It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care to act,
it starts when you do it again after they said no,
it starts when you say we and know who you mean,
and each day you mean one more.

Marge Piercy

our mother's day will come
Sunday, 11 March 2018 16:43

our mother's day will come

Written by
in Poetry

our mother’s day will come

by Fran Lock

my mother’s face exists in the space between
kaijū and sphinx. she’s wearing clothes that hold
her body in contempt. her breath, imperfect
peppermint. she has to go to work. her earrings
are obols, shorn of their funerary usage. palest
flirtation of dubious gold. unclaimed merest
flick of skin, the seldom-surfaced self. our
mother holds down several jobs, like righteous
men might trample serpents underfoot. she
works in the kitchens of holiday parks, spiting
her wrists with the ambergris of hot fat; salt
in the cut to her thumb. she works, waitressing
tables, while little kids scream with tactless
joy, engineering ice-cream headache, on
and on. our mother’s scanned your hummocks
of steroidal meat for hours, her hands making
a dumb-show of séance. she cried like a tangled
cassette in the night when she thought we
couldn’t hear. our mother worked lates with
the cold coiled inside like a sharpened spring
at the twenty-four seven garage to tight to pay
for heat. she gritted her teeth through gregarious
sleaze in the small town slur of the local bar.
and she came home and kneaded the bread
like she was thumping breath back into
a stopped heart. she held me through all my
recalcitrant havoc, the voices we heard in
our heads between god and the vomit, our
gremlins and lurgies and rages. my mother
studied. in those hotbed-of-non-event towns,
she dug in her heels, and she bit back her
anger. not a shoulder to cry on, a human
shield, her backbone a needle of lightning.
she studied, defended, and cleaned on her
knees till she bruised. my mother, our mother,
unfolding the joke from a book that the world
had kept from her. my mother, coming
sudden on the mind’s reckless hieroglyphs:
i finally understand. my mother’s face exists
between the strange and the wise. and we catch
her sometime, when she’s only herself, dreaming
her private tumult. my mother works, tilling
the stony earth until a word strikes water
and everything wickedly greens for a moment.
this is the grace that shit is grist to. it’s thanks
to her we are free.

Votes for Women
Wednesday, 07 March 2018 12:07

Creativity unites us: poetry for International Women's Day, 2018

Written by
in Poetry

Fran Lock has curated this year’s compilation of poetry for Culture Matters, to mark International Women’s Day. There are poems by Jane Burn, Sogol Sur, Joanne Key, Julia Bell, Anne Pelleschi, Beri Allen-Miller, and Fran herself, ending with a prose piece, On Fighting the Disconnect.


When you put out a call for poetry submissions, you never know what you’ll get back. It’s a dangerous game, like asking questions of the Ouija Board, inviting a strangeness into your life, something maverick, haunting and twisted. This time was a little different, though; the women I reached out to being writers I’d admired for long time, and people I knew would have something to say on a subject that’s extremely close to my heart.

In the approach to International Women’s Day I started thinking about poetry’s potential as a kind of counter narrative, a way of exposing the hidden histories of women, stories and experiences that are erased or ignored by the general discourses of everyday life. When I asked these poets to contribute to Culture Matters, I suggested they send something that speaks to the material reality of being a working-class woman, of the struggles and joys that are uniquely ours, of the headspace those struggles create, of the ways we find to navigate the world and understand ourselves.

Which is easier said than done. What does it even mean to be “working-class” and a woman, here and now, when “work” itself is a vexed notion? How does gender interact with labour? How does labour interact with sexuality, ethnicity, disability, and with the hundred-billion other ways the world has of defining us?

These poems don’t answer all those questions. What emerges instead is a polyphony of voices across a wide range of cultures, experiences and generations. These poems, I think, exist as a proof that imagination takes root here, in us, in however inauspicious or infertile seeming the ground of our daily grind. Creativity unites us, and creativity is our best form of resistance and resilience.


Jane Burn

 Jane Burn has had poems in The Rialto, Under the Radar, Butcher's Dog, Iota Poetry as well as anthologies from The Emma Press, Beautiful Dragons, Emergency Poet & Seren. She is the author of three books: Fat Around the Middle (Talking Pen), Tongues of Fire (BLERoom), and nothing more to it than bubbles (Indigo Dreams).

Jane writes:
The seed of this poem, Let me tell you about, was sown late last year when I attended a local poetry night. One of the open mic poets was a young, very well-spoken man in his early twenties. His poem was about a sexual encounter he had had (for real or imaginary, I do not know) with a woman he considered less than himself. They did what he imagined were the usual 'roughing-it' things like going to Lidl. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the ideas in his poem and when he spoke the line, 'chav girls need love too' which was meant to justify his 'slumming it', I walked out. I have been so angry about it ever since - the very idea that someone is to be treated thus because of where they were born is abhorrent. That they are just a 'girl'. As if there is a better class of person that can dabble with those who are lesser human beings. Oh yes, you can screw the common women for a laugh but you sure wouldn't take them home to meet the folks.

There is still a divide - there are still children growing up with less opportunity than others and judging by people like the man I mentioned above, there are still people growing up with the attitude that they are a better class of person. Perhaps he thought his poem was a witty little joke - perhaps he would be suprised to discover how offensive I found it to be.

Let me tell you about

potatoes bought by the sack
leaving school still not being sure what a noun is
trying to fill the gaps left by a crap education
hand-me-downs from them up the street
Jan’s, where you asked for a bob and came out looking like your nan
licking the back of Co-op stamps
paddling in the slipway at Thorne, avoiding a floating shit
dipping in Kayli’s rainbow and puckering at the taste
auntie’s handbags full of copper-filth tuppence smell
contemplating the scrapyard’s matted dog
my mother selling her rings
the cliché of three inches of bathwater each
knowing absolutely nothing about wine
the uncertainty of pasta
the raw song of the siren’s end of shift
being made to wait on doorsteps while other people went in
a boy with fists
the oompah band and how I loved The Floral Dance
the horse with strangles on the dealer’s yard
how my parents were never sure if they should take off their coats
curdles of Artex on every ceiling and wall
the fear that I might end up in the sewing factory
how a lathe is softened by a fascination of swarf
how I felt when I discovered that anyone can be an archaeologist
the first time I ate a courgette
calling lunch, dinner and dinner, tea
how it feels when someone mimics the way you speak
being good enough to fuck but not good enough to date
ending up working a supermarket till
feeling the smoothness of others snag upon your scuff
being haunted by your rough-built self
watching people hide what they really think
knowing there is nothing more ahead than there is behind.

Jane writes:
Horses have been the most important thing to me for as long as I can remember. At four years old I used to balance on a precarious stack of buckets and try to scramble upon the fat roan back of a pony who lived on a nearby farm. I walked for three miles to where the local show was held throughout the summer and stood until the last horse had gone. From the age of twelve I worked evening and weekends in a dealers yard - I was not paid for the huge amount of work I did but I got to ride and be with the creatures that were the most important things to me.
One of our 'treats' was to sometimes be taken to Pannal Sales, Yorkshire. I had such fantastical ideals when it came to these beloved animals. The reality of the sales was something I have never fogotten.

A Day at Pannal Sales

These are not the horses of your dreams.
These are pens of steaming piebald hides,
tangles of splaying legs, shit-spattered hocks.
Ears back, too afraid to come to you over the gates –
throats raw with heaved wind, bellies fat with worms,

ridge tile spines, a din of screams.
These are not the horses you usually see.
These are hunters, jumpers too long in the tooth –
foundered ponies, sadly outgrown mother’s dreams,
cuckoo bolters, biters, buckers, lame ducks

doped on bute. Stallions, cresty, frothed and raked
about the lorry park to flash a high-kneed step.
You will sit at the ring and wish you were rich.
Guineas are bid over whipped-up hides
and the gibberish hubbada hubbada dubbada

auctioneer’s talk litters the day with hope
or hopelessness, depending on whose hand is raised.
You will not forget the gated ramp
of the meat man’s truck, nor the weanling Shetlands,
small as dogs, furzy as teddies, eyes like

portions of God walking mildly up it.
You will not forget the sound of a mare’s grief,
udder bagged for a foal’s milky crave.
The hat-rack shire with a Father Christmas beard.
These are not the horses of your dreams.

