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

Purchase progressive political poetry!
Saturday, 04 March 2017 19:22

Purchase progressive political poetry!

Written by
in Poetry

Interested in progressive poetry? You might like to try one of our new titles, published jointly with Manifesto Press:


The Minister for Poetry Has Decreed is political poetry of the highest order, telling truth to power and poking fun at it at the same time, artistically deploying a profoundly moral sense of justice and truth to expose lies, evasions, greed and sheer stupidity. Kevin Higgins, like Bertolt Brecht, has a gift for exposing the hypocrisies and deceits which are inevitably generated by a political culture which ignores, denies or seeks to legitimise the legalised robbery that passes for capitalist economic arrangements. And like Brecht he does it in a wickedly simple, accessible, entertaining style.


Everyone can see the growing inequality, the precarious and low paid nature of employment, the housing crisis in our cities, the divisions and inequalities between social classes, the problems of obesity, drink and drugs, and the sheer everyday struggle to pay the bills for many working people. In this situation, Fred Voss is like a prophet. He is warning us of the consequences of the way we live, he is telling truth to power, and he is inspiring us with a positive vision of a possible – and desirable – socialist future. 

- Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite the Union.


Slave Songs and Symphonies is an ambitious, beautifully crafted collection of poems, images and epigraphs. It's about human history, progressive art and music, campaigns for political freedom, social justice and peace. Above all it's about the class and cultural struggle of workers 'by hand and by brain’ to regain control and ownership of the fruits of their labour. David Betteridge’s poems are leftist, lyrical, and learned, infused with sadness and compassion for the sufferings of our class, the working class. They are also inspired by visionary hope, and a strong belief that our class-divided society and culture can be transformed by radical politics and good art – and by radical art and good politics. Bob Starrett’s drawings are much more than illustrations. They dance with the poems, commenting on them as well as illustrating them. They are like Goya’s drawings in their dark, ink-black truthfulness and their intimate knowledge of suffering and Blake’s 'mental fight'. Like the poems, they express and resolve the struggles they depict. Slave Songs and Symphonies tells the story of how slave songs become symphonies – and helps makes it happen. It is not just about class and cultural struggle – it is class and cultural struggle.

Each booklet is priced at £5.99 (plus £1.50 p&p). Or you can buy all three for £15. They are available from: manifestopress.org.uk

The Heels of Can-Can Dancers Kicking Towards the Stars
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 10:31

The Heels of Can-Can Dancers Kicking Towards the Stars

Written by
in Poetry

The Heels of Can-Can Dancers Kicking Towards the Stars

by Fred Voss

A poem is a reason to get up in the morning
the crowns
of 100 Sequoia redwood trees soaking in the sun
together a cup
of ice water in the middle of the Sahara desert a poem
bounces across a midnight alley like the eyes
of the black cat travels
around the globe like the song of the whale at the bottom
of the sea
no king
will ever rule as completely as the laws of gravity true
as poems a poem
is the kiss of a beautiful woman on the lips of a man who has just finished doing 20 years
in San Quentin the hooting
of the owl during a total eclipse
of the sun a poem
runs down an Olympic track like Jesse Owens’s black feet proving Hitler’s white master race
a lie breaks
open the Bastille because no human being can ever be kept down
forever takes
off his hat to no man as he strides like Walt Whitman
down his open road
a poem
is the heels of can-can dancers kicking
toward the stars Hamlet
saying words that will last longer
than all the empires a poem
is a strawberry ice cream cone licked
under fireworks
a man
on a bridge over a river pressing a trumpet to his lips playing notes so beautiful he will never
into the water below a poem
hits harder than any hammer a poem is a girder
in a skyscraper the spine of a saber-toothed tiger the horn
of a midnight train crossing a bridge over the Mississippi River
as Huck Finn paddles escaped slave Jim down its deep waters
toward freedom old
as a poem.

Matt Abbott
Sunday, 19 February 2017 19:09

Pick up a pen and speak out

Written by
in Poetry

It was a couple of weeks after my 18th birthday, and I was on the coach back from a political rally in London. It was either anti-cuts or anti-war, I’m not entirely sure, but safe to say it attracted those of us on the left of the political spectrum.

On the way home, I started chatting to a local activist who was heavily involved in organising politically focused events. It turned out that he was organising a Love Music Hate Racism gig in Wakefield in a couple of weeks’ time, with Jerry Dammers of The Specials doing a DJ set. I’d very recently written an anti-racism poem called ‘Nazis on the Doorstep’ and asked if I could perform it at the event. I saw his face drop, and he mumbled an excuse as to why it might not be feasible.

