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

Maple Leaf
Wednesday, 18 January 2017 09:39

A Coverlet of Green: In Memoriam John Berger

Written by
in Poetry


by David Betteridge

The bare and barren tree
can be made green again...
- Antonio Gramsci

¶ A boy cried.
His bedside cup,
brimful with milk
before he slept, was empty
now, at morning-time.
Not one drop he'd drunk.
How, then, no milk?

The culprit mouse,
her creamy lips a give-away,
felt sorry for the boy.
And still he cried.

She thought:
I'll get the cattle
to make good his loss.

But no: Today our milk's
dried up.

Field, asked the mouse,
have you some juicy grass
to give?

Sorry, the field explained,
I'm parched.
Will you fetch water
from the well?

Brokenly, the well demurred.
My rim's caved in;
I need repaired.

¶ Mason, will you take the job?

I'm short of stone,
the mason said.

¶ Next, to a bleak hill.
I've granite here
enough to build a town,
but not a single sett will go
to humankind.
Aggrieved, the hill refused
the mouse's plea.

Imagine -
mouse to hill -
imagine that you feel
the balm of maple trees
where you are bare.
If you give the mason stone,
the boy whose milk I took
will come to you a man -
you have my word -
and he will work for you
this remedy I plan.

¶ The hill relented;

the mason fixed the well;

water by the bucketful
      was raised;

the pasture greened;

the cattle's udders
    swelled, and cups
         and bellies
             soon were filled.

Strong as a bull,
     the boy grew,
          a farmer-forester.

The mouse, her children,
    and theirs as well,
        in turn, each year
            reminded him:
a promise had been made.

¶ Hectare on hectare now,

gladdening the hill,

a coverlet of green extends

its shade, a living tribute

to the mouse’s will.

A note on its sources, which are a Sardinian folk-tale, Antonio Gramsci, Hamish Henderson, Gordon Brown, and John Berger.

“A Coverlet of Green” is derived from a folk-tale from Sardinia. This folk-tale was written down in the mid-1930s by the Marxist philosopher and political activist, Antonio Gramsci, in a letter to his son. The letter was smuggled out of one of Mussolini’s gaols, where Gramsci had been imprisoned, “to stop his brain from functioning”. (In fact, his brain functioned all the more powerfully.)

Later, during the Second World War, Hamish Henderson, the Scottish poet, singer, folklorist, teacher, and lots of other things, came across Gramsci’s writings, including his prison letters. Henderson was at that time an intelligence officer in the British Army, and one of his duties was to make contact with Italian partisans opposed to Mussolini. One such group called itself the Antonio Gramsci Brigade. It was they who acted as the link between the philosopher’s ideas and the soldier. Henderson’s translation of Gramsci’s letters were published two decades later by a students’ printing press at Edinburgh University, edited by a radical (even revolutionary) student leader who went on to pursue a noteworthy career in politics, although rather less radical, one Gordon Brown.

Later still, John Berger discovered Hamish Henderson’s translation of Gramsci’s re-telling of the Sardinain folk-tale. He so liked it that he re-told it himself in an essay about Gramsci called “How to Live with Stones”, published in an essay-collection The Shape of a Pocket. He also re-told the tale in a radio interview on BBC Radio 3. It was this broadcast version that sparked my own attempt at a re-telling, in “A Coverlet of Green”.

John Berger’s death on 2nd January, just two months after his 90th birthday, leaves a great gap in literature and cultural politics. My poem, with Bob Starrett’s lovely green evocation of new growth - maple leaves lit by sunshine - was intended for publication as a birthday greeting, but it missed that deadline. Now it can serve as an In Memoriam.

Like Mother
Monday, 16 January 2017 16:17

Like Mother

Written by
in Poetry

Like Mother

by Nadia Drews

Settle down, bottom set, poor concentration, what do you expect?
Failed tests, predictable results, staying behind
red lines
Life viewed through windows in the sticks ,drizzling with tears of spilling piss
Clinging like dribble to chins of grizzling kids, you didn’t do what the other girls did
Tossed like crossings out on screwed up scraps
The Battersbys and the Bickerstaffes

The flimsy, thin, sterling silver skin stinging slaps
The back of the class chatting up robbing from the stock cupboard smothered laughs
Julie, longing lashes, soft, leather wrapped in Frank
Debbie, bitty little. Biting lippy, outside the chippy
Gob full of fizz bomber jacketed hands jammed in high
Up in arms, sticking out like chicken wings, flapping
Clucking fuck this and fuck that
Flicking V’s, not free to fly
Leanne, lanky, shrieking streak of ‘Miss!’
Witty, eyeing, disguised lined rims hidden behind
Sharp as a knife flicked fringe
Shading every shame filled cringe

All subjects of so much rigid invigilation
Tiddy-tipped, spit slippy, wetly dreamt of detentions
Gripped like slurped chipped china mugs gulped and spilled
Held in belched petrol smells, cider swilled with fry –ups
Eyeing up, weighing out, measured in points for their pleasure
Stiff inches of shifting skin counting you on scribbling fingers
Summing you up, in and out scratching walls
Hurtful mis spelt spurting words
Running out and leaving
Stale-tasting tell-tale stained pockets of cock-eyed explanations

