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

Come in number 45, your time is up
Tuesday, 16 January 2018 10:52

Come in number 45, your time is up

Written by
in Poetry

In Which No. 45 Once Again Seeks Validation To Dispel
The Existential Fear That Gnaws At His Very Soul

 by Steve Pottinger

Thursday, 4am. The president wakes
Reaches, half-conscious, for his phone
Unwilling, untutored, unable to fight.
Must! Have! Attention! Now!
Punches the keypad over and over

In a desperate, infantile frenzy. Then:

America! The best! My big red button!

Falls back against the pillow, spent,
Useless, lost. Needing some kind of
Consolation, he mutters that he’s bigly
King, in his own mind at least. But
We see the emperor naked, unmanned,
Impeachment barrelling relentless down the line.
The end will be fast.

An Embarrassment
Sunday, 14 January 2018 13:07

An Embarrassment

Written by
in Poetry

An Embarrassment

by Chris Norris

LONDON — A political storm is brewing ahead of Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s May 19 wedding over whether to crack down on homeless people and beggars in the well-to-do English town of Windsor . . . . Borough council leader Simon Dudley kicked off the controversy by tweeting over the Christmas holidays about the need to clean up Windsor’s streets. He then wrote to police and Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May suggesting that action be taken to reduce the presence of beggars and the homeless. Dudley referred to an ‘epidemic’ of homelessness and vagrancy in Windsor and suggested many of those begging in the town are not really homeless. He said the situation presents a beautiful town in an unfavourable light. - The Washington Post, January 4th 2018

It can be hard to find a vacant pitch.
You think you've cornered one, but then
It turns out there's some unexpected hitch,
Like 'let's not see your face again',
Or cops with that let's-send-them-packing itch,
Or druggies looking for a den,
Or doorway-minders stationed by the rich
Lest we scare some good citizen.

It's quite a simple trade-off once you know
The ropes. Choose an impoverished part
Of town with hopes and incomes running low
And chances are the cops won't start
Those same old scare-techniques from the word go
Because that's not where all the smart
Set live or those who have the clout and dough
To silence any bleeding heart.

But then of course folk won't have much to spare
In poor parts, so we chase the dosh
And tend to wind up in those places where
The local council's run by posh-
End bureaucrats who seem to think that their
Fine precincts will soon be awash
With us lot if they show a moment's care
For all that human-kindness bosh.

Myself, I did quite nicely for a while
In Windsor, locals rich enough
To spare at least some fraction of their pile,
And others doing all the tourist stuff,
Which meant they'd sometimes go the extra mile,
When they saw I'd been sleeping rough,
And give as if to say: let our life-style
Rub off on you though times are tough.

So not a bad pitch, Windsor, all in all,
Until this jobsworth got the word
That he, as Council Chairman, must play ball
And make sure us lot were transferred
Elsewhere, us human flotsam, with as small
Upset as could be lest we stirred
An impulse of regret that might just gall
The conscience of the royalist herd.

The reason? Some dim-witted legatee
Of a half-dozen clans far-gone
In the descent to inbred idiocy
Of Europe's royals had got it on
At last with some royal-fancier, so we
Folk in the lowest echelon
Must up sticks so that Windsor has its spree
And we don't spoil the denouement.

The lesson? If you want a country fit
For Tory toffs, for all those Royal
Flunkies and floozies, and the tabloid shit
Put out to keep the commoners loyal,
Then, fellow-subjects, just get used to it:
We'll always be around to foil
Your best-laid civic plans and do our bit
To see what fake dreams we can spoil.

For here's my point, beyond just being pissed
Off with the whole Royal-wedding binge,
Or at not being on the invite list:
That it's the same habitual cringe
That bends the knee of every monarchist,
That frees that Chairman from a twinge
Of conscience, and that tells us: don't resist
Or push your anti-royalist whinge.

For you'll not clear us losers from your streets
Until you clear them from your dreams,
Those royals, as well as from the gossip-sheets
That feed your fantasy with streams
Of reportage where your worst life-defeats,
Like mine, look less important themes
Than the crowd of adoring fools that greets
The couple with their PR teams.

Think harder and you'll maybe come to hate
The system that keeps them in place,
Those useless idlers, while it views our state
Of penury as no disgrace
But ours alone, or else as just what fate
Decreed for us so that we face
Up to it, like Prince Harry and his mate,
Secure in destiny's embrace.

See through that crap and you'll be on the way
To seeing how it works, how we're
Kept down, kept quiet, kept under, kept at bay,
Or just kept moving on by mere
Compliance with the roles they'd have us play,
Those harkers-back to yesteryear
Who seize their chance, with each Royal-wedding day,
To re-infantilise the public sphere.

What Put The Diamonds In Your Owner’s Wife’s Ears?
Friday, 12 January 2018 15:13

What Put The Diamonds In Your Owner’s Wife’s Ears?

