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

The Trouble with Monsters
Saturday, 02 September 2017 12:55

The Trouble with Monsters

Written by
in Poetry

The Trouble with Monsters

by Chris Norris

Quick way with monsters: send a hero out
For mortal combat: sometimes he'll prevail
And kill the beast, while other times he'll fail
And it will be his death that ends the bout.

The point is, those old poets had it right,
Those Greeks, and Romans, and the guy (or guys)
Of Anglo-Saxon stock whose epic vies
With theirs as Beowulf goes forth to fight

First Grendel, then his mother, she whose sheer
Brute strength and monstrous bulk he hacks to death
But only to yield up his dying breath
In the last act of his renowned career.

cn beowulf

We have our modern monsters, but they tend
More often to emerge from some bad place
Within our home-domain, not some wild space
Beyond it where all codes and kinships end.

From every source these modern monsters spring:
From corporate culture, from the daily trade
In weapons of mass-murder, from the made-
To-measure ranks of lying hacks who bring

Our daily news, from the assorted fools
And rogues lined up for a safe Tory seat
Post-Oxbridge, or from teachers keen to beat
The kids just like in their old public schools.

CN bj 20145 Boris Johnson wins seat MP

But now we have new monsters of a kind
Unknown in earlier times because their lair
Is deep within a psychic space they share
With fifty million others of a mind

To have their worldview, politics, and sense
Of right and wrong conditioned daily by
The sorts of TV show that amplify
Bad vibes long quelled in reason's self-defence.

It's monstrous emanations such as these,
Rough beasts that slouch from all our TV screens,
Whose aspect takes us closest to those scenes
Of epic strife and somehow holds the keys

To all our deep-commingled dreads and fears,
As well as savage impulses that drive
The moguls and press-barons to connive
At each assault on decency's frontiers.

CN adolf hitler reichskanzler 1933

Our last real monster turned up nine decades
Back and did all the usual monster-stuff -
Killed millions out of some long-rankling huff,
Laid countries waste, recruited his brigades

Of street-thugs early on from folk bereft
Of money, life-hopes, pride, or self-respect,
And so, like Grendel, carried on unchecked
Till desperate remedies alone were left.

Now we've another monster on the loose,
One just as bad in many ways and worse
In some, since we've now further cause to curse
The advent of a president obtuse

And infantile enough to blow us all
To kingdom come if goaded by some stray
Remark, or say 'Just weather!’ come what may
Of hurricanes by way of wake-up call.

CN dt

We think 'if only', and routinely hold
Them in the highest honour, those who tried
But failed to stem the rising fascist tide
By monster-slaying, some of them extolled,

Like Bonhoeffer, as heroes with a claim
To sainthood while so many others, known
Or unknown to us, left their safety-zone
To venture on a last and lethal game.

Our current monster preys on all the ills
Of ignorance, stupidity, and greed
That fed his viewing-figures and his need
To see that every whim directly spills

Into the Twitter-sphere no matter if
It's sub-moronic, apt to spark a war,
Designed to show a hapless aide the door,
Or his last shot in some crass ‘fake news’ tiff.

Yet it's a case borne out by monsters down
From Roman times that they're no less a threat
To humankind for being apt to get
Their kicks in imbecilic ways, or clown

It up at just those times when all depends,
If not on their appearing wise or shrewd,
Then on their not indulging some wild mood-
Swing prone to make new enemies of old friends.

That Mark One monster might have been dispatched
At any time from nineteen-thirty-three
To forty-four, a fine thing – you'll agree –
Since who’d blame plotters for a game-plan hatched

To rid the world of one who, as things went
In brutal truth, survived to leave his mark,
As will this monster if left to embark
On half the crimes that seem his fixed intent?

That's why they got it right, those epic bards,
About what's best to do when monsters strike
And why perhaps, in special cases like
The present, it's the role of bodyguards,

Not some resurgent Beowulf, to show
The highest civic virtue and the sort
Of courage that inspired those long-ago
Folk-heroes to cut monster-stories short.

