Hone Tuwhare (1922 — 2008) is New Zealand’s pre-eminent Maori poet; his tribal affiliations are with Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Korokoro, Ngāti Tautahi, Te Popote and Uri-o-Hau. From a working class background (at fifteen he was apprenticed as a New Zealand Railways boilermaker), his poetry was a form of socialism. Socialism, tribalism, worker solidarity, accusations of bastardising the Maori language: Hone Tuwhare was getting into hot water as far back as 1957 for his poetry and his beliefs: the then Minister of Maori Affairs censored an early Tuwhare poem because he was at that time a card-carrying Communist.

In the late Sixties he made common cause with the left-leaning Polynesian Panthers. In the early Seventies he went to Red China; in 1975 he took part in the Land March on Wellington. He wrote poems about the 1951 Auckland waterfront strike, South African apartheid, nuclear testing in the South Pacific: Tuwhare was the activist as poet, giving many readings, his exuberant poems occasionally suggesting soapbox oratory on behalf of causes. However, his nonchalance, banter and stance were made impressively entertaining by a mellifluous and resonant voice.

He was arguably the most sensual of New Zealand poets; his verse by turns earthy, colloquial, musical, graceful, exquisite, intimate. His poems have a conversational rhythm, and are often addressed to specific people. He retailed stories like a bibulous medieval friar, and wrought love lyrics into comic anecdotes of sex and sensibility. Almost a cabaret artist at times, a monologist by choice, he used an enriched imagistic language which drew on a jumble of influences: Catullus, Lorca, the Confucian sages, the Beats, the argot of the street-kids, Maori mythology — and in particular, early on, the cadences of the King James Bible, the only book his family had at home when he was child.

His temperament, as expressed through his poetry, was as mercurial as the New Zealand weather, running a gamut of emotions. He was shaman-like too, in the way he sought in verse imagery to parallel gurgling streams, to invoke the bass chuckle of mighty rivers. He was a coast watcher, responsive to the sea in its many moods, and in one poem imagines ‘holding hands with the sea’. And he wrote about rain in indelible lines. He conjured with rain, made spells and charms from its presence, rendered it visible and memorably metaphoric, as in his poem “Rain’.


This recording, bibliography and introductory essay are kindly provided in collaboration with the Aotearoa & Waiata New Zealand Poetry Archive, a pioneering resource of modern & contemporary poetry. These recordings were made a few years before his death.

Poems by Hone Tuwhare

Papa-Tu-A-Nuku - Hone Tuwhare
Miles Davis - Hone Tuwhare
Child Coming Home in the Rain from the Store - Hone Tuwhare

Books by Hone Tuwhare



Burns Fellow, University of Otago

Prize website

1974 Burns Fellow, University of Otago

Prize website

Literary Fellowship, University of Auckland

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