Written by
in Poetry

What Put The Diamonds In Your Owner’s Wife’s Ears?
after Bertolt Brecht

by Kevin Higgins

You clean-collared columnists
should first help us fix the basic roof-over-head
dilemma, before penning your next sermon.

You shower, who preach careful now
and always know your own exact bank balance,
what is this mature democracy towards which you sweat?
Without a door I can safely lock behind me
to keep your pity at bay, civilisation
doesn’t even begin.

First bring to those of us who get by on Supermacs
our own mahogany table and a big, silver knife
with which to cut the turkey and ham into manageable slices
(with a vegetarian option for those so afflicted)
and answer us this:

What put the diamonds in your owner’s wife’s ears?
Or the Prince Albert ring in her boyfriend’s willy?
The fact you’re in there polishing phrases
and we’re out here in the undemocratic rain
which everyone – from the Primate of the Church of Ireland
to the Council for the Women of Consequence – agrees
must never be allowed to land on you,

this is what keeps pinning diamonds
to your owner’s wife’s sad little lobes,
and puts the ring that winks up at her
in her boyfriend’s knob.


USSR stamp, 1956
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Monday, 01 January 2018 19:36

Our common humanity: Robert Burns and For A' That

in Poetry
Written by

Jenny Farrell discusses the focus on our common humanity in Robert Burns's For A' That, and the way it foretells the 'programme which will govern the world of liberated humanity'.

Every so often, history presents us with an amazing affirmation of our common humanity, a sense of continuity, the passing on of the torch. This applies supremely to Robert Burns’s song For A’ That.

Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, on 25 January 1759. He lived in an age of revolution: the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, the anti-slavery and anti-colonial revolution in Haiti and an agrarian revolution in Scotland, to name some landmark events. The capitalist modernisation of agriculture brought with it financial gain on the one hand, and social polarisation on the other – wealthy tenants versus a rural proletariat.

JF Dean Castle in 1790 Ayrshire 3

Dean Castle, Ayrshire, 1790

A class struggle in the modern sense ensued. Those owning the means of production, providing food to the battlefields and the industrial centres, made enormous profits. The poor had too little to live on, and financial crisis, hunger and tuberculosis swept over Scotland.

The dispossessed of Scotland, among them Robert Burns, warmly welcomed the new ideas coming from across the Atlantic. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal”, was joined a few years later by the French declaring a new era of liberty, equality and fraternity. At this time, in 1795, not long before his early death aged 37 in 1776, Burns wrote his most famous song For A’ That, a song celebrating and affirming the idea of the universal brotherhood of the dispossessed:

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave - we pass him by,  = we pass by the coward who is ashamed of his poverty
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,  = aristocratic rank is only the face stamped on a coin
The Man's the gowd for a' that.        = gold

At the heart of all of Burns’s poetry are the concerns of the ordinary people of Scotland. By addressing the specifics of their lives, Burns achieves a universality that applies to all working people. He gives voice to milkmaids and ploughmen, weavers and farmers’ wives, soldiers and travelling musicians, creating a cosmos in which ordinary folk can recognise themselves as part of a whole community. Such complete and realistic portrayal of the people asserts their common humanity and engenders pride in themselves, and a hatred for their enemies. Depictions like these help Burns’s readers to feel the conflict between their humanity and the misery they endure.

Ultimately, this portrayal of ordinary people points to the need for revolutionary change. This prophecy of communism – in the sense of a common cause, expressing the essential commonality of working people – lies at the core of Burns's poetry, and is perhaps most clearly articulated in For A' That. It reflects a sense of dignity, a scorn for the rich and a longing for universal brotherhood. The ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity are no abstract slogans, but already extant, rooted in the lives of the people, logical projections of their humanity.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.                = take the prize
For a' that, an’ a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

Ferdinand Freiligrath, a poet of the German bourgeois revolution of March 1848 to July 1849 (later a renegade), first translated For A’ That into German (Trotz Alledem) in 1843. Freiligrath, who knew Marx and Engels, was a member of the Bund der Kommunisten (Communist League - founded in London in 1847), and a member of the editorial board of the revolutionary daily Neue Rheinische Zeitung, published by Marx and Engels between 1848 and 1849.

Freiligrath picked up Burns’s torch of revolution.He changed the text of Trotz Alledem to suit the German situation, whilst retaining the title, rhythm, and main idea, and it was printed in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung on 6 June 1848. This text survives in the German political song movement to this day.

JF Rheinische

The final edition of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, printed in red ink. Its editors were threatened with arrest or exile. Marx emigrated to London.

On 8 November 1918, the German sailors’ mutiny in Kiel sparked revolutionary revolt across the country. When it reached Berlin, Karl Liebknecht proclaimed a free socialist republic of Germany. On the 9 November, Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg founded a new daily revolutionary paper, Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag) as the paper of the Spartacus League, of which they were the leaders, and shortly afterwards of the Communist Party, founded on 1 January 1919. Two weeks later, on 15 January 1919, both Liebknecht and Luxemburg were murdered.

