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The Arts

Feb 13, 2012

Geoff Lemon: Gina, your poetic licence is revoked

As the editor of a long-running poetry journal, I thank Gina Rinehart for putting the noble art of verse in the media spotlight, writes Geoff Lemon, poet, author, satirist and editor of Going Down Swinging.

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Thank you, Gina Rinehart. As the editor of a long-running poetry journal, I thank Rinehart for putting the noble art of verse in the media spotlight.

The critics, as Rinehart knows, are harsh. They criticise your poetry. They criticise your attempts to become a media magnate. They are probably going to abduct your children. That could be handy, because you don’t like your children very much, but that is nobody else’s business. Get off my lawn.

But in all the talk of Rinehart as a crazy person, people are forgetting what matters — the poetry. Australia, it’s time to assess Rinehart’s work dispassionately, in content and structure.

Our Future (the full ode below) attempts a noble challenge: the rendering of economic theory and politico-economic ideology into stirring verse. Some call it impossible to include phrases such as “special economic zones” in a fluid and aesthetically pleasing poem. Those people are right. But Rinehart doesn’t let that stop her. If it doesn’t fit, she’ll shoehorn the bastard in there anyway.

The first thing you notice about Rinehart’s poem is that it passes the Crusty Old Bugger in a Pub test. Namely, it rhymes. Second, she starts out with noble intent. She’s read The Man from Snowy River. She knows poems go dum-de-dum. And in fact, the first two lines are in almost functional iambic heptameter.

If that phrase scares you, it just means there is an unstressed syllable followed by an emphasised syllable. That pattern repeats five times, for 10 syllables in total, which in combination form a line. Viz:

The globe is sadly groaning with debt, poverty and strife
And billions now are pleading to enjoy a better life.

Obviously Rinehart is aware of the metre, as she’s thrown the word “now” into that second line to maintain it. Her only false step is “debt”, which doesn’t work as an unstressed syllable before a stressed “pov(erty)”. I might have suggested “with economies in strife”, had she had the forethought to seek my professional opinion. (Hint, Gina: good poetry editors are pretty freaking thin on the ground.)

In terms of content, it is perhaps a little dubious to hear sad tales of poverty from the person stewing in the most obscene swill of mineral cash in the entire country. For those who do want a better life, the poet in question would be in a better practical position to help them than any other Australian. Set up farms across the sub-Saharan belt? Still got change to play blackjack with Kerry Packer’s ghost. Dengue fever in India? Scrub it off like the Spray and Wipe chick. A team of mercenaries to take out Bashar al-Assad? Her PA would have his scalp in Gina’s inbox before she’d finished her morning muffin.

Their hope lies with resources buried deep within the earth
And the enterprise and capital which give each project worth

Not bad, not bad. The metre is a bit frayed, but still there in intent. Maybe a slight reshaping would help: “Their hopes are the resources buried deep within the earth / And the enterprise and capital which make ‘em what they’re worth.” Always read the lines aloud to yourself. Plus, the abbreviation of “them” gives it a nice bush-ballad feel, no? True blue and that. But then, we start to go off the rails …

Is our future threatened with massive debts run up by political hacks
Who dig themselves out by unleashing rampant tax
The end result is sending Australian investment, growth and jobs offshore
This type of direction is harmful to our core

The first line of those four abandons metre, as rhetoric stirs from its meat-coma and begins to lick its spit-flecked jaws. Every bad poet loves adjectives. Who can resist “massive”? Who can resist an awkward phrase like “political hacks”? And then we get to that third line, which actually came from an Institute of Public Affairs white paper.

Poetry is basically about making something sound good, or putting across a new and interesting way of seeing. This sounds like a Joe Hockey press conference submerged in tomato soup. The line is overly long and awkward, the Bruce Reid of this poem, which is then followed by the Danny de Vito, jammed in there as an afterthought while Gina tried to think of something to rhyme with “offshore”.