The witch who lives on the hill

Maybe there is something of the wanderer in me –
I have this problem with rooting. Not tree but tumbleweed,
rolled into corners, bumping its fragile netted head.
Dust settles on me, weighs me down. I wish I knew
my history – I wish I knew who I was. I don’t fit –

my dogs are cut from patchwork cloth, bite slow fingers.
My ponies is feathered and splotched with white.
He only needs a wagon, Tommy-The-Tooth-Man said –
he ran racehorses in Ireland, is bones like a bird, fears nothing.
I’m always after seeing their souls – horses will show

them to you, given time. You ought not to be on their backs
until you are in their hearts. I see those neighbours,
clocking my trousers, muddy-wet bum from sitting
low, learning their unicorn talk. I hope their curtain twitching
brings them what they wish for. Her garden. Looks like

a rubbish dump. Why would you want rusty things?
I got to keep my eye out for the scrap-man, sneaky bastard –
he’s got a right lust for my stuff. Bucket rotted to its scaffold form,
horseshoes, iron rabbit, old pot-belly stove. This clutter,
in its corrosion was a shiny something once. The beauty is in how

it changes. Shells everywhere, bleachy bones, pebbles.
Badger skull in a plant pot – I’m a-gonna use ‘em
for casting spells, come round yer ‘ouses, sell you pegs.
My gay abandon of lavender bothers them. Her
with that camper van parked on the street. Like a gyppo.

I lost count of the times folk have tried to insult me with this.
I’ll wish on clover for them – fuckers. I know they peep
through my windows, mutter at my Dead Man’s Swag.
I crave cabinets, the kind that you filled with china birds.
I have to scrub the stink of ciggs from, smelling like memories

of failed lungs and death. Roam the car-boots for bits
to fill them – then they are bright as bowtops, spangle of chintz,
porcelain birds. I look at a plate on a stall. Bloke says
hurry up and buy it – if you won’t, the Syrians will.
They pause to tut outside my house. Pretty soon

they’ll be genuflecting, spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch,
calling to the Saints to preserve them. Why don’t you park
down your own end? The phone-wire box on the street corner
is opened, wires spilled – this man in his fluoro tabard,
crouches in front, confused at the spew of guts. At the tip

of every one, a voice – if you could press your ear to the mass
you need never be lonely again. There’s Betty, face like a wasp,
pressed to the glass, wishing me ill and I am meant to be the witch.
Her mouth is a poisoned bud. This used to be a nice street.
Starlings roost on her ridge tiles. Kids kick balls in her hedge.


Sogol Sur

Sogol Sur is the author of  the poetry collection, Sorrows of the Sun (Skyscraper, 2017). She is currently undertaking a PhD in creative writing at Birkbeck, and working on her debut short story collection.


One presumes one has everything to lose
One enters the office, the bureau for bureaucracy, an embassy, a ministry, a roomful

You have to prove to them why
you exist; why you need your inheritance
although the term and the concept soil your mouth
newly-shed blood in a lucid lake spreading, an indestructible virus
this money, two-thirds of a professor’s salary is the only thing you have inherited
from your mother - apart from her lust for the impossible,
unacceptable ambitions, and sudden-death genes.

You need the money, you tell them, your mouth
churning, turning, withering, a diseased flower in garbage.
Your father has sent you. He is pulling invisible strings.
What strings? What country? What inheritance?
Why do you think you exist? What mother? What father?
They don’t utter this, but you can hear it
for by now you know a motherless woman is not a woman
but a rootless tree, carved and scarred by a myriad of artless passersby,
its branches cut and thrown in a deep swamp.

They shout at you without uttering a sound:
Your country does not exist. It died with your mother.
We don’t owe you any money. You don’t have any power
How would you pull strings? Which strings? Why do you think
you’re special? All the strings were buried with your mother
in that grave. In that crowded cemetery where your body bent
without your involvement and you heard a man - a far relative - say,
‘she’s okay, it’s probably just stomach ache,’
and you were surprised by your lack of desire to beat him to death.

But you did wish god or something like that
existed and could resurrect your mother instead of
ordering you to look chaste and you glanced
at your mother’s sister in her black chador, praying
at her sister’s tomb.
And for the first time in your life you envied her
you needed something, anything to hold on to
but there was nothing.

When they collected you from your
mother’s grave, you couldn’t hold on to them because
you knew they were nothing. And there was nothing again to hold on to.

And every time you go to a sweaty office to claim
her money you wish you were buried
with her in that grey cemetery
for you know there is nothing to claim, nothing
to hold on to when you’re a motherless woman
in your twenties with a painful passport and
you hear voices in your head that logically you are aware don’t exist,
yet they are as deafening as the rain knocking on your window during
Tehran winter showers. And the vociferation:
Take off your fake hijab
Who do you think you’re fooling?
We know you
You’re not meant to exist.


Joanne Key

Joanne Key lives in Cheshire where she writes poetry and short fiction. She recently returned to university as a mature student to complete an MA in Contemporary Arts at Manchester Metropolitan University, Cheshire. She has previously been shortlisted for The Bridport Prize, Mslexia Poetry Competition and The Plough Poetry Prize, and her poems have appeared in magazines including The Interpreter’s House; Ink, Sweat and Tears; and Nutshells and Nuggets. She won second prize in The Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition 2014.


At fifteen, my wires trailed
behind me like loose shoelaces.
Despite the cable, snaking
under my ribs, the feathers
started to poke through the cuffs
of my school jumper. A danger
to myself, the men said
I could take off anytime
and should be sent to the factory
where my mind would be occupied
with minding the machines,
tending them, mending my ways.
The factory and its banner:
Set Aside All Thoughts of Flight.
My father gave it the green light
as he sat on his rusty throne,
flexing the hinges of his fists,
smoke and booze flowing
through his steel tubes.

And so they squeezed me
into line with the other women,
side by side, forced in
as tight as batteries.
The siren howled.
A door clanged shut.
That was that.
The machines ate everything:
days, words, music, news.
I watched them swallow
some women whole.
We called them Sleepers.
I saw my mother slip away
until all that was left
was her voice humming
in the drum of its stomach.
The factory took the sun,
the doves cooing on the roof,
the chatter and laughter
and pitter-patter of rain,
leaving us only with the sound
of crying on fire escapes
and the moaning of Sleepers
trapped deep inside the machines.

Nothing lasts forever.
Many years have passed,
but on lonely nights like this
my mother often flits back
into my life. Owl-eyed
and full of light, she sits
on the windowsill,
preening her feathers,
before disappearing again,
her shape fading from view
as she circles the ruins
of the factory, picking over
the bones of those old
worn-out systems.
So many times I have tried
to call her back, my face
at the window – pale
and plain as a blank clock.
Mouth clicking. Open. Shut.


Julia Bell

Julia Hephzibah Bell is a writer and Course Director of the MA Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She is the author of three novels and the bestselling Creative Writing Coursebook. Currently she is working on lyric essays and poetry. Hymnal is a verse memoir about growing up in a religious family in Wales. And she is currently working on a sequence of essays about Berlin. Two of these essays will feature in forthcoming editions of Wasafiri and The White Review. She currently divides her time between London and Berlin.