Regardless of his obvious reluctance, I turned up at the event, eager for the opportunity. Again, he was attempting to palm me off, but a couple of acts in, I slyly arranged to introduce the next band and took to the mic. There were around 500 people in – by far the largest audience I’d ever had at this stage – and I remember my hand shaking as it grasped the sweaty SM58.

I performed my poem, leaning heavily on the machine-gun style of a certain John Cooper Clarke, and much to the surprise of both myself and the event organiser, it went down an absolute storm. I still to this day remember the rapturous applause, and after six months of writing poems and then uploading them to MySpace, I knew that I was genuinely onto something.

At this stage I was approaching the end of my A-Levels, and Government & Politics was one of my subjects, so coupled with my textbooks and a Bill Hicks DVD, I felt well positioned to lead a global revolution. Of the six months that I’d been writing poems, I’d been sporadically performing for four, and every one of these performances was at a music gig. But after the Love Music Hate Racism event, a new chapter was born – and since then my political activism has been inextricably linked to my spoken word career.

Fast forward ten years, and I’ve just finished touring the country in support of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. This has involved sharing a stage with names including Paul Weller, Ken Loach, Sara Pascoe, Jeremy Hardy, Francesca Martinez, Mark Steel and more. In late October I supported Sleaford Mods, having appeared in their socio-political documentary ‘Invisible Britain’. In a couple of months, I’m gigging at a trade union annual conference with Corbyn himself and UB40. So, it’s safe to say that I certainly haven’t held back when it comes to fusing poetry and politics. In fact, to be blatantly honest, I can’t imagine what my career would be like if it wasn’t for the political activism.

I belong
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Saturday, 21 January 2017 16:32

I belong

in Poetry
Written by

white privileges

upon a turquoise threshold
I hold on to you tighter
sensing shifts

I stroke these moments
of damaged velvet with
desperate need

hearing you breathe
no longer I and you
no longer black and white

I wish I could see
with your eyes
walk with your privileges

I swallow my words
like glass become tangled
in sheets of doubts

at the closed door
wondering the direction
the sun's rays will fall

I want a feeling of light
I want to be turned
on that pedestal

sheree mack poem


I belong. I have forgotten myself. I have forsaken myself; my voice, my love, my soul.

I have looked upon myself and found me wanting. I allowed those fears and doubts inside to marry up with those controlling critical voices outside. Together they solidified into a giant insurmountable wall around me; my voice, my truth, my soul.

And each day I added a brick into the wall. With each job and gig and publication I received based on some manufactured voice, l made the charade harder to let go. This voice, I became an expert in, as this voice fitted in, this voice was good enough for them.

This false voice was based on fear. Watered down and weak and accepted, keep-them-laughing-in-their-seats kind of voice.
But I'm here today, right now, telling you; all those fearful, doubting, critical, 'I'm not enough kind of voices', both internal amd external, to fuck right off.

I mean it. Fuck off. All you've done is silenced me, muzzled me, white-washed me. Turned me into a house nigger. Yes I'll be real good. I'll not speak or step out of line. Or be different.

I'll be good real good. I'll not do or say anything to make you feel uncomfortable. Do anything you want to me. Beat me. Humiliate me. Shame me. I'll just keep on smiling, good. Look at my teeth.

I've played my part so well that you don't have to police me any more. I've internalised all this hate that I police myself.

You can't curse nobody. Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. Goddam, he say, you nothing at all.

- The Color Purple, Alice Walker.

Fuck 'em. You are not me. I am not my fears. I am not small and silent. I am not compliant. I am complicit no more.
I am a black woman from a rich ancestral lineage. I come from a people who fought and suffered and died so I could live. Deal with it.

I don't need your raggedy-arse fears and criticism and dirty looks. You said those things to keep me in my place. To keep me from fulling my full potential. My true potential.

It's over. You and all your cronies. The power you had over me is gone. I have seen the light. And I'd rather live my life my way. True to me.

I'm unique. There ain't ever gonna be anyone like me on this here earth again. So it's my birthright to live my life right by me. The real, authentic me. The whole me you've been trying desperately to keep in a box. The wild me you've tried to shame and silence.

You ain't gonna do that any more. I am my own queen, I have sovereignty. I have the power. Walk away now. Go on, fuck off.

You're not welcome around here anymore. You don't belong.

I belong.

