Page 1: 1970s and 1980s
Ngāpuhi; boilermaker, poet
This biography, written by Janet Hunt, first published online in 2010.
In 1969 Tuwhare was awarded the Robert Burns fellowship at the University of Otago, Dunedin. The region welcomed him and became his base for the rest of his life. He became friends with the artist Ralph Hotere, who illustrated several of his books.
Two years working in the Pacific, without his family, followed, and in 1972 Tuwhare formally separated from his wife, Jean; they were divorced on 18 October 1976. He subsequently lived with a number of women, among them Eve Davy, Yvonne de Langre and Shirley Grace. He was also loved and supported by neighbours.
Over the following decades Tuwhare made a sporadic living from grants, fellowships and readings in schools. He travelled as a writer to Hawaii, China, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Australia and Germany. He was a member of sell-out Student Arts Council Tours in 1975 and 1979, and convened the first Māori writers’ and artists’ conference, held at Te Kaha in the Bay of Plenty in 1973. He also took part in the hīkoi (Māori land march) of 1975, which covered the length of the North Island from Cape Rēinga to Parliament in Wellington, and in the 1984 hīkoi, which aimed to draw attention to Treaty of Waitangi grievances.
After No ordinary sun there were a further 12 volumes of poetry: Come rain hail (1970), Sap-wood and milk (1972), Something nothing (1974), Making a fist of it (1978), Selected poems (1980), Year of the dog (1982), Mihi (1987), Short back & sideways (1992), Deep river talk (1993), Shape-shifter (1997), Piggy-back moon (2002) and Oooooo......!!! (2005). Shape-shifter and Piggy-back moon won national awards for poetry in 1999 and 2002.
Tuwhare wrote a number of short stories in the middle of his career, one of which, ‘Taniwha’, became the short movie Eel. His full-length play, On ilkla moor b’aht’at or In the wilderness without a hat, explores Māori identity in a non-Māori world through the lens of tangihanga and was produced to acclaim in the 1980s.
A new kind of poetry
When it was first published, Tuwhare’s work was seen as a departure from traditional New Zealand poetry. His were the first poems to address Māori issues, and their subjects ranged from landscape and the sea to love, protest and dispossession. Tuwhare constantly experimented with styles and voices, and in his later years many of his poems were conversational and prose-like. He wrote unselfconsciously for a New Zealand audience, and most poems required annotation for overseas readers because of their dense cultural allusions. Tuwhare’s poetry also appealed to ordinary New Zealanders because of its social themes and familiar locations.