After all those years of teaching you lessons
Never reading your need to know
NO …..NO…..NO
Minus one of them speccy gets noticed you go
Woe betide you’d ever forget it uniformly checked
Stubby short to skinny strip
Hanging from the tide marked neck
Now noosed round a reflection in a dressing table mirror
A face painted with disgrace
With no-one waiting till you washed it off
To bare your face then confiscate that birthday gift from your mum

Full term came and went for some
An unmarked summer break becoming an endless spiral-bound roundabout
A mid-afternoon, windblown, swinging groan
With no bell ringing time to go home
Down the dole to drum on doors hard
Then a card and a ticking clock
On the Verdigris, smocked copper bonnet factory top
Making dull days, patinaed with wages
Catalogued to pay for life in reasonable instalments
24 or 36 weeks
Outfits in drips to disguise your defeat down the pub

Atmosphere thickly stinking mist of chart hits
Spewing what was supped in the gutter
Thrust against throbbing, glugging, tugging
Filling up belly-aching gaps, swallowing laughs, tapping off happiness
Getting ribbed, getting bent coins banged in avoiding trouble
Chasing, knocking back, seeing double

Others would try to get in the club
The price was too high for you to pay
And you were too old to run away again
All your mates had to stay in evenings
Facing days framed by pram handles
And pacing familiar avenues
Dangling struggling little girls
Heavy with giggles from the hip
Where you all used to stand about strangling laughs
Yanking tangles, swapping bangles
Mixed up ten pence teeth sticking sweet dreams
Twisted in bags ripped from string
Escaping tear away paper thin lips
Skinned suckling pale pink dissolving flying saucers
Sore ochre cracked areolas with sleeping smiles inside
That mithered mothers now bribe their daughters with
Outside Clare’s shop beyond the school gates when you were meant to stop

You paid your debts to Great Universal
Ticking the box to say you would no longer like to be a representative
And walked out in a patent leather patiently anticipated excellent value for you shoe
Through the front door this time
With your mum’s packed away sadness and matching set of unused suitcases for all occasions
Full of qualifications to be somewhere else
And you slipped into the empty space on the empty bus
Like a pear drop from Betty’s shop
popped in
a shared quarter passed between mother and daughter sat on the sofa staring at the blaring telly
Yelling jokes at soaps her stroking your hair and hoping

How long till Spring? Letter to Randall Swingler IV
Friday, 13 January 2017 17:34

How long till Spring? Letter to Randall Swingler IV

Written by
in Poetry

Andy Croft offers the latest - and last - instalment in his long-term project of memorialising the neglected life and poetry of Randall Swingler.

Although these days the poet Randall Swingler (1909-1967) is a largely forgotten figure, he was one of the most prolific and public British writers of his generation. Few English writers worked so hard to mobilise public opinion in the name of Peace, or fought so bravely to prosecute the War when it could no longer be avoided. He was responsible for some of the most imaginative interventions of the Popular Front years, and he wrote some of the greatest poetry of the Second World War. A playwright, novelist, critic, editor and poet, his verse was set to music by many of the most distinguished composers of his generation.

In the 1930s he contributed several plays for Unity Theatre, including the Mass Declamation Spain, the Munich-play Crisis and the revues Sandbag Follies and Get Cracking. He wrote a new version of Peer Gynt for Rupert Doone’s Group Theatre (where he was assistant editor of the Group Theatre Magazine). He founded a radical paperback publishing company, Fore Publications, selling half a million books in twelve months, and edited the best-selling Left Review, where he published and helped edit Nancy Cunard’s famous Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War.

MI5 opened a twenty-year long file on him because they disapproved of a song which he and Alan Bush wrote for a concert to mark the arrival of the Hunger March into London in 1934. The two men wrote Peace and Prosperity for the London Choral Union, a radically re-written production of Handel’s Belshazzar for the London Co-operative Movement and edited The Left Song Book for the Left Book Club. When Bush’s first Piano Concerto was premiered on the BBC in 1938, Adrian Boult was so uncomfortable with the politics of Swingler’s text in the choral finale that he led the orchestra and choir straight into the national anthem in an attempt to ‘balance’ the effect of the text on its listeners.

 Original film of the return of the International Brigade British Battalion, 7 December 1938

Swingler and Auden wrote the libretto of Britten’s Ballad of Heroes, written to mark the return of the International Brigades to London, and were the only English poets included (with Alberti, Aragon, Guillen, Hughes, Lorca, Neruda and Tzara) in Les Poetes du Monde Defend le Peuple Espagnol. In 1938 he took over the editorship of the magazine Poetry and the People, re-launching it as the best-selling Our Time. In 1939 Swingler filled the Albert Hall with a historical verse-pageant starring Paul Robeson. He was also the literary editor of the Daily Worker; later becoming a staff reporter, reporting on the Blitz until the paper was banned in 1941.

During the Second World War Swingler served with the 56th Divisional Signals with the Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy. He took part in heavy fighting on the Volturno and Garigliano rivers, at Monte Camino (where he was buried alive for several hours), and on the Salerno and Anzio beach-heads. For his part in the battle of Lake Comacchio, Swingler was awarded the Military Medal for bravery. His collections The Years of Anger (1946) and The God in the Cave (1950) contain arguably some of the greatest poems of the Italian campaign.

