Mike Quille

Mike Quille

Mike Quille is a writer, reviewer and chief editor of Culture Matters.

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2021: The winners!
Monday, 12 July 2021 08:36

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2021: The winners!

Published in Poetry

The judges, Andy Croft of Smokestack Books and Mary Sayer from Unite, have picked the following five winners for 2021:

Have Mercy on the Multi-Drop Man by Eamonn Harvey

They Want All Our Teeth to be Theirs by Martin Hayes

The Apple Tree by Alan Sleater

Spray Carnations by Steven Taylor

So Long Mariana by Alan Weadick

Congratulations to the five winners and thanks to all those who entered. The Bread and Roses anthology containing a selection of entries will be available to buy later in the year. If you wish to order copies in advance please contactThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Here are the judges' comments on this year's entries:

It is hard to write about the injustices of contemporary society without slipping into easy denunciations, second-hand phrases and borrowed anger. The best political poetry should also be painful to read, interrogating itself and challenging what the reader thinks they know or believe to be true.

The entries to this year’s Bread and Roses competition certainly share a sense of impatient rage and revulsion at the way the world works; but they are also distinguished by intellectual ambition, literary technique and political resilience. And they say what needs to be said about the subjects that matter most – inequality, work, unemployment, solidarity, struggle, homelessness, racism, illegal wars, environmental disaster.

Andy Croft, Smokestack Books

At a time when the working class struggles to make itself heard in the arts, which are in danger of becoming the preserve of the entitled - we need to raise our voices louder than ever.

When some of us feel as if a protective layer of our emotions has been torn off by the powers that be - it has been particularly heartening to read these resonant outpourings from our comrades. A whole range of emotions live in these beautiful and brave poems: passion, reflection, tender nostalgia and hope – through to urgent and justifiable outrage. Always inspiring and often very funny and comforting. Just the title alone of one my favourite of these poems does it for me: 'Have Mercy on the Multi-drop Man'. Brilliant!

 - Mary Sayer, Unite

Here is one of the winning poems, the others will be published online shortly:

So Long, Mariana
(A Farewell to Employee No. 322952 from Employee No. 323647)

by Alan Weadick

Such a huge sigh, Mariana, containing, I hope,
only a fraction of what we'll both

still have left over after this out of office hours
work that flows from us in salt and water

as we cut a swath through the dust
of dead messages, contemplating beds

of sharpened pencils in the era of eyes
that never blink, trying not to sink

into the special pit reserved
for rapidly cooling corporate benevolence.

Which, I am given to understand,
likes us fine and makes us the subject

of many an after –dinner speaker,
the same Babel all over, Mariana,

out in the nursing homes of the privately
wicked, those who claim to be on your side

while on their way to the revolving door
to snuggle up with their lump sums.

So sigh some more, Mariana,
as often and deeply as it takes

to make your first song
(I can't tell you how many; I'm still sighing

my way through a dozen wet cardboard walls).
But those who have ears will hear it

true and unmistakable as the hand writing
in light that must have made you up

(there is no other explanation for you, Mariana)
with just such a mission in mind

after each Brazilian night to come
with its far from neutral face

has done its worst to erase
whatever it is about you, Mariana,

and what you've left behind
that can't be binned or sold.

Apricot Sun
Monday, 12 July 2021 08:09

Apricot Sun

Published in Poetry

Trisha Heaney’s poems are  sincere, authentic and true. Her polemical pieces show no pity for the pitiless, combining outrage and insight, but the political is often potently personal, whether the focus is on the communitarian solidarity experienced growing up on a Glasgow housing scheme, or on the sense of belonging she discovered as a teacher in poverty-stricken Sudan. 

Sharp of eye and tongue, Trisha Heaney listens with her heart. Though much here is dark and dismaying, hope is never quite given up and this splendid poet’s Apricot Sun glows with warmth and illumination. Empathy, compassion and love are expressed with technical elan, imaginative verve and a natural storyteller’s talent for compelling communication, making this an uplifting and notable debut.
                                                                      — Donny O’Rourke

 

Apricot Sun, by Rebecca Lowe, ISBN 978-1-912710-26-3, 88pps., price £10 plus £3 p. and p.