CN Karl Theodor von Piloty Murder of Caesar 1865


Grenfell: 'social murder' is that crime's name
Tuesday, 29 August 2017 19:48

Grenfell: 'social murder' is that crime's name

Written by
in Poetry

A Blaze That Did Not Need To Burn

by David Betteridge

I am nothing and I should be everything... - Karl Marx


The best part of the building was the people in it.

They made of its doomed fabric, homes:

homes that for many, at a stroke,

in an upward avalanche of fire,

became their graves. 

                          One dead

in a blaze that did not need to burn

would be a great crime; but there were more,

choked and charred, beyond counting,

every death foreseeable and forewarned.

They were killed by neglect’s slow hand,

in contempt’s quick flame.

Social murder is that crime’s name.

Who but madmen clad a building

in a stuff that burns, and airily dismiss

their tenants’ grounded fears?

Who - unless a cold, self-serving class that,

counting others nothing, ranks itself supreme?

Grenfell: say the word quick, and we sense

“green” and “field”: but there is nothing here,

now, that speaks of any bright

and pleasant thing.

                       Black is the colour

of this towering monument to corporate wrong,

this pigeon-loft for people and their rich dreams,

this block of execution cells, this funeral pyre,

this place of long mourning and sharp ire.

You who designed this wreck,

look on the evidence stacked up that proves

your complicity in taking, with your profits,

lives: you stand condemned.

                                      We, the many,

who are nothing in your unjust land,

also look; we learn from Grenfell Tower.

Its black text reads:

We should be everything, authors of our own ends

in our own names, seizing and holding,

in our own safe hands,


Author's Note

The motto text for my poem is taken from Karl Marx’s An Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843). Of course, when Marx wrote, “I am nothing and I should be everything”, he was waxing a bit poetical himself. The “I” that he propounded was not himself, nor any individual, and certainly not the ego that Max Stirner was soon to write about in The Ego and Its Own (1845). No, the “I” that should be everything is the mythic voice of Revolution, as is made clear when the motto is put in its proper context:

It is only in the name of the general interest that a particular class can claim general supremacy... that revolutionary daring which throws at its adversary the defiant phrase: “I am nothing and I should be everything.”

In the poem, I have changed “I” to “we”, to make its collective nature doubly clear. In the thirteenth line of the poem, I level the charge of “social murder” against those who designed, built and mis-managed those aspects of Grenfell Tower that contributed to the catastrophic spreading of a fire in one of the Tower’s constituent flats to so many others, with so many deaths. The charge is carefully chosen, being used with the meaning given to it by Friedrich Engels, in his classic work of investigation and analysis, The Condition of the Working Class in England, written during his stay in Manchester from 1842 to 1844. A lot has changed since then, but some things remain the same:

When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.

I have now to prove that society in England daily and hourly commits what the working-men's organs, with perfect correctness, characterise as social murder, that it has placed the workers under conditions in which they can neither retain health nor live long; that it undermines the vital force of these workers gradually, little by little, and so hurries them to the grave before their time. I have further to prove that society knows how injurious such conditions are to the health and the life of the workers, and yet does nothing to improve these conditions. That it knows the consequences of its deeds; that its act is, therefore, not mere manslaughter, but murder, I shall have proved, when I cite official documents, reports of Parliament and of the Government, in substantiation of my charge.

John McDonnell levelled this charge of “social murder” against the guilty parties in the Grenfell Towers case, notably on TV (16 July, 2017), and so did others, most importantly the Grenfell Action Group, who wrote in their blog that,

What happened wasn’t a ‘terrible tragedy’ or some other studio-sofa platitude: it was social murder.

Engels’s criteria, spelled out above, apply with horrible force to the killing of the Grenfell Tower residents. They also apply to the multitudes of lives diminished, hurt, exploited, and truncated over many generations, both before and after Engels’s time - victims of an economic “order” that puts its own requirements first, and beggar the rest.

DB engels ancoats in the 1870s 2


Grenfell: for the victims
Saturday, 26 August 2017 15:38

Grenfell: for the victims

Written by
in Poetry

Author's Note: Joyce Grenfell (1910-1979) was a British actor, singer and stage entertainer who specialised in comic monologues and achieved huge popularity in the decades following World War Two. Among her best-known imaginary monologue-speakers was a teacher of very young children, among them George who was more than once asked to stop doing something (nature undisclosed). Grenfell Tower was named in her memory.