After the War, Swingler was blacklisted by the BBC. Orwell attacked him in Polemic and included him in the list of names he offered the security services in 1949. Stephen Spender attacked him in The God that Failed.

In other words, Swingler’s work was clearly central to his times, and his life and writings should be central to any history of the period that is not disfigured by either carelessness or dishonesty. Twenty-five years ago, believing Swingler’s life and work to be undeservedly neglected, I began writing a biography, eventually published by Manchester University Press as Comrade Heart: A Life of Randall Swingler (2003).

Provoked by my difficulties in finding a publisher to even look at the manuscript, and then by the critical silence into which the book fell after it was published, I found myself writing longish verse-letters of apology to Swingler. The first of these was published by John Lucas at Shoestring Press in 1999 as Letter to Randall Swingler and reprinted in Just as Blue (Flambard, 2001). Letter II was first published in Comrade Laughter (Flambard, 2004).

Somehow the habit of occasional correspondence stuck. When, a few years ago, MI5 released some of their (heavily redacted) files on Swingler I realised that I was not, after all, the only person interested in his life and writings. I felt I ought to let him know what these people had been saying about him; Letter III was published in Sticky (Flambard, 2009). A fourth letter, which has not previously been published, was written towards the end of 2016, after the EU Referendum and the US presidential elections. All four letters are being published later this year by Shoestring as Letters to Randall Swingler.

Over the years Swingler has proved to be a congenial (if somewhat silent) correspondent, one who has generously allowed me space and time to reflect on some of the developments in poetry and politics since his death. The events of the last two decades have certainly given us both a lot to think about.

Letter IV

in memory of Edward

We woke today to find the world had changed:
An unexpected snowfall in the night
Has clarified the skyline, rearranged
The sharpened shadows in a harsh new light,
And what we thought familiar bright and strange,
Disguised in simple terms of black and white.
The phones are down, and all the roads are blocked.
We dig in for the night. The doors are locked.

How suddenly and quickly change appears.
And what a poor exchange for what it takes;
The sand falls slowly through the glass for years,
And then we fall asleep, the weather breaks,
The sky falls in, and Winter’s cold frontiers
Confront us now. The sleeping earth awakes
Beneath the sky’s restrained and muffled violence.
The dumbstruck world is suffering in silence.

Not every duckling comes back as a swan;
A test result, a scan, a sudden frost;
One minute friends are here, and then they’re gone,
And now it feels as if we too have crossed
The woeful waters of the Acheron,
And change is just another word for lost.
We wonder how we could have missed the clues,
The zombies howling on this morning’s news.

No-one can say we couldn’t see this coming,
Or that we’re not familiar with defeat;
By now we ought to recognise the numbing
Pretence that every rout’s a planned retreat;
Somehow we did not understand the drumming
Of hatreds boiling over on the street
Against all those who do not talk the same;
And did not know to call it by its name.

We crawl out of the womb toward the grave
And warm ourselves at night by hungry fires
Inside the strange and amniotic cave
Of sleep and paint our primitive desires
Upon its walls; by morning we are brave
Enough to understand what day requires.
But then, beyond the cave-mouth, what we know
Is silenced by a sudden fall of snow.

In case you’re not sure where this letter’s going,
Or if you think I’ve woken you once more
Because I want to tell you that it’s snowing,
I guess it’s time to drop this metaphor
(Which has already s-s-started slowing
My t-t-typing fingers) and restore
The circulation to my freezing brain
While there’s still time. I think I’d best explain.

The problem is, I don’t know how to put it,
There are some things much better left unsaid,
And every writer should know when to shut it,
Especially when they’re talking to the dead,
But more than this, whichever way you cut it,
Of all the stanza forms I’ve ever read
This damned ottava rima’s not much cop
For channelling low-level agitprop.

To nail this form a Byron’s skills are needed
(His nibs could churn this stuff out by the yard),
In every form he handled he succeeded
(And how his panting readers oohed and aahed);
If I but had the stamina that he did
Perhaps this stanza wouldn’t seem so hard;
But then his lordship never had to worry
About the bills (nor, thanks to him, did Murray).

Pentameter’s at least a foot too long
To reproduce the beat of modern speech,
Two sets of rhyming triplets are too strong
(It always sounds as if you’re trying to preach)
And quite unsuited to the English tongue
Where half the rhymes you need are out of reach;
And if this final couplet lacks a joke
Your chances of a prize go up – oh fuck it.

These days I much prefer a fourteen-liner –
Onyeginskaya strafa to be precise.
It may be bonkers, but its faults are minor
Compared to this Procrustean device:
More leg-room, fewer murders, less angina,
And words you only have to rhyme with twice.
Instead I’m forced to march beneath the banner
Of what you might call Byron’s donnish manner.

A handy form, perhaps if you are flyting,
Though not, it’s fair to say, quite á la mode;
No-one would ever call a form exciting
Which trudges in the steps where Byron strode,
Or take delight in any kind of writing
That even Auden drop-kicked down the road,
And chose instead a form much used by Chaucer,
Less difficult to write, if somewhat coarser.

