Mike Quille

Mike Quille

Mike Quille is a writer, reviewer and arts editor, and co-managing editor of Culture Matters.

Humphrey Jennings, The Silent Village, 1943
Tuesday, 19 April 2016 07:17

A socialist challenge to the status quo

Published in Festivals/ Events

'Meanwhile, what about Socialism?', a quote from Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier, was the question posed by the AV International Arts Festival 2016, held in North East England in March. Since 'socialism' was the most looked-for word in 2015, what more appropriate title for a progressive arts festival could there be?

Thematically linked by Orwell's road map of a democratic socialism based on equality and fairness, the events were all inspired by themes of socialist political struggle, and created by artists committed to the importance of cultural action in contributing to a progressive politics. Over the course of a month, a varied and wide-ranging programme was offered including 12 exhibitions, 48 films, many talks and discussions, and some special performances by artists.

The film screenings and discussions about British film maker Marc Karlin, whose work critiques both Thatcherism and Blairism, were highlights, as were the politically and aesthetically radical films from the Soviet Union.
The screening of Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's Winstanley was a reminder of the almost forgotten tradition of English communism, and the programme of British political documentaries from the 1930s to recent times exposing injustice and deprivation offered practical and utopian alternatives.
Why on earth, it made you wonder, aren't films like this being made any more?

The Festival ended with a live performance by Kris Canavan. Over 22 hours he pounded the pavement of Jarrow opposite derelict industrial land, crushing 200 concrete blocks, reflecting the number of proletarian protesters who marched to London, denouncing the crushing of their shipbuilding industry and their community by the capitalist system.

Thanks to the artists involved and the powerful, synergistic curating of the Festival Director, Rebecca Shatwell, all the events contributed to the sense of a developing manifesto, a collective challenge to the apolitical, self-referential mainstream art world, and to the harsh and corrupt consensus of the political world.

From different positions, in different art forms and geopolitical contexts, a common message emerged of international artists successfully removing progressive politics from the language of nostalgia and mourning and suggesting new and vibrant forms of resistance.

Neoliberal capitalism increasingly appears to be morally, culturally and politically bankrupt. It certainly has come close — and may come closer — to financial bankruptcy. Which is why the question AV poses: “What about socialism?” couldn't have been more timely.
Meanwhile, What About Socialism?
Sunday, 28 February 2016 16:47

Meanwhile, What About Socialism?

Published in Festivals/ Events

Socialism was the most looked-for word in 2015, but how often do you get an arts festival focused on it? Mike Quille previews the International AV Festival in North East England.

In 1936 George Orwell was commissioned by the Left Book Club to write about the class divisions, poverty, unemployment and social injustice caused by the collapse of financial capitalism in 1929, and the subsequent economic depression in the North of England. The resulting book, The Road to Wigan Pier, is a classic of committed writing, a sympathetic account of working class life in the North and a vivid analysis of the state of socialism in England. Exactly 80 years later, and a few years after another major failure in the capitalist system, the biennial International AV Festival of visual art, film and music, based in North East England, takes a similarly committed stance towards socialism. The Festival mirrors the structure of the book with Part One this year, followed by Part Two in 2018.

Part One features works by established and emerging artists and film-makers who like Orwell situate themselves in direct relation to political argument, struggle and propaganda. Presented in partnership with 14 venues across the North East, the programme, curated by Festival director Rebecca Shatwell, includes a grouped exhibition of 12 installations, 48 film screenings and special events, including 17 UK premieres and one world premiere.

The programme is wide-ranging and ambitious. Uniquely for an arts festival, it has been curated to address the challenges of global capitalism by deploying events, exhibitions and artworks with regional, national and international relevance. Thus there are several exhibitions with strong local historical roots, such as exhibitions about Thomas Spence, local arts collective Amber Films, and the Jarrow Crusade. There are several films by British film-maker Marc Karlin, who made influential radical films in the 80s and 90s, an exhibition and re-creation of Orwell's commissioners, the Left Book Club, and some fine documentaries from the 30s, 40s and 50s by film-makers sympathetic to the socialist project.