Liebknecht wrote the editorial for 15 January the previous day. It is his final public statement, and his legacy. The article, seizing the torch of revolution, is entitled Trotz alledem (For all That) and ends:

The defeated of today will be the victorious of tomorrow. (…) The German working class’s way to Golgotha is not over ... we are accustomed to being flung from the peak into the depths. Yet our ship keeps a straight course firmly and proudly to its destination. And whether we will still be alive when this is achieved - our programme will live; it will govern the world of liberated humanity. For All That!

 JF window

This window can still be seen in the former GDR Council of State building in Berlin

For A’ That

by Robert Burns

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

The rich man
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Friday, 29 December 2017 23:12

Dilemma of Politeness

in Poetry
Written by

Dilemma of Politeness

by James Martyn Joyce

This is not about taking the final biscuit,
Or feigning gratitude for favours gained,
Nor questioning the swing of things in general,
Towards flaunting all the wealth
We’d managed to accumulate,
The only shortage being the time required,
To spend it, or enjoy it, or give it away,
Or not, as our version of the absolute decrees.

Neither is it the hunting of relationships,
Deleting affections from week to week,
Sliding down to the next sure thing,
Exploring the greener side of every hill,
In search of the bigger bar with nuts,
The latest cocktail frothing at the mouth,
The most potent mix injected or inhaled.
Or entombed in our bleak back-gardens,
Charcoal broiling for our thickening waists,
Or out beyond the coral reef, in the deep stuff,
Treading fast and watching for the fin.

No. But to observe the wrong step taken,
Recognise awareness and denial etched
In equal shares on a smug face.
To see the greatcoat turned,
The small-town yoke shook off,
To question nothing ever,
For the fear of finding flaws or losing face,
The caul of greed gripping the numbed heart.
This is our dilemma now.

A Disillusionment
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Friday, 29 December 2017 22:54

A Disillusionment

in Poetry
Written by

A Disillusionment

by Chris Norris

 It sounds counter-intuitive. How can the ‘Jewish State’ or the Zionist movement be anti-Semitic? But several of US President Donald Trump’s appointments have made it clearer than ever. He leads the most pro-Israel US administration in history, even while appointing key figures with anti-Semitic ties as his most important advisers.

- Asa Winstanley, Memo: Middle-East Monitor

The anti-Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith; at the outset he has chosen to devalue words and reasons . . . . How futile and frivolous discussions about the rights of the Jew [cf. Palestinian] appear to him . . . . If out of courtesy he consents for a moment to defend his point of view, he lends himself but does not give himself. He tries simply to project his intuitive certainty onto the plane of discourse.

But some will object: what if he is like that only with regard to the Jews [cf. Palestinians]? What if he otherwise conducts himself with good sense? I reply that that is impossible . . . . A man who finds it entirely natural to denounce other men cannot have our conception of humanity; he does not see even those whom he aids in the same light as we do. His generosity, his kindness, are not like our kindness, our generosity. You cannot confine passion to one sphere.

- Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Anti-Semite and Jew’

 (Note: ‘Bibi’ is the nickname, affectionate or otherwise, of Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel.)

My parents spoke of Israel
As of a Promised Land,
A place on which our dreams might dwell,
Though not (we'd understand)
A dwelling-place since its far spell
Could not be known first-hand
And some folk there had been through hell
En route for Haifa’s strand.

Still it remained my soul's ideal,
My youthful hope and dream,
That magic place-name that would steal
Upon me as the theme
Of reverie, though a country real
Enough for it to seem,
In bad times, the one name to heal
My wounded self-esteem.

For that, to me, was what it meant,
Aside from all the fuss
(As then I thought) about those sent
Away to clear for us,
Or ours, more Lebensraum that lent
A God-sent chance to bus
Or fly folk in and circumvent
Land-claims we'd not discuss.

But then the doubts began to crowd
Back in and wake a sense
Of what injustices allowed
My joy at their expense,
Those Palestinians, once a proud
And free-born people; whence
Their courage to endure unbowed
In rightful self-defence.

These five decades, since Israel fought
Its war for 'living-space',
I've watched the dream go sour and thought
Their talk of 'by God's grace'
The sort of thing routinely taught
When people make a case 
For causes desperately short
Of any moral base.

And now we've evidence, if more
Was needed, in the way
That Bibi's happy to ignore
The bulging dossier
With Trump's additions to the store
Of handy ways to play
The fascist card and give his core
Supporters a field-day.

For now I have to count the name
Of 'Israel' one we lump,
To its and my eternal shame,
With that of Donald Trump,
An anti-semite who would blame
'The Jews' as soon as plump
For Moslems or whoever came
In next for the high jump.