George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer between 2010 and 2016. He – or his advisors – promoted the drastic and divisive creed of ‘austerity’ that inflicted great damage on many aspects of British social, communal and political life. The cuts to local authority spending on health and safety regulation were adduced by some as having contributed to the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower.


'George, don't do that': Joyce Grenfell in the role
Of hard-pressed infant teacher, trying not
To let it get her down or lose control,
But at a stage where things have clearly got
Just a bit much and now she's left in sole
Charge of this endlessly demanding lot
Of noisy five-year-olds. What really stole
The show was having listeners wonder what
He, George, was doing and how she'd cajole
Him out of doing it, first by a spot
Of gentle blandishment, then, as the toll
On her nerves grew, by adding just a shot
Of reprimand, and lastly – as the whole
Class seemed to sense a lesson gone to pot –
By one more plea before the bell, with droll
Yet perfect timing, closed her lesson-slot.

'George, don't do that': don't give us all that spiel
About austerity, the debt, how we're
'All in this thing together', or how we'll
Just have to pull our belts in and adhere
To your fine plan for cutting a great deal
With your old banker pals. We've done 'austere'
For long enough to guess it's us who'll feel
The pinch alright and them who'll stand to clear
A fortune when the billions you steal
From those who put the work in yield their year-
On-year fat bonus. Know what made it real,
What brought it home, that sense we had of sheer
Unutterable rage? That you could seal
Your devil's pact and no one interfere
To bring those crooks to justice or reveal
The swindle in a reckoning more severe.

'George, don't do that': for Christ's sake don't pretend
You haven't grasped the Grenfell link, or take
The standard Tory view that one can bend
The safety rules and regs for profit's sake
So long as those affected are low-end
In status terms, with no financial stake
Or friends and influence that might extend
Beyond their local patch. And, just to make
The point more plainly: when the plan’s to spend
A bit less on the stuff for those fire-break
Partitions in the high-rise towers, or mend
The cracks less frequently, it's in the wake
Of all your government directives penned
By jobsworth types who know just how the cake
Gets sliced. Losers and immigrants, my friend:
Don’t fret too much if cladding starts to flake.

You'll do that, George, you'll let the paupers fry
(Crass metaphor: forgive the vulgar taste)
So long as they're the ones who just get by,
Or don't, while you and your lot are well-placed
To fix it so that no-one gets a try
At changing things. If we lament the waste
Of talents, lives, or chances not to die
A needless death because you lot embraced
'Austerity', then no doubt you'll reply
With some glib chunk of right-wing wisdom based
On trickle-down. This aims to justify
What's really plain old dog-eat-dog showcased
In think-tank talk to stop us asking why
They've not run riot, those survivors faced
With the charred tower each day while some rich guy
Like you says let's not act with too much haste.

But how to stop you, George, how make the kind
Of full-scale revolution that they’ll need,
Those tenants yet to come, if we're to find
Some remedy for scenes like this and heed
The hard-won lesson that it leaves behind,
That blackened witness to the Osborne creed
That, by malignant chemistry, combined
Mammon with Moloch, your sharp-suited greed
With everything the system does to grind
Its victims down. But then, a point that we'd
Do well to keep continually in mind
Is how keen the survivors were to lead
Discussion back to life-hopes intertwined
With Grenfell Tower and show how we'll misread
Their testimony should our anger blind
Us to the fact that those hopes may succeed

Despite the heaviest odds. That's because they're
Flat contrary to every point of your
Unspoken doctrine: that the poor should bear
The greatest burden just because they're poor,
Or just because they've not yet done their share
To fill the vast tax-coffers destined for
Long-planned redistribution on the fair
(By your lights) principle which goes: the more
Ye have, the more shall what ye have declare
You worth ten times as much. The Grenfell score
Looks bad on your side, George, if we compare
Your moral credit-rating (through the floor!)
To high-rise tenants with no cash to spare
Yet with the guts and dignity to shore
Against disaster. 'Ta'en too little care'
You have, like Lear; these deaths you can't ignore.