The Visiting Speaker

But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? - Luke 10:40

Typical. The minute there’s a man about the house
she’s off, leaving me to get on
with the gutting of fish, the buttering of bread.
Sitting there, simpering, playing with her
beads in that idle, flirty way that makes her look cheap.

Five loaves and fishes and then some
piled on the table, there’s at least fifty people coming,
it will take a miracle to get this done in time.
And all she cares about is boys, boys, boys,
turned into a simpleton the minute they arrived.

Our hands butterflied across the table,
slicing, dicing, picking bones, tossing salads,
while we debated the various defences of Kierkegaard,
and the finer points of the theories of mind,
and then when he arrived she emptied like a drain

quite the coquette, while I sit here steaming
Pollack, getting grease stains on my blouse.
So many exceptions: Peter who’s vegetarian, Matthew
the wheat intolerant, Mark who can’t stand fish.
Wet drips together dripping. Especially him.

When I went out to complain all he could say
was there were more important things than cooking
in that kind of hippie, dreamy way that she believes
is a substitute for thinking. See here, he said,
picking a flower, consider the lilies of the field.

And she lay next to him, giggling, rococo,
as if posing for a Titian. God, that made me mad.
Here I am up to my eyeballs in dishes,
and all she can think about is sex. What good are flowers
when the clock is ticking on the Sunday roast?

He’s no idea what it’s like pulled every which way,
clean this, cook that, where’s my clean shirt?
He might have time for stargazing, but me,
I have to keep the carrots from boiling over.
A martyr? Don’t be soft. I’m losing my mind in here.


Anne Pelleschi

Anne hails from Swansea, South Wales, and her life and work have evolved from her Welsh origins. She is the organiser of international literary events and an international creative writing competition. Closer to home she established Dylan Thomas's birthplace as a successful centre celebrating his early life, and for holding workshops and events, including poetry readings. She is a regular speaker on Thomas' life nationally and internationally. Anne has organised arts festivals in local parks and created 'Welsh Mams' Day. Her work is drawn from her lifetime experiences in which people and place provide centrality to her sense of iterative historical and emotional consciousness.

1832, for a mother

They call me a Murder Stone, though I have killed no-one.
My role was not to take a life but to record one that was brutally shortened.

I am so tired, worn out, worn down,
my once loud voice has disappeared, gone.
I am a pock marked slab of misery where pointing fingers chiselled into me.

They call me a Murder Stone, though I have killed no-one.

I was chosen, hand-picked and quarried in Mawr,
there is no-one alive to remember why now,
so I must tell you before I fade,
before the earth re-claims me and becomes my grave.

My role was not to take a life but to record one.

I am weak and leaning on an old chapel wall.
As your feet pass by or your car engines thrum,
you do not notice me yet I am the one who remembers the truth.

They call me a Murder Stone, though I have killed no-one.

Look for me in Felindre, look for me.
Find me and discover about an unborn child,
about Eleanor, its mother



On that sultry, weeping-cloud day, I watched her sitting room's
furniture be moved and switched, re-switched, re-moved.
I saw pain take control of a face that was drawn, a soul that
was torn between despair and survival.

                        A blank worn canvas
                     outlines of deep silences
                        tears left un-spilled

Gasping breaths were her voice as she paced and twitched,
stood still, sat down, opened cupboards, slammed their doors,
apologised, searched, spinning round and around.

                       Those old training shoes
                      trying to make sense of it
                          a tongue sticking out

Into a quiet, whimpering stillness, words emerged from their
swallowing, smothering cocoon and filled the room.
Whispering into her neckline, she spoke about that morning, the
hat mis-shaped, the ugly morning and the note that was left by her

                                 Now only shadows
                     quick silvered running footsteps
                                 a broken marriage


Beri Allen-Miller

Beri Allen-Miller is a poet and photographer currently living in Hertfordshire.

Commuter's Flu

hammering nails into my head to let the pain out
i’m tired of being ice picked
chipping holes into cold
cold cold
melting little drips
into the eyes
of wiser guys

“peanut butter mix it up
mess with me ill kick your butt”
i’m never going to let my heart shed
ive got a brain i hide
use it selfishly
they say i was born in soft focus
a little vaseline on the lens
a little tinsel around the eyes.

i put my hood up
relax my accent
hiss into a blunt little minute
70 70 70
tangled up in my hair
i was rocked by smoke
finding with my fingers
my core centralising light
she a peony
prototype power
i sit with it
let it alight
get off of the brim of my hat
covering my eyes with your tiny palms
i am pushing out noises
in breathy punches
scaling through vowels.


There is only so much a voice can do
the girl piercing the old men whispering about her brain
I dart into myself - a bee
a bug
with an eye for contagion
keeping my teeth aligned is
harder than holding a drill into skin
- a bee direct but fatally scared
- a bug with a dark glint and quietly amber in
temper and colour
amber in coffin

I can hear the flesh of all of the sewn together men
they don’t fit me well
I can’t speak or talk
Take me in your car
park us near the seaside -
the sea is our bedroom
It’s a chore to roll over if I don’t have two small pulses to encourage
one eye or both
you see in me, a bracing for potency

You strain to make me larger
this splinter is no good
it has ruined to such impossible depths
tweezers will not do they become too foreign at the side of my skin

I draw my family tree on my stomach, it’s all images written in flexing marks and I am told I am lost, love is recycled into threads


Fran Lock


our mother’s day will come

my mother’s face exists in the space between
kaijū and sphinx. she’s wearing clothes that hold
her body in contempt. her breath, imperfect
peppermint. she has to go to work. her earrings
are obols, shorn of their funerary usage. palest
flirtation of dubious gold. unclaimed merest
flick of skin, the seldom-surfaced self. our
mother holds down several jobs, like righteous
men might trample serpents underfoot. she
works in the kitchens of holiday parks, spiting
her wrists with the ambergris of hot fat; salt
in the cut to her thumb. she works, waitressing
tables, while little kids scream with tactless
joy, engineering ice-cream headache, on
and on. our mother’s scanned your hummocks
of steroidal meat for hours, her hands making
a dumb-show of séance. she cried like a tangled
cassette in the night when she thought we
couldn’t hear. our mother worked lates with
the cold coiled inside like a sharpened spring
at the twenty-four seven garage to tight to pay
for heat. she gritted her teeth through gregarious
sleaze in the small town slur of the local bar.
and she came home and kneaded the bread
like she was thumping breath back into
a stopped heart. she held me through all my
recalcitrant havoc, the voices we heard in
our heads between god and the vomit, our
gremlins and lurgies and rages. my mother
studied. in those hotbed-of-non-event towns,
she dug in her heels, and she bit back her
anger. not a shoulder to cry on, a human
shield, her backbone a needle of lightning.
she studied, defended, and cleaned on her
knees till she bruised. my mother, our mother,
unfolding the joke from a book that the world
had kept from her. my mother, coming
sudden on the mind’s reckless hieroglyphs:
i finally understand. my mother’s face exists
between the strange and the wise. and we catch
her sometime, when she’s only herself, dreaming
her private tumult. my mother works, tilling
the stony earth until a word strikes water
and everything wickedly greens for a moment.
this is the grace that shit is grist to. it’s thanks
to her we are free.


On Fighting the Disconnect

The teenage girl on the bus is wearing a white T-shirt with the words I AM A FEMINST printed on the front in stark inch-high black letters. It’s dark outside and she’s travelling alone, so, when a group of boys get on at the next stop and bundle upstairs into the seats behind her, making the usual lewd and nonsensical comments, I swap seats to sit with her. I don’t want to come off like a dick, or imply that she needs protecting, but I want her to know she’s got help if she needs it, so I ask her if I can sit down, and to make conversation I tell her I like her T-shirt. “Thanks”, she says, and drops the name of a thoroughly ubiquitous online retailer whose ethical policies might want a bit of rethink, their supply chain having been linked in recent years to the labour of refugee children; with their British-based warehouses the subject of widely reported exposés into exploitative and dangerous working conditions. I don’t say anything, but it does give me private pause. The workers in sweatshops and warehouses are typically women and girls, and it’s hard for me to imagine anything more cynical than the way consumer culture regurgitates this cosmetic and morally-compromised feminism to idealistic young women.