You must forgive me taking this excursion
Regarding stanza-forms; it’s apropos
Of what I’m trying to say about the version
Of demagogic violence now on show:
When reason’s threatened daily with coercion
It’s not enough to say with Cicero
Tempora mala sunt, and shake one’s head,
The issue’s how to say what must be said.

This question would be easier, no doubt,
If years ago we had not sold the pass,
Pretending to have nowt to write about
So long as there’s some well-heeled Maecenas
With barrowfuls of prizes to hand out.
But now the sand is slipping through the glass,
And poetry is more than just a selfie
And art’s not just a tax-dodge for the wealfy.

I don’t know if you’re following the story,
Or if you get much news in Death’s abyss;
For all I know, today’s red-top furore
Before you get to hear of it in Dis
Is wrapping chips on Proxima Centauri.
So though I’d rather give this stuff a miss
To understand this note you’re going to need
A bit of help to bring you up to speed.

So much has happened since my previous letter
I’m not sure how or where I should begin;
What started as a comic operetta
About the ins and outs of Out and In
Has turned into a poisonous vendetta
Which only the most venomous can win.
I cannot be the only one who’s weary
Of trying to conjugate the verb brexire.

Brexeo, brexis, brexit may sound cheerful,
But seems to be derived from britimere
Which means to be both British-born and fearful,
Or else brodire – hating those who vary
From low-browed Brits, who thus deserve an earful
Of tabloid-Latin cockney-scarecrow scary –
Or else the evil liberal élite.
(Bramo, bramas, bramat is obsolete.)

It really isn’t hard to get the hang
Of what you might call basic Ukipese:
A kind of ugly patois bar-stool slang
That’s eloquent with hate for refugees,
Resentful and self-pitying harangue
Part Mr Toad and one part Thersites,
Afraid and full of hate! Who gives a toss?
And who dare say, brerubescamus nos?

This bitter lingua franca is now spoken
By foaming, feral packs of the Undead
Surprised in violent dreams from which they’re woken
By slavering dog-whistles in their heads,
To smash the world and then complain it’s broken;
The old palingenetic virus spreads,
A plague of raw stupidity and malice
From Washington to the Élyseé Palace.

The monsters that your generation fought
And left for dead have recently escaped
From unseen Hades’ dim and dismal court;
Now suitably repackaged and reshaped,
They’re cultivating popular support
And so far seem to think they’ve got it taped
Appealing to the meanest and the basest –
Though nobody’s allowed to call them racist.

Perhaps there’s other ways we should describe
This atavistic fear of those in need,
The hatred of all those outside the tribe
That looks uncommonly like common greed:
But since good manners means we can’t ascribe
To them such terms, perhaps we might proceed
By calling them (I hardly think they’ll mind!)
Ungenerous, ungracious and unkind.

Arise ye starvelings, eat your fill of hate,
The age of cant and superstition’s here,
The empty promises that fill your plate
With others’ crumbs will quickly disappear;
Unreason in revolt must always wait
In servile chains of hatred, greed and fear
Until the day the human race has sussed
We need not spurn the prize to win the dust.

In case you think I overstate the threat,
I’m writing this from Richard Desmond’s Britain,
In which The People’s Will’s a household pet
(A cross between a Pit Bull and a kitten)
That wants to do its worst, videlicet,
Let off the leash when someone must be bitten;
A dog who doesn’t know his master’s tricked him,
A bully who believes that he’s the victim.

From Golden Dawn and Jobbik to Svoboda,
Alternative für Deutschland, all the way
To Dacre’s acres there’s a noisome odour
Of something dead, the perfume of decay
And atrophy, a repetitious coda
Of ancient music that won’t go away,
But lingers like the primitive refrain
Of fear and hatred pumping round the brain.

These days the Walking Dead are all the rage,
(And rage, of course, is crucial to their style),
From Wilders to Farage they’ve fouled the age
With ignorance and bigotry and bile,
And yet there’s something of the panto-stage
About the neo-fascist reptile smile:
Pure Captain Hook, but with a generous sprinkle
Of Davros, Vader, Mekon, Ming and Hynkel.

Stage villains such as these, of course, provide
Material for the best of our lampoonists,
And broad-sheet leader-writers may deride
These cynical and clever opportunists,
But nothing seems to stroke their oafish pride
So much as when they’re skewered by cartoonists;
Their critics are the mirror on the wall
That tells them they’re the smartest of them all.

The Donald may be madder than a hatter
(This man would make Caligula look sane)
But mocking Donald only seems to flatter
The fragile self-love of the Donald’s brain.
In other words, it ain’t no laughing matter
(It’s hard to ridicule the King of Spain)
And nobody dare say if, how, or when
The pen will prove as mighty as Le Pen.

This toxic mix of violence and vanity
That marches to the beat of threats and lies
Delirious with fear of all humanity,
The rhetoric of hate that glorifies
The stirrings of a popular insanity
Is one, alas, I think you’ll recognise,
Who understood what you were fighting for
At Anzio in 1944.

This is the reason why I am pretending
To write to you again. It makes no sense,
I know; you’re dead, and not, I think, intending
To join this correspondence; my defence
Is simply that, now Fascism is trending
It’s time that we abandoned the pretence
That what you thought the struggle of the age is
The property of History’s unread pages.