Lugalbanda: lyrical, topical and extraordinarily relevant
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Wednesday, 23 August 2017 21:08

Lugalbanda: lyrical, topical and extraordinarily relevant

in Poetry
Written by

Mike Quille introduces the new version of the ancient Sumerian epic poem Lugalbanda, produced by Doug Nicholls, Secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unions.

How can a poem 5,000 years old speak to us so attractively, and with such contemporary relevance? The Notes that Doug Nicholls has written to accompany his striking new version of Lugalbanda give clear and detailed explanations of the history of the poem, the literary skill underpinning its lyrical beauty, and its political relevance today. But before you read the Notes, read the poem, and appreciate the world it comes from. Let it charm you with its vividness, lyricism and profound humanism.

Doug suggests that we approach this and all ancient poetry not as mysteries or myths lost in the distance of time, but as examples of poetic engagements with realities that we still encounter. So when reading the poem, think about the similarities as well as the differences between the world of the poem and our world. What is like you and us in the poem, what qualities do we share with Lugalbanda?

He is an heroic figure from the first civilisation to invent writing, the wheel, law, architecture, agriculture, irrigation, and many other human firsts, which developed in the lands between the Tigris and Euphrates that are now occupied by the troubled regions of Iraq and Syria. Lugalbanda survives abandonment in the wilderness, where he is left to die after falling sick whilst out with a war party, out marching to invade a neighbouring city and steal its property and its land.

In his desolation he finds the chick of a great monster bird living in the mountains. He decides to pamper and nurture the chick as its parents hunt bulls and other creatures of the mountains. As a reward for nurturing the chick he is offered great powers and riches by the chick’s father, Anzu. Yet nothing Anzu offers will please Lugalbanda, so he requests something even more powerful. He is granted his request of an amazing, creative force and power.

This request and what it symbolises is at the heart of the poem’s insight. It is an incredible choice and in making it and in exercising his new found powers, Lugalbanda changes to embody the most complex  and distinctive of human essences. As you read the poem consider what you think this power is, and then whether the Notes expresses its true meaning.

At one level the poem recounts an episode within a wider epic of adventures about the first city states and their culture. Its diction is delightful, sparkling with images of the natural world as experienced at that time, with its fish, flowers, animals and imagined gods. It is about the first wars and the first longings for peace in the region. It expresses – and embodies – the stupendous power of human beings, both creative and destructive. It speaks to us of the joys of communication and social interaction. It recalls the pre-civilised existence of human beings and the creation of the first agricultural and urban centres.

Above all it identifies something about the nature of human beings that has exceptional importance to us today. Making this discovery anew is one of the great pleasures of the poem, and makes re-reading it today a brilliant experience. You will ask yourself, how can such an ancient poem be so timely?

Read on, study the Notes and see how the voice of an unknown poet or poetess, most likely building on a still older collective oral culture from the dawn of human society, sings with a voice like ours.

This new version by Doug Nicholls of Lugalbanda is attractive, topical and extraordinarily relevant today. It is exactly the kind of cultural project that Culture Matters was set up to publish and promote, and we are proud and privileged to do so.

Lugalbanda is available here.

K2_PUBLISHED_ON Wednesday, 02 August 2017 06:00


in Poetry
Written by


by Sheree Mack

The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of the African people....It is the story of the loss of our ancient freedom...(and) of our reduction to the state of objects who could be owned, used and discarded by others - Thabo Mbeki, 2002.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when they cage her like an animal
when they put her on the stage
and when they throw abuse her way.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when she is told to walk up and down
when she is forced to parade her wares
and when they ask her to smile.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when she sees their curiosity
when she sees their fear,
and when it spills out into
the room like dis-ease.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when he pokes her with his cane,
when she pinches her cheeks
and when he asks is all this junk real.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when she sees their disgust
when they make her the 'other'
and when they call her a freak.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when they pull back her apron
when she hears all sorts of cries and jeers
when they peer deep inside

Pardon I human

is what she says
when she signed the contract
when he promised her half of the takings
when he promised to return her home.