Somewhere there’s a disconnect. But maybe it was ever thus. Take Rosie the Riveter, that oft-copied icon of female “empowerment”. Rosie was designed by J Howard Miller, and her purpose wasn’t liberation, it was propaganda. Rosie was supposed to mobilise a workforce, and she did: between 1942 and 1945 over six million women in America alone took up new jobs to further the allied war effort, many of whom started work in the factories before their employers had issued standard uniforms and safety equipment. Before 1943, for example, steel-toed boots weren’t made in women’s sizes, and women welders regularly sustained injury working in their everyday clothes without proper protective gear. Agencies that could have stepped in and stepped up to outfit women with safe and appropriate clothing didn’t consider it worth their while. They were only temporary, after all, an expendable substitute for male workers drafted overseas.

In the U.K, the women working in munitions factories turned yellow from exposure to TNT, earning them the euphemistic nickname: the canary girls. Although this discolouration was temporary, other side-effects were far more ominous. Women developed bone disintegration, throat and lung problems, and a fatal liver disease known as toxic jaundice. All this to earn a scant half the amount of their male counterparts, and while being expected to conform to an idealised and unobtainable standard of beauty that was considered as much a part of their “duty” to the war effort as the factory work in which they were employed.

Rosie’s a suspect symbol, the acceptable face of female labour; she isn’t jaundiced or exhausted or malnourished or maimed. She’s a fetish, a wet-dream, she’d working-class drag with the edges sanded off. She obscures not exposed the complex reality of what it means to be a working woman.

Somewhere there’s a disconnect. As IWWD rolls round again this year I find myself dwelling on this disconnect more and more. As a buzzword feminism is everywhere, and I want to take comfort from that, but I’ve seen a lot and I’m naturally wary. When companies and celebrities position themselves as “feminist” in order to encourage consumption or legitimate their views, I am wary. When conversations about equality are reduced to a grubby little cash nexus, I am wary. When the idea of real and necessary systemic change is diverted into the celebration of spurious cultural “gains”, I am wary.

Fundamentally, I don’t give a shit if L'Oreal or any one of its feckless spokespeople think I’m worth it, because “beauty” as an arbiter of personal worth is meaningless to me, especially when “beauty” means relentlessly performing some grotesque notion of exploded femininity twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, something that isn’t remotely practicable for most working-class women with dirty and difficult jobs.

Fundamentally, I think there are more urgent and important issues at work right now than whether a boardroom Tory earns the same amount as her male equivalent. Yes, of course, we should work towards parity of pay in business, but this can’t be the only measure of whether feminism is succeeding. The question of economic equality needs first to consider the working conditions of the poorest in our society; needs to start with the fruit-pickers and warehouse factory packers, needs to understand the connection between the convenience of your next-day delivery and the woman in Grimethorpe breaking her back on minimum wage to make that happen.

Fundamentally, it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference if Jodie Whittaker is Doctor Who, or if we have a gender-flipped Ghost Busters, when women in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre are still on hunger strike for being detained unfairly and indefinitely in demeaning and dangerous conditions; when cuts to Child Benefit coupled with restrictions to access of Legal Aid trap threaten to women in poverty and domestic abuse.

My point, I suppose, is that wearing the T-shirt is fine, idealism is fine, but feminism isn’t a slogan, it isn’t an aspirational brand, and wearing the T-shirt isn’t fighting the patriarchy. Feminism requires something of us, requires joined up thinking and a sense of our responsibility to each other. Feminism requires class-consciousness, an attentive listening to the varied voices of working-class experience.



Gibraltar, March 1988
Wednesday, 07 March 2018 11:21

Gibraltar, March 1988

Written by
in Poetry

30 years ago at approx 3.30pm Mairéad Farrell was murdered by the British state on Gibraltar. Standing by her side, also with his hands in the air, was Dan McCann who was also shot dead. A few hundred metres away Sean Savage was to have a similar fate. At the inquest the forensic scientist who examined Sean's remains said his killing had been a "frenzied attack" There were 29 bullet wounds in his body. All three were unarmed.

The following extract from a poem by Jack Mitchell is presented to mark the anniversary, and to mark International Women's Day. 

 from  GiB, A Modest Exposure

by Jack Mitchell

Deep inside Gibraltar Rock
There stands a town, or rather mock
Town, looking pretty
Like certain parts of Belfast City.
Here khaki cutthroats learn the art
Of taking a neighbourhood apart,
The stealthy approach, the dawn raid,
Crowd-dispersal with the aid
Of plastic bullets, CS gas,
The art of torture (not too crass),
Of close surveillance, hot pursuit,
With strict instructions, when you shoot
Be certain that you shoot to kill.

While, in their caves, at state expense,
These troglodytes of violence
Were taught tricks of the terror trade,
Outside, Gibraltarians paid
Their taxes and but scant attention
To this weird underground invention,
Until one mild March afternoon,
As balmy as an English June,
A Sunday, full of peaceful sounds
And strolling tourists on their rounds,
There came a change of quality.
The game became reality.
At sometime after three o'clock
The Thing they harboured in their Rock
Descended on them; out of the blue –
Slaughter in Churchill Avenue,
Panic amongst passers-by
As three young Irish people die,

Mown down by men with automatics.
The story goes, they were fanatics,
Dangerous terrorists, they said.
Who, the assassins? No – the dead.
It's sickening to hear them jaw
Of human rights and rule of law;
Their favourite view of human rights
Is down a loaded Browning's sights;
And as for rule of law, by God,
Whose law ordains a murder squad?
And murder it was, there on the Rock,
For all their gales of gusty talk.
Unarmed, unwarned, the Irish three
Were gunned down with malicious glee
By a gang of mindless yahoo brutes,
Great Britain's own Tonton Macoutes.

You meet them in the rugby clubs
And in idyllic country pubs.
The same white-collared yobbo clowns
Molest old folk in market towns.
All over Britain's blasted heath
They're springing up like dragons' teeth!
Born bullies, no, not born but spawned
In Yuppydom's malignant pond,
For twenty years or so matured,
With Bond and Rambo well manured,
Until they're rotten-ripe and drop
Into the Special Forces’ lap.
This concentrates their pith, and purges
Them of their last human urges,
Refining them to a noxious pearl
Within the Army's oyster shell.

Picture that dastardly attack,
How, first, they shot them in the back,
Straddled them where they lay half dead
And pumped their bodies full of lead,
Signing off with a shot in the face,
The SAS's coup d'isgrace.
Or was it the other way around?
Did the victims turn at some slight sound,
Throwing their hands up to provoke
The fatal words the Brownings spoke
Into their ears or to their face?
Such are the niceties of the case!
Whichever way, that awful spilling
Of human life was 'lawful killing' –
Or so the inquest said it was:
They had, they found, broken no laws,
Were gentlemen all – all honourable,
Their slight excess – exonerable.
Ah, Gentlemen they were – indeed,
Classic specimens of the breed.
Note how, in their message back to base,
Miss Farrell's name takes pride of place;
At every stage 'twas Ladies First,
Mairéad received their opening burst –
Perhaps by way of a bouquet
For International Women's Day?