Maple Leaf
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Wednesday, 18 January 2017 09:39

A Coverlet of Green: In Memoriam John Berger

in Poetry
Written by


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
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Monday, 16 January 2017 16:17

Like Mother

in Poetry
Written by

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

I am pleased to congratulate Mr. Trump
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Monday, 14 November 2016 17:19

I am pleased to congratulate Mr. Trump

in Poetry
Written by

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/

'Work For It!' John Berger at 90
Friday, 04 November 2016 15:36

'Work For It!' John Berger at 90

Written by
in Poetry

John Berger was born on 5th November 1926. To celebrate his 90th birthday, we republish some of his poems, an interview, and some of his quotations.

One of the people who was due to attend the Teeside International Poetry Festival in 2015 was John Berger, the Marxist art critic, essayist, novelist, artist and poet. He could not come in the end, due to severe arthritis, but he appeared via Skype at one of the sessions, and recited some poems from his recent collection, published by Smokestack Books.

Collected Poems reflects Berger's longstanding concerns with art and politics, love and war, history and memory, and the life of the peasantry around him (he used to live in the Haute Savoie, in the French Alps). They demonstrate an enduring commitment to the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.

You can tell from the poems that the writer is a fine draughtsman and artist. Each one of them is like a perfectly framed image, a painted still life, sensual, honest and plain. They are sketches of hard lives, caught between the provisional nature of language and the permanence of things. Here are five of the poems.

16.45h The Firing Squad

The dog carried the day in her mouth
over the fields of the small hours
towards a hiding place
which before had been safe.

Nobody was woken before dawn.

At noon
the dog sprawling in the shade
placed the pup between her four paws
and waited in vain
for it to suck.

A line of prisoners
hands knotted
fall forward
into the grave they have dug.

Belly to the earth
the dog carries the day
which has never stirred
back to its dark.

Under the stars the bereaved
imagine they hear
a dog howling too
on the edge of the world.

This piteous day was born
stone-deaf and blind.


Mother let me cry
not letterpress
nor telex
nor stainless speech
announce disaster
with impunity -
but the pages of the wound.

Mother let me speak
not adjectives
to colour
their maps of wretchedness
nor nouns to classify
the families of pain -
but the verb of suffering.

My mother tongue taps
the sentence
on the prison wall
Mother let me write
the voices
howling in the falls.


The pulse of the dead
as interminably
constant as the silence
which pockets the thrush.

The eyes of the dead
inscribed on our palms
as we walk on this earth
which pockets the thrush.

Seven Levels of Despair

To search each morning
to find the scraps
with which to survive another day.

The knowledge on waking
that in this legal wilderness
no rights exist.

The experience over the years
of nothing getting better
only worse.
The humiliation of being able
to change almost nothing,
and of seizing upon the almost
which then leads to another impasse.

The listening to a thousand promises
which pass inexorably
beside you and yours.

The example of those who resist
being bombarded to dust.

The weight of your own killed
a weight which closes
innocence for ever
because they are so many.


Pewter pock-marked
moon of the ladle
rising above the mountain
going down into the saucepan
serving generations
dredging what has grown from seed
in the garden
thickened with potato
outliving us all
on the wooden sky
of the kitchen wall

Serving mother
of the steaming pewter breast
veined by the salts
fed to her children
hungry as boars
with the evening earth
engrained around their nails
and bread the brother
serving mother

pour the sky steaming
with the carrot sun
the stars of salt
and the grease of the pig earth
pour the sky steaming
pour soup for our days
pour sleep for our night
pour years for my children

Art and Politics

As well as being a major poet, John Berger is a cultural critic who has challenged and changed the way we see the world, in countless essays and in books such as Ways of Seeing, Permanent Red, Pig Earth, and the novel G.

During the Skype session at the Festival, he answered some questions about art and politics. I followed this up with a telephone interview with him, and exchanged some texts, and below I set out the questions he was asked, and the answers that he gave.

Q. What constitutes good art?

A. Good art is like a lorry: it transports.

Q. Are poets, as Shelley famously suggested, the unacknowledged legislators of the world?

A. Poets are not legislators themselves, but they can be great agents of change. They evoke the need for a new politics by being able to envision the world, to summon up the past and future, to make them present, thus making it clearer how things could be different.

Q. Auden said that poetry changed nothing, and Brecht said that art is a hammer with which to change reality. Can poetry make useful political interventions, and change reality?

