The Perishability of Political Poems

Wilson 'Iron Bar' Tuckey

I’ve written several political poems in the few years I’ve been writing poetry. Some have been about specific political players, others about social issues. I think I can say that every poem I’ve written about a politician has been followed by their eventual demise. I’d like to take some credit for the departure of Thatcher, Howard, Abbott, Wilson Tuckey; less keen to think I had any part in the self-destruction of Rudd and Gillard. The life of a political leader in Australia can be short and sharp these days.

Before writing poetry, I had written song lyrics for the South Australian Trade Union Choir. One was “Yes, we have no Osamas” – it took a few years before Bin Laden eventually left the scene. I wrote one about the Hindmarsh Island Bridge affair and one about working conditions (around the time of the ill-fated so-called “Workchoices” policy).

I think the first political poem I wrote was about Wilson Tuckey, pictured above, a particularly obnoxious right-wing, Western Australian politician. As a publican, before entering parliament, he was convicted of assault after striking an Aboriginal man with a length of steel cable. I wrote the poem (in 2009) in response to a challenge to write a love poem from an unusual angle; hence “Wilson Tuckey, I love you man”. The last stanza is:

Wilson Tuckey, I love you man

you show us what it means to be Australian

some call you redneck, some say you’re not cool

but you are our bedrock, you are no fool

you are the brown substance of this wide, sunburnt land

and that’s why, Wilson Tuckey, I really, really, really love you man.

Tuckey lost his seat in 2010.

thatcher

I wrote one about Margaret Thatcher and Chilean mass-murderer, General Pinochet in 2013, which imagined the conversation between the two when Thatcher had Pinochet round for tea at Downing Street. A snippet is:

How do you take your tea Mr. Pinochet?

Please stay for dinner? We have a buffet.

With all sorts of meats, spare ribs and jugged hare.

When you burn a dead body, is the flesh very rare?

Thatcher died a few months later.

abbott

Last year I wrote one about Tony Abbott, modelled on a Billy Collins poem. It imagined undressing the then Prime Minister, and concluded with:

And I could feel his tremor

as I pulled them clear of his ankles,

left him there spreadeagled, naked.

Can still hear

his cry of abandonment,

the way a man completely out of his depth might cry for help

the way newly weds might cry on hearing their union is invalid

the way a child might cry as it sees its mother sink beneath the waves

the way a man dying of shame might issue a last mournful howl.

Just a few weeks ago, Abbott was deposed by his own party.

These poems are now past their use-by date. I was delighted that I had a chance to give the Abbott poem one final outing just a few weeks ago as guest poet at the Friendly Street Halifax Cafe gig. It will now be consigned to history, like its subject (though he shows signs of not going quietly).

Can I claim any part in the demise of my subjects? Well I will anyway, even if it’s just for making one or two people think about the subject of the poem. So, if you are going to write a political poem, air it as often as possible while the topic is still relevant. They are very perishable commodities.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015
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5 thoughts on “The Perishability of Political Poems

  1. Yes and no, Mike. They are very perishable if they focus on individuals, but not, alas, if they focus on issues. Poems written about Australia’s detention centres, about refugees generally and the way they are likely to be treated or the gun culture in America, for example, show no signs at all of losing their relevance. I’ve also moved towards the conclusion that every poem, even the most personal poem, is political. There’s no escaping the politics of moments in time. For example, I cannot help but write as a privileged white man, so I am already politically defined…

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