Pardon I human

is what she says
when she burns to see the veld again
when dark beady eyes surround her
and when the ugly voices get excited.

Pardon I human

is what she would have said, if she could,
when they waxed her skin
when they fossilized her genitals
and when they pickled her brain.

And when they put her body parts on display in a museum
when for years to come, she continued to be
a freak show in death as she was in life.

Pardon I human.

Sarah Baartman (before 1790 – 29 December 1815) was exhibited as a freak show attraction in 19th century Europe under the name Hottentot Venus.

The Peterloo Massacre
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Wednesday, 26 July 2017 06:00

More than ‘Rise like lions’: Shelley beyond The Mask of Anarchy

in Poetry
Written by

Mike Sanders writes about Shelley 'the Chartist poet' as a catalyst for working class creativity, how he envisioned a communist society, and how the privileged classes refused to hear the revolutionary meanings of his poems.

One of the unexpected features of the recent General Election campaign was the ‘co-opting’ of a long-dead Romantic poet as a speech-writer by Team Corbyn. Many of Jeremy Corbyn’s speeches ended with the recitation of the closing lines from Shelley’s ‘The Mask of Anarchy’:

Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many, they are few.

These lines written almost two hundred years ago in response to the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ have long been part of the Left’s cultural memory – anthologised, repeated and recycled for the best part of two centuries. I first encountered them as a teenage punk rocker in 1980 on the back cover of the Jam’s Sound Affects album and the discovery prompted me to buy a selection of Shelley’s poetry from a local second-hand bookshop. In that dog-eared volume, I discovered a poet who could give better shape and expression to some of my own rather more inchoate ideas about the society I lived in and my hopes for a better future.

Subsequently, I came to understand that previous generations of workers had also found in Shelley’s words, ‘resources for their own journey of hope’ (to adapt Raymond Williams’ wonderful phrase). Working-class appreciation and recognition of Shelley began relatively early. Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England observes; 

Shelley, the genius, the prophet, Shelley, and Byron, with his glowing sensuality and his bitter satire upon our existing society, find most of their readers in the proletariat; the bourgeoisie owns only castrated editions, family editions, expurgated in accordance with the hypocritical morality of today.

Shelley’s long poem Queen Mab was often described as “the Chartist’s Bible". Indeed, there is a sense in which Shelley is a Chartist poet insofar as many of his more overtly political poems, such as ‘Song to the Men of England’, were first published in 1839. 

The poetry column of the Northern Star, the leading Chartist newspaper, attests to Shelley’s importance as a catalyst for working-class creativity. In particular, Shelley’s ‘Song to the Men of England’ is reworked a number of times by various Chartist poets. I would like to suggest that this poem, which identifies the inverse relationship between production and consumption as moral obscenity as well as economic injustice, is even more important than ‘The Mask of Anarchy’. The poem begins with a series of questions intended to highlight the paradoxical way in which the economy distributes economic rewards:

Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Wherefore feed and clothe and save
From the cradle to the grave
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat—nay, drink your blood?

Replace “lords”, “tyrants” and “drones” with “bankers” and “bosses” and you have a concise summary of our current economic woes. But Shelley does not rest there, he continues by observing that the workers also produce the means of their own political oppression:

Wherefore, Bees of England, forge
Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,
That these stingless drones may spoil
The forced produce of your toil?

Next, Shelley asks his readers if they enjoy the key features of a genuinely human life?

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,
Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm?
Or what is it ye buy so dear
With your pain and with your fear?

Thus far, the poem consists of a series of questions designed both to defamiliarise and thereby make visible the structural features of the economic order. These questions also invite the reader to think. However, in the second half of the poem statements predominate, as Shelley offers two very different views of the future. The first of which is the maintaining of the current economic and political order:

The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps;
The robes ye weave, another wears;
The arms ye forge, another bears.

The second envisages a future in which there is a direct correlation between production and consumption.

Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap:
Find wealth—let no imposter heap:
Weave robes—let not the idle wear:
Forge arms—in your defence to bear.