Apricot Sun
Monday, 12 July 2021 07:49

Apricot Sun

Published in Books

Trisha Heaney’s poems are  sincere, authentic and true. Her polemical pieces show no pity for the pitiless, combining outrage and insight, but the political is often potently personal, whether the focus is on the communitarian solidarity experienced growing up on a Glasgow housing scheme, or on the sense of belonging she discovered as a teacher in poverty-stricken Sudan. 

Sharp of eye and tongue, Trisha Heaney listens with her heart. Though much here is dark and dismaying, hope is never quite given up and this splendid poet’s Apricot Sun glows with warmth and illumination. Empathy, compassion and love are expressed with technical elan, imaginative verve and a natural storyteller’s talent for compelling communication, making this an uplifting and notable debut.
                                                                      — Donny O’Rourke

 

Apricot Sun, by Rebecca Lowe, ISBN 978-1-912710-26-3, 88pps., price £10 plus £3 p. and p.

Our Father Eclipse
Thursday, 11 March 2021 13:53

Our Father Eclipse

Published in Books

Our Father Eclipse is a pseudo-apocalyptic, eco-socialist, dystopian vision of the world. Framed amid the realities of global pandemic and climate emergency, it speaks to a post-truth political era where neoliberal capitalism is clearly and dramatically failing. Dark, yet edged with hope, it contains questions of faith, belief and truth at its heart. Visionary and observational by turns, it is both unsettling and provocative, full of radical passion and revolutionary compassion. 

Our Father Eclipse, by Rebecca Lowe, ISBN 978-1-912710-37-9 , 67pps., price £10 plus £3 p. and p.

Anonymous Bosch
Thursday, 11 March 2021 13:47

Anonymous Bosch

Published in Books

Mike Jenkins once again invites us into the daily lives of austerity-struck residents of Merthyr Tydfil and the Valleys, in this bittersweet collection of poem-monologues, communicated in the sympathetic Welsh working-class voice that has become the poet's signature.

Once again we find them coping with the stresses and strains on the social fabric caused by decades of deindustrialisation and abandonment by Capital, magnified by recent Tory cuts to public services. Nevertheless, in the face of this oppression and depression, Jenkins' picaresque, expletive-rich speakers are defiantly talkative, witty and irrepressibly expressive as ever.

The striking, poignant black and white images of Dave Lewis brilliantly evoke the setting for these gritty, singsong poems. Together they form a modern mythology of Merthyr and the Valleys, which brings to mind the nightmarish imaginaries of Francisco Goya, William Hogarth and, of course, Hieronymous Bosch, all set against a hopeless backdrop of pandemic, poundshop and foodbank.

Anonymous Bosch, by Mike Jenkins with images by Dave Lewis, ISBN 978-1-912710-35-5, 83pps., price £10 plus £3 p. and p. 

Ballad of the Black Domain
Thursday, 25 February 2021 17:36

Ballad of the Black Domain

Published in Poetry

Ballad of the Black Domain

by Alun Rees

When you’re born in Merthyr Tydfil
you’re brought up in grief and rain.
God himself was afraid to go
alone in the Black Domain.

Recession or Depression -
our loss was someone’s gain.
Living was lean and dying hard
in the terrible Black Domain.

Where body and soul were fed to coal
so that iron and steel might reign
a stern and stubborn race evolved
to survive in the Black Domain.

They say the Viking guys were tough,
stout Swede and dreadnought Dane.
But I tell you, lads, they weren’t a patch
on the boys of the Black Domain.

Some claim the Saxons were harder than us
but their boasts are vapid and vain:
it took a whole gang to martyr Tydfil,
just one girl from the Black Domain.

Where did Keir Hardie roar his wrath
against poverty’s stench and stain?
Where did the Red Flag first fly free?
Here, in the Black Domain.

They wanted to wipe us off the map
for we bore the mark of Cain,
a furious folk and a fierce folk
prowling the Black Domain.

We were born to want and hardship,
we ate grit instead of grain,
but we were rich, yes, rich in rage,
we in the Black Domain.

Smooth talkers will tell you that such days
will never come again,
that they’ve interred and tarmac’d over
the rage of the Black Domain.

But when the valleys dream their dreams
something stalks in my brain.
A bloody something, fury-fuelled,
howls the songs of the Black Domain.

 Ballad of the Black Domain is a collection of poems about the 'Black Domain', the South Wales coalfield and the revolutionary traditions of Merthyr. It’s full of verve and sensitive empathy for the oppressed, with a deep sense of history that doesn't lapse into over-indulgent nostalgia.