The full poem is an epic poem attacking the system that cloaked the murders, and has an introduction by Gerry Adams and preface by Séamus Deane. It is published in book form and is available from: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The price is £10 incl. p&p to UK and Ireland.

JF book cover

We'll show you you're a woman
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Tuesday, 06 March 2018 22:45

We'll show you you're a woman

in Poetry
Written by

To mark IWD, we're publishing this poem from a new collection by Sheree Mack called skinshame, to be published shortly by Culture Matters.‘We’ll show you you’re a woman’ was the title of a report compiled by Human Rights Watch into the violence and discrimination experienced by black lesbians and transgender men in South Africa. 

‘We'll Show You You're a Woman’
in memory of Eudy Simelane

The minute you see likeness is when you realise that no matter what you're going through in your life, you are not alone
- Zanele Muholi

a) On the outskirts of Johannesburg, she is finally cured.

b) The Namaqualand daisy is in flashy orange bloom.

c) They say Satan has a hold on her. She is a demon.

d) I am afraid to be myself.

e) In a park, on a moonless night,
they each take their turn to correct her.

f) The township always smells of Omo washing powder,
even when we have no water.

g) My mother says I must take a boyfriend.
She invites the Pastor into our home to convert me.

h) No way a finger or tongue can satisfy you, he says.
You need one of these to sort you out, he says
as he pulls down his pants.

i) They find her naked body in a creek,
stabbed 28 times, including the soles of her feet.

j) No one is saying anything. No one has been caught.

k) I sense the guys in my neighbourhood are planning something. They cannot accept me choosing a woman. My day will come.

An Unfortunate Case
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Tuesday, 06 March 2018 22:03

An Unfortunate Case

in Poetry
Written by

An Unfortunate Case

by Chris Norris

Portugal’s president has described the circumstances in which a homeless Portuguese man died near the UK parliament as ‘inhumane’. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa paid tribute to the unnamed man found dead in an underpass near Westminster tube station, a stone’s throw from an entrance to the Houses of Parliament. In a statement on the official website of the president of the Portuguese republic, de Sousa said he ‘laments the death in inhumane circumstances of our fellow countryman of 35 years, who was found without life in one of the metro entries in the British capital’.

- The Guardian, 16th February, 2018 

The Jesus note: not one that I
Play up but there's that line
Of his that goes
'Look on me, all ye who pass by:
Was ever grief like mine?'
Bit lachrymose,
You'll say, and on the whole I try
To give no outward sign
Of inner woes,
Though times there are when I could die
And none would grieve or pine
Excepting those
Who paused awhile to wonder why
The tourist crowds confine
Their passing shows
Of interest to Big Ben on high
Or to the sty of swine
Our nation knows
As Parliament. Great place for my
Campaign to take the shine
Off its fake pose
As friend of every little guy,
That time-dishonoured shrine
To freedom's foes.

There's lots of MPs walk my way,
The Tories nose-in-air
Or keen to show
They'd have me thrown in gaol today
If it was left to their
Best judgment (know
Them by their rotten fruits, I say),
And 'socialists' who'll spare
Small change then go
On endlessly about how they,
The old guard, did their share
To overthrow
Class-prejudice or some cliché
Stamped 'vintage Tony Blair',
And then – although
An off-note in that cabaret –
Real socialists who'll dare
To halt the flow
Of tourist-trade and disobey
The bylaws with a rare
And powerful show
Of outrage fitted to convey
'Blame that lot over there,
Just a stone's throw'.

The Mail and Sun delight to call
Them 'Corbynistas', these
New types who seem
A breed that’s worlds apart from all
The self-styled 'left' MPs
Whose only dream
Is getting on, or playing ball,
Or trying hard to please
Whatever team
Of crass time-servers have the gall
To pull their usual wheeze
And switch mid-stream
To business-class. It's a long haul
For anyone who sees
How the regime
Of capital has us in thrall,
Yet those who hold the keys
Lack any scheme
To buck the future or forestall
A turning tide that frees
The distant gleam
Of hopes renewed at every fall
Of fortunes built on sleaze –
The Levellers' theme!

Myself, I'll just hang on here till
The next election (must
Come soon enough!)
And then let's hope the people's will
Revolts in sheer disgust
At folk who stuff
Their pockets, gourmandise their fill,
And think it fair and just
That we sleep rough,
Us whom the cold nights sometimes kill,
Yet who retain their trust,
When times are tough,
That in the long death-dealing chill
Of Tory rule we've sussed
An age-old bluff
And figured how the plebs might still
Find the right ass to bust,
Vow not to fluff
It yet again, but bend our skill
Against those upper-crust
Class-laws we’ll slough
Off like each parliamentary bill
Now set to bite the dust
At our rebuff.

That’s why the Corbynistas link
My situation here,
Begging for bread
And living always on the brink
Of the deep freeze I fear
Lies just ahead,
To Tory policies that sync
A code-word like 'austere'
With plans to shed
All care for those our masters think
Beyond the civic sphere,
Hence good as dead
Already. This new lot won't shrink
From setting out to clear
The Augean shed
Despite the daily growing stink
Of many a privateer
Caught short instead
Of mixing it with Graft Corp Inc,
Advancing their career,
And helping spread
The moral rot at which we wink
Till, of a sudden, we're
Unhoused, unfed.

A witness to ruthless oppression: Maxim Gorky
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Monday, 05 March 2018 22:36

A witness to ruthless oppression: Maxim Gorky

in Poetry
Written by

Jenny Farrell introduces the life and poetry of Maxim Gorky, who was born 150 years ago, and presents his poem Storm Petrel, prophesying revolution.

Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, or Maxim Gorky, was born 28 March 1868 in Nizhny Novgorod (named Gorky,1932-1990), and died 14 June 1936. He was a Russian and Soviet writer, the founder of socialist realism in literature, and a political activist.

Gorky’s father, a carpenter, died of cholera aged 31. The transition to his grandfather’s world of poverty and violence shocked him. His uncles stabbed their wives to death; one of them sent to Siberia. When Gorky visited the house of his childhood many years later, he could not enter it. Memories were too traumatic. Gorky owed his survival to his illiterate grandmother Akulina, whose storehouse of legends and fairy tales was inexhaustible.

Gorky’s grandfather taught him to read from the prayer book. The impoverished owner of a dye-house, he moved the family to the outskirts of town, where they lived among the outcast. The harshness of this existence stayed with Gorky for life.

His mother read secular books with him. Nearly nine in early 1877, he started elementary school, leaving it due to poverty, aged ten. All his life Gorky was aware of his lack of a formal education.

Only ten years old, he contributed to the family’s livelihood by collecting rags, nails, and horseshoes, or stealing wooden boards. His mother died of consumption that year, aged just 35. Alexei had to leave the house.

Along the Volga, he observed labourers and boatmen; he witnessed child prostitution in the towns. Depictions of violated women are among the most shocking scenes in Gorky’s writings.

Books increasingly captivated Gorky. He read secretly by night, loved Byron’s rebellion, and above all Dickens, who truly loved people.

Gorky’s stay in Kazan became a turning point. Here, he met people who not only suffered, but also fought to change social conditions. He felt inspired by the populists, or folk friends, members of a revolutionary movement of the 1870s. Stirred by passionate belief in the people, they sought political renewal; the more radical of them advocated revolution.

When the students went on strike at Kazan University, Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) was among them. Gorky joined a study circle, discussing emancipation. Serfdom had recently been abolished. The group debated Tolstoy’s ideas and asked Gorky to seek his advice on the creation of an agricultural colony.

In autumn 1888, Gorky began his years on the road, desiring to learn more of Russia and its people. After these travels, Gorky began writing. His story ‘Chelkash,’ about a harbour thief was an immediate sensation and Gorky was hailed the voice of the people. His pen name Gorky stems from that time. His father, Maxim, had been called the bitter one (“Gorky”) because he told people the bitter truth.

