Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Charles Simic on the last days* of the Key government



The Lights Are on Everywhere

The Emperor must not be told night is coming.
His armies are chasing shadows,
Arresting whipporwills and hermit thrushes
And setting towns and villages on fire.

In the capital, they go around confiscating
Clocks and watches, burning heretics
And painting the sunrise above rooftops
So we can wish each other good morning.

The rooster brought in chains is crowing,
The flowers in the garden have been forced to stay open,
And yet still dark stains spread over the palace floors
Which no amount of scribbling will wipe away.

*With Key's party still being favoured by about half the respondents in most opinion polls, the phrase 'last days' might seem rather hopeful. Even if we accept Mathew Hooton's argument that National's support is overestimated by the polls, it still seems very possible that Key will hold onto office by making Winston Peters deputy Prime Minister after the election on September the 20th.

But the scandals of the last year, and the last fortnight in particular, have given Key's government the frayed and frightened air of the sort of ancien regime that Simic's poem satirises. A National-New Zealand First marriage would be loveless, and would likely end with calls to lawyers. The slow unravelling of the Shipley government at the end of the '90s seems to me to anticipate the future of Key's regime.

9 Comments:

Blogger Christopher Thompson said...

Had a haircut this morning. Pleasant enough woman in her 30s, travelled a bit, doing the cut. But her talk was all about the nastiness of the German; how he should be exported; how his 'hacking' had messed things up, muddied her debate. That, I guess, sums up the mediocre, unthinking, ill-informed middle-ness of it all.

10:01 pm  
Blogger Bill Schoffelmeer said...

Interesting how casual conversation helps form perception.
I was initially skeptical about the possibility of overcoming the electoral inertia and set voting patterns which would be needed to eject the Nats from office.
I talked with the guys at work - both builders, self employed. Both are voting after a long hiatus, specifically mentioning Key as their prime motivation.
Then, filling up with gas yesterday I chatted with the guy who owned the small service station which is located in the Port industrial area. He initiated the politics discussion. Told me he had been a lifelong National party voter. But not this time, he said. Has had enough of Key.
Simic can draw on a much broader reach than us I guess - just mention Kosovo to a Serb and you may well get a history lesson going back to 1389- as if it was yesterday!.
Like Christopher I get frustrated at willful ignorance and mindlessness of some people with the state of play. They will always be with us. To date, given these random encounters away from the rarified air of Twitter, where I see a lot of preaching to the converted, the face to face conversations have surprised me.
Whether that translates to a surprise next month is still anyone's guess .
In the meantime, we should keep an eye out for heretics, and false sunrises

10:30 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I can certainly relate to Christopher's anecdote. It sometimes seems to me that KDC's involvement in our election season is prompting atavistic emotions from the Cold War era.

When the big man's enemies inside the Labour Party, for example, contrast the 'extremists' - the Maori nationalists waving Palestinian flags, the survivors of Marxist microparties - of the Mana outfit KDC is bankrolling, and contrast their 'alien ideas' with the homely, safely Kiwi social democracy that is supposedly represented by Labour, then I'm reminded of the rhetoric that Peter Fraser and his mates used in the late '30s and the '40s against the Communist Party. KDC's loot has taken the place of the Moscow gold that supposedly sustained the commies...

9:02 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tweets and replies
Matthew Hooton @MatthewHootonNZ ยท 53m
About to speak to Remuera Athene Club. 500 people. Will tell them @johnkeypm is probably toast. #nzpol

11:26 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Bill,

I can see what you;re saying. My late friend Roger Fox told me that the fight for the return of Bastion Point attracted some Pakeha who didn't consider themselves in any way left-wing, but who were offended by the sheer duplicity of the government in taking land for military purposes and then in peacetime holding onto and threatening to dispose of it. Roger talked about a petty bourgeois sense of right and wrong and fair play.

I think that the behaviour documented in Dirty Politics may offend that sense of fair play today. And, if Hooton is correct, then National only needs to lose another two or three percent of the vote to be in trouble.

12:14 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I don't agree that he's evil, but I'll admit that KDC is a buffoon. I can see why my comparison between him and Olaf Nelson has just upset one visitor to this blog: http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2014/05/from-olaf-nelson-to-kim-dotcom.html

12:16 pm  
Blogger Bill Schoffelmeer said...

Howdy Scott

The gas station guy began the conversation by commenting that, in his opinion, most Nz ers work pretty hard. It was the disconnect between these people, of which he is one, and the people in power that irked him. He singled out Key, and said he reminded him so much of Michael Fay; another bankster.
I'd think it would take some courage to have broken ranks with the prevailing Pakeha sentiment over the Bastion Point issue.Perhaps the judgement of petty bourgeois then is a little harsh.
I recently posted on Tiso's blog about my experience during the 1981 tour; I was in the stands with the pro-tour crowd at Waikato Stadium. It can be simplistic to dismiss the motivations of the right - to me a political standpoint it is a far more nuanced and complex thing than a fixed stake in the ground.
The most encouraging thing is the sense that I'm getting that there is more political engagement in this election. Nothing scares the Nats more than people exercising their democratic rights- as shown by their contempt at so many levels for this process.
Cheers, Bill

2:12 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I take your point about 'petty bourgeois', Billy: it is an almost inherently harsh term. But Roger, who grew up on a dairy farm, applied it liberally when he discussed his own background.

There are some grounds for accepting the argument that New Zealand is a fundamentally petty bourgeous nation.

I think Miles Fairburn's books make a good case for colonial New Zealand being a very unstable, atomised society, and even surveys done at the height of the Keynesian era suggested that a lot of skilled blue collar workers aimed one day to start their own businesses.

The petty bourgeois mentality, with its naive belief that economic independence can be won through hard work and craft, and with its innocence of the waste and graft that characterise high bourgeois society, might well be outraged by the frivolity and self-entitlement of Slater and his correspondents.

My brother-in-law, who is a fairly conservative guy - he voted, he claims, for Colin Craig at the last election - is as angry about the issue as your mate at the garage...

4:42 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I'd forgotten about Simic. I used to see his poems, rather short and enigmatic, in old copies of the New Yorker. I knew he had won the Pulitzer, like Schuyler, Ashbery, and I think James Merrill also. I see he has written a lot of books. His poem is like a rather dark fairy tale, which you twist to your theory it is about politics and the downfall of Key!

Auden always recognised the ambiguities as Jack shows in his recent discussions of Auden's poetry on his Blog.

What about the role of the Big Bad Fuhrer Bosche? The naughty money man the FBI are after? He is a part of the rather dubious Mana party now. He broke the law.

I don't trust any of the other parties: nothing particularly bad has happened under National, regardless of the 'crimes' Hagar (?) has revealed.

But it all makes for good comedy for sure...

But John Berryman may have commented here:

'Something wrong, nothing bad happen to me today, Mister Bones.'

12:30 am  

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