Literature Series - Hone Tuwhare – Aotea Store

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Literature Series - Hone Tuwhare

Aotea would like to encourage the reading of Māori literature, which has an important place in this country. Māori authors and poets are great voices for Māori culture. Our first close-up will be on the late and great poet, Hone Tuwhare.

The work of the writer Hone Tuwhare was spread over a long lifetime, with his earliest published works appearing in the 60s and his later work in the 90s and 2000s. Hone as a writer was deeply conscious of the voices of Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand. We think his poems seize the essence of New Zealand culture and vividly bring to life the landscape and people of Aotearoa.

Hone Tuwhare was born in 1922 in the upper North Island. His whakapapa was with Ngā Puhi, the northern iwi. Hone learned to speak in both Māori and English in his early life (later he would forget some of this Māori.) His mother died when he was the age of five, and he and his father were poor and moved around a lot when he was young. Hone said that he had lived in sixteen different whare (houses) by the age of thirteen. He learned the profession of a boilermaker, and he lived in Auckland as a young man.

In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, he is said to have discovered his voice, as a poet. He wrote on a great variety of subjects. He wrote anti-nuclear poems. He wrote poems about love, the sea and the land. He wrote about the dispossession of Māori land. He was a communist in early adult life, and poetically brought to life what it was like to be Māori, with little money. Amongst the most well-known Hone Tuwhare poems are “Rain,” “Child Coming Home in the Rain from the Store,” “No Ordinary Sun,” and “The Old Place.”

In later life, Hone was recognized for his work with numerous honorary degrees from New Zealand universities and with the poet laureateship in 1999, a position which he held until 2002. He was New Zealand’s second poet laureate. He also was awarded in conjunction with Janet Frame and Michael King the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement.

Hone was more than a poet. He was a tangata of a lot of mana, who lived a rich and full life. He was married to Jean Agnes McCormack in 1949 with whom he had three sons. He had a great wit and a famous sensuality. He was a lover of jazz music, red wine and art. He protected his privacy, but was known for his humanity and hospitality. It is worth recognising that Hone’s poetry coincided with stirrings of Māori self-determination in New Zealand.

Indigenous art is important to us as it is an expression of our tikanga. Here is one of Hone's poems in full:  

The Old Place.

No one comes

by way of the doughy track

through straggly tea tree bush

and gorse, past the hidden spring

and bitter cress.

Under the chill moon’s light

no one cares to look upon

the drunken fence-posts

and the gate white with moss.

No one except the wind

saw the old place

maker her final curtsy

to the sky and earth:

and in no protesting sense

did iron and barbed wire

ease to the rust’s invasion

nor twang more tautly

to the wind’s slap and scream.

On the cream lorry

or morning paper van

no one comes,

for no one will ever leave

the golden city on the fussy train;

and there will be no more waiting

on the hill beside the quiet tree

where the old place falters

because no one comes anymore

no one.

In our view, this is a poem about loneliness. It can be interpreted, of course, in many ways. One way is ironic: it is a celebration of the quiet ecstasy of loneliness. It also speaks to New Zealand country culture, and perhaps is a lament for the abandonment of rural ways of living. It is a special poem because it is so specific about the qualities of the old place, the poet seems really in tune with the old place. In a way, he knows it as fully as everyone else does not know it.