Rhetoric is off the leash now, and it roams like the Beast of the Apocalypse (either Biblical or the weird creature in The Brotherhood of the Wolf). Those who criticise Rinehart for being insanely rich and still bitching about taxes are “envious unthinking people” who think wealth is magically created. (To be fair, inheriting an immense mining company does help sprinkle a bit of fairy dust on the old investment portfolio.) Rinehart is hurt and troubled by their attitudes.

And then, the final four lines: a crescendo of disjointedness, as both reason and poetic technique disintegrate.

Develop North Australia, embrace multiculturalism and welcome short term foreign workers to our shores
To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores

One, the long line/short line thing again. Rinehart is getting all Ogden Nash on us here, if you replace the wit with self-righteous indignation. Two, “embrace multiculturalism and welcome short term foreign workers to our shores” just doesn’t cut it as a line. Does that sound good to you? Does that ring with the authority of naturalistic rhythm and truth? Is this question rhetorical?

Three, is it strictly fair to equate “embrace multiculturalism” with “bring in a bunch of really cheap foreigners for a while to make us arseloads of cash and then make sure to send the dirty buggers back to wherever it is they came from”? The second phrase is even more unwieldy in a poetic sense, but I feel it cuts closer to the essential truth of the matter.

The world’s poor need our resources: do not leave them to their fate
Our nation needs special economic zones and wiser government, before it is too late.

Ah, the crowning triumph. “Special economic zones” bounding in like a photobomber of verse, resting its nuts on the crown of poetry’s head. Again, the not-so-delicious irony of an appeal on behalf of the world’s poor. Not to labour a point here, but we are talking about the richest man, woman, or erotic llama masseuse in the country. And yet, this is about philanthropy.

The poor need our resources. Not for free of course, for an appropriate fee. So, the world’s poor need to buy shit from Gina Rinehart. Do not leave them to their fate of not buying shit from Gina Rinehart. Do not abandon them.

And you know, as it happens, those things that are in the interests of the world’s poor just so happen to be in the interests of making Gina Rinehart wealthier. Not that that’s the issue here. It’s just a coincidence. Rinehart just loves art and literature, and really, guys, this is all about the poor.

Rinehart’s philanthropy, it seems, is much like her iambic heptameter. It can be applied when it suits, and abandoned when it becomes inconvenient.

Yep. Poetic licence revoked.

Our Future

The globe is sadly groaning with debt, poverty and strife
And billions now are pleading to enjoy a better life
Their hope lies with resources buried deep within the earth
And the enterprise and capital which give each project worth
Is our future threatened with massive debts run up by political hacks
Who dig themselves out by unleashing rampant tax
The end result is sending Australian investment, growth and jobs offshore
This type of direction is harmful to our core
Some envious unthinking people have been conned
To think prosperity is created by waving a magic wand
Through such unfortunate ignorance, too much abuse is hurled
Against miners, workers and related industries who strive to build the world
Develop North Australia, embrace multiculturalism and welcome short term foreign workers to our shores
To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores
The world’s poor need our resources: do not leave them to their fate
Our nation needs special economic zones and wiser government, before it is too late.

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35 comments

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35 thoughts on “Geoff Lemon: Gina, your poetic licence is revoked

  1. Liz A

    It’s a brilliant example of Vogon poetry.

    I wonder if she used this to generate it:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/hitchhikers/vogonpoetry/lettergen.shtml

    In fact I had one generated just for Gina:

    [See, see the dead sky
    Marvel at its big pink depths.
    Tell me, no-one do you
    Wonder why the miner ignores you?
    Why its foobly stare
    makes you feel crabby.
    I can tell you, it is
    Worried by your ANDEV facial growth
    That looks like
    A core.
    What’s more, it knows
    Your Green potting shed
    Smells of mineral.
    Everything under the big dead sky
    Asks why, why do you even bother?
    You only charm JuliARs.]

    That’s pretty good by comparison!

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