Although I know I’m talking to myself
(So no change there then) this device allows
At least a semblance of my mental health
To be preserved, while you and I can browse
The annals of our broken commonwealth
And try to understand how History ploughs
Boustrophedon, from left to right, once more,
And what’s left of your anti-Fascist war.

When you came limping home from Anzio
And felt that you had come back from the dead,
Though there were still so many miles to go
Through months of mud and blood, the road ahead
Was clear, from there to Lake Comacchio,
And as the tyrant monster, wounded, fled
It knew in every mile of its retreat,
The certainty of Fascism’s defeat.

I’m older now than you were when you died –
Which is a somewhat bleak and chilling notion.
I was still in my thirties when I tried
To excavate your tomb. With what devotion
I dug among your ruins! With the pride
Of Cortez glimpsing his Pacific Ocean
I pulled you out from underneath the rubble.
I could have saved myself a lot of trouble.

It’s fifty years next Summer since you copped it,
That’s fifty years of spiralling dismay;
What’s left of what was left has been co-opted
To manage change (and increase bankers’ pay)
So now the cause of change has been adopted
By those who wear the mask of Castlereagh.
In short, the world your victory helped construct –
As people say these days – is proper fucked.

Although our culture’s still obsessed with wars,
Your war’s routinely gutted of its fury,
An episode that merely underscores
The insular and sentimental story
About this blessed island and the cause
Of Britishness (a synonym for Tory)
Against the rest – viz anyone wot does
Not seem to be prepared to talk like us.

I’m sending this from Y2K16,
A UK of know-nothing and poor taste,
An infantile and brain-dead zombie scene,
Of greed and famine, glut and pointless waste,
In which the flags of ’45 have been
Forgot for so long that they’ve been replaced
By shiny baubles, trinkets, tinsel, trash,
The world’s one hope reduced to dust and ash.

On which depressing note I’ll say good day;
I’m tired of this ridiculous endeavour,
I’ve other things to do, and anyway
You’ve put up with this long enough. Whatever.
Some day the freezing snows must melt away,
And Winter’s darkness cannot last forever.
But how long till the morning that will bring
The lenitive, warm promises of Spring?

On the Departure From Office of Barack Obama
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Tuesday, 03 January 2017 21:32

On the Departure From Office of Barack Obama

in Poetry
Written by

On The Departure From Office Of Barack Obama

You are the bed we’d happily have slept in,
if only we’d managed to assemble you
but there was always a bit missing.
So you forced us to spend the night
admiring the pictures in the brochure.

The exquisite wrapping
on a box with zilch in it
except a mildly amusing joke
you had written for you
but delivered with such charisma
it set people whispering
that you’re the political wing
of Earth, Wind, and Fire
without the heavy ideology.

The skinny kid
with the funny name who dared
hope in the face of adversity
and on your watch
Wall Street got the biggest
hard-on in its history
and you kept feeding it
interest free Viagra.

For the rest of us
you’re the medicine
that tasted excellent
until we woke up almost dead.

You've got to be joking
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Sunday, 01 January 2017 18:41

You've got to be joking

in Poetry
Written by

You've got to be joking

by Keith Armstrong

if you think this is democracy,
this quango land
insult to our history,
this emptiness
of false celebrity,
this wretched shallowness,
this shattered ignorance
of all that shines from our fought-for heritage,
this media connivance
and bone idleness,
this following of the fast buck,
this grovelling to the greed of capital,
this sickening homage to materialism,
this lack of human spirit
in our city centres,
this brutal selfishness
encouraged by a government
that denies our European roots,
that scans the wonder of the vast Atlantic
for feeble ideas to run with,
this rat race of a society
that puts self above solidarity,
these feeble careerist substitutes for activism
who have lost any real will for change,
who have become corrupted by a power lust,
who lack any passion
other than to climb grimly up their greasy poles,
clinging on to their self-delusion,
ignoring, in their centrist way,
the true beauty of community,
handing out their gongs to the servile
and rubbishing the selfless folk
who work their little miracles every breathing day.


Of Course They Know It's Christmas
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Friday, 23 December 2016 21:37

Of Course They Know It's Christmas

in Poetry
Written by

Of Course They Know It’s Christmas
after Midge Ure & Bob Geldof

It's Christmastime; and there's every reason to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let the light love us and we banish shame
Down our streets of plenty we can spread the smirk of money
Throw your arms around a former bass guitarist
Whose name you think is Chris at Christmastime

But ping your pennies at the other ones
In the long line outside the foodbank
As you drive loudly past
In your silver BMW
Because it’s better than paying tax

At Christmastime
It gets hard, though not as hard as it used to, when you're having fun
With a reupholstered former model who claims to be a cousin
Of General Pinochet’s personal physician
There's a world outside your triple-gazed PVC window
And it's a world of fear and hate
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting
Of an accountant from Penge
Peeing on rough sleepers
Because his train is late again

We could’ve kept our enormous
Mouths shut, or had the good taste
To be found dead in suspicious
Circumstances at least a decade ago
Instead we offer
A bunch of rock stars who’d be forgotten
If it wasn’t for this old song

And the alarms that go off there
Are the clanging chimes of private property
Well tonight thank Lucifer it's them instead of Bono
And there will be ice in sleeping bags this Christmastime
The greatest gift they'll get this year is death
Remind them that it’s Christmastime
In case they missed the ads.