There is a  tremendous range of international themes and artists, diverse but interlinked. One weekend of the month-long festival is focused on events, discussions and films from left wing Japanese artists, with themes of political hi-jacking, terrorism, and support for Palestinian resistance.
Another weekend focuses on Ukrainian documentary movements, and features the world premiere of a newly rediscovered early Soviet film masterpiece by Mikhail Kaufman, brother of Dziga Vertov, the famous Soviet film director who made ‘Man with a Movie Camera’. The film has a live soundtrack by Test Dept. and is one of several potential highlights of the festival.

In addition to 1936, the other main historical reference point for the festival is 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union and artists' response to this moment and to the subsequent rise of capitalism. There are exhibitions by Ukrainian, Indian, Romanian, and Russian artists on this theme, including a Romanian cartoonist who will be making new drawings on a gallery wall, responding to national and international news.

The Road to Wigan Pier has some faults, but it persuasively argues that the basis of democratic socialism is equality and fairness, and that people of all classes need to understand about oppression and inequality in order to make socialism work. The festival is focused on achieving the same end. Dig out and re-read Orwell's book, then come along for an updated, globalised, multimedia – and potentially more progressive – version of it.

AV 2016 Part One: Meanwhile, What About Socialism? is on from 27 February to 27 March. The full programme is at www.avfestival.co.uk

Sunday, 28 February 2016 15:05

Editor's Notes, April 2016

Published in Round-up

First of all, thanks to all the women who contributed material to mark International Womens' Day, in particular Shirin Neshat, Lisa Kelly and Sheree Mack. Thanks also to all the writers from Ireland – Sarah Clancy, Kevin Higgins and Rita Ann Higgins – who contributed material to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, and thanks also to James Crossley for his well-timed Easter article on the Radical Jesus.

There is a lot of other new material on the site. On the culture hub, there is a contribution to left cultural theory from Marc James Leger, and the third instalment of the clear and stimulating series of articles on marxism and religion from Roland Boer, which touches on similar issues to James Crossley's article.

On the theatre section of the arts hub, another series of articles starts, by Gabriel Egan, on Shakespeare. On the film section, there is a review of The Big Short by Alex Simpson. There are also two excellent articles on music: an extended review of Snarky Puppy's latest album by Nick Grant, and a very original, illustrated article by Phil Brett on jazz album covers and political protest.

The poetry section has a new article by Alan Morrison on poetry and property, building on Andy Croft's earlier essay on the privatisation of poetry.

In the visual arts section is an article by John Green on the American photographer Paul Strand, which makes some similar points to those articles. There are also two expressive but saddening artworks from two anonymous prisoners in England.

Thanks to all the contributors, and once again we invite you to send in contributions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We're tentatively moving to a monthly format, publishing most articles at the beginning of each month, except for poetry, which we'll publish continually. So please send in any articles for the May issue by 22nd April.

Finally, can you or anyone you know (eg young relatives?) write radical stories or verse for children? If so, send them in, we'd like to publish some.

Mike Quille
Ben Stevenson
Co-Managing Editors

Tuesday, 01 December 2015 14:09

Contributors to Culture Matters

Published in About us

The editors would like to thank all the contributors for the material sent in to us.

Mark Abel is a musician and a trade union activist. He teaches history and philosophy at University of Brighton.

Matt Abbott is a spoken word poet from West Yorkshire. Having started a few weeks before his 18th birthday, his career has so far ranged from a major record deal with the band Skint & Demoralised, through to political activism, education work and forming spoken word record label Nymphs & Thugs. He is an ambassador for Trinity Homeless Projects and CRIBS International, as well as Poet-in-Residence at the National Coal Mining Museum for England.

