Fellow poet Glenn Colquhoun, who toured Northland with Hone Tuwhare, pays tribute to a 'cheeky, sensual man'
I first met Hone on our Northland tour in 2002. I had written a poem for him in the Listener called An Invitation for Hone Tuwhare to Attend a Poetry Reading in Northland, or A Haka to Kaka Point (where Tuwhare lived, in South Otago).
The Northland trip was hilarious - we had a great time. It will always be a special memory for all of us who went on that trip. He was wonderful to spend time with. Lots of people saw him in his original environment (Northland was Tuwhare's ancestral home, where he spent his first four years). People just responded to him - he'd cock an eyebrow, or wink, or turn one particular way and they'd be all over him.
He had a lovely oratorical voice, with lots of different tones, and he knew how to use them to project a poem. He wasn't afraid to dramatise the life of his poem, with his body language and his facial expressions. He had a big rubber face and it could be sexy, cheeky, sad or drawn, and enormously sparkling and cheerful.
Hone is one of my poetry heroes. At an early age for me, he turned me on to the beauties of poetry. He made our vernacular beautiful, he took everyday language that my father would use and made it into a poem.
Hone's socialist leanings and ruthless democratic instincts, both as a Maori and an old unionist, made him use the language that he knew, of the places he grew up in, and find imagery in that, and tones and music in that, that was just as powerful as the English poetry we learned at school.
He had heaps of charm. He was also a layered person - for many years he'd been a public persona. He was used to lots of people making pilgrimages to him and I think he had lots of different personas to meet and greet those people. The real Hone, I don't think I got to see - maybe his contemporaries, the people who lived with him and loved him in personal ways, would have seen that.
It was very much a young poet-old poet friendship. That was nice, but I think there was another side to Hone that was more vulnerable. He got used to being a certain way in front of people and performing for them.
For me he was very much someone I looked up to and enjoyed. He could cut up, he could be grumpy all of a sudden out of nowhere. He could be stubborn.
He was enormously generous to us on that tour. We went back to Kaka Point for his 84th birthday, all of us who were on that tour, and put on a performance just over a year ago, for the people down there to say thanks for lending him to us.
It was clear then that his body had been for a long time rebelling. I honestly think he will be having the time of his life now, he was always a curious person and ready to go off on new adventures and this will be one for him. I don't think at all he would be mourning his own death. He was ready to go. He'll be giggling his way up the coast by now, and be home within days.
Hone was famously democratic. He will be the least sad man in the country at this time. The songs are his testament and his legacy and he has left stories in people's lives and interacted with them.
His place is secure, he left a distinctive voice and he gave us the right to be a sensual male in New Zealand. He celebrated it - all those things are Tuwhare, the guy who did it first.
Glenn Colquhoun, as told to books editor Linda Herrick
Glenn Colquhoun is a Kapiti Coast- doctor who has won two Montana Book Awards for poetry. His third collection, How We Fell, was published a year ago.
Hone Tuwhare's most famous poem, No Ordinary Sun, a passionate cry against nuclear testing, was published in his first book of poetry in 1964
NO ORDINARY SUN
Tree let your arms fall:
raise them not sharply in supplication
to the bright enhaloed cloud.
Let your arms lack toughness and
resilience for this is no mere axe
to blunt nor fire to smother.
Your sap shall not rise again
to the moon's pull.
No more incline a deferential head
to the wind's talk, or stir
to the tickle of coursing rain.
Your former shagginess shall not be
wreathed with the delightful flight
of birds nor shield
nor cool the ardour of unheeding
lovers from the monstrous sun.
Tree let your naked arms fall
nor extend vain entreaties to the radiant ball.
This is no gallant monsoon's flash,
no dashing trade wind's blast.
The fading green of your magic
emanations shall not make pure again
these polluted skies ... for this
is no ordinary sun.