There is a tension in the poetry between harmony and dissonance, whereby order can soon break down like society itself, and like the Rising in Merthyr in 1831, where workers claimed the town but paid with their blood. Alun Rees describes the fatal effects of pit disasters, and other examples of the callousness of mine owners to the needs of their workers. But he also conveys character and place with equal directness and telling descriptions. Poems like 'Werngoch Pond' capture a world outside the conflict of the class-divided and dominated Welsh nation.

Rees is a poet too long marginalised within his homeland and little known outside it—and yet his voice is surely as significant as that of his hero Idris Davies. He is a true poet of the people, who has never forgotten his home town and its central place in his imagination.

Ballad of the Black Domain and other poems, by Alun Rees, ISBN 978-1-912710-22-5. 46pps., price £10 plus £3 p. and p. and will be launched on 13th April at 7pm via Zoom. The link will be posted on the Home page.

Ballad of the Black Domain
Thursday, 25 February 2021 17:26

Ballad of the Black Domain

Published in Books

Ballad of the Black Domain is a collection of poems about the South Wales coalfield of its title and the revolutionary traditions of Merthyr. It’s full of verve and sensitive empathy for the oppressed, with a deep sense of history that doesn't lapse into over-indulgent nostalgia.

There is a tension in the poetry between harmony and dissonance, whereby order can soon break down like society itself, and like the Rising in Merthyr in 1831, where workers claimed the town but paid with their blood. Alun Rees describes the fatal effects of pit disasters, and other examples of the callousness of mine owners to the needs of their workers. But he also conveys character and place with equal directness and telling descriptions. Poems like 'Werngoch Pond' capture a world outside the conflict of the class-divided and dominated Welsh nation.

Rees is a poet too long marginalised within his homeland and little known outside it—and yet his voice is surely as significant as that of his hero Idris Davies. He is a true poet of the people, who has never forgotten his home town and its central place in his imagination.

Ballad of the Black Domain and other poems, by Alun Rees, ISBN 978-1-912710-22-5. 46pps., price £10 plus £3 p. and p.

Callout: the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2021
Monday, 01 February 2021 20:44

Callout: the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2021

Published in Poetry

Mike Quille issues a callout for this years's Bread and Roses Poetry Award

Culture Matters is pleased to announce that the fifth Bread and Roses Poetry Award, kindly sponsored by Unite the Union, is now open for entries.

Our mission is to promote cultural democracy in all the arts and other cultural activities. We run the Bread and Roses Poetry Award to create opportunities for working people to write poetry, and to encourage poets to focus on themes which are meaningful to working-class communities.

As in previous years, there will be 5 prizes of £100 for the best poems, and an anthology of  poems will be published later in the year. The judges are the same as last year: Andy Croft, poet and publisher of Smokestack Books, and Mary Sayer, Education Officer for Unite.

We are also offering a mentoring and support package for writers who have not yet published a collection. It will be offered to up to 3 entrants, who may or may not have won one of the 5 prizes. They will be linked to an experienced, published poet, and helped to produce their first published collection. This strand of the project is as important to us as the Award itself.

Submission Rules and Guidelines 

1. You may enter one or two original poems in English, each no more than 50 lines long. They should not have been previously published in print.

2. You must be resident in the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland.

3. Entry is free, and open to anyone regardless of trade union membership.

4. There will be five prizes of £100 each for the best poems. In addition, a mentoring and support package leading to a first published collection will be offered to up to 3 entrants, who may or may not be prizewinners.

5. Entries should broadly deal with themes relevant to working-class life, politics, communities and culture. 

6. Entries should be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by midnight on 31st May 2021. No entries will be accepted after that date.

7. Please include the poem(s) and your name, address, and contact details in the body of the email.

8. All entries remain the copyright of the author but Culture Matters and Unite will have the right to publish them online and in print.

9. By entering the Award, entrants agree to accept and be bound by the rules of the Award and the decisions of the judges. We are unable to respond individually to submissions.

Copies of the Bread and Roses Poetry Anthology 2020 (along with many other fine books of political poetry) are available to buy here.