Jim Aitken is a poet and dramatist. His last play 'Leaving George', explored the Scottish Referendum and was produced by Spartaki Theatre at last year's Leith Festival. Jim also tutors in Scottish Cultural Studies in Edinburgh. He is a member of Scottish Pen.

Nathan Akehurst is a socialist activist and freelance writer, working in campaigns and communications.

Tayo Aluko is the writer and performer of the multi-award-winning CALL MR ROBESON which he has been touring worldwide since 2008. His new play JUST AN ORDINARY LAWYER has also started being performed internationally since February 2017.

Chris Amos is a professional playwright, actor and director working largely with young people and people with special needs. He lives on the Grand Union Canal and performs his poetry as THE RED LIGHTERMAN. He is a proud veteran of the 1984-85 Miners' Strike.

Keith Armstrong has worked as a community worker, librarian, publisher and poet, and has performed his poetry throughout the world.

Alain Badiou is a French philosopher, formerly chair of Philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure and founder of the faculty of Philosophy of the Université de Paris VIII with Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault and Jean-François Lyotard.

Chris Bartter is a Glasgow-based writer and cultural activist, blogging at captaingrumping.blogspot.co.uk. Chris was the Communications Officer at UNISON Scotland for 20 years.

David Betteridge is the author of a collection of poems celebrating Glasgow and its radical traditions, 'Granny Albyn's Complaint', published by Smokestack Books in 2008. He is also the editor of a compilation of poems, songs, prose memoirs, photographs and cartoons celebrating the 1971-2 UCS work-in on Clydeside. This book, called 'A Rose Loupt Oot', was published by Smokestack Books in 2011.

Ian Birchall is a writer and translator; see his website at http://grimanddim.org

Roland Boer is a Professor at the School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle (Australia), and also teaches at Renmin University, China. He blogs at stalinsmoustache.org.

Mina Boromand and Chris Bird create art and cartoons for 'The Morning Star' newspaper and trade union publications, hoping to connect political action to creativity and imagination. They have organised exhibitions and displays at the Marx Memorial Library and other events such as the annual Red Star conference.

Dr Emma Boyland is a lecturer in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Liverpool. She is part of the appetite and obesity research group, which addresses behavioural and psychological processes that govern appetite expression - see https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/psychology-health-and-society/research/appetite-and-obesity.

Ross Bradshaw runs the radical Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham.

Peter Branson is a full time poet, songwriter, traditional-style singer and socialist whose poetry has been published around the world. His latest collection, ‘Hawk Rising’, is due out early 2016.

Phil Brett is a primary school teacher who has written a future fiction/crime novel, Comrades Come Rally, and is at this moment writing a sequel. He lives in London.

Geoff Bright is a Research Fellow in the Education and Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University. With a background as a rail union activist and community educator in the UK coalfields, his research focuses on the intersection of class, place, gender and affect as it impacts on the political imagination of working class communities.

Andrew Brown is a religious naturalist, Unitarian minister in Cambridge, hermeneutic communist, jazz bass player, photographer, cyclist and Thoreauvian walker.

Matt Bruce is an architect who moved to Lewis in 1987 and worked in both public and private sectors and then on housing development in the islands' council. He is now retired but active in a number of community organisations. 

Andy Byford is Senior Lecturer in Russian at Durham University in the United Kingdom. He has published on the history of the human sciences in Russia across the late tsarist and early Soviet periods.

Graham Caveney is the author of biographies of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (both published by Bloomsbury) His memoir The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness will be published by Picador in the spring of 2017.

Prudence Chamberlain is a Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing. Her first collection is forthcoming with Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, while her collaborative work with SJ Fowler, on Disney, will be released later this year. She is currently writing a book on affect and the fourth wave of feminism for Palgrave Macmillan.

 Amarjit Chandan is a noted Punjabi poet and essayist. He is the author of eight collections of poetry and three books of essays in Punjabi (in the Gurmukhi and the Persian script) and one book of poetry in English translation.

Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD is a writer, translator, founder of the Sangha Kommune, and Spiritual Director of the Chan Buddhism Institute.

Sarah Clancy is a poet from Galway, Ireland. Her last two collections of poetry are ‘Thanks for Nothing, Hippies' and ‘The Truth and Other Stories’ published by Salmon Poetry. In 2015 she was named the Bogman's Cannon People's Poet.

Tony Collins is a professor of history at De Montfort University. His books include 'Sport in Capitalist Society' and 'The Oval World'.

Gerry Cordon is a retired FE college lecturer, blogging at gerryco23.wordpress.com.

Andy Croft has written and edited over 80 books, including poetry, biography, teenage non-fiction and novels for children. He writes a regular poetry column for the Morning Star, curates the T-junction international poetry festival on Teesside and runs Smokestack Books. He lives in North Yorkshire.

James Crossley is Professor of Bible, Society and Politics at St Mary's University, Twickenham. He writes mainly on religion and politics in the twentieth and twenty-first century, and the historical Jesus in the first century.

Sophie Coudray is a PhD student in drama studies in Strasbourg, a member of the External Editorial Board of Périodeand an activist.

Amir Darwish is a poet, born in Syria and now living in London. His poetry has been published in the USA, Pakistan, Finland, Morocco and Mexico, and he is a graduate of Teesside University and the University of Durham.

Joel Davie works at the library at the University of Nottingham. He spends the rest of his time reading. 

Peggy Deamer is a professor of architecture at Yale University and a practicing architect. She is the founding member of the Architecture Lobby, an activist organisation that argues for the value of architectural work within and without the profession.

Jeremy Dibble is Professor of Musicology at Durham University.

Nadia Drews is a playwright, director, poet and performer. Thirty years of repressed rhymes mean she writes long poems - but she reads them fast.

Anne E. Duggan is a Professor of French at Wayne State University. She is co-editor of Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies (http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/marvels/) and author of Salonnières, Furies, and Fairies: The Politics of Gender and Cultural Change in Absolutist France (2005) and Queer Enchantments: Gender, Sexuality, and Class in the Fairy-Tale Cinema of Jacques Demy (2013; French edition 2015). 

Susan Millar DuMars is the author of four poetry collections, all published by Salmon Poetry. The most recent, Bone Fire, appeared in 2016.

Rod Duncan teaches creative writing but also works in film, poetry and non-fiction. He tweets at @RodDuncan.

Jonathan Edwards's first collection, My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren, 2014) received the Costa Poetry Award and the Wales Book of the Year People's Choice Award.

Gabriel Egan is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at de Montfort University, Leicester, and the author of Shakespeare and Marx, Oxford University Press, 2

John Ellison is a retired solicitor with a history of 40 years’ specialism in children law.

Joanne Entwistle is Reader in the Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College, London. She has written extensively on fashion, dress and the body. 

Jenny Farrell was born in Berlin. She has lived in Ireland since 1985, working as a lecturer in the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. Her main fields of interest are Irish and English poetry and the work of William Shakespeare. 

Robert Farrell lives and works in the Bronx, New York, as a librarian. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Underwater New York, The Brooklyn Review, NOON: journal of the short poem, REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Posit and other publications.

Michael Flynn is a photographer based in Ashington, Northumberland.

Paul Foley is a trade union activist and arts reviewer for the Morning Star.

Dermot Foster lives in Oldham and recently retired from teaching in colleges, communities, mental health facilities, and HMP Manchester.

Peter Frost is a travel writer and broadcaster. Today he writes about the environment, left wing history and many other subjects for a variety of publications including the Morning Star. He is member of the Labour Party.

Owen Gallagher is from Gorbals, Glasgow, and lives in London. He has written several books of poetry and his poems have been published widely in the UK, Ireland and abroad.

Julian Germain is a photographic artist.

