Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 10. 22nd May 1975
This interview with Hone Tuwhare was conducted by Taura Eruera and was originally published in somewhat greater length in New Argot
You've said elsewhere that poetry is for you, among other things, an integrating, and a sorting out process. Is this how you got into poetry in the first place?.
Yes, I think so. I was connected very closely to the Communist party. I was involved in activities like trade union work, local strike action in Mangakino, action against apartheid and the hydrogen bomb. When I resigned from the Party in 1956 over the Hungarian business, it left quite a gap, a kind of vacuum, in my lifestyle. And I suddenly found, by god, that I had a liking for writing and putting down my thoughts.
I hadn't really done much writing seriously before that. Just one or two bits of purely political verse of the Communist Party paper, the People's Voice.
Is there any particular audience you would like to read to that you haven't come across yet? Paremoremo? Waikeria? Buckingham Palace?
I was involved at Paremoremo once, in a kind of Maori cultural class. That was good enough. I didn't want to impose and say: 'I'm the big shot bloody poet come to tell you about crime. I was content to be involved in what they call Maoritanga, cultural background. It was a good experience and I'd like to do more of that sort of thing.
Another thing I'd like to do sometime is get back to my Maori. My first appearance before a predominantly Maori audience was in Ruatoria. I got a, gee, I got a terrific hand from them, although my poems were in English. The response I drew from them was bloody delightful. I'd thought they might be polite enough to clap at the end, but there was a very good spontaneous happy reaction to some of the poems.
In those days you were probably the only Maori writer around, and certainly the best known. Now, with the emergence of people like Witi Ihamaera, and events like the national Maori Arts Conference — do you find that this has had any effect on you personally, or on your artistic pursuits?
Well, you were involved in the conference from the outset so mmm Laughter. That kind of thing is ... time consuming. The first Maori Artists and Writers Conference at Te Kaha was a very satisfying experience. Since then, of course, we've had the one at Waiwera, and the next one will be at Parihaka in Taranaki. God knows, as I understand it, now there s queue for it Rotorua definitely wants the 1976 Conference.
It's a good thing for Maori artists and writers to circulate, get to know their country a helluva lot more deeply. Gel to know their tangata whenua. In each of these areas they have their own lifestyle as a tribe. I think we're one up on Pakeha artists because we're deeply involved in people, and also in the land. I think it was Selwyn Muru who said that 'Art is a good bridge between people'. Well, if our role is to kind of knit people together. I think that's a good role for an artist — the best.
In the actual process of writing poetry, you get your initial idea, and put the poem together. Later, if you're reasonably satisfied, it may be published, or you may read it to an audience. Which stage do you find the most exciting?
Well, of course, it's nice to be published. But even before you think about submitting it, there's that feeling that you've gone as far as you can with a poem. Then you have two courses: whether you want to communicate the content of this poem to people, or whether you consider that it's a private love letter to yourself. Well hell — too many people, I think, write private love letters to themselves. O.K., fair enough, put that away in a drawer — for yourself. But once you submit a poem for publication, you have to believe that there's something in it that you want to communicate to people, and share with them. There's another stage, of seeing it in print, and feeling bloody unhappy! You know — Jesus, that you could have done better. Changed a word here, juggled the stanza order a bit.
Hone, how do you reconcile the two aspects of writing poetry, the personal act of writing, and the act of publication, which makes you to some extent a public commodity?
You know, the test of art is publication. You can be trapped, in a way, into becoming a 'poet's poet', writing just for some perceptive people, for critics. Taking helluva care because all these critics are sitting on you, waiting for your book to come out, waiting to hammer you if you don't have a regard for their previous comments and critical assessments. If you're gonna be worried about that, I think that's when you get slightly precious about your field of art. It's kind of pushing art into a place where its above people — and I'm sure that's not right. I don't think Win', for example, would write short stories completely unrelated to his personal context and his contact with people.
So you reconcile the personal and the public by using some sort of code you'd probably explain as being 'true to yourself?
Yes ...being true to yourself is a kind of search for honesty — and also, because your honesty may be a bit startling to some people, not to fear being honest.
The other thing is not to feel divorced from a living context, if you feel that way. I think it's another way of being arrogant, saying 'Jesus! I'm shithot! I'm the greatest!'