The Sky Wept (November 2016)
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Sunday, 18 December 2016 11:28

The Sky Wept (November 2016)

in Poetry
Written by

The Sky Wept (November 2016)

And if that wasn’t enough
the crows decided to usurp the starlings
to become the bird of the murmuration,
stars of a million YouTube videos
up close you could see they were ragged,
all torn feathers and flea-bitten down,
up close you could see they lacked grace
that it was an effort to stay in place
but from far away the effect was something
a multi-dimensional black cloud forming
non-Euclidean shapes.

Of course we’re all fucked now.
They dispensed with the song,
the jolly chattering, the whistle and chime
they filled up the air with their own cawing
the sky was darkening darkening
the noise, deafening and as it reached
a terrible crescendo they seemed to say
how we have waited for this day.

An Appeal to Potential Asylum Seekers By Order of Her Majesty’s Government
Monday, 12 December 2016 12:06

An Appeal to Potential Asylum Seekers By Order of Her Majesty’s Government

Written by
in Poetry

An Appeal to Potential Asylum Seekers
By Order of Her Majesty’s Government

by Kevin Higgins

The desserts of Vienna are creamier
than is the case in even
the better bits of Leeds or Swansea.
Their trams turn up when they’re meant to,
which is hardly ever true
of an outskirts-of-Great-Yarmouth Saturday night,
except when Prince Edward is dying,
re-marrying, or giving birth,
and there’s an Ian Stuart Donaldson concert to celebrate.

Also, we think it important we clarify:
Hugh Grant is not a real person.
So, there’s no point coming here
in the hope of making him
your husband, or even,
your wife.

Contrary to reports in the popular press:
our social security is in fact rubbish.
And we’re working hard to make it worse.
You’ll toil all the hours picking
shells off a beach in the dark;
or clean a pretend bank
for less per week than
Andrew Neil pays to have
his back waxed.

And you’ll have nowhere to live,
given our plan to gift
the last council house to former
model Jerry Hall
for rest and recuperation
the day after she’s taken annually
by Rupert Murdoch, as she’s now
contractually bound
to let herself be.

If you stay where you are,
as a gesture, we offer you
Richard Branson. The first forty four
legitimate asylum seekers
to complete the relevant form will each
be entitled to one of his teeth,
for use perhaps as collateral or
as a miniature sex toy –

on condition you remove
it at your own leisure using
the rudimentary
chisel provided.

I am pleased to congratulate Mr. Trump
Monday, 14 November 2016 17:19

I am pleased to congratulate Mr. Trump

Written by
in Poetry

I Am Pleased To Congratulate On Behalf Of The People Of Ireland
after Enda Kenny

by Kevin Higgins

Donald J. Duck on his election
as forty fifth, and possibly final,
President of that great entity
traditionally known as the United
States which, admittedly,
by the time he’s finished with it,
will likely be called something else.

In the heat of battle President-elect
Duck has said things
which have left him with bridges to build
with certain people, such as Mexican
transsexuals, and women
who don’t want him,
or anyone politically
associated with him even thinking
about grabbing their
vaginas, or the vaginas of their
friends, mothers-in-law, or
as yet unborn children.

We think today in particular of
Secretary of State Clinton,
though only very briefly,
for eaten parsnips are quickly
digested, and we must move on.
Democracy (and, for that matter,
dictatorship) have their own outcomes.
This being the case, if President-elect
Duck wants to build a crazy golf course
in every front garden on this island,
I will work closely with compliant
urban district councils, sympathetic
journalists, and members of the judiciary
to have the necessary planning

And rest assured, every opportunity
that presents itself, either
I or one of my Ministers will be there
to shake his hand,
or any other part of his anatomy
President-elect, Donald J.
Duck, wants shaken.

Monday, 14 November 2016 08:43


Written by
in Poetry


by Fred Voss

It is the morning after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States and I
am at my machine and I grip my machine’s handle
with my palm
the steel handle is still solid and hard
against my soft flesh
a racist hate-filled egomaniac dictatorial sexual predator swindler infant elected to lead
310 million people
and I turn the handle to my machine and my machine table moves exactly 100 thousandths
of an inch
I want to believe that a thousandth of an inch is still a thousandth of an inch
rivers flow downhill
a dinosaur bone
is 65 million years old he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword but Donald Trump
will soon have his finger on the nuclear trigger and Nero fiddled
while Rome burned and I put on my leather gloves and grab
a 50-pound block of 4130 steel and drop it
into my vise bolted to my milling machine table and send the carbide teeth of a shell mill
plowing through the raw steel
I want to believe when ice melts it still turns into water
Lady Macbeth
still can’t wash those drops of blood off her hand
I want to believe Christ and Buddha
knew something
Moonlight Sonata is still beautiful roses
still open train wheels
still can’t roll without the hands of men like me
who make them
I plant my feet on this concrete machine shop floor
surely the mockingbird has not forgotten how to sing
surely a human being still knows
right from wrong surely
the sun still rises steel is still hard and men like Trump fall
in the end
sure as my hammerhead ringing out when I strike it
against steel
sure as Victor Hugo’s statue
Nelson Mandela’s heart
the cat sitting in the sun on your windowsill
the sweat on the back of every workingman on earth
and the stars still there shining
in the sky.