In the poem’s penultimate verse, Shelley makes clear that social change will require resistance and courage on the part of the oppressed. The “drones” will indeed shed, if not drink, blood to preserve their privileges if necessary:

Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells—
In hall ye deck another dwells.
Why shake the chains ye wrought? Ye see
The steel ye tempered glance on ye.

In the final stanza, Shelley makes clear that the choice is one between life and death.

With plough and spade and hoe and loom
Trace your grave and build your tomb
And weave your winding-sheet—till fair
England be your Sepulchre.

The clarity with which Shelley both identifies the structures of exploitation and oppression, and identifies two very different visions of England’s future in this poem goes some way to explaining the different assessments of his work in the Nineteenth Century (and beyond). The privileged classes simply refused to hear this Shelley, preferring to construct him as a naïve dreamer – “A beautiful and ineffectual angel” to quote Matthew Arnold.

The Chartists and their successors heard a different Shelley. They heard a Shelley who was in no doubt as to either the necessity or the difficulty of securing political and economic change. The “Rise like lions” passage is inspiring, but if we read it in isolation there is a danger of seeing it as a promise of easy victory. For Shelley, the murdered victims at Peterloo were sufficient testament that there would be no easy victory. And the same is surely true for us today.


Justice 4 Grenfell
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Saturday, 22 July 2017 06:00

Justice 4 Grenfell

in Poetry
Written by

Justice 4 Grenfell

by Zita Holbourne

So many lives that never needed to end
Trapped in a fire box, no way to defend
From the fury of flames spreading rapidly
Imagine how frightening this must be

They built ghettos in the sky to hide us away
Boxed in on top of each other without a say
Placed those who have children on the highest floors
No gardens to play so they're stuck indoors

Treated like inferior people
Never seeing us as relevant or equal
Disregarded then and disregarded now
Like its okay to treat us anyhow

Wrapped the tower up in a flammable cloak
Ignited in the night so the flames and smoke
Took lives, belongings & dreams for the future
What once was their home became their abuser

The residents warned of the dangers for years
Whilst those in charge didn't just ignore their fears
But threatened young women with legal action
Claiming their cries were an over reaction

Now they with many others perished in the fire
Little chance to survive for those who were higher
Like the mother of a 7 month baby
Twenty four floors high descending to safety

But no way to escape, she couldn't get free
A whole life ahead for that tiny baby
Taken away because her life didn't matter
To those who ought to have cared and known better

Mothers, fathers, grandparents and babies died
Children and entire families tried
To escape from the flames before it was too late
Before they were assigned to a horrific fate

Many saved their families and neighbours
Some before that night may have been total strangers
Fire fighters couldn't stop the fire
Because of the cladding it spread higher

Some people were trapped for several hours
Calling from windows across to other towers
Even throwing their children to people below
Desperate to save their loved ones from the fire's glow

After. The humanity of communities
In stark contrast to that of the authorities
Whilst survivors find themselves homeless and displaced
Lack of action by government, complete disgrace

Failing to organise support on the ground
With devastation happening all around
People traumatised and searching for loved ones
Hoping help would come from someone - anyone

On the ground a floor of floral tributes grows
And on every surface the faces of those
Who died or are declared missing are smiling
At the memorial wall, we stand crying

Looking in sorrow at the beautiful faces
We hold each other tightly in warm embraces
While looming over us the burned out shell
Once full of the lives of those who used to dwell

Now a vertical mass coffin in the sky
Where forensic tests must identify
Too many who were unable to get away
And below a sense of disbelief and dismay

The cry for answers and justice rings in the air
And for those who have lost it's too much to bear
The pain and the anguish fills each day and night
Displaced, grieving, yet finding the strength to fight

While the authorities take donations away
The community is there every day
To bring those who survived love and support
But basic needs ought not need to be fought

Nobody who's been through what they have been through
Should have to navigate, search, ask for or queue
Or have to live, even temporarily
In a crowded boxroom, unnecessarily

Or be orphaned, alone, grieving and homeless
While those who are negligent, seem not to care less
Ahead - years fighting for justice for everyone
What happened to them can never be undone

If it were not for the community
There's no knowing where they would be
And meanwhile a long battle for justice ensues
There's no justification and no excuse

What happened to residents of Grenfell Tower
Is the responsibility of those in power
None of us should rest until we see justice is served
And those responsible get what they deserve

Some try to say we shouldn't politicise
But if they stopped a moment to analyse
They'd see that everything about it is
If you're in any doubt just consider this

Seven years with the effects of austerity
More and more cuts without accountability
Add to that outsourcing and privatisation
Deepening injustice and discrimination

Security, safety and peace of mind
Shouldn't be things we have to seek and find
Working class people's lives are not lessons to be learned
We must never forget the night that Grenfell burned.