So it's a humbling thing. Art is a very humble thing. It doesn't pretend to be above people, or elevated to some kind of precious role. The odd writer can withdraw completely from a living context, of being yourself as well as part of a tribe or class of people. It's a bit too bloody precious for me, I think. I like to keep my feet on the ground. My bread and butter is boilemaking, and I'd like to get back into harness again. If you don't do this, if you don't renew yourself, you're too academic, too inward-turning. I want to avoid that. Oh, hell, I don't kid myself that I'm a 'people's poet!' But, quite seriously, most of my poems just sprang up from job situations, from a living context, and to renew myself I've got to get back there again.
You've mentioned several times that writing poetry, the actual hacking out and putting together of worn, fat a solitary jab, and also that you'd like to get back to your cam people. Nov as important part of Maoridom is a fairty intense personal contact. Yet, if you want to [unclear: pursee] your craft you have to scale that down somewhat — almost like the [unclear: lenelines] of the bag distance runner.
The world doesn't stand still, you know, it passes. And if you miss contact with changing situations, well ....
Within the last 5 or 6 years, it's been a delight to see all sorts of movements spreading from the Maori. The latest thing is that march about the land to Wellington. Well crumbs, things are moving, they're not static. And in the past few years, with Nga Tamatoa springing up, the Polynesian Panthers, all sorts of hectic (I don't know if that's the right word!) groups, becoming interested in themselves, taking a good look at themselves, finding some pride in their being and belonging to a certain cultural context; well, I think that to ignore this, as an artist, you'd end up being up yourself, being purely and [unclear: safety alone, a bloody solitary and pure artist]. That's crap, that's not my bag.
So, yeah, I would like and I will find the opportunity to go back to our home ground. Utukura, a little bloody place up near Hokianga, take a look around. I'd like to get up there. Taura, with my good hophead mate, your greatuncle, Taupiri
Eruera, I'd be very pleased to contact them before they kick off, and catch up on my own tribal background', something I've never been able to do for any lengthy period. It's funny — I think it's a kind of feeling you get when you're older.
On the other hand. I'm not at a lots in a city area, you know. I'm delighted with some aspects of urban life, perhaps disgusted with others, like the hassles the people in Ponsonby have with Mr Tail. I fed that he's hassling people a bit too much with his Task Force. I really do.
Of course, English isn't only your tool, it's the only tool that a lot of Maorishave. Do you think that that makes the suggestion of some dichotomy between Maori and Pakeha poets Just a red herring, then?
I have some reservations about creating a dichotomy. I think that the recent great upsurge of interest in the Maori language has been a challenge to you and I. To be able to speak on the marae, for instance. It's a wonderful feeling, this one of great interest in our own language, and how to handle it on different occasions, formal and informal.
But that doesn't mean to say that we should adopt a purely nationalistic or racist angle, in my view or 'retreat into our 'Maoritangaism'. You know, you yourself, you have a lot of friends from other races. European in the main. So have I. I can't see this new feeling as a signal to, in a sense, divorce ourselevs...
Set up false boundaries, perhaps?
I think so, yet. Perhaps I might get a [unclear: hulhiva] lot of criticisms about this, but so long as the chances are unproved for people of our race, you and myself included, to get a greater opportunity to know our own language in our own tribal context, that is good, it's fine. But it's not a signal that I should right now divorce myself from society as a whole.
You've mentioned that part of year attractions to poetry, part of your necessary inspiration, is your love of works. What is it that you love about works? Is it their power on the star hand, and their inadequacy on the other.
You know, you can't talk to yourself. The love of words is linked with the way you want to communicate with people, in the normal everyday sense of that word, or through poetry. You're trying to trap ma, I think, into looking at this 'love of words' as something quite unrelated to a personal relationship with people. But to say that I 'love words' is also to admit that I love people too. You learn from other people, and how they handle words. The words you finally do put down on paper, they're not something dreamt out of the air. They've been given to you by other people, in a delightful way, to you use them, I don't mind plagiarising in the oral sense, hearing someone expressing something in a special way, and thinking 'Christ, that's beaut, that's really captured the essence of what this guy's trying to say to me'. You can't connect this love of words to the personal: 'He's something special because he loves words'. Jesus, everybody loves words!