And then I think: was Sartre right
To say that what we mean
By 'Jew', or ought to mean in light
Of history, is seen
Most clearly in the victim-plight
Of everyone who's been
Killed, dispossessed, or put to flight
By hatred's lie-machine.

So 'anti-semite' would extend
Beyond its usual scope
To take in haters who depend
On 'Jews' to let them cope
With categories of foe and friend
So stark that they must grope
Around for scapegoats fit to lend
Their hate-crusade new hope.

For who, I ask you, wants or dares
To come straight out and state
The chosen-people case: that there's
Some type-specific trait,
Of grace or shame, that no-one shares
Who's not a candidate
For marking down as one of theirs
Or one they're bound to hate?

So I’m among the dispossessed,
An inner exile, though
I've only lost the dream that blessed
My early years, and so
Am now resolved to do my best
For those who undergo
Such pains as only the oppressed
In soul and body know.

Why then should I, deprived of all
I once believed in, keep
Faith with a state whose actions call
For me to take the leap
And say I’ve now crossed Bibi’s wall
With soul-wounds that go deep
Because such late-life Paul-to-Saul
Conversions don't come cheap.

Yes, I'm still 'Jewish', but the word
Now signifies, for me,
Whatever voices can't be heard,
Whoever lives unfree,
And those whose minds and hearts are stirred
By acts we daily see
When history’s victims, undeterred
By force, seek liberty.

So when they couple 'Zionist'
With (what seems quite insane)
'Anti-semitic' I insist
That first we ascertain
Just what they mean in case we've missed
Their point and it's the strain
Induced by that mind-wrenching twist
Of thought that's most germane.

All praise to those Israelis brave
Enough to stay around,
Confront the threats, and fight to save
The name in which they found,
Like me, a source of pride that gave
Fresh hope yet runs aground
More jarringly with each new wave
Of war-planes Gaza-bound.

For now the hate-name 'Arab' rings,
On every settler's tongue,
With a harsh resonance that brings
Back memories fresh sprung,
Like 'Jew', said brusquely, which still stings
Me now as once it stung
Years back, and other hurtful things
They'd say when I was young.

And, worse, we have to quell our rage
When Trump and Bibi use
Our history of victimage
As a means to excuse
Their choice of some new war to wage,
Which makes it seem us Jews
Are cast forever as front-page
And soul-destroying news.

Yet most of all it's this that drives
Me nearly to despair:
The thought that Palestinian lives
Should be the ones that bear
The lethal cost of what arrives
Like karma when we dare
To reenact a scene that thrives
On sufferings elsewhere.

Yet that's the hideous double-bind
They'd wish on us, those two
Gut-populists who’ve now combined
Their forces with a view
To ‘common interests’ redefined
So as to let them do
Whatever gets the mob behind
Their demagogic coup.

So if we’re so keen to appease
Our ‘ally' Trump, then how
Come he and his own allies seize
Each chance to re-avow
Those sentiments that show that he's,
Like them, one who'd allow
A pogrom-blitz if that would please
His followers right now.

So – pray forgive me if I rub
The lesson in too hard – 
What price our entry to the club
Of players with Trump card
If, from now on, we have to grub
Around for such ill-starred
Alliances as earn a snub
Even in our backyard?

Why then rebuke me when I stake
My faith on it that we've
A duty now, as Jews, to take
Our conscientious leave
Of any creed that, for the sake
Of striving to achieve
The New Jerusalem, would make
Us prone to self-deceive.

For there's no telling just how far
This grim charade might run
Before it hits a credence-bar
When we'll at last have done
With any rule that says we are
Required to honour none
But tales of faith that may now jar
No matter how they're spun.

You find me now, I must confess,
A man of darker mood
And one perhaps too keen to stress
These things on which I brood
Incessantly, though hoping less
For some new certitude
Than for some way to dispossess
Myself of hopes renewed.

It's when I think again of that
Embrace so warmly shared
Between the fascist plutocrat
And Bibi, aptly paired
As they may be, that I feel flat-
Out thankful to be spared
All last pretence of aiming at
The moral circle squared.

For who could make-believe the dream
Lives on now Israel's made
Its Faustian pact with Trump's regime
And bolstered the parade
Of those whose latest master-scheme,
Once all the plans are laid,
Leaves no place on the winning team
For their back-up brigade?

The Hate-Song of J. William Rees-Mogg
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Monday, 11 December 2017 14:14

The Hate-Song of J. William Rees-Mogg

in Poetry
Written by

The Hate-Song of J. William Rees-Mogg

by Chris Norris

My name is Jacob Rees-Mogg, and
I’ll have you peasants know
I'm here to save this precious land
From many a deadly foe.

I'm ten years old but please don't laugh;
I'm grown-up as can be.
I read the Daily Telegraph
And that’s the rag for me.

It's great, a name like J. Rees-Mogg;
It helps me meet celebs,
And keeps the tabloid press agog,
And wows the idiot plebs.