Time to share our stories
Friday, 29 January 2021 10:39

Time to share our stories

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mike Quille interviews Gerry Murphy, President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Thanks for the chance to interview you on the subject of culture and the labour movement. Recently I interviewed Mark Taylor, one of the authors of Culture is Bad For You, a new book outlining how culture is riven by divisions and inequalities based on class background, ethnic origin and gender. Working-class people are much less likely to get into good jobs in the cultural industries, as actors, musicians, writers, film-makers etc., and much less likely to sustain them and make progress in them.

They are also under-represented as consumers, in audiences, visitors to galleries, concerts. In addition, there is also other research showing how literature, along with other mainstream cultural experiences, fail to represent working-class people fairly.

What is your experience and your views as a trade union leader on these issues?

Culture is a site of struggle that has huge potential to further improve our world and the lives of working people excluded from the many rich cultural experiences on offer.

I suggest that we as agents of change have yet, despite some valiant efforts, failed to fully employ the many forms of expression culture encompasses as a vehicle for change. This failure is evident in, the under-representation of the working class as contributors, instigators of and consumers of culture. It is obvious also in the subjects that populate the cultural landscape and the mediums in which they are expressed. Persons of influence in working-class communities, politics and the labour movement generally have been focused in seeking to address more pressing issues, such as ending poverty and creating a society where everyone is facilitated to reach their potential in peaceful co-existence.

The reasons underpinning this failure are complex. It is not simply that the middle and upper classes are better educated and possessed of incomes that permit them to indulge their cultural pretensions. It is not because the working class do not appreciate beauty or are devoid of imagination and talent. The failure, as I see it, is centred in two areas – those of opportunity and access.

Opportunity arises when circumstances allow for some of the time and energy otherwise expended on survival to be employed to communicate and share our experience and interpretation of the world around us. While access is about enabling, by overcoming the gatekeepers, to facilitate participation, creation and consumption of culture on the part of working people.

The stranglehold established on both of these areas by the middle and upper classes has permitted them a filter on all aspects of cultural life. If we are to be successful in broadening opportunity and facilitating greater access for the working class into society’s cultural life, we have to create the conditions whereby working people have the time and the energy to express themselves. That can only come about when the economic system which scaffolds our world is reshaped to bring about the necessary redistributions of power and wealth to facilitate this.

While that broader struggle continues it is important and vital that working-class experience of the world is recorded, transmitted and enjoyed by a broader audience. And for that to happen working people need to seize on the possibilities of technology and challenge the established cultural gatekeepers.

Those influencers who promote cultural mediums and expression, those who commission this work and target it at particular audiences need to be presented with authentic examples of the working-class experience. This working-class experience represents a largely unmined treasure trove of beauty, truth and joy, qualities enjoyed by audiences of all classes. I see my task, as a someone in a position of leadership, as providing encouragement to and advocacy on behalf of creatives working in whatever medium who communicate the working-class experience and interpretation of the world.

Can you give us an example of recent cultural works which in your opinion successfully communicate working-class experience?

The recent publication by the Culture Matters Co-operative of an anthology of writing by Irish working people and those of Irish descent, successfully communicates the working-class experience. This rich variety of stories from across the island of Ireland have been edited into a coherent and powerful insight to lives lived on the edge of social and economic certainty. “From the Plough to the Stars” showcases the raw talent, the humanity and honour of those that society has in many cases chosen to marginalise. The stories themselves, largely written by people unknown to the literary world, communicate with honesty both uncomfortable truths and reasons to be hopeful.

From Plough to Star cover  

Jenny Farrell, who did the editing, has alongside these writers challenged all of us as well as the established cultural elite to embrace the everyday experiences of working people. And while this book is entertaining, it is so much more, representing that challenge to wider society’s understanding of the sort off the world, we live in. This is central to what culture should do in all its forms, and this work is a fine example of it being done correctly.

Trade unions play a central role in the economic struggle to improve terms and conditions of working people; and they play an important role in the political struggle to bring progressive values of democracy, equality and justice into social life.

What can they do as part of the cultural struggle to serve their members; to ally with and support creative workers who want to focus on working-class experience in the content of their cultural work; and to influence government policies towards culture – for example the funding, accessibility, and content of state-supported culture?

I see the answer in two parts. Namely what is it trade unions can do themselves, internally, to support culture and those who participate in cultural activity as either creatives, or in the crafts and trades that bring so much of our culture to the audience. Then secondly, trade unions need to come up with a plan to persuade the gatekeepers in government and the creative industries to change their approaches and open culture and its opportunities to all.

