Why Sam Hunt matters

Sam Hunt horizontal

Sam Hunt is in town next week for the Outspoken Festival of Words & Storytelling. LAURA WILLIAMSON caught up with New Zealand’s best-known bard as he got ready to head south.

Sam Hunt has never owned a pair of shoes in his adult life. He only wears boots. To perform, he says, “ I wear the clothes I feel comfortable in. You put your boots on and do a gig.” When he says this it sounds so straightforward, which makes you wonder why poetry, for many people, seems so hard.

I once picked up Sam Hunt at the airport. He wasn’t hard to spot at the arrivals gate—he’s very tall. He also, actually, looks at little like Rod Stewart. And he attracts a crowd. It was this last thing that struck me the most.

Resemblance to Rod the Mod aside, Hunt is not a rock star, nor is he an All Black or someone from the cast of a Peter Jackson film. He is a poet. Rare enough, a poet who lives on his work, but even rarer one who is recognisable, and revered by, everyone from the dude manning the baggage claim to the crew holding up the bar in the airport lounge.

What Hunt did was take poetry to the streets, to the pubs and to the school halls of New Zealand, and with his sing-song delivery and demeanor that was miles from the musty academia so many of us associate, unfortunately, with the study of poems, he moved people. He speaks complex truths in simple phrases and tells stories that speak to all of us. In doing so, he reminds us what words can do, that they should not be abandoned. This matters.

He’ll be in town next week to perform three shows as part of the Outspoken Festival, and he has fond memories of the area. He tells a story about passing through Cromwell, pre-Clyde Dam, with the artist Robin White (she painted the famous portrait of Hunt standing outside to the Portobello Pub on the Otago Peninsula). They stopped at a pub in the old town—a place now long underwater—and took to the pool table. “We didn’t have much money,” he says, “but the standard of pool was pretty low back then. We made about $200! I’ll always remember that.”

As for the state of poetry and spoken word, Hunt says he’s delighted people are saying both are in vogue these days, though, for him, they’ve never gone away. “I’ve always found poetry was pretty big,” he says. He was, after all, a featured guest on the Joe Franklin show in New York back in 1983—the other guest that evening was none other than Liberace. Truth. You don’t get much bigger than that.


Catch Sam Hunt at the Outspoken Festival of Words & Storytelling.

He’ll be at Oakridge Resort on January 12, Bistro Gentil on January 13 and Carrick winery in Bannockburn on January 14.

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