My way of talking’s a big plus:
Old man or pimply boy?
A cross between Gerontius
And Little Lord Fauntleroy.

CN jacob fresher images

But I have plans they cannot guess,
Those types who'll love to mock
My weird beliefs or style of dress;
They're in for quite a shock.

I like to say, when interviewed,
That my ambition's height
Is to have loads of dosh accrued
And put the nation right.

CN jacob William Rees Mogg images

Sometimes I like to flummox them,
Those interviewer-chaps,
By saying I'll become PM
By age eighteen, perhaps.

But really what most stirs my soul
And seems the better plan
Is casting myself in the role
Of Mosley, my main man.

CN jacob mosley staring

Already I've the right ideas
And the right attitudes
To make us two, across the years,
A hand-picked pair of dudes.

I look ahead and seem to see,
Like him eight decades back,
A fascist column proud and free
All dressed in shirts of black.

CN jacob mosley marching

I'll meet their chief ideologues,
Their neo-Nazi clones,
And love it when they tell me 'Moggs,
You're fascist in your bones'.

* * * * * * * *

And now I tick each box of theirs,
Those splendid chaps who find
In Trump a president who shares
Their every turn of mind.

Yet – here’s the neat bit – people say
‘Rees-Mogg’s a harmless fool’,
Or ‘Anyone who talks that way
Deserves plain ridicule.’

Meanwhile I hold forth all the time
On all my latest fads,
Like making birth-control a crime
Or anything that adds

To my large fan-base among those
Who think me just a clown
And those for whom my class-act goes
A whole lot deeper down.

For some watch film-clips and recall
How many folk would scoff
When Mosley spoke; yet still they fall
For any right-wing toff.

CN trump 3

It's still the same fifth-column stuff,
With Trump in Hitler's place,
And us his side-kicks keen enough
To push the fascist case.

This Brexit thing’s come bang on cue;
It’s set friend against friend,
Remobilized our street-mob crew,
And let me set the trend.

Meanwhile the Tory faithful choose
Me as their pin-up guy
And propagate my right-wing views
So followers multiply.

The beauty is, they’re simple folk
And know not what they speak,
Or half-suspect it’s all a joke
Amongst their Tory clique.

The Guardian sounds a warning note:
‘Don’t trust this man an inch
Or one day they’ll be at your throat,
Those who’ve long felt the pinch’.

‘For now’, its columnists intone,
‘This fraudster has their ear,
And though his head seems solid bone
His words are words to fear.’

But I can happily ignore
Their cautionary tales
Since for each reader twenty more
Pick up their Suns or Mails.

Else it will be some viral tweet
Passed on in that mixed mode
Of call-to-arms and ‘Can you beat
This guy?’ that they decode,

My readers, pretty much as taste
Or politics incline
Though few are favourably placed
To grasp my true design.

They said of Mosley he was our
Lost leader, one who might
Have done great things had lust-for-power
Not put his wits to flight.

CN jacob mosley salutes

Me, I’m much subtler in my bid;
I’m well prepared to wait
With powder dry and keep the lid
Tight lest it detonate.

For soon there’ll come a time when it’s
All up with bleeding hearts,
With those who say that Trump’s the pits,
Like his Brit counterparts,

Who think that I’m a nasty piece
Of work in clownish guise,
And whose emotions find release
In new things to despise.

I’ll keep it up, my fogey act,
But leave them in no doubt,
My trusty Blackshirts, of the fact
That what it’s all about

Is bringing on the day when we
Can raise our flag again
And celebrate the victory
Of true-born Englishmen.

Then there’ll be no more flannelling
To keep the Guardian quiet,
No delicate news-channelling
In case the peasants riot.

CN jacob with textimages

I’d come right out with it and nail
My theses to the door,
Except that Luther won’t prevail
With those who know the score.

For ours will be a nation ruled
By Catholic decrees,
Where women are from childhood schooled
Their men and God to please.

We’ll have no liberal talk of choice
But preach the right to life
And how each woman should rejoice
In what befits a wife.

For that’s God’s law as certified
By chaps, like J. R-M,
With God-appointed role of guide
To weaker souls like them.

Then we’ll be near to heaven on earth,
A heaven for all but pro-
Life activists who think of birth
As their gift to bestow,

Not God’s, or those poor infidels
Who question the command
Of scripture when it plainly tells
Truths given us first-hand.

So let them mock my speech so quaint,
My breakfast shirt and tie,
And say the patience of a saint
Is what my witterings try.

I’d just remind them: now we’ve Trump
And Boris plus the hordes
Of disaffected types who’ll plump
For anyone who lords

It over them like me and spouts,
In truth, a load of tosh
Yet wows them as he flaunts and flouts
The rules of being posh.