Gorky worked as a journalist and published the 3-volume ‘Sketches and Stories’ (1898-1899). He wrote with compassion and optimism about the barefooted and outcasts. His strong, colourful, keenly observed characters, affirm life and the power of humankind. He understood and depicted realistically their social context, at times, glorifying the rebels. At this early stage, Gorky met and befriended Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Lenin. Chekhov encouraged him to try drama, which resulted in his most famous play, ‘The Lower Depths’ (1902), based on his stories of outcasts, and without an individual hero. Stanislavsky directed the play in Moscow and it became an instant success in Europe and the US. Max Reinhardt’s theatre in Berlin, staged the play on 500 consecutive evenings. It became one of the most performed plays of world literature.

Gorky’s descriptions of the barefooted gained him a place in Russian literature. In the early 1890s, there were five million barefooted in Russia, due to the great famine. Many died of starvation, or perished in dirty hostels and overcrowded prisons. While in the past, the barefooted had been dismissed as wretched drunkards, thieves and murderers, Gorky describes them as confident people, rebels even, who defy the yoke of serfdom. Gorky’s hatred for the establishment had grown with his travels. He had experienced enormous class differences in Russia and ruthless oppression.

The first translations of Gorky’s work appeared in 1899: two years later Gorky was known worldwide. He made friends with the painter Repin, and the singer Shalyapin. His play “The Philistines”, the first time the working class appear on the Russian stage, was performed under police observation.

Gorky, exiled to Arzamas, central Russia, in 1902, met radicals there and supported the Social Democrats with money from his publications. He set up an illegal printing press, began publishing radical leaflets and hoped to achieve a united front of the working class and liberal intelligentsia. Russia’s war against Japan had shown that the Czarist Empire was on its last legs, opposition movements gained impetus.

On Bloody Sunday, 9 January1905, Czarist forces in St. Petersburg killed over a thousand demonstrators. Gorky’s arrest and imprisonment caused an international outcry, contributing to his release. Unrest spread across the country, students and workers went on strike, and the battle ship Potemkin’s crew mutinied. A general strike paralysed the country. The Czar had to introduce civil rights and convene a legislative assembly, the Duma. Gorky’s apartment looked like an arsenal. Workers rose, but surrendered after an eleven-day struggle.

In early 1906, Gorky travelled secretly to Finland where the Finns welcomed him enthusiastically. He met Lenin in Helsingfors. They decided that he should leave Russia and act as an unofficial ambassador for the new Russia, collecting money for the revolution. The US seemed suited for such a fundraising tour. American Socialists had put forward the plan. Sympathisers like Mark Twain and Jack London promised their Russian colleague help. Gorky topped the bestseller list and the Metropolitan Theatre played ‘The Lower Depths’ to a full house.

Gorky travelled via Berlin. He met with leaders of the German social democracy, Bebel, Kautsky, Liebknecht and Luxemburg. He saw Max Reinhardt and played Luca in ‘The Lower Depths’ at the Deutsches Theater. He urged all Western countries not to lend Russia money, warning it would go towards greater oppression.

For millions of Americans, Gorky’s name stood for Russian liberation. The trip was to be a goodwill tour from coast to coast. Arriving 10 April 1906, many greeted Gorky. Mark Twain called for support for the Russian Revolution. Gorky spoke of his enthusiasm for Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain. He praised the liberty of the American people. However, his support of the trade union leaders charged with murdering a former governor in Idaho and, worse, the revelation that Gorky had travelled to America with his partner Maria, while still married to Katya was too much for puritan America. Even Mark Twain objected, as did William Dean Howells, and Roosevelt refused to receive him. One year later, George Bernard Shaw refused to go to America because of Gorky’s treatment.

Only John Martin and Prestonia Mann, leaders of the American Fabian Society, welcomed him in their home. Gorky went on a lecture tour through the USA, speaking in Williamsburg, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Increasingly, he criticised American society, and was sensitive to the Native Americans. He continued to praise Walt Whitman, pioneer of freedom and beauty, who filled his poems with a pagan love of life. He wrote several pamphlets commenting on the fetish of the dollar.

American publishers now no longer published Gorky’s books, mainly because newspaper magnate Hearst held the exclusive rights. Here in America, Gorky finished his play “Enemies” and began the novel “The Mother”. Both works deal with the workers’ unrest in Russia. In “Enemies” (1906) Gorky depicts class antagonism in capitalist society and the determined struggle of the proletariat. “The Mother” became the foundation text of socialist realism and one of the best-selling books of the 20th century. Gorky showed the rise of the workers’ movement, its revolutionary development under party leadership. For the first time, the proletarian revolutionary movement found realistic representation. With Pavel Vlasov, Gorky created a hero of the era – a proletarian revolutionary and party worker. The mother’s character vividly shows the growth of a revolutionary among the people.

Gorky’s attacks on the Russian government meant he could not return home. He received political asylum in Italy. He arrived in Naples on 26 October 1906, unaware that Italy would be his home for almost eight years and that he would write more than half of his works here. Gorky was already famous in Italy and his plays were performed to full houses. In November, he moved to Capri, where he received an invitation to the Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party in London. The congress opened on 13 May1907 at the Southgate Brotherhood Church in Islington and lasted until 1 June. Lenin, Trotsky and Plekhanov attended. Gorky lectured on contemporary Russian literature in Hyde Park.

Many Russian writers visited him on Capri, as did Repin, Rachmaninov, Shalyapin and Stanislavski. He felt especially close to Shalyapin, compatriot from Nizhny Novgorod, who sang about the strength and beauty of the Russian homeland.

Gorky lived in Capri until 1913, when the Russian Duma passed an amnesty act to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. Together with Lunacharsky and Bogdanov, he set up a “Party school” to educate working class leaders. Gorky lectured in the history of Russian literature. At that time, Gorky was close to Bogdanov, who advocated a “religion of socialism,” and Gorky coined the term “God-building,” combining religion with Marxism. Lenin disapproved, opposed the school and founded his own in Paris. Lenin rejected religion outright and thought Gorky a romantic.

On 31 December 1913, Gorky returned to Russia and helped establish the first Workers’ and Peasants’ University, the World Literature Publishing House, and Petrograd Theatre. He published the first volume of his autobiographical trilogy, “My Childhood” (1913-14), followed by “In the World” (1916), and “My Universities” (1922). In these, author-narrator Alyosha Peshkov, describes growing up in a Volga River town, and his youth.

When World War I broke out, Gorky lampooned the jingoism and ostracised his adopted son Zinovy Peshkov for joining the army, calling on conscripts to refuse military service.

In 1915, he founded a publishing house for children’s books, to promote children’s interest in good literature and giving them a sense of the purpose of life. He also intended to publish a series on outstanding people.

In 1921-22, Gorky fought against famine, cooperating with Fridtjof Nansen to bring food to Russia. He stated in an interview with the Daily Herald that there was no reason not to recognise the Soviet Union, and lifting the West’s economic boycott would save lives.

Gorky left the USSR again in October 1921. He was unwell, overworked, and he didn’t always see eye to eye with the Bolsheviks and Lenin. He travelled via Finland, Sweden and Denmark to Berlin. In Helsingfors, he promoted Russia aid and arrived in Berlin in November. More than 100,000 Russians lived in Berlin with many Russian publishing houses. In Berlin, a doctor found his condition serious. Between autumn 1916 and winter 1922, Gorky had not written a single line. Now, he finished “My Universities” and some novels. The situation in the USSR became increasingly insecure, with a trial against 34 members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Gorky settled in Sorrento. Gorky’s return to his homeland in the summer of 1928, was motivated in part by the opportunity to participate in its cultural life.