Grenfell 3

Friday, 21 July 2017 18:01


Written by
in Poetry


by Robert Farrell

One hears and moves toward it. One moves, but is
Not in it, what does not
Keep but flowers forth. We aren’t it. It is
What lets the sky appear,
The sunrise rise to site a circle in
Hills whose rocks refuse to
Recognize themselves in us. It’s good they
Let us be. It’s why we’re
Here. And certain there is play and kinship
When children jump, and sheep,
Or bells take wing from ice cream trucks. Here it
Is, in hills that ring the
Ringing rocks and us, in walls that ward, not
As fences that enclose
Parks, but as a windbreak protects the field
Or olive trees the grape-
Filled vine. We’re free to roam. It’s our right to
Amble out beyond the
Gate. Not nature but valor sustains it,
Yet much depends upon
Conditions. Young shoots need water and fruits
Are only proved on tongues.
They flourish then are gone. An everyday
Struggle it is to stand
And breathe and, in the breathing, live. There is
Nothing stranger. We are
Tourists. It is a wandering thing. So
Many pictures that we
Wonder what will nourish us, what it is,
And where we’ll go to find
Our rocks and what to build, how we’ll know
Our arts will yield the strength
We need to harden hearts to fear but not
To love. Benny Rothman
Once touched it in 1932 when
He stood atop Kinder
Scout with four hundred fellow ramblers, Rothman,
The child of immigrants
(Romanian Jews), a boy who left school
Despite the place he’d won
At fourteen (his son would study science
And get a PhD).
The family needed money. He was then
An errand boy. Later
He’d build a bike from parts he scrounged from scrap.
It was on that bike he
Rode from Manchester to Wales, there to hike
Up Snowdon. It was his
First time in the mountains and he tasted
Freedom there, traced a kind
Of Sunday feeling, for on the weekend
A working man could walk.
There were camping clubs and CP outings
Where the poor and jobless
Would converse about the villains who stole
The common from the goose.
But more they’d talk about the Duke who shot
At grouse, the wooden liars,
Or the keepers who warned them off the moors.
A run-in with these thugs
Led some men to plan a trespass on the
Mountain in numbers too
Great to stop. And so they came from Sheffield
And from Manchester, two
Groups, to Kinder Scout, 2080
Odd feet above the sea,
Its summit. But he lost heart, the scheduled
Speaker, was frightened by
The wardens and police on hand. They, too,
Numbered high. It was then
Rothman rose and spoke, the diminutive
Mancunian (he was
Under five feet tall), not in words like these
That praise such deeds, but in
Those that kindle courage. He went to jail
For it and his arrest
Would make it hard to find employment the
Next four years. He fought the
Fascists in that time. Metro-Vicks would hire
Him and he’d stay there. A
Union leader, he strove for access to
The land until his death.
That such things are possible make them not
To be forgotten. Know
This: decisions can be unmade but we
Can hold to beginnings.
What founds us also finds. Above all, life
Is trial. So let us leave
Our monumental selves and go, for when
The sun is up our eyes
Are sharp whereas by night our ears are best.
There’s a conversation
In the landscape once we hear it, once we
Learn to move and be and
Be in it, a question that’s asked again.
Though it repeats it’s not
The same but is as color is in light:
It’s always there. Different,
It’s a common wealth. Such gifts aren’t given
Without gall to those who
Want. The grass stretches to the hills. And
Though the victory is
Small why should we be silent? It’s true. Not
Much has happened and we
Have no harp. Yes, it’s quiet here but not
Private, not remotely,
For look, we’re here together. We’ve set out.
We dance when chance offers
And sleep well knowing the day’s work will be
Hard. The golden cup? That’s
Babylon. And though full of strife this time,
Too, is beautiful. It
Is not bad, just dangerous, but where danger
Is there is also grace.

