Listener: 28 December, 1996.
Keywords: Literature and Culture;
I’m rewriting New Zealand’s best known poem. We’ve redesigned just about everything else, so now it’s poetry turn.
So you are starting with “The Magpies”. Sounds right. They are black and white. Simple, no subtlety. What did you do to the poem?
We started with the chorus. It keeps repeating itself. Quite inefficient. We’ve eliminated this sort of waste of time and space everywhere else. Poetry can’t be privileged.
So there is only one refrain.
We had to delete its first line too. Everyone thinks the “Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle” is from our “Post Election Briefing”. It is too melodic for that.
Is that all you did?
We had to cut out the verse about the beautiful crops ending up with mortgage corporation.
I thought that was current policy, or at least that seems how monetary policy is operating.
Yes, but we cant have any aspersions against the financial sector. If Glover were around today there would probably be a reference to the Business Roundtable.
It wouldn’t scan.
Rhythm has not been a major concern of the reforms. We also had to cut out the bit about how when the farm went bust the finance company took it over but could not give it away. The theoretical framework requires the price of everything is non-negative. Glover knew nothing about economics. Perhaps that is why the poem is so popular. But under the new enlightenment, only theoretically correct analysis is permitted.
So you are left with four verses?
We had a bit of trouble with some of them too. The bit about Elizabeth being dead was almost acceptable, although a bit downbeat for a poem that is meant to be celebrating the New Zealand experience. The theory says that in the near future New Zealand will be an economic miracle, with high growth, low unemployment, and prosperity, not that everything is dying.
We patiently await the day.
But the bit about Old Tom being light in the head, might be used to undermine our health policies of deinstitutionalizing as many as we can, and stripping the assets away from the rest.
But the poem says that they lost all their assets.
Exactly, we cant have it implied that the indigent have recourse to the state. Elizabeth does the right thing, by going off the books. The national poem cant end up with Tom dependent on the state.
So the verse about how they worked hard stays.
That was the most difficult decision we made. We were deeply split. They say that there is no dissent within the place. But I tell you that in this case we could not get agreement, and in the end had to get the boss to make our minds up for us.
It seems straight forward to me.
The point is that the poem says they worked hard and yet they got no benefit from it. It was the mortgage corporation that got the crops, and the farm too. Glover knew nothing. It is obvious that they were a couple of slackers. I should not be surprised if she was on the domestic purposes benefit and he on an unemployment benefit.
They didn’t have those benefits in the depths of the depression.
They wont have them in the next depression either, if we get our way.
So you left the trees growing.
Certainly not. The implication is they were growing with out any effort on Tom and Elizabeth’s part. Can’t have the workers thinking that.
But we approve of people getting interest and profits on their savings, dont we?
That’s different. They’re not workers.
Still, you would have left in the bit about Elizabeth’s lips. I sometimes try to imagine what she looked like.
Well that is the first reason why we had to delete that reference. The new regime is not one about fantasies, but about real hard work. Of course, if you can turn a fantasy into a commercial transaction and make a profit, that’s OK. Anyway, any mention of a women’s looks is sexist, so away went the line.
And Tom’s hand?
So there is only one verse left?
It starts off that they “took” the farm. Sounds like they stole it. No wonder the whole venture was a bit of a disaster. They should have acquired it through a proper commercial transaction.
And the bracken?
We thought bracken beds might be a good way of stopping DPBs procreating, but it was pointed out that they would have been gathering the bracken from the road side, and not paying Transit New Zealand for it. It is that sort of failure to seize commercial opportunities which is causing the road congestion. Sent a note to Transit telling them to be more assiduous.
So what is left of the poem?
“The magpies said”.