In “The Artamonov Business” (1927) Gorky began his post-revolutionary social-psychological analysis of capitalism. Based on three generations of a merchant family, the novel depicts the rise and fall of capitalism in Russia between 1863 and 1917. His play “Yegor Bulychov” set on the eve of the October Revolution, demonstrates the moral decline of the bourgeoisie. A subtle psychological analysis of bourgeois individualism between 1870 and 1917 makes “Klim Samgin” a masterpiece of socialist realism. In it, Gorky created a comprehensive tapestry of the political movements over forty years of Russian history and showed how the hero’s middle-class intellectual life ends in historical fiasco. The communist character Kutuzov meets Klim Samgin with true humanity. Gorky portrayed the new heroes, and heroism at work emerges as a key moral criterion.

Gorky’s socialist realist method is his ground-breaking world literary achievement. His works remain widespread on all continents and contribute to the consolidation of proletarian class-consciousness. They continue to be a touchstone and benchmark for socialist writers all over the world.

Storm Petrel

by Maxim Gorky

High above the silvery ocean winds are gathering the storm-clouds, and between the clouds and ocean proudly wheels the Stormy Petrel, like a streak of sable lightning.

Now his wing the wave caresses, now he rises like an arrow, cleaving clouds and crying fiercely, while the clouds detect a rapture in the bird’s courageous crying.

In that crying sounds a craving for the tempest! Sounds the flaming of his passion, of his anger, of his confidence in triumph.

The gulls are moaning in their terror – moaning, darting o’er the waters, and would gladly hide their horror in the inky depths of ocean.

And the grebes are also moaning. Not for them the nameless rapture of the struggle. They are frightened by the crashing of the thunder.

And the foolish penguins cower in the crevices of rocks, while alone the Stormy Petrel proudly wheels above the ocean, o’er the silver-frothing waters.

Ever lower, ever blacker, sink the storm-clouds to the sea, and the singing waves are mounting in their yearning toward the thunder.

Strikes the thunder. Now the waters fiercely battle with the winds. And the winds in fury seize them in unbreakable embrace, hurtling down the emerald masses to be shattered on the cliffs.

Like a streak of sable lightning wheels and cries the Stormy Petrel, piercing storm-clouds like an arrow, cutting swiftly through the waters.

He is coursing like a Demon, the black Demon of the tempest, ever laughing, ever sobbing –he is laughing at the storm-clouds, he is sobbing with his rapture.

In the crashing of the thunder, the wise Demon hears a murmur of exhaustion. And he knows the storm will die and the sun will be triumphant; the sun will always be triumphant!

The waters roar. The thunder crashes. Livid lightning flares in storm-clouds high above the seething ocean, and the flaming darts are captured and extinguished by the waters, while the serpentine reflections writhe, expiring, in the deep.

It’s the storm! The storm is breaking!

Still the valiant Stormy Petrel proudly wheels among the lightning, o’er the roaring, raging ocean, and his cry resounds exultant, like a prophecy of triumph –

Let it break in all its fury!

Source: M. Gorky: Selected Short Stories Progress Publishers, 1955;
Online Version: Maxim Gorky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002;

the employed poor
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Friday, 02 March 2018 14:07

the employed poor

in Poetry
Written by

the employed poor

by Martin Hayes

they have a car a job with no contract they work for a company that has
a zero-tolerance policy on sick days and non-attendance they have a
flat with heating and food they have a bottle of wine of a night
they cook a pasta dinner for their two kids they try to buy their
kids’ new clothes and a mobile phone but it’s never the right
ones always 2 or 3 generations behind they are healthy but
nervous strong but fragile they have nothing in their
hands or tucked away under their beds they
are only one withheld monthly pay cheque
away from disaster one boss’s decision
away from hunger one unfortunate
accident away from annihilation
one unplanned bill away from
tipping point one illness
away from seeing the
whole edifice of
their lives come
tumbling down
with no one
around to
help put
any of it

 the employed poor

This poem is from a new collection from Martin Hayes called The Things Our Hands Once Stood For.

Martin Hayes is the only British poet who writes consistently and seriously about work, and about the insanity of a society where employees are seen as mere ‘hands’ whose sole role is to make money for the employer.

The publisher and poet Alan Dent has contributed an illuminating introduction. He says, 

Hayes speaks for those whose lives are supposed to be not worth speaking about. He is intent on revealing the significance of the lives of ordinary people in the workplace. When current employment relations are consigned to the dustbin of history, and are viewed as we now view the feudal relations between lord and vassal, will people wonder why so little was written about it?

Martin’s poems are direct and simple, and full of black humour. Like the grainy black and white images that illustrate them so well, they expose and express the simple, terrible truth – that the human relation on which our society is based, that between employer and employee, is morally indefensible. The clear message of his poetry is that those who do the work should own, control, and benefit fully from it. They should, in the last words of the last poem, ‘start the revolution that will change everything’, and show that

all of our fingertips combined
might just be the fingertips
that keep us and this Universe
stitched together.

The booklet is priced at £6 (plus £1.50 p&p), and is available from here, Manifesto Press and the usual outlets. ISBN 978-1-907464-32-4.

What Did The Politician Get His Wife?
Saturday, 24 February 2018 18:28

What Did The Politician Get His Wife?

Written by
in Poetry

What Did The Politician Get His Wife?
after Bertolt Brecht

by Kevin Higgins

And what did she get, the girlfriend,
from the student union meeting
at which he rose to his feet
and realised he could speak?
From that meeting she got
the Snickers bar he forgot to eat
so busy was he watching them listen;
and that speech, unabridged,
every other night for thirty five years.

And what did she get, his new wife,
from the time he first used a party
conference microphone to agree with both sides?
Those okay with the Moslems/Mexicans/Gypsies being here,
and those who want them kept over there.
From that microphone she took away their
invitation to dine with the Deputy Mayor
and his not new wife.

And what did she get, his no longer new wife,
when, at the second attempt,
he won that seat on the City Council?
From his election she got to drink Pinot Noir
and go swimming in their private club
with the no-so-new wives
of those who got the contracts
to make the paving stones and install
the pay-and-display ticket machines
during his years as Chairman
of the relevant committee.

And what did she get, his well-maintained wife,
the night he was elected to the big shiny
parliament? From that night she took away
an architect to re-design their new three storey pad
in the priciest possible part of the capital,
and an article about herself
in the Daily Express lifestyle pages.

And what did she get, the no longer new MP’s
no longer new wife, the morning
they made him Minister?
That morning she got to go horse riding
with the Leader of the House of Lords’
fourth (or fifth) wife.

And what did she get, the no longer new
Cabinet Minister’s wife, the night the landslide
made him Prime Minister? That night
she got to hold to her breast
invitations to break foie gras
with the Sultan of Brunei, the President of China;
and the chance to write husband’s speech
announcing the crackdown on beggars
who accost hard working
families who stop to ask for directions
en route to the nearest funeral parlour.

And what did she get, the ex-Prime Minister’s
no longer new wife, from all the depleted uranium shells
he had dropped during the Battle of Basra, all the soldiers
he sent to meet improvised explosive
devices in far Mesopotamia in the hope
of getting rid of something bigger
than the beggars and prostitutes
at Kings Cross. For these she got
white night terrors
of him on trial for all their crimes,
and the desire to never again
look out the front window of their fine
Connaught Square house
at the tree from which, it’s said,
they used to once string

Here's Ken Loach reading part of the poem and talking about the suspension of Kevin Higgins from the Labour Party. Higgins was suspended in June 2016, but now it looks as if he's unsuspended and is in the members' database again, although he hasn't been notified about it.