CN jacob top hat

Deny it as you may, I’ve tapped
Into a certain vein
Of Brit class-sentiment that’s apt
To go against the grain

Only for those who spot my ruse
And think back eight decades
To the last time when toffs would use
It on the hate-brigades.

So don’t desert me now, my loyal
Supporters from the ranks
Of those on whose delight in royal
Occasions our lot banks.

For we’ve deep things to draw upon
And old myths to revive
Which might see you lot dead and gone
While we still live and thrive.

 CN jacob hate tories











Patrick Kavanagh_monument at Grand Canal, Dublin
Thursday, 30 November 2017 16:25

Patrick Kavanagh

Written by
in Poetry

On the 50th anniversary of Patrick Kavanagh's death, Jenny Farrell draws out some of the political meanings of Patrick Kavanagh's poem Epic. 

The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh (21 October 1904 – 30 November 1967), who died fifty years ago, is not as well known internationally as he should be. He has been declared the greatest Irish writer after Yeats.

Kavanagh was born in a small village in the Irish countryside, his parents and his people were poor peasants. He left school at 13. He can be compared to John Clare in England and Robert Burns in Scotland. Like them, he wrote about the reality of peasant life, about the poverty of rural life, and the reality of a country dominated by the Catholic Church.

He writes an anti-pastoral, setting reality against a sentimentalised version of country life imagined by the educated city dwellers, or by influential figures such as Ireland’s first Prime Minister, Eamonn de Valera, whose romantic vision was expressed in a famous speech given in 1943, where he states:

The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live.

This was not the kind of Ireland that corresponded with reality. Kavanagh was the first writer to oppose this view and one of his great works, where he openly presents a realistic picture of rural Ireland is THE GREAT HUNGER.

It’s an ironic title as this is the Irish phrase for the Famine, a time of starvation, a huge national trauma that occurred in the mid-19th century and caused the unnecessary death of a million Irish and the emigration of many more. Kavanagh, however, does not refer to this Famine but to the starvation of the rural population and one farmer in particular, Maguire, of sex and the right to have a wife and a family.

It is a satire in a way, because nature will have its way and not everybody in Kavanagh’s home place lived by the rule of Catholic teachings. Kavanagh’s depiction of rural Ireland was anti-pastoral.

The poem I want to look at here, though, is a much shorter one. It emphasises the fact that if art is honest, unromanticised, unblinkered about its subject, and set in a specific time and place, then it will contain contact points for other people, in other places and times.


I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided; who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting ‘Damn your soul!’
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
‘Here is the march along these iron stones’
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.

The title creates the anticipation of a long poem about the deeds of legendary or heroic figures in the past history of a nation. Instead, we have before us a fourteen line poem, a sonnet. It is loosely based on a Shakespearean sonnet, which comes in three sections of four lines each and a two-line conclusion, the couplet.

In the first four lines (quatrain), Kavanagh creates a sense of irony: I have lived in important places, times/ When great events were decided: This is the stuff of an epic poem, we think, until we read on, as Kavanagh seems to joke with us, contradicting that expectation: who owned/ That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land/ Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims. Is this an incident of national importance? It would appear to be the opposite – a petty if at times deadly serious feud over an eighth of an acre (a tiny, tiny piece) of barren land.

In the second quatrain, the focus moves in on the parties ‘at war’; we visualise them and hear what they are shouting. The language the poet employs takes on a military tone: no-man’s land, Surrounded, armed. At the level of sound, the phrase Rood of rock is echoed in Surrounded, reinforcing the connection between the piece of land in question and its military defence. Pitchfork-armed suggests the deadly earnest and aggression accompanying the feud.

These people are prepared to kill for their claim. This evocation of  aggression and militarism is continued over the next 3 lines: I heard the Duffys shouting ‘Damn your soul’/ And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen/ Step the plot defying blue cast-steel - / ‘Here is the march along these iron stones’. The Duffys and McCabe are the two parties to the feud.

However, the line I heard the Duffys shouting ‘Damn your soul’ suggests other Duffys as well – Eoin O’Duffy’s supporters who in the 1930s were Ireland’s own would-be fascists, and extreme Catholics. They too could have been shouting ‘Damn your soul’ in Dublin around the time this poem is set. This connotation subtly introduces a national dimension to the local scene of rural aggression and threat.

It is developed even further in the image of McCabe marching around this tiny piece of land (plot): Step the plot defying blue cast-steel, the word step suggests goose-stepping Nazis and blue cast-steel surely evokes guns as well as describing the pitchforks, indeed the word plot is commonly used to refer to a grave.

Just like the Duffys before, McCabe is also quoted Here is the march along these iron stones. March means both border and to walk in a military fashion or indeed a military tune. And in this line, the stones are no longer simply rock, they are made of iron, just as cannons are.

