when he seeks after images and conceits. For example, "Tree let your arms fall /raise them not sharply in supplication /to the bright enhaloed cloud" is weaker, being more literary, than the directness (especially in the second and third lines) of "o voiceless land, let me echo your desolation. /The mana of my house has fled, /the marae is but a paddock of thistle." (Mana means "pride" or "prestige," and marae is the word for the meeting ground of the tribe. Both words are entirely familiar to European New Zealanders.)

Distinct from the predominant lyricism of the early work there is a strong, personal, anecdotal style, humorous, generous in feeling, colloquial in language, that has come to predominate in Tuwhare's later books. Some reviewers have regretted the change, but it seems clear that the gains outweigh any losses.

Some subjects suit Tuwhare better than others in that they get the best, the most authentic, out of him linguistically, and this is especially so of poems dealing with the countryside and with occasions that take him back to his own family. Into such poems he works a physical quality of experience that all New Zealanders recognize but that few of European background can translate so directly into words: "I bend /my back. Ankle deep in water how reassuring /to hear the knock and rattle of cockle in the /flax kit as I strain black sand away." Tuwhare is particularly good in poems dealing with bereavement, exploiting the Maori custom in which the corpse is addressed by the mourner and kinship is claimed.

There is something of Maori oratory in the direct speech of all of Tuwhare's work, and his humor is a unifying quality, making the reader feel that a consistent personality runs through the poems. Tone of voice is an intangible element that often makes the difference between success and failure in poetry, and there is in Tuwhare's tone at its best a distinct combination of qualities, at once informal, colloquial New Zealand English but with a decorum recognizably Maori:

Eat the gifts of the sea raw. That's basic.
Wrap yourself around some of it. Now take this cluster
of mussels for example:
I prise a couple loose, and with one in each palm see,
I clap my hands and crack their hairy heads together
Then I go shlup, and spit the broken bits out after.

Read in Tuwhare's rich, breathy voice, such poems become admirable performing scripts.

—C.K. Stead