Fred Voss's latest collection, The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand, is published by Culture Matters and is available from http://manifestopress.org.uk/

Trumped! It was the economy, stupid
Wednesday, 09 November 2016 15:41

Trumped! It was the economy, stupid

Written by
in Poetry

We don't usually post up straight political analysis on the this arts and culture site, even though we firmly believe in a close link between politics and culture, but we're making an exception today because of the exceptional events in the US. Also, Culture Matters has now moved into publishing poetry, and our first booklet is by the US poet Fred Voss, whose poetry we have already featured on the site and who writes prophetically about the political situation of the working class in the US. So one of his poems, and an article about our booklet, follows the piece about the Trump victory, which is by Dennis Broe, one of the leading radical film critics in the US.

Everyone, meaning mostly the neoliberal elite, is searching for answers at the moment for why the billionaire Trump beat the corporate candidate Clinton. Was it his xenophobic rhetoric which drew angry white Americans, his macho humiliation of women in the face of which his supporters had to hold their noses to vote for him, or was it the (Trumped-up) charges of “Crooked Hilary” aided and abetted by the FBI “October Surprise” of a new treasure trove of (probably mostly irrelevant) emails that are now being “investigated.”

A revealing article in Le Monde seems instead to contain the answer for why solidly union and industrial states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania would abandon the Democratic party and vote for Trump, who after all was not the choice of the Republican elite. For decades now, politicians have looked to the October economic, labor and jobs report, released last week, to boost their status just prior to the elections. And indeed, the report showed the creation of 161,000 new jobs and a slight decrease in unemployment of one-tenth of a percent for a total of 4.9 percent, figures that compare favorably to pre-2008 financial crisis statistics. So you would think the Democrats would argue that the economy is in good hands.

In fact the Clinton campaigners did not bring up the “optimistic” report because they felt to do so would be incendiary, that is throwing flames on the fire as Trump emphasized that the new jobs were extremely low paying and could not compensate for jobs lost under the Reagan-Bush-Clinton neoliberal regime whose Clinton variant featured the repeal of Glass-Stiegel which loosed the banks and financial capital and resulted in the 2008 crisis as well as the implementation of NAFTA, a jobs disaster for both the US and Mexico.

A further examination of the statistics reveals the pain behind this supposed rosy picture, a pain that voters expressed at the polls. This “dynamic” job creation is in the lowest paying sectors of the economy, the service sector, mainly bars and restaurants, where there is constant turnover, such that from 2007, 1.7 million new jobs have been created but at the same time 1.5 million lost their jobs in the industry.

A second “rosy” statistic in the report is that salaries rose 2.8 percent. Great, right. Well, hold on, this rise is in the context, as Thomas Piketty has demonstrated so thoroughly, of a dramatic shift of income as a whole upward to the wealthiest 10 percent and now to the wealthiest 1 percent. So, the increase in salaries went mainly to corporate executives who saw their pay increase 4.7 percent, while the bottom 83 percent of the workforce saw their pay increase only 2.1 percent, an increase that was mostly eaten up immediately by an inflation rate of 1.5 percent. So, the rise in pay was essentially meaningless and could have easily been felt as again simply a rewarding of the wealthiest.

But it is in the unemployment statistics themselves, or rather the concealing of the true nature of unemployment, where even more real pain and suffering, and perhaps the key to the Trump victory, emerges. Only 62.8 percent of Americans even have a job, the lowest in 40 years, and, in the 25 to 55 age category that constitutes the majority of the workforce, the percentage keeps falling so that it is now below both 2007, in the supposed boom years of the housing bubble, and below 2000, in the supposed boom years of the dot.com bubble. That is, employment following the constant booms and subsequent busts is no longer fully rebounding, but instead returning to lower levels. After these continual crises, things may get better but they do not fully recover and the recovery is less effective after each crisis, certainly giving rise to a feeling that even when things are apparently getting better they are in fact gradually getting worse.

The true tragedy though lies in a statistical sleight of hand perfected under the Clinton administration, of “retiring” workers from the labor statistics who have given up looking for work, that is, no longer listing them as unemployed. Today this accounts for 11.5 percent of Americans from 25 to 55, with 7 million having simply abandoned the search for work in areas where jobs no longer exist, such as the hollowed out former industrial zones of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. If you add these workers, who may not have jobs, but can still go to the polls, to the unemployed, we now have roughly 16 percent unemployment. These are workers who are now resorting to anti-depressants, and other over- and under-the-counter drugs to live with the pain of no prospect of jobs. To that, we might also add, the underemployed, that is, the 5.9 million workers who are working part time but who would very much like to work full time, approximately 4.6 percent of the working population. Add this to the over 16 percent and there is approximately 21 percent of the workforce either not working or working in low paying, part-time jobs with little reward.