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department.

Salena Godden has been described as ‘The doyenne of the spoken word scene’ (Ian McMillan, BBC Radio 3’s The Verb); ‘The Mae West madam of the salon’ (The Sunday Times) and as ‘everything the Daily Mail is terrified of’ (Kerrang! Magazine). She is also the lead singer and lyricist of SaltPeter, alongside composer Peter Coyte.

Catherine Graham's work has appeared in magazines and anthologies in the UK, USA and Ireland. Her first full collection, Things I Will Put In My Mother's Pocket (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2013).

Nick Grant recently retired from school teaching and a place on the national executive of the NUT. He's the drummer in his own band, Public Sector.  

Sandy Grant is a philosopher at the University of Cambridge and tweets at @TheSandyGrant. She recently delivered the Royal Institute of Philosophy Annual Lecture ‘Dark Times’, and is the first philosopher to perform at Latitude Festival.

John Green is a journalist and broadcaster. He has authored and edited several books and anthologies on a wide range of subjects including political biographies, labour history, poetry, natural history and environmental affairs.

Haydn Greenway is a recently retired nuclear medicine technologist, having worked for the NHS for over 30 years.

Steve Griffiths lives in Ludlow and has just published his seventh collection of poems, Late Love Poems (Cinnamon Press). Steve worked in London for most of his life in welfare rights and health and social policy, and now campaigns against inequality. See www.stevegriffithspoet.com.

Chris Guiton is a project manager, writer and co-managing editor of Culture Matters.

Paul Hawkins is a Bristol based poet whose fourth collection, Place Waste Dissent,a book of avant-garde protest poetry/collage, was published by Influx Press. The poems are taken from Claremont Road (Erbacce Press 2013).

PL Henderson has a background in art history/research and has been active in feminist politics and the arts for many years. She is currently working as a freelance writer and reviewer on the subject of women artists, feminism and art. She is also an artist and has had a number of exhibitions and arts events. See https://womensartblog.wordpress.com.

Kevin Higgins is a Galway-based poet, essayist and reviewer, and satirist-in-residence at the alternative literature site The Bogman's Cannon, www.bogmanscannon.com.

Rita Ann Higgins is a Galway-based poet and playwright. Her next collection Tongulish will be published by Bloodaxe in April 2016.

Gerald Horne is an African-American historian who currently holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston.

Rob Jeffrey is a playwright, specialising in short comedic, political pieces for BBC and local radio, and longer plays for the theatre.

Mike Jenkins is an award-winning Welsh poet and author and unofficial poet for Cardiff City FC. His new book of political poetry, Nobody's Subject, is published in Summer 2016.

Steve Johnson is London District Secretary of the CPB and a social worker by profession. He has a keen interest in music, politics and real ale and is a regular festival attender.

Susan Jones is a published writer, researcher and consultant on contemporary visual arts matters, at www.padwickjonesarts.co.uk. She is a specialist in artists’ livelihoods, professional development and employment patterns, and was Director of a-n The Artists Information Company 1999-2014.

Carl Joyce is a photographer based in Co. Durham, with a website at www.carljoyce.co.uk.

Chris Jury is an award winning actor, writer and director. A regular contributor to the Morning Star, he is also the co-founder of the Tolpuddle Radical film Festival and a member of the TV Committee of the Writers Guild Of Great Britain.

Mohja Kahf wasborn in Syria. She is a widely published poet and author. 

Jane Kallir is co-director of the Galerie St. Etienne, New York. 

Kathryn Keane is a poet whose has appeared in in 'Silver Apples Magazine', the 'NY Literary Magazine', 'Bitterzoet Magazine', and the 'Stanzas: An Evening of Words' chapbook.

Lisa Kelly is a freelance journalist. Her pamphlet Bloodhound is published by Hearing Eye and she is a regular host of poetry events at the Torriano Meeting House, London, a meeting place for the arts and the community.

