Sam HUNT

poet_Sam HUNT w Minstrel
Sam Hunt in 1983. Sam Hunt at the number 5 Cambourne boatshed in the 1990s.

Sam Hunt – QSM, CNZOM

  • Born in Castor Bay Auckland on 4 July 1946 to mother 30 y o and father 60 y o
  • Has an older brother, Jonathan
  • Attended St Peter’s College, Auckland from 1958 to 1963; the school magazine published some of his early works
  • Ken Arvidson endowed a poetry prize at St Peter’s and this was awarded to Sam Hunt in 1963.
  • An annual literature competition at St Peter’s College is named after Sam Hunt, and he has acted as its judge.
  • Publication of his first mature work From Bottle Creek: Selected Poems 1967–69 in 1969, when the poet was aged just 23.”[1]

Sam attended Victoria University and Wellington Teachers’ Training College.  In 1969 he was in a teaching post at Kelburn Normal Primary, across the road from the Kelburn Teachers’ campus.
Before being permitted by the school’s Principal to enter his class, he was ordered off to get a tie. He strode into the Teachers’ College main corridor, calling and shouting (f-ing and blinding as he came) for “Pat! Where’s Pat!” and much more beside.

Pat (MaCaskill, Head Lecturer of English and Literature) emerged from his office, removed his own tie and began to tie it for Sam, who raged “Don’t [expletive] bother with that – he only said to get a [expletive] tie, nothing about tying the [expletive] thing!” and disappeared as loudly and quickly as he’d arrived.

I and three other innocent naïve ex-convent girls were gob-smacked – at the language, the ordering around of an obviously senior staff member – and Sam’s outfit and generally corker appearance! Striped stove-pipe trou, open chested shirt, tan winkle-picker mid-calf boots…
A few days later all students (and first-year teachers, known as PAs) were assembled at Kelburn  to be given important information – the only point I recall is that my year’s intake were to be the only year’s students to be using the newly constructed Karori campus, one suburb further out from the city. But the assembly was memorable for another reason.

We four were sitting together, one in the front row, three in the row behind, waiting for the hall to fill.
Elizabeth on my right side stage-whispered “Gawd, what’s that awful smell?!”
Zofia on my left muttered “Someone stinks!”
I guessed and muttered “Bet it’s Sam Hunt.”
“How do you know?” they whispered.
Fair question – after all we hadn’t turned around. “B.O., unwashed clothes, booze breath, wacky-baccy – it’s Sam,” I said.
Brigid in the front row couldn’t resist turning around. “Oh my God, Lynne, he’s right behind you!”
I had to turn. Yes, right behind me. We’d been whispering, but had he overheard anything? A nod and a small wave of the hand, without pausing his conversation with a friend, didn’t give any answer! I flamed, red as a beetroot!

During my three years at TTC, Pat MaCaskill (wife Jeannie – talented artist) was my English lecturer. We often heard updates of Sam’s progress and “play” as he travelled to perform his works, in between stopping home in the Pauatahunui Inlet of Porirua harbour, and were encouraged to buy his book From Bottle Creek. And I’ve been collecting his works ever since.

We heard the story how from his boat-shed home, empties would be flung into and along the banks of a creek that ran into the inlet – urban legend or truth I have not been able to verify. But according to the tales, Sam approached something like the Lands & Survey Department, and convinced them that further upstream there had been Māori battles in the 1800s, so the creek had a name – Battle Creek. But, he also convinced them that as it had been neglected for so many generations, locals had been mis-calling it Bottle Creek, and therefore it should be officially renamed as Bottle Creek. And apparently, they made it so. Locals called it Bottle Creek for years.
(Note however, Bottle Creek does not show up in a Google Maps or general search. Yet.)

Years later when living in Huntly (1980 to ’86), Sam came to my attention again. My husband was in charge of training Fitting & Turning Apprentices for the Huntly coal-powered electricity station still under construction. We had many friends, from the Power or the Mines. The power station’s workers had a club – the POETS’ club.
Now realise, this was in the times of 10 o’clock closing. But a publican hosting a private cultural group’s meeting could allow an extended licence, to continue serving until midnight. The POETS club had a regular Friday night booking. The club was more correctly called Push Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday.
The local police began taking an interest in the POETS’ club’s regular Friday meetings, and sent in an officer (wearing civvies) who reported back that he’d heard no mention of poems, poets or poetry – just boozing till 12.
The publican was warned there had to be evidence it was indeed a cultural club, so he slipped word to the members. They contacted Sam Hunt, explained the situation, and Sam came to the club’s rescue. The police were invited to send an observer to the meeting, at which Sam recited poem after poem – until the satisfied officer left the club to carry on. Sam then grabbed a cue and knocked off a few games, played darts, and joined in many rounds of drinks.  The meeting went on longer than the usual midnight.

Sam is regarded well both as a writer of poems, and as a performance poet. His delivery is unique, and in some poems it hides the basic structure of a sonnet or other formal form.
His themes cover life in the inlet and on the road, his dog Minstrel (the Bow Wow poems), his relationships with his father, and with assorted other female companions. I shouldn’t foist my preferences onto you, but may I suggest you closely follow the imagery of landscape and town.

Sam was special guest at two acclaimed Leonard Cohen concerts in 2009.
The same year he collaborated on an album with guitarist/singer David Kilgour, who transformed Sam’s poems into songs for the album Falling Debris.[2]

You deserve owning one of his collections,
so pop over to New Zealand’s book sellers,
PaperPlus, and get yourself one. Or two…

Further sources:

Footnotes
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Hunt_(poet)
[2] http://www.samhunt.co.nz/

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