All these references to warfare do not simply apply to the local row. They are suggestive of the situation in Europe in the 1930s, when O’Duffy’s men were around, and Hitler and Mussolini on the rise, preparing for war. The Spanish Civil war was being waged by anti-fascist republicans from Spain and around Europe against General Franco, who was supported by Germany and Italy. While Eoin Duffy fought on Franco’s side, there were also Irishmen fighting in the International Brigades on the Republican side against Franco.

In this way, the farmers’ readiness to kill reflects the atmosphere in Europe. And, as if to confirm what the reader has been thinking, the opening of the third quatrain confirms the year: That was the year of the Munich bother.

Kavanagh is referring to the Munich Agreement signed in September 1938, where Hitler, Mussolini and the prime ministers of Britain and France agreed to let Germany annex a part of Czechoslovakia - the Sudetenland) in an attempt to avoid a war. Why does Kavanagh describe this agreement as a bother? Because it was treacherous (it excluded Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union from the decision) and because it was simply a trick by Hitler.

While the poet on one level simply describes the feud between two farmers and then says that this happened in 1938, on another level he has given a sense of the increasing militarism of the 1930s in both Europe and Ireland.

In that sense, the question that follows the full stop in line 9 and goes on to the next line: Which/ Was more important? is not perhaps as simple as it may seem. Important refers back to epic and the poem’s opening lines about important places and great events. The images of the farmers have shown that they reflect their times even if their feuds and behaviour seem at first glance to be unconnected to the momentous events in Europe. But Kavangh continues to play with the ambiguity of the very local, the national and the international: I inclined/ To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin.

Interestingly, he continues the sentence without a full stop and says on the next line (to allow the reader to contemplate this choice for as fraction): Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind. This line brings the reader right back to the notion of epic as Homer is the author of two of the world’s greatest epic, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The final two lines in a Shakespearean sonnet sum up and comment on the twelve lines that go before. Kavanagh does the same here as he ‘quotes’ Homer: He said: I made the Iliad from such/ A local row. This is perfectly true. The battle of Troy, the story of which the Iliad tells, raged for ten years and was ostensibly over the minor event of Helena’s ‘abduction’ from Greece (Sparta) by the Trojan Paris (she went along with him of her free will). However, what makes Homer’s Iliad an epic is the way he writes about it, not the cause of the battle. The poem’s final statement could be uttered both by Homer or Kavanagh: Gods make their own importance. 

This is another reference to the Iliad where the Greek gods all take sides in the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans. It is the fact that Homer fills the poems with the legends of the Greeks that makes this epic poem such a central piece of Greek and indeed European culture.

In other words, even if a poet writes about a local row, the way he writes about it can give it greater political significance, make it important to the way a nation sees itself. Kavanagh is thus not only giving us a sense of the general political situation in Ireland and in Europe, but showing us how poetry itself has a political function in the way it connects the personal and the political.

on that day
Wednesday, 29 November 2017 23:32

on that day

Written by
in Poetry

on that day

by Steve Pottinger

on that day
when we can barely hear ourselves think
for the pealing of church bells
the cheering of crowds
when the pubs are full 
and the street parties last 
till every bottle’s empty
and the sun is crawling over the rooftops
for the third time

when we wake on strangers’ sofas
on buses and in parks
face down on tables in the kitchen
of houses in towns at the other end of the country
holding the keys to someone else’s car
with no idea how we got there
praying to god for alka-seltzer
saying how we’ll never drink again

we’ll know we were there
wherever it was
whoever we were with
whatever it was we did
(or didn’t do)
on that day
that blessed day
when Donald Trump learned to love himself

the late-at-night-behind-closed-doors self-loving
in front of the laptop
not the live-streamed-from-a-Moscow-hotel-room self-loving
where the girls do that thing he loves
make the right encouraging noises
and never draw attention
to his tiny desperate hands

not that
cast that image from your mind

cast it further

on that day
that happy day
the stars and the planets find some new alignment
butterflies flutter in joyful formation 
over the last patch of rainforest
and the gods of all the major religions
pause from their eternal game of paintball
shrug their shoulders 
decide to toss us a bone

and so it is
on that glorious day
locked in the bathroom with his morning stink
Donnie pauses before the mirror
as he washes his hands
and sees for the first time ever

not the coward who dodged the draft
not the braggart who has no friends
not the mediocre businessman
propped up by daddy’s money
not the misogynist who lacks the balls
to make amends
not the climate-change denier
not the birther
not the racist
not the instinctive liar
who tweets bullshit with no basis
not Putin’s little puppet
not the purveyor of fake news
not the most inadequate of presidents
unable to fill others’ shoes

he sees the lost child he once was
the dreams he once harboured
the readiness to see the best in others
the happiness and innocence and hope
and Donald drops to his knees 
by the toilet bowl and sobs 
among the splash stains and the soap
picks up his phone and types


and across the planet
the party starts
seven billion people giving it large
on the terrestrial dancefloor
pensioners necking more booze 
than you could ever shake their stick at
gangsters loved up on pills and purple hearts

on day two, things got so crazy
we even let Theresa May join in
and as the pair of us sat round a fire 
doing tequila slammers
with the stars twinkling overhead
she took another crafty toke and said

comrade, be realistic 
about what this does
and doesn’t mean
– I leaned in to hear her
above the din of marching bands –
let’s not forget
it’s one very small step

but it’s still bigger than his tiny hands.

