HERE IS THE NEWS
When the BBC announced
The end of the world,
It was done without haste,
It was neutrally, gentlemanly done,
It was untinged with distaste,
It was almost as if the BBC had won.
From Selected Poems, edited by Bill Manhire, Victoria University Press, 1995 (reissued 2019)
Note from Bill Manhire
When Denis Glover wrote this poem you could still hear the BBC News on New Zealand radio. “This is London calling,” said the seemingly bored male newsreader, “here is the news.” Glover’s little poem brilliantly skewered the affectless complacency of that old Imperial voice. How could you possibly talk about, say, the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, or even the latest Soviet satellite launch, in a tone so much at odds with actual events?
The poem first appeared in the New Zealand Listener in 1961, the year that New Zealand’s first television broadcasts began. Twenty years later in 1981 Glover omitted it from his self-edited Selected Poems, presumably because the BBC news bulletins had long vanished from our airwaves. Would people any longer get the joke? Local voices were also making their way on to TV and radio. Maybe the poet felt his poem now lacked point and punch.
I think Glover’s poem is still full of punch. “Here is the News” asks us to consider the dangers of impartiality, especially in publicly funded media. When a really contentious subject comes along, broadcasters too often race to the fraudulent safety of balance. “Both sides of the debate” must be made available. Hence climate-change deniers are still given space alongside the credible voices of scientific research. Language, too, tends to be neutral and gentlemanly. Words like “emergency” or “crisis” are kept well out of earshot. When I read Denis Glover’s poem in 2019 – at a time when the end of the world really looks possible – I’m reminded that impartiality might be the biggest joke of all.
Aside from publishing his own widely acclaimed poetry, Bill Manhire has edited a number of anthologies and written extensively on New Zealand literature. His most recent collections include Tell Me My Name and Things to Place in a Coffin.
Denis Glover (1912 – 1980) was a printer, typographer, publisher, boxer, sailor, scholar, satirist, wit and poet. He wrote New Zealand’s most famous poem, yet his work has fallen in and out of print over the years. First published in 1995, Bill Manhire’s selection is based on Glover’s own 1981 Selected Poems, and includes ‘The Magpies’ along with a wide variety of other poems, lyrical and satirical. He founded the Caxton Press in 1936.
Glover VUP page
Manhire VUP page