A. Well you have to remember that reality is not just some outside, fixed given, it includes our experience of what’s out there. With that in mind, it seems to me that poetry can indeed change people, because we all know how a good poem alters, no matter how slightly, our perceptions of the world around us. Those perceptions lead to us making hundreds of different choices, including political choices. So its effect is continuous, and multiple.  It can also encourage disobedience, and demonstrate that language is not necessarily the meaningless crap by which we are surrounded!

Q. You have produced many kinds of writing, including art criticism, novels, essays, and poems. Which discipline do you prefer the most?

A. Nearly all my work has involved collaborations with other people. For example, Ways of Seeing, for which most people know me best, was a collaboration with several others, and this tends to get forgotten.  So I would say that I don’t have a preferred genre as such, but I do have a preferred mode of creativity, and that is collaboration. For me, collaboration is a kind of solidarity, in fact it creates solidarity, and that is for me a very important principle of working.

Q. You spoke of the ability of poetry to envision the world. How should teachers and academics approach poetry, what should they do with it, and how should it be taught?

A. Students and people generally should be encouraged to surround themselves with poetry, with the sounds and forms and silences that are in poems.

Q. What impact do you think the internet has had on the arts and society generally?

A. The internet is a fast, effective way of sharing a lot of information. It thus helps expose and clarify the present structures of power in the world. It makes it clearer how globalised capitalism works, how the world is run by decisions taken by giant transnational corporations, by tiny elites of capitalists.
I think many young people see this clearly, partly because of the ease with which they handle new technology, but also because they are one of the main victims of unemployment, low pay and insecure employment.

Politicians have lost power, or perhaps it has become clearer how little power they ever really had. But they won’t admit it, and this leads to great folly and doublespeak in the use of language, which alienates people, it makes us feel lost and desperate. But we can resist it when we realize where power comes from, and as I say, the internet and new technology generally can help clarify where real power lies.

Q. What would be your parting message be to us?

A. We live in a dark age. Art has existed for at least 30,000 years. Another age of hope will come.

Work for it!

Some Quotes from John Berger

'the issue is between a total approach to art which attempts to relate it to every aspect of experience and the esoteric approach of a few specialised experts, who are the clerks of the nostalgia of a ruling class in decline. In decline, not before the proletariat, but before the new power of the corporation and the state.'

‘I now believe there is an absolute incompatibility between art and private property, or art and state property, unless the state is a plebeian democracy. Property must be destroyed before imagination can be developed any further.'

'My aim has been to try and destroy this bourgeois society'

'The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied...but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.'

as if they are normal folk
Wednesday, 02 November 2016 15:33

as if they are normal folk

Written by
in Poetry

as if they are normal folk

by Jane Burn

Shops.      Imagine them wanting
shops.       Wanting to buy stuff      as if
they are normal folk.      Wanting to be
just like us,     with our popping out for bread
and milk,      fags, sweets, bsicuits, pop.
Whatever.      Imagine them needing
food like that.      Libraries.      Imagine them
wanting to read.      As if they care about words,
want to educate      their children, pass
the time.       Time on their hands?      What
do they want time on their hands for?      Surely
they should be out       working or something else.
Cafes? Cafes?      Like they are bothered about
meeting up, sharing conversations,      maybe even
make friends.      As if,      as if it is
fucking Butlins!      I mean, are they ever going to
go home if       they’re living in some sort of
holiday camp?      They have a nightclub now.
A nightclub.      Imagine them wanting
to sing and dance?        Kara-bleedin’-oke?
We like our revellers British, ta very much,
our piss-heads        local.      This church,
this beautiful, fragile, plastic sheet and wood-slat church,
painted up with illuminated angels, simple cross on top.
What's the actual?      These scroungers are not
Christians.      Step off our white-skinned, fair faced
God.      Swathes!      Swathes of them.      Rats.
Well done France,      Stephen from Rugby says.     
Londonzone - hiding under an alias - is brisk.      Good.
The comment crows.      Now finish the job.  

Written in reaction to a newspaper story
about the bulldozing of the settlement at Calais. 

Poets Exploding Like Bombs: poems from the Spanish Civil War
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 15:28

Poets Exploding Like Bombs: poems from the Spanish Civil War

Written by
in Poetry

To mark the 80th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War, and in memory of the British and Irish International Brigaders who wrote poems and who died in that war, Mike Quille introduces a few poems taken from Poems from Spain, edited by Jim Jump.