Migrants: a dialogue
Wednesday, 29 November 2017 14:37

Migrants: a dialogue

Written by
in Poetry

Migrants: a dialogue

by Chris Norris

Some certainly recognized the suffering of the migrants concerned, but comments beneath a Daily Mail article included the following: ‘Isn’t it about time these people stayed to sort out the mess in their own countries instead of running away?’; and ‘Hard as it may seem, the only solution is to send all of them (without exception) back to the port where they came from’ . . . . These are not the comments of people simply too absorbed in their own lives to dwell on the suffering of distant people. They express an active resistance against the ethical claim that these migrants’ suffering might make upon the authors.
- Julia O’Connell Davidson, ‘Migration, Suffering and Rights’

We've travelled many seas, my love,
We've travelled many lands,
For when you're refugees, my love,
There's no-one understands;
Sometimes I think the Lord above
Just wants us off his hands.

Shall we not rest awhile, my dear,
Shall we not stop to rest?
I weaken mile by mile, my dear,
And still we travel West,
And still those looks that say: you're here
An uninvited guest.

Don't take it so to heart, my sweet,
Don't let it cloud your days.
If those dark looks should start, my sweet,
Don't mind their curious ways,
And should they curse when they should greet
Think naught of such displays.

But how shall we survive, my chuck,
These endless days and nights?
How keep our hopes alive, my chuck,
When black despair invites,
When it's our being out-of-luck
That brands us parasites?

Let's trust we're through the worst, my pet,
Let's trust there's light ahead;
Else it would seem we're cursed, my pet,
And dark-ward bound instead.
No cause for deathly thoughts just yet
Though some might wish us dead.

But that Home Office man, my love,
That man who spoke so soft,
He said we'd better plan, my love,
And then he sort-of coughed
As if to say: push come to shove
You'll both be upped and offed.

Don't worry about him, my dear,
Don't fret about him still.
He said it on a whim, my dear,
And didn't mean us ill,
Although the episode struck fear
In us, as these things will.

But that's the least of it, my sweet,
The least of all our woes,
For others say 'just quit', my sweet,
'Or we'll soon come to blows'.
They wear black t-shirts in the street
With words that punch your nose.

And there's the UKIP folk, my chuck,
Or hard-core Brexiteers,
Who'd kick us at a stroke, my chuck,
Beyond their state frontiers,
Or otherwise make sure we're stuck
In holding-cells for years.

It's here the seas run dry, my love,
It's here the lands run out.
We've fetched up you and I, my love,
And should we send a scout
Or else, like Noah, a questing dove
It might search far about.

For it's a shallow sea, my dear,
And it's an angry land,
And migrants – you and me, my dear –
Are so much contraband
Brought in by some smart racketeer
When there's the job-demand.

But here we'll have to wait, my sweet,
Just wait until they find
Some other folk to hate, my sweet,
And bring them peace of mind.
For hate-campaigns go down a treat
With fearful humankind.

So don't give in to rage, my chuck;
Don't give in to despair.
Just turn another page, my chuck,
To see what's written there
And try to make-believe we'll pluck
Some blessing from thin air.

O it’s white lies you tell, my love,
Yet lies so kindly meant
That when they cast their spell, my love,
I’m instantly content
To fancy all I'm dreaming of
Made true should fate relent.

Yet it’s just lies they told, my dear,
Not wishful truths but lies,
Those swine who had us sold, my dear,
On hell in heaven's guise,
And made this hostile zone appear
A haven in our eyes.

CN migrants life jackets cropped thumb large

Endless shit stain (perpetual motion)
Wednesday, 22 November 2017 18:16

At Service or Brexit

Written by
in Poetry

At Service or Brexit

by Alan Dunnett

In the timings is some dislocation.
All the cogs seem oiled. You pull and again
at the lever. Each day, it is harder,

sweating underground while the batteries
get low. Each day, the end-count is smaller.
There is a dull continuing. Hands reach

through the cage for bread at agreed hours.
On more occasions, the system is sunk
until the complainers are proved correct

but there is no exodus into light
and there is no contingency plan. Stuck
in a diminishing with bones turning

yellow, you pull at the lever, all pull
but nothing works. Silence starts, then is still. 

Alix Emery, the artist who provided the brilliant accompanying image, lives and works in London. She has had work exhibited at Tate St Ives, Birmingham Hippodrome, The Truman Brewery, Tenderbooks, The House of Blah Blah, and PS Mirabel. She is in her final year, studying BA Fine Art, at Central Saint Martins.

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