Poetry, Politics

Mr Hager replies

Dear John,

I think you see yourself as a principled wordsmith so I hope you will leave this reply on your site so others can judge whether I really misrepresented your poem.

I do, I will, and they can.

Below is my full introduction to your poem from chapter 12 of The Hollow Men. Readers will see that I did not in the slightest suggest it was you writing about Don Brash.

I would have thought “Four verses can serve as a tribute to Brash’s years as National Party leader. It is fitting that Ansell, who nearly got him into power, provides a well-crafted epitaph.” was more than a slight suggestion.

I explained it was part of a poem written generally about politicians from before you began working for Brash (note the “can serve as”, not “was written as”).

A fine legal distinction that Winston would be proud of.

Also, as anyone can read, I explained that it was part of fourteen-verse poem.

Yes you did.

I did not pretend that the four verses were a consecutive whole.

You printed them consecutively!  

That’s all you needed to do to create your desired false impression.  Who would assume they were not consecutive?

A ‘principled wordsmith’ would have inserted dots or a footnote to make it clear they were not consecutive in the original.

Here it is:

“A month before Ansell decided to return to advertising to help Brash, he published a book of poetry including a long fourteen-verse poem about politicians called “Political careering”. Four verses can serve as a tribute to Brash’s years as National Party leader. It is fitting that Ansell, who nearly got him into power, provides a well-crafted epitaph.”

Yes, it was cheeky to use your words to write about Brash.

I don’t mind a bit of cheek directed my way. (How could I with my track record?!)

But I did not misrepresent what I was doing nor misrepresent what your poem is about.

Didn’t you?

Well, let’s see…

The poem was dedicated to Muldoon, Peters and Clark. It said so at the top, right under the title. 

Did you tell your readers that?


You knew full well it was about a politician’s journey from lobbyist to disgraced PM.

But you preferred to let them think it was all about the demise of a Leader of the Opposition.

(Ironically, the inspiration for Political Careering – and especially verse 11 – see post below – was a rumour I heard about Clark trying to block transmission of the Corngate story.)

Nicky, as I say, I don’t mind being the butt of humour. That comes with the territory.

Nor do I mind you calling my work dishonest, since that’s your opinion and I’m all for free speech.

I do get a little irked that you’ve enriched yourself from the proceeds of theft.

But that’s not my point either.

What I really mind is having my private creative efforts rehashed without permission in an attempt to embarrass me and deceive others for your personal gain.

If your rehash was a satirical spoof, I wouldn’t mind in the least. 

But what you did was not satire. It was passing off.

It was passing off as something it wasn’t. Something you knew it wasn’t. And something you knew other people would think it was.

That, I think you’ll find, is illegal. It’s certainly immoral.

A spoof is a spoof because the audience knows the original. They laugh because they spot a subtle or exaggerated difference between the original and the spoof.

In this case, you knew that very few of your readers would know the original.

You knew that any amusement would come, not from them spotting the difference between the original and your rehash.

It would come from them thinking how ironic it was that Don Brash’s ad-man had predicted his boss’s demise in verse three years before the fact.

In allowing them to think that, you most certainly did misrepresent me.

You broke the law.

I think if it had been the other way around, about a politician you did not support, you would have thought it was fair game and enjoyed the joke.

You should not assume I share your ethics. I’ve used politicians’ words against them. I’ve satirised known traits. I’ve simplified issues in ways some inevitably don’t like.

But I don’t rewrite people’s stuff. Principled wordsmiths don’t do that, Nicky.

Best wishes,

Nicky Hager

3 thoughts on “Mr Hager replies

  1. Looks like Nicky has been taking lessons from those PR firms he so despises.

    Or, as Humpty Dumpty might have said, “When I use a poem . . it means what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”

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