Sam Hunt’s been at it a while. The man could (and maybe does) recite more poems in his sleep than you or I might read in a lifetime. This is obvious the moment he launches into one, foot tapping, arm extended, fingers outstretched as if leading him towards the next line, a line he always finds, though some he needs to reach for more than others. Watching him speak them is to see someone perfectly at home with what he is doing, and it is perhaps this that draws people who wouldn’t normally enjoy poetry to Hunt.
Either that, or it’s that he says “fuck” a lot.
Whatever the reason, the large audience at the Sunday afternoon Oakridge show couldn’t get enough of him, whether it was laughing at the stories he told between poems (on his good friend Alistair Te Ariki Campbell: “A great man … and a real shit in some ways”) or finding themselves silenced for a moment by a truth laid gently before them. Try this beauty from ‘Rainbows and a promise of snow’ and tell me it doesn’t sweetly break your heart a little: “It matters not. A good mate dies, / another goes abroad or mad. / It matters neither way. What does, / what always will, is that we load / the fire high with logs.”
For many, there will have been familiar scenes, classic works like ‘Maintrunk country road song’ (the possum poem – you’ve heard it, everyone has!), ‘Four plateau songs’ and ‘Brother Lynch’. There’s his utter New Zealand-ness, too, referencing Shag and Puysegur Points and Porirua, calling Otago one of those “certain places you go to where poems happen”, mentioning his work with David Kilgour and Che-Fu. And the way he speaks of James K Baxter as one of his favourite poets in the same breath as Auden and Neruda, placing Baxter without thought, rightfully, alongside these writers of global importance.
What struck me at this show, though, was how along with the old came a lot of new. Hunt could easily kick back and deliver the same set over and over and leave audiences perfectly happy, but he chooses to do more. He recited TS Eliot’s ‘Under the Bamboo Tree’ for the first time in public, not to mention recently-memorised passages from Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Antony and Cleopatra.
He is known for his phenomenal recall of words–he refers to a set list and nothing else—and these new additions show that, at the age of 67, Hunt’s ability is not diminished.
Yes, Sam Hunt’s been at it a while, and hopefully will be a while longer. But who knows. For now, every chance to see him feels like a gift.
LAURA WILLIAMSON – www.laurawilliamson.co.nz
Want more Sam? His dinner show at Bistro Gentil tonight is sold out, but tickets are still available for Sam Hunt’s performance at Carrick winery on Tuesday.
For tickets, as well as info on the lineup of fantastic writers, storytellers and spoken word performers coming our way as part of the Outspoken Festival of Words and Storytelling, go to www.outspokenfestival.co.nz.