Is it any wonder then the hardest hit in these areas went to the polls to express their grief, anger and despair at being left behind. Trump offered a largely delusional hope that someone was hearing their pain and responding. He will most likely betray that hope; that is the history of the far right. But a Democratic party that was so eager to run, in this year of the Brexit and of a generalized anger being expressed everywhere at corporate elites, a candidate who was the epitome of the corporate order, who took more money from corporate funds than any single candidate before her, must now stand chastised.

Clinton stole the California primary and the nomination from Bernie Sanders, a candidate who was speaking to this generalized and largely warranted anger and channeling it in more positive directions and so instead of a battle for the heart and soul of the American black and white working class, we had a name-calling campaign in which the message of the supposedly more rationale candidate was, “under me things will only gradually get worse.” This is what passes for hope at the dawning of the end of the neoliberal age and voters, who felt the pain inflicted on them by a greedy corporate elite which could no longer be concealed in phony statistics, choose outright delusion over gradual hypocrisy.


The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand

by Fred Voss

“Another day in paradise,”
a machinist says to me as he drops his time card into the time clock and the sun
over the San Gabriel mountains
and we laugh
it’s a pretty good job we have
considering how tough it is out there in so many other factories
in this era of the busted union and the beaten-down worker
but paradise?
and we walk away toward our machines ready for another 10 hours inside tin walls
as outside perfect blue waves roll onto black sand Hawaiian beaches
and billionaires raise martini glasses
sailing their yachts to Cancun
but I can’t help thinking
why not paradise
why not a job
where I feel like I did when I was 4
out in my father’s garage
joyously shaving a block of wood in his vise with his plane
as a pile of sweet-smelling wood shavings rose at my feet
and my father smiled down at me and we held
the earth and the stars in the palm of our hand
why not a job
joyous as one of these poems I write
a job where each turn of a wrench
each ring of a hammer makes my soul sing out glad for each drop of sweat
rolling down my back because the world has woken up and stopped worshiping money
and power and fame
and because presidents and kings and professors and popes and Buddhas and mystics
and watch repairmen and astrophysicists and waitresses and undertakers know
there is nothing more important than the strong grip and will of men
carving steel
like I do
nothing more important than Jorge muscling a drill through steel plate so he can send money
to his mother and sister living under a sacred mountain in Honduras
nothing more noble
than bread on the table and a steel cutter’s grandson
reaching for the moon and men
dropping time cards into time clocks and stepping up to their machines
like the sun
couldn’t rise
without them.


“I want to change the world, I want to strike the spark or kick the pebble that will start the fire or the avalanche that will change the world a little.”

Thus US poet Fred Voss, who yearns for that transformation because of the dire situation of the working class in the US, where real wages have stagnated or declined for decades and huge inequalities between rich and poor are spiralling. The top 1 per cent of the US population own 35 per cent of the wealth and bonuses for bankers on Wall Street are more than double the total annual pay of all Americans on the federal minimum wage. Against a background of deindustrialisation and the loss of jobs overseas, there is mass incarceration of males, police violence on black youth and attacks on trade unions and on the social safety net.

The outrageous consequence of this divisive class war by rich elites is that mortality rates amongst white working-class Americans are getting worse. Workers are dying early from obesity, drugs, drink, violence and suicide. It’s happening because the powerful ruling class in the US, running the richest and most powerful country in world history, needs a workforce less than ever before. Many workers are either on the economic scrapheap or on their way there. There are simply not enough jobs for them and the few jobs around are increasingly badly paid.

The US is not a democracy, it is a plutocracy, and most Americans are struggling to cope with the legalised robbery of their labour and their health, wealth and happiness. And many of them are expressing their desperation through support for the racist and sexist politics of Donald Trump.

To help the cultural struggle against similar trends here the website Culture Matters, supported by Unite the Union — the main representative of metalworkers in Britain and Ireland — is jointly publishing Voss’s new booklet of poems The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand with Manifesto Press.

Voss has worked in machine shops for over 30 years. He writes about being hired like a commodity by overbearing bosses and about alienation in workplaces dominated by fear, macho posturing and competition. But there is a vision in the poems of how different things could be. Gradually, the potential for human solidarity emerges, for combining the practical muscle and skill of working men with the political and emotional strength and determination of women like Rosa Parks.

Like William Blake, Voss combines the precision and realism born of years of skilled craftworking with a sweeping, lyrical imagination. And, like Blake, his poetic vision springs from years of reflection on work and the working class and on the oppressive — but alterable — realities of the world around him.

“Britain, Ireland and many other capitalist countries in Europe are becoming more like the US,” Unite general secretary Len McCluskey says in the foreword to the collection in which he explains why the union is backing its publication:

Everyone can see the growing inequality, the precarious and low-paid nature of employment, the housing crisis across the country, the divisions and inequalities between social classes, the health problems and the sheer everyday struggle to pay the bills for many working people. In this situation, Voss is akin to a prophet. He warns us of the consequences of the way we live, tells truth to power and inspires us with a positive vision of a possible — and desirable — socialist future.


The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand will be published at the end of the month, price £5.99 plus p&p, with discounts for trade unions and bulk and trade purchasers. Enquiries and pre-publication orders: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 


Page 6 of 12