Thursday, March 20, 2014

Labour's secret election weapon?

David Howard is a poet who makes a living organising elaborate public fireworks displays. David recently sent me this combustible poem: I thought I would post it as a riposte to National's lift in the polls and to the relentlessly smug expression on John Key's face.


rain does not discriminate, but
the homeless know its touch most often, ask them
how to wash the blood from your fork

John, don't speak while you're eating
soon they will clear the banquet table
except for those knives

In a lecture delivered in 2010 and later published in Ka Mate Ka Ora, Ian Wedde talked about the vital role that poetry continues to play in the politics of some societies. In Bangladesh and Palestine, Wedde noted, poets have at times become 'voices of the people', and had their work broadcast to vast audiences at political rallies.

New Labour president Matt McCarten is reportedly busy reorganising and reloading the party's public relations machinery. Perhaps McCarten should hire David Howard, so that poems like 'To the Office of the Prime Minister' can resound through halls and auditoriums during the upcoming election campaign? I'm sure David could also organise some mean fireworks displays for those big campaign rallies.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

some call mccarten a TRAITOR

7:46 pm  
Anonymous WH Auden said...

Tomorrow for the young the poets exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the winter of perfect communion;
Tomorrow the bicycle races
Through the suburbs on summer evenings: but today the struggle.

7:48 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I dont think that a poem such as that should be written to a particular person. Key is no better or worse than many politicians I have seen since I have been "politically aware". I wasn't impressed by Labours's policies so I didn't vote for them. Where I am a vote for National is a waste of time - and for Labour actually as National always get in here: so I placed a kind of protest vote.

I like a lot of David Howard's poems but I don't see the point of that one here.

I feel that in many ways artists need to distance themselves from politics unless it is perhaps a wider, more general thing. Auden's poems about Spain weren't even attacks on Franco. The problems weren't caused by him. (Although it might be argued with Hitler it was quite different).

Auden's greatest poems though, are not political as such: they are concerned with social-psychological ideas. 'The Letter' series, are among his great poems. Also his poem addressed to Yeats when he died.

11:03 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Richard,

it seems to me that Key has set himself up as a sort of anti-politician, an average Kiwi joker made good who has gotten involved slightly reluctantly in this politics malarkey because he is a patriot, and who isn't inclined to behave in the ways spin doctors and cynical advisers suggest.

To critique Key, then, it is necessary to show that his various apparently anti-political gestures are actually deeply political. It is necessary to point out, for example, that Key's frequent references to the fact that he doesn't seek an extended career in politics, and isn't interested in baubles of office, are only made plausible by the fact that he has a large personal fortune, a fortune that was accumulated as a result of the same sort of neo-liberal political programme he is trying to implement here in NZ. And so on.

It's not a matter, then, of descending into the mire of politics by dealing with Key, but of trying to show that a figure who tries to elevate himself above politics is in fact covered in the muck of right-wing politics.

I'm sure David wouldn't claim that 'The Office of the Prime Minister' was one of his masterpieces, but it does seem to me to point in an interesting direction, because it takes a couple of hoary and sentimental populist images beloved of Key and his friends and brutally deconstructs them, by referring to the vast inequalities that they are used to hide.

11:07 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

'Auden's greatest poems though, are not political as such: they are concerned with social-psychological ideas'

But aren't 'social-psychological ideas' imbued with political content? EP Thompson argued in his great essay 'Outside the Whale' that in 'Spain 1937' Auden makes the war Franco started as the locus of a widespread psychic malaise. It is in Spain, Auden seems to be saying, that all of the social and psychological problems of Europe have become most evident, and if the war -'the struggle- - can be won, then the continent as a whole might be cured.

That's the Auden of 1937, of course.

11:11 am  
Blogger Richard said...

There is a place for such a poem but it seems to imply that Key personally caused the social ill of homelessness. Well he didn't: and in fact, things have not got particularly worse under National.
Homelessness and vagrancy has been around since civilisation began or since humans formed societies I would say.

I think that he is implying that some harm should be done to Key. Now I'm no lover of rich politicians or capitalism etc but I put Howard's poem in the "cheap shot" bin as in fact he himself does well enough in the finance department himself. He is also a businessman. As are a few others I could name who masquerade as "lefties". There is nothing deeply wrong with being right wing in the Nat Party sense. They are maintaining the economy where other nations are not.

That said there are certain local advantages we have in NZ that facilitate our economies relative robustness.

Auden tended to generalize against evil etc and the Spain poem is a great poem - it was re a pivotal event in world history. Orwell criticised his "necessary murder" but in fact Auden had already changed that line (he was always revising in any case) but Orwell was a bit of a worry, dobbing in a number of his mates to a blacklist of "communists" etc the British security people etc

And Orwell's genius was satire as in Animal Farm, Keep the Aspisdistra Flying and 1984 but his essays are very good.

One of his best in that book (of essays) is about the play King Lear (he compares Lear's folly to that of Tolstoy giving away his property, and then lamenting the consequences - in that Orwell shows he understands the necessity of keeping firm hand on assets, financial or otherwise). Orwell was Bourgeois and hence understood the necessity of good capitalism, good money use.

And more will be learnt from reading King Lear by Shakespeare than worrying about John Key's tie or whatever he is doing. Key is a nice enough bloke but relatively irrelevant in the total scheme of things as are all the other wankers in parliament. But he is not a particularly "evil" example - just another Politico.

I can see the drift toward "usefulness" and "politics" etc as giving poets easy ways to write weak poems such as Howard's and take cheap shots at people.

Mud slinging at individuals is not a very enlightened way. I wonder if poets and artists should concern themselves with such issues at all. They are transient and trivial issues.

By the way I met David Howard and read at the same place as he and we got on well although I don't know him as well as Jack does. He is an interesting poet and interesting personality and there is indeed something magical about him being a pyrotechnician. Makes me think for some reason of a Ray Bradbury novel. He is certainly a talented and charismatic figure whose work has been a bit neglected. (I mean in a relative sense as he has been published quite a bit, but maybe the critical response has not been strong).

6:42 pm  
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4:41 pm  
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