Higgins says: "It appears the boys and girls of the fantastically named 'Compliance Unit' at Labour Party Headquarters have decided that the case against me is too silly. But they don't want to tell me this in writing, as this way they retain the option of deciding, at some later stage, that I am guilty after all. On finding himself, at one stage during his varied career, imprisoned in a castle in Romania, the literary critic Georges Lukacs is said to have said that Kafka was a realist after all. It is a tragedy for world literature that Mr Kafka never got to exchange emails with the Labour Party Compliance Unit."

The Communist Manifesto: A Poetic Coupling
Tuesday, 20 February 2018 22:05

The Communist Manifesto: A Poetic Coupling

Written by
in Poetry

To mark the 170th anniversary of the publication of The Communist Manifesto, Peter Raynard presents his new poem, a 'poetic coupling' based on the text of the Manifesto.

Counting in at around 12,000 words, has there ever been a more influential book containing so few words, than the Communist Manifesto? The 21st February, 2018 is the 170th anniversary of its publication. Written in a six-week rush, after the Communist League imposed a deadline on Marx, its take up and influence has been phenomenal, and it is as relevant today as it ever has been. 

Much is planned to mark the occasion, especially as it is also the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth on May 5th. I have read the Manifesto a number of times over the year. However, as a poet, I hadn’t given it much thought in my writing until I was introduced to a poetic form called ‘coupling’, devised by the poet Karen McCarthy Woolf. Coupling is a line by line poetic response (that includes rhyme, repetition, and assonance) to an existing text. It can be applied to any text but I think works very well with political writing, either as a way of making it relevant to today’s readers, or as a (satirical) polemic against it. In writing a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto I took the former approach but - in the spirit of Marxism - with a critical as well as creative eye.

I hope to complete the poem over the next few weeks, and the plan is that Culture Matters will then publish it in May in time for the 200th anniversary. Below is my coupling of the infamous ‘preface’ of the book, as well as Marx’s ten ‘commandments’ of communism.

The Communist Manifesto: A Poetic Coupling

by Peter Raynard (with Karl Marx)

“In accordance with my state of mind at the time lyrical poetry was bound to be my first subject, at least the most pleasant and immediate one….Poetry however, could be and had to be only an accompaniment; I had to study law and above all felt the urge to wrestle with philosophy.” [Marx’s letter to his Father, November 1837]


A spectre is haunting Europe
               innit though

 — the spectre of communism
               that loose blanket in need of tucking in

All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre
            this unholy spectre come to remove the opium and Xanax flow from the ennui of its existents

Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
            Pope and President, Merkel Macron, autoimmune free radicals of capitalism, each playing I spy with my belittling eye

Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power?
               Karl saw a gap in the market before the market had been fully formed

Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism
               no-one likes us, no-one likes us, no-one likes us, we don’t care, we are commies, new-born commies, we are commies from over there

against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
               we are coming with sickles and fists, hammers and molotovs, balaclavas and masks, & pen and paper (just in case)

Two things result from this fact:
I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power
               albeit a power with a crackly track record of misuse, one dictatored by substance abuse

II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world
               come out and tell it how it is FFS, it has been 170 years but it’s never too late!

publish their views, their aims, their tendencies,
               they tend to hang to the left, last I heard, but added ingredients can make it absurd

and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself
               ring a ring a roses you pocketful of posers, atishoo, atishoo, we will knock off your crown

To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London
               to mark the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, to honour his will, to update his worth

and sketched the following manifesto
               give him a deadline and he’ll give you a tract, the theory, the practice, revolutionary acts

to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages
               & Bakunin translated it into Russian, and we all know how that turned out

PR Workers by Peter Kennard

Workers, by Peter Kennard

Marx’s Ten Commandments of Communism

            ………..in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable
                       behold, the secular ten commandments, scribed in the original Manifest der kommunistischen Partei   

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purpose
                 I suggest we begin with cutting the hedge funds, the casino capitalism, the prospecting close your eyes and pick a card path to prosperity

    2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax
                in the heated climate of today’s reprobates, they’ll not be much need for public debate

    3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance
                Can I keep my granddad’s watch, it’s broken, it’s worthless, it means a lot?

    4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels
                there’ll be no more capital flight, those runways closed at midnight

    5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly
                credit where credit is due, an economy not founded on a global debt of $233 trillion, phew!

    6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State
                yes traveller I’m just putting you through, can you believe it, no trains overdue

    7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State
                of factories, mere metal filings remain, big data now is the name of the game

    the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan
                I sat upon the shore/ Fishing, with the arid plain behind me/ Shall I at least set my lands in order (TSE)

    8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture
                you might need a little marketing advice, industrial armies doesn’t sound nice

    9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country
                the green with the grey, cosmopolitan hue, no borders, no hoarders, no get in the queue

    10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.
                with child labour/girls denied education/born into sex work we mustn’t forget this is not done-and-dusted, those wheels have not come off yet, though they may be a little rusted

Marx’s Final Words

The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            With links made of debt, disease, war, racism, sexism, capitalism, and more

They have a world to win
            and win it they will, for as Prometheus was Bound to say, ‘defy power which seems omnipotent’

Working Men of All Countries, Unite
            and women as well, and all those between

PR walterbenjamincopy

Portrait, by Peter Kennard

Grenfell Tower, 2018
Monday, 19 February 2018 20:08

Grenfell Tower, 2018

Written by
in Poetry

Since July 2017 Rip Bulkeley has been creating an anthology "Poems for Grenfell Tower", which will be published by The Onslaught Press at Easter. Poems were invited in any language and up to 50 lines long, and then selected blind by a small review panel. The resulting collection includes 62 poems, four of them not in English but with translations, some by well-known authors, others by people closely touched by the Grenfell atrocity. Royalties will go to the new Grenfell Foundation, which is being set up by Grenfell United in order to receive such donations and use them for the benefit of the community.

There will be two London launches with free admission and collections for Grenfell United:

Harrow Club, 187 Freston Rd, W10 6TH, Sunday April 15th, 2.30pm
with protest singer Robb Johnson and the Nostalgia Steel Band

Seven Dials Club, 42 Earlham St, WC2H 9LA, Friday April 27th, 7.30pm
with oud player Rihab Azar and London-based Balkan folk group RAKA

Further events based on the book will be held between in Edinburgh, Newport, Doncaster, Newcastle, and probably in other London venues, with poets not in the book invited to read their own responses to Grenfell also.

The sonnet below has been written to open the collection.

Grenfell, 2018

by Rip Bulkeley

So, pull down the monument of Britain’s shame?
It’s not enough. The horror and the grief
May some day ease; insomnia and strain
Give ground before the impetus of life.
And perhaps the dead have other things in mind
Than Grenfell Night, more practical concerns…
But years will not dispel the stench of crime.
The cremated steel and concrete ghost will scorn
Mere demolition; rather, persevere
For children’s children’s schoolchildren to read
And wonder, with stilled hands and hidden care,
At how their ancestors were torched for greed,
But then the neighbourhood rose up through fire
To stand together, one with Grenfell Tower.

In Praise of Communism
Friday, 09 February 2018 22:21

In Praise of Communism

Written by
in Poetry

The outstanding German communist playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht was born on 10 February 1898, 120 years ago. To celebrate the anniversary, Jenny Farrell has sent us one of his poems, which was translated by her father, Jack Mitchell. The image is by Mark Titchner, an artist who lives and works in London.

In Praise of Communism

by Bertolt Brecht

It is reasonable. You can grasp it. It's simple.
You're no exploiter, so you'll understand.
It is good for you. Look into it.
Stupid men call it stupid, and the dirty call it dirty.
It is against dirt and against stupidity.
The exploiters call it a crime.
But we know:
It is the end of all crime.
It is not madness but
The end of madness.
It is not chaos,
But order.
It is the simple thing
That's hard to do.

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