You Can, by Chumbawumba:

one block of council flats left
Thursday, 20 July 2017 21:34

one block of council flats left

Written by
in Poetry

 one block of council flats left

by Martin Hayes

just one block of council flats remains in this area
where we work our magic in
allocating out jobs to couriers
so that multinationals and £500-an-hour law firms
and hedge-fund managers who look after billions of pounds
can remain healthy and strong
making more money in one hour
than all the tenants of this last block of council flats left
will make in their lifetimes
put together

just one ugly block of brick and red cladded council flats still stands
amongst all of the million-pound lofts and chrome and smoked-glass luxury flats
that have sprung up in this area over the last 8-years just one
block with 42 flats
where couriers and mechanics and school teachers and bus drivers
and nurses and firemen and waitresses can still safely keep
a roof over their families' heads where they can
still wash and cook and put their children into a bed
and get them up to go into a school this one block of flats left
sat there like a rotten tooth in a row of perfect molars
housing these workers
enabling them to keep their dignity and love as millionaire footballers
move in next door as seven-figure-salaried-bankers buy whole floors
just so they can have somewhere to stay
while in London
as people in media hire cranes
to lift £30,000 pieces of furniture into their lofts as
politicians and councillors plot
how best they can make this last ugly block of council flats left
along with its infections

This poem was written six months before the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. Film by Ataman Kizilirmak.

Bates Pit Night BLUE
Sunday, 09 July 2017 14:42

The Miner

Written by
in Poetry

The Miner

 by Glenn Bradford 

Still dreams of the pit, does old Derek.
Gripping the duvet in great calloused hands
as if ready to swing at the coalface of the night.

Stripped to the waist. A vivid reprise.
Terry, Taylor and The Bull, headlamps in hand,
anticipating the familiar clatter of a closing cage door.

Yet, before dropping to the bowels of that vast fossil store,
Somebody lets one go, and howls of laughter and mock indignation
Echo down the shaft like Saturdays in the Welfare bar.

Stench sour enough to kill a canary. The usual suspect
quips something about ‘natural gas’; Derek pinches his nose,
drifting outside, looking in, as though at a treasured photograph.

Then silence. Mechanisms groan; the gasp of release.
Steady descent into the rising heat. ‘Like a furnace,’
Derek grumbles, teetering on the cusp of sleep.

The lift jerks, he wakes: panicked, thinking he’s overlaid.
Only realising after a second that it’s thirty years since
any siren called to pick up to tools or brew tea for break.

‘Gets y’like that,’ he tells me, wistfully, over the back fence.
Prods his powerful chest with a proud thumb.
‘In the blood for generations, but …’

He leaves the rest hanging between us like smog,
then, with a shrug, returns to mowing the lawn
he mowed and watered only the day before.

 This is one of the poems sent in for our Bread and Roses Poetry Award, by a member of the Communication Workers Union.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses the huge crowd at the 2017 Durham Miners' Gala
Sunday, 09 July 2017 06:00

Seeing Red

Written by
in Poetry

Seeing Red

by Jon Tait

If it wasn’t hung from the ceiling in a museum,
we’d paint Jeremy Corbyn’s face
on the red Lodge banner
alongside Keir Hardie and Nye Bevan.

We’re still going Forward with Socialism
and the colours never fade;
still red as the Manchester United shirt
that Bobby Charlton wore,
red as the light glinting through a schooner
of McEwan’s Export in the social club
or the flag that’s waved to a bull.

Red as a banner consigned to the silence
of safe corridors silent as libraries,
with walls adorned in paintings
of the brick colliery rows,
the whippets and pigeon duckets,
the leek shows and allotments,
and the men in flat caps
with bait bags on their shoulders,
the ghosts of a time now gone.

We are the bairns and the grandbairns
of the last of the pitmen
and we never forget.

We’re still seeing red.

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