The war against Franco's fascist rebellion saw 'poets exploding like bombs' as Auden said in his famous poem 'Spain', published in 1937. And the war has sometimes been called 'the poets' war', probably because more progressive political poetry was written about it, from combatants and others on active service, than any other war in the twentieth century, even though it was considerably smaller and shorter than other wars. However, as in every other war in modern times, 80% of the fighters were men from manual trades. None of the poems below were written by professional poets. They were, though, exceptional individuals, activists from the Communist Party, the Labour Party, the trade unions and some of the allied cultural and educational institutions.

Alex McDade was a labourer from Glasgow who fought and was wounded at the battle of Jarama in 1937. He became a company political commissar for the British Battalion and was killed on 6 July 1937. His poem 'Valley of Jarama' was the basis for the song by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, but it's shorter, bleaker, and more soldierly.

Valley of Jarama
by Alex McDade

There's a valley in Spain called Jarama,
That's a place that we all know so well,
For 'tis there that we wasted our manhood,
And most of our old age as well.

From this valley they tell us we're leaving
But don't hasten to bid us adieu,
For e'en though we make our departure,
We'll be back in an hour or two.

Oh we're proud of our British Battalion,
And the marathon record it's made.
Please do us this little favour,
And take this last word to Brigade:

'You will never be happy with strangers,
They would not understand you as we.
So remember the Jarama Valley
And the old men who wait patiently.'

Charles Donnelly was an Irish Republican, Communist and trade union activist, who was also killed at Jarama. Like a number of war poems, his modernist poetry is formally innovative, finding bluntly effective ways to express the horror, cruelty and inhumanity of war.

The Tolerance of Crows
by Charles Donnelly

Death comes in quantity from solved
Problems on maps, well-ordered dispositions,
Angles of elevation and direction;

Comes innocent from tools children might
Love, retaining under pillows
Innocently impales on any flesh.

And with flesh falls apart the mind
That trails thought from the mind that cuts
Thought clearly for a waiting purpose.

Progress of poison in the nerves and
Discipline’s collapse is halted.
Body awaits the tolerance of crows.

Heroic Heart
by Charles Donnelly

Ice of heroic heart seals plasmic soil
Where things ludicrously take root
To show in leaf kindnesses time had buried
And cry music under a storm of 'planes,
Making thrust head to slacken, muscles waver
And intent mouth recall old tender tricks.
Ice of heroic heart seals steel-bound brain.

There newer organs built for friendship's grappling
Waste down like wax. There only leafless plants
And earth retain disinterestedness.
Though magnetised to lie of the land, moves
Heartily over the map wrapped in its iron
Storm. Battering the toads, armoured columns
Break walls of stone or bone without receipt.
Jawbones find new ways with meats, loins
Raking and blind, new way with women.

Norman Brookfield worked in a library in Essex and died in September 1938 at the Sierra de Caballs in the battalion's last day in action. His style is much more traditional than Donnelly's, almost hymn-like, but equally anguished.

'Rest, I will know your all-pervading calm'
by Norman Brookfield

Rest, I will know your all-pervading calm
Relax my limbs, and feel your sooting balm;
Beneath light's tranquil stars I'll sleep at ease
When dawn's well past, to rise, and day-time fill
With pleasant strolls and food and talk at will.
Shaping vague thoughts beneath the olive trees;
Watching tobacco wreathe its lazy fumes
Quintessence rare, O rest of your perfumes.
And yet this is a respite that must end
An interval between the course of war
Which all too soon will raise its dreadful roar,
Bidding my laggard pace once more to mend;
But 'tis the thoughts of past and future strife
That make you sweet, O rest, and with you – life.

George Green was an ambulance driver, dispatch rider and hospital orderly in Spain, and was killed on the same day and at the same battle. He wrote in a very modern, prosepoetical way, vividly evoking the battlefront in an almost cinematic way. 

Dressing Station
by George Green

Casa de Campo, Madrid, March 1937

Here the surgeon, unsterile, probes by candlelight the embedded bullet.
Here the ambulance-driver waits the next journey; hand tremulous
on the wheel, eye refusing to acknowledge fear of the bridge, of
the barrage at the bad crossing.
Here the stretcher-bearer walks dead on his feet, too tired to
wince at the whistle of death in the black air over the shallow
trench; to tired now to calculate with each journey the
the diminishing chances of any return to his children, to meals at a
table, to music and the sound of feet in the jota.
Here are ears tuned to the wail of shells: lips that say, this one gets the
whole bloody station: the reflex action that flings us into the safer
corners, to cower from the falling masonry and the hot
tearing splinters at our guts.
Here the sweet smell of blood, shit, iodine, the smoke-embittered air,
the furtive odour of the dead.
Here also the dead.
Here also the dead.
This afternoon five.
Then eight.
Then two neat rows.
And now.......this was the courtyard of the road-house, filling-station
for the Hispano-Suizas and the young grandees' bellies. The sign
American Bar still hangs unshattered.
….I cannot count. Three deep: monstrous sprawling: slid from
dripping stretchers for more importunate tenants: bearded
plough-boys' faces: ownerless hand: shatterd pelvis: boots laced
for the last time: eyes moon-cold, moon-bright, defying the moon:
smashed mouth scaring away thought of the peasant breasts that so
recently suckled it....
I cannot count.

