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25 October 2012
At a recent exhibition of his paintings depicting Sam Hunt's
poems, artist Dick Frizzel said he and Hunt had "commited the
ultimate sin; the sin of being understood".
I imagine he was referring to a preference in some critic's
minds for obscurity over transparency, something Hunt has never
had any time for.
He has always robustly asserted his own preference for the
plainly-spoken word, and -- talking in that very distinctively Sam
Hunt way -- he says he is still constantly 'hearing' those words.
"It is a compulsion, a presence that you acknowledge, some
people call it a muse, a way of explaining things. Where does a
poem come from? I don't know where the f*** it comes from. It
starts as a sound in my head, a tone of voice. I have certain tones
of voice that I recognise."
He mentions the origin of a poem in two parts called Tomorrow
"I not only knew the tone of voice, but its shape. I was having
an afternoon sleep and as I was coming to, I knew its shape on the
page, how many lines, how many indented lines right out of the
margins. I typed it out backwards and amazed myself."
And the trusty typewriter is now a laptop, he admits.
"When my youngest son Alf, who is now 14, came to live with
me four years ago it was suggested that he should have his own
laptop. I said, 'don't even talk to me about it, what a waste of time'
etc. But now, he has one and I have one too and it's good, espe-
cially for emails and revising poems."
And while life up on the quiet tidal fats of the Kaipara is
perfect for inviting the muse, Hunt has in no way retired into that
"Someone once suggested I take some time off a while back so
I took three months off and it was too long. I was in bad shape by
the end of it."
Just to guard against that sort of unemployed malaise, he has 32
shows to do between now and the end of November.
"I'm actually travelling to Vienna as well but the shows are
around New Zealand."
Never make the mistake of calling his shows 'readings'. A Sam
Hunt show is a whole experience, a performance, while a reading,
I have to admit, suggests a much less theatrical idea.
Undoubtedly, his live presence in so many public places over
the years has made his work accessible to a much wider audience
than it would have had if confned to the classic ‘slim volume’.
And while he became known for his pub tours, the type of
venue or the size of the audience is of no particular concern, he
"Small venues, big venues, all venues. The size of the audi-
ence isn't important. Ezra Pound once said that his poems were
written for fve people. Five people can be as daunting as 5000.
Performing is part of the same process as making poetry, it is
answering the same voice."
And after something like 45 years in the business, are the
nerves still there?
"The day I don't get nervous is the day I don't go out there.
Like a tightrope walker, I get nervous as hell."
It seems quite remarkable to make a living as a poet in this, or
any country without once resorting to a day job waiting tables or
"Yes, I've never had any other job than poetry. I always knew
poetry was going to be central to my life. When I was 16, I told my
old father that I was going to live by my poems and I remember
him saying 'you may need a back up' and me saying 'I'll drive
trucks and tractors'. But even when I said that, I knew I wouldn't
have to do it."
This fact has clearly been of interest to a myriad of interviewers
including an American talk show host called Joe Franklin in 1983,
who was a forerunner to David Letterman.
"Joe Franklin said 'are you telling me that you live
full time on poetry? That is absolutely amazing."
And just as an aside, he tells me he was on the show
with the famously famboyant pianist Liberace.
"He actually glittered when he walked."
A conversation with Sam Hunt is full of useful
soundbites, asides and anecdotes, quotes from this
or that person, excerpts from his own poems, some
quoted in their entirety; all accurately remembered
and of course, peppered with a few well-chosen and
He is obviously very used to being interviewed
Arguably New Zealand's best known living poet,
Sam Hunt will be performing at Owhanake Barn on
Saturday 27 October as part of the Waiheke Book
He talks to Julianne Evans from his remote home
on the Kaipara Harbour, which he describes as 'five
gunshots from humanity'.
Sam Hunt:"The day I don't get nervous is the
day I don't go out there."
Contact: Ph 372 8771 • 2 Belgium Street, Ostend
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The bard of the public bar
Tomorrow, or today (2)
We prepare for departure,
we make our goodbyes.
It's a quiet time, quieter
by hour, by day,
by day, by hour:
not a lot left to say.
I was moving the cattle earlier,
told them We're in this together,
we're headed for the Works,
no one pumping the brakes:
no one, I told them,
is giving a damn --
the stock-truck's on its way.
And later found myself talking
to nodding tops of totara:
told them I'd no idea
how all of this started, or how
(when it does) it stops.
The trees agreed.
And it just got quieter. Sam Hunt
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