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Dick Frizzell, Yellow. Image courtesy of the artist

CHARM IT CRAZY 

A conversation with Sam Hunt 

SAM HUNT is a well-known performance poet, born at Castor Bay, New Zealand in 1946. He has toured extensively over the years, performing live ‘gigs’, and has published dozens of collections of his poems. He has collaborated with musicians from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to Split Enz to David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights over the years. Along the road he has also developed many friendships, including those with fellow poets (or lyricists, as he may prefer it), and creative artists.

Sam Hunt. Simon Darby, Wanaka Photography.

There was a time, many moons ago, when a fledgling writer also fancied herself as a bit of a poet. After an interview with one of the nation’s best-known composers she sent him a letter of thanks along with one of her poems. The poor bugger.

She cringes to think of it now. The poem was a very emotional one, with lines something like ‘Don’t bring me orchids stiff in a florist’s box / Bring me wild daisies plucked with warm hand from waving fields’.

Sam Hunt was kind enough to write back a letter typed on his Imperial ’66 typewriter. He said she had done well taking on some big topics: love, lust and nature. He also mentioned

Dick Frizzell, Yellow. Courtesy of Page Blackie Gallery Wellington & artist.

he was making a stew for his then young son, Alf, whom they had talked about in the interview, and sent his best wishes.

Depending on which circles you move in, Hunt’s name conjures very definite opinions. A friend I told I was interviewing Hunt said ‘well, he’ll be smoking a doobie and drinking something strong’.

Last time I rang he was sipping something strong, to be honest – strong, hot tea with ginger. Though the guideline to interviewing with Hunt is he is better in the mornings, not so good as the day wears on. Take from that what you will. And he readily admits he likes a drink – maybe too much.

It’s fair to say Hunt is his own man, doing things his own way for many years, and generally not giving “a flying fuck” about what people think of him. He never really has much cared for the honour roll, or fame, or any of that. He’s now 70, still writing down his poems in exercise books, and living ‘five gunshots from humanity’.

Some people you interview are dry as toast, even in person. Hunt is, even over the phone, warm and engaging. You can almost feel his eyes crinkle when he laughs, which he does often. He is like an amiable Aslan figure, shambling about in the upstairs of his home on the Kaipara Harbour – well, an Aslan who sometimes swears his shaggy head off.

W.E. wanted to ask him about his wish list should he be able to browse in a huge dealer gallery, and take his favourite 

artworks home. His answers are not a tidy list of names, but it feels better these days to let Hunt’s words do their own talking.

So Sam we know you like art and artists. Say you could go into the universe’s biggest dealer gallery and peruse the stock they have, selecting five to walk out with, what might they be and why?

Well, yes, the way I am or the way my life works is I don’t want any possessions. That’s not really the way I operate. For example I don’t feel a pull to own a house, or have or hold things, whether it be art or a house. I’m very happy as a tenant on Planet Earth. I once owned a boarding house at Mangaweka - won it on a pool table. That’s a tragic but true story.

[Laughter, Crinkling]

I would say Charles Tole is a favourite. He was my godfather actually. I say him not because he was my godfather but because I love his paintings.

Some people want to get pleasure out of owning things. I get pleasure out of not owning things. For me it’s about enjoying them, seeing them, but not owning them.

Charles Tole? Anyone else, Sam? Alive or dead?

Hmmm, I dunno. I’ve got some lines about burning the Mona Lisa in one of these new poems actually.

[Laughter, Crinkling]

 

From Tomorrow, or today (1)

What a fine day a man is singing

with all his heart on radio

what a fine day it is

I could climb the Tower of Pisa

set fire to the Mona Lisa

and at the end of the day

we’ll be able to say

What a fine day it was,

what a fine day, but for Mona.

 

You must have travelled around a bit – met some people, some artists along the way maybe?

Charles Tole, Bath house buildings, Rotorua, c. 1950. Collection of Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa (1985.05.09)

I’m not into doing long tours now. I had a nice gig in Whangarei recently but what I don’t like is the in between bits. The gigs can be great. But the travel, the hotels - I hate, really. The putting me up on the top floor like I’m the bloody president or something. Motels can be more me. Those ones on the edge of town can have some life.

But I have been a fulltime father to Alf. He’s 18 now though and living in Auckland. He plays guitar. So I’ve an empty nest. I quite like it but it takes some getting used to.

Do you mean the silcnce takes some getting used to, rather than having a teenager in your space?

No, well when it comes to poems I listen to a lot of music and a lot of silence. I love them both. The poems usually come out of the silence, like they‘ve been lurking. 

Ah yes, but back to artists, I’d say I’d love to spend time with them, not own their works really. There’s a different feeling 

Michael Smither, Sarah Smither, 1973. Image courtesy artist & private collection.

to spending time. There’s Tole, and Robin White I love. I’ve known her for years.

Umm, Michael Smither I used to go and stay with him when he was in Taranaki. After I was in his company I’d be walking down the street and see a Michael Smither painting walking by, and think I wonder if he’s got that one yet.

[Laughter, Crinkling]

No, but really his courage and his brilliance I admire.

Dick Frizzell and I collaborated a while ago. He did paintings of my poems for Gow Langsford and Page Blackie galleries. That was great, another way of telling my poems.

But music is another form of art and I’ve worked with David Kilgour and the Heavy 8s more than once now. It’s like working with the younger brothers I never had. I loved working with them. They and the Warratahs are my favorites who I’ve loved working with.

Do you enjoy working with others then?           

Well, people have pushed themselves at me, to work with me and I have said no. They say ‘this would be so great for you’ and I think ‘how do you know what’s good for me? Just fuck off.’

I’ve never done a commission poem like some do commission artwork. For me it’s like deciding before you go to sleep what you’ll dream of. Poems and dreams come from the same place. Never really know when it’s going to happen. I never take a poem for granted. I get barren periods but when the next poem comes along you are ready for it. Ready to catch.