Tributes flow for poet Tuwhare (+photos)

Political and cultural leaders have today been paying tribute to Hone Tuwhare, one of New Zealand's most celebrated and prolific poets who died yesterday, aged 86.

Tuwhare's work was renowned for its accessibility to the general reader but his popularity did not come at the expense of critical acclaim.

He was named New Zealand's second Te Mata Poet Laureate in 1999. Tuwhare won two Montana NZ Book Awards for poetry in 1998 and 2002, and was given honorary doctorates by the universities of Auckland and Otago.

Poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell toured the country with Hone Tuwhare in the 1970s as part of the 'Gang of Four'.

Campbell said Tuwhare "sprung from the raw material of Maori culture" and that was what made him special.

"Most of us - Glover, Curnow, Baxter and I had university education but he had nothing to do with that.

"He was able to write poems that had an immediate appeal, direct poems. Often he wrote poems on political themes but quite often too just lyrical poems, about the women he loved. He was unique in that respect," he said.

Campbell said Tuwhare had a strong reputation and introduced a "genuine, profound Maori dark note" into New Zealand poetry.

"He was a boiler maker by trade from a so-called working class background. He was able to write poetry that appealed widely. He was a strange person in some ways because most New Zealand poets have gone through academic training - high school and university - but I don't think he made it through the high school years," Campbell said.

But although Tuwhare was working class in the Pakeha world, he was revered in the Maori world because of his chieftain family ties, he said.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Helen Clark said Tuwhare had made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature.

"Hone Tuwhare was a distinguished poet, playwright, and writer of short fiction. His poetry contained powerful imagery of our land, sea and legends, and often expressed strong views on contemporary issues," Miss Clark said.

"Hone's death will be felt deeply by all who valued his lifetime contribution to New Zealand literature. My thoughts are with his whanau and close friends at this sad time."

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira said Hone Tuwhare was a writer who could "say what people really felt in their bones".

He said Tuwhare was a great artist and philosopher whose real talent was his simplicity.

"He could say what people really felt in their bones," Mr Harawira said.

"You just have to look at his poetry to see his love of people and his deep sadness at the impacts of man on the world," he said.

"And as a son of the north, it's nice to know that he'll be coming home to Kaikohe to rest among his tupuna."

Singer and songwriter Don McGlashan put Hone Tuwhare's poem Rain to music on the album Tuwhare.

"Hone came to our high school in the seventies 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," said McGlashan.

"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."

The Green Party also paid tribute to "a man of modesty and brilliance".

"While he has gone his work will live on to inspire generations of New Zealanders," Arts and Culture Spokesperson Metiria Turei said.

"Like Sir Edmund Hillary, Hone lived a very ordinary and modest life, despite the fact that he was a kiwi icon," she said.

"It was inspiring to see such an ordinary Maori man of my grandfather's generation become a world class poet. It was certainly unusual in that day and age for men of his generation."

Born in Kaikohe in 1922, since the mid-1990s Tuwhare lived in Kaka Point, about 25km southeast of Balclutha.

He was of Ngapuhi descent.

His father, an accomplished orator and storyteller in Maori, encouraged his son's interest in the written and spoken word.

Tuwhare first began to write in 1939 while working at the Otahuhu Railway Workshops, spurred on by fellow poet and friend RAK Mason.

His first collection, No Ordinary Sun (1964), was the first book of poetry by a Maori writer in English. Now in its 10th impression, it remains one of the most widely read individual collections of poetry in New Zealand literary history.

The collection also signalled Tuwhare's intense and lasting interest in political issues as subject material, with No Ordinary Sun a passionate cry against nuclear weapons, penned in response to the destruction of Hiroshima in 1945.

Tuwhare was also passionate about Maori issues, and during the 1970s became increasingly involved in Maori cultural and political initiatives. He was an organiser of the first Maori Writers and Artists Conference at Te Kaha in 1973 and participated in the Maori Land March of 1975.

Tuwhare was awarded a Robbie Burns Fellowship in 1969 (and again in 1974) and while in Dunedin met painter Ralph Hotere, with whom he formed a lasting partnership. A venture into drama produced the play In the Wilderness Without a Hat, published in 1991.

Tuwhare is survived by three sons. His tangi will be held in Kaikohe.

- NZPA

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