 The whole notion of culture as a site of struggle that can effect positive change for working people needs to be addressed urgently by the trade union movement. Culture represents an opportunity to present an alternative narrative, build relationships and persuade people. Others are embracing its potential and trade unions risk being left behind. Trade unions have been focused for the last three decades on resisting the erosion of their capacity to effectively represent workers in the face of a succession of neoliberal governments and an increasingly global economic order. This struggle is essential and can be enhanced and aided by broadening the challenge to the established order into culture and the arts.

It requires a shift in mindset amongst trade union memberships that will come about with demonstrations of the power that cultural media present. Such demonstrations are becoming more popular across the world. For example: Banksy’s painting of a vigil candle burning the US flag; or the art of Ai Wei Wei are but two examples from recent times. These examples illustrate this power being exercised on a global stage but the same power on a different scale is within the reach of every individual and every community across the globe. Witness the wall at Free Derry Corner, which regularly features in various media communicating a community’s concerns, demands and solidarity with others.  

free derry 

Previously I have said that accessibility and opportunity represented the challenges working people need to be facilitated in overcoming to fully participate in cultural activities. The trade union movement has provided such access in the past – the miners’ libraries of Wales and the Socialist Sunday Schools of the mid-19th century and early 20th century are examples of what was done. Today our trade unions run extensive education programmes which could be broadened to further open up the cultural world to working people. Trade unions can choose to do this.

Efforts to organise the existing workforce in the crafts and trades which are vital to producing and showing cultural works need to be redoubled. This has to be a priority given these areas of work are riven with bogus self-employment and the zero-hours contract. These two devices are already targeted by the entire trade union movement, and extending the battle aggressively into the cultural sphere can only assist in bringing about their end. It would also attract more workers into trade union membership given the inherent financial vulnerabilities of so much cultural activity

Trade unions also possess the capacity to assist cultural workers and local communities to access the existing limited arts funding available from the government and charitable avenues. Simple things such as identifying potential funding opportunities and providing technical assistance to complete often lengthy and complicate applications are examples of practical help that could be made available.

Lessons learned by trade unions when taking industrial action are also a ready source of help. The power of the consumer could be better organised and mobilised. No one is better suited to this type of activity than trade unionists. Such activism has both the power to demand change but to also shift the cultural landscape to one more equally reflective of the experiences of everyone who shares the planet.  

What difference do you think the current pandemic is making to the cultural life of working people?

The pandemic is acting on the cultural life of working people with the same disregard as it is acting on the cultural lives of everyone. Culture is being suppressed and will continue to be suppressed, as funding and audiences will both take some time to return to pre-pandemic levels. What the post-pandemic period offers is an opportunity to manage the re-start of cultural activity in a more inclusive and equitable fashion. To do so would go some way to acknowledge the sacrifice made by the many essential frontline workers, the majority of whom are amongst the lowest paid in society, who have stood up for everyone regardless of class or whether they are fans of Milton or Rita Ora.    

Thanks very much Gerry, you have outlined a comprehensive and radical agenda for the trade union movement, cultural workers and cultural consumers. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The post-pandemic period offers is an opportunity to restart cultural activity in a more inclusive and equitable fashion. To do so would go some way to acknowledge the sacrifice made by the many essential frontline workers, the majority of whom are amongst the lowest paid in society, who have stood up for everyone regardless of class, race or gender.   

It really is time we took it back, and shared our stories.

Where We Get Magic From
Thursday, 03 December 2020 15:57

Where We Get Magic From

Published in Books

We tend to think that feeding and watering our kids is enough. Job done. We’re so busy making a living ourselves that we gladly hand them over to schools and to social media, to be fed the mainstream culture.

But that culture broadly supports the status quo. It does not do enough to produce confident kids with an imaginative ability to challenge and change the status quo.

So our true job is to teach them how to look. And when they have been encouraged how to look at things for themselves, how to create, shape and make things and ideas for themselves, then they will deep down know that things need to change.

These poems and images will work their magic, so that kids look for themselves and help themselves. So they write their own poems, make their own images, and live their own lives. That’s the true magic, knowing how to look and learn.

Where We Get Magic From, poems by Martin Hayes with 16 colour images by Adrian Malaiet, ISBN 978-1-912710-28-7. 63pps., price £10 plus £3 p. and p.

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