But poet, this is old stuff.
This we too have seen.
This is Flanders 1917. sassoon and Wilfred Owen did this so much better.
Is this all?
Do twenty years count for nothing?
Have you no more to show?

Yes, we have more to show.
Yes, though we grant you the two-dimensional similarity, even (to
complete the picture) allowing you the occasional brass-hat and
the self-inflicted wound.
Yet there is another dimension. Look closely. Listen carefully.

Privilege here battles with no real privilege.
The dupe there, machine-gunning us from the trenched hillside,
fights still to preserve a master's title-deeds, but we....we battle
for life.
This....we speak a little proudly, who so recently threw off the slave
shackles to do a man's work.....
This is our war.

These wounds have the red flag in them.
This salute carries respect.
Here the young soldier says 'camarada' to his general.
Here we give heed to no promise of a land fit for heroes to live in, but
take for ourselves the world to mould in our hands.
These ranks can never be broken by four years of mud and bitter
metal, into sporadic and betrayed rebellion.
Here the consciousness of a thousand years' oppression binds us as
brothers....We have learnt our lesson.
Look. Over the bridge (it is not yet dawn) comes a Russian lorry,
Forty-three years gone, unarmed St. Petersburg's blood paid a heavy
duty on those shells.
And I? The Chartists commandeered this ambulance from a Portland
Street shop-window.
I drove: and dead Communards raised living fists as far south as
Perpignan. I saw the perils of the Pyrenees spurned by feet that
once had scaled a Bastille, by the fair-haired boys who graduated in
the streets of Charlottenburg, by those who paid a steerage
passage, to tell us how their fathers fell at Valley Forge.
For this is not 1917.
This is the struggle that justifies the try-outs of history.
This is the light that illuminates, the link that unites Wat Tyler and
the Boxer rebellion.
This is our difference, our strength, this is our manifesto, this
our song that cannot be silenced by bullets.

And finally, to Rupert John Cornford, a Cambridge Communist who was the first Englishman to enlist. He travelled twice to Spain to fight for the POUM and the International Brigades against Franco's rebels, and died in December 1936 at Lopera, near Cordoba.

'These are poems of the will, and the will bangs a drum' wrote Stephen Spender of Cornford's poems, which like some of the poems above combine a modernist sensibility with a direct, blunt and unflowery descriptions, images and diction. Here he is, banging the drum from Aragon.

A Letter From Aragon
by John Cornford

This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.

We buried Ruiz in a new pine coffin,
But the shroud was too small and his washed feet stuck out.
The stink of his corpse came through the clean pine boards
And some of the bearers wrapped handkerchiefs round their faces.
Death was not dignified.
We hacked a ragged grave in the unfriendly earth
And fired a ragged volley over the grave.

You could tell from our listlessness, no one much missed him.

This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.
There is no poison gas and no H. E.

But when they shelled the other end of the village
And the streets were choked with dust
Women came screaming out of the crumbling houses,
Clutched under one arm the naked rump of an infant.
I thought: how ugly fear is.

This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.
Our nerves are steady; we all sleep soundly.

In the clean hospital bed, my eyes were so heavy
Sleep easily blotted out one ugly picture,
A wounded militiaman moaning on a stretcher,
Now out of danger, but still crying for water,
Strong against death, but unprepared for such pain.

This on a quiet front.

But when I shook hands to leave, an Anarchist worker
Said: 'Tell the workers of England
This was a war not of our own making
We did not seek it.
But if ever the Fascists again rule Barcelona
It will be as a heap of ruins with us workers beneath it.'

Acknowledgements and grateful thanks are due to Jim Jump. The poems are all taken from a highly recommended book called Poems from Spain, edited by Jim, and published by Lawrence and Wishart, 2006. The book contains a foreword by Jack Jones; an excellent, clear introduction to the poems; notes on the poets and poems; and a brief history of the British and Irish Brigades' involvement in the war.

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