Caroline Kemp is a Scottish writer.currently involved in health-related research projects. She has been published in The Journal of Progressive Sciences, Rethink, Material, and in various Forward Press anthologies.

Peter Kennard is 'Unoffical War Artist' at the Imperial War Museum, London. His 'Peace on Earth' artwork can be downloaded for free at www.rca.ac.uk/news-and-events/rca-blog/peace-on-earth/

Muhanned Mohamed Khorshid is an Iraqi born artist and writer, living and working in Helsinki. 

Trish Lavelle is the Head of Education and Training at the Communication Workers Union.

John Ledger is a visual artist from Barnsley, Yorkshire, currently focusing on images derived from the social landscape of 'Invisible Britain'.

Marc James Léger is an independent scholar living in Montreal. He is editor of The Idea of the Avant Garde – And What It Means Today (2014) and author of Brave New Avant Garde (2012), The Neoliberal Undead (2013) and Drive in Cinema: Essays on Film, Theory and Politics (2015).

Christine Lindey is an associate lecturer on 19th and 20th Century Art History at Birkbeck University.

Fran Lock is a poet and political activist. Her latest collection is Dogtooth, published by Out-Spoken Press. 

Patrick Lodge was born in Wales, lives in Yorkshire and travels on an Irish passport. His poetry has appeared in magazines and anthologies in England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. His author page is www.valleypressuk.com/authors/patricklodge.

Alexis Lykiard was born in Athens.His books include 9 novels, translations of French writers, 2 memoirs of Jean Rhys, and numerous poetry collections, most recently Schooled For Life (Shoestring 2016). His website is at www. alexislykiard.com.

Thomas McColl is a London-based poet and short story writer. His first full collection of flash-fiction and poetry, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, is published by Listen Softly London Press.

Niall McDevitt is an Irish poet and activist. He leads epic psycho-geographical walks through London, about Shakespeare, Blake, Rimbaud, and Yeats.

Patricia McGee is a retired FE lecturer, and very concise. 

Tony McKenna is a writer whose latest book is a biography of Joseph Stalin.

Stephanie McMillan is an artist, cartoonist, communist organiser and cultural activist. See http://stephaniemcmillan.org

Sheree Mack Ph.D is a writer and artist, with expertise in Black British Women's Poetry. She's currently working on a creative non-fiction novel as well as a poetry collection about Rewilding. 

Lynn Mally is Professor Emerita of History at the University of California, Irvine. She has published on Soviet cultural history, US/Soviet cultural exchange, and American culture in the 1930s. See www.americanagefashion.com

Nigel Mellor is a poet from northern England. His performances, focused on up to the minute themes of personal and political concern, aim to engage the widest possible audiences. 

Julia Mickenberg is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Learning from the Left: Children's Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States and co-editor (with Philip Nel) of Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature.

Robert Minto is a writer and philosopher. He blogs and tweets.

Alan Morrison is a Brighton-based poet and editor of The Recusant, therecusant.org.uk and Militant Thistles, militantthistles.moonfruit.com.

Danny Mitchell is an independent filmmaker from London. He works part-time as a mental health social worker and spends the rest of my time making political, social issue and human interest documentaries. 

Christopher Norris is Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at the University of Cardiff. He is the author of more than thirty books on aspects of philosophy, politics, literature, the history of ideas, and music.

Eliot North is a doctor, medical educator and writer.

Kate O'Neil is an Australian writer.

Elliot O'Sullivan is a linguist and Open University student. 

Melissa Oldham is a PhD student and tutor in the department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Liverpool.

Chi Onwurah is MP for Newcastle Central.

Ness Owen is a Welsh poet, playwright and storyteller who teaches at a FE college. Her poems have appeared in various anthologies and journals.

Ted Parry plays music obsessively and writes with dilletantish irregularity. Although the characters in his stories are fictional, he has met all of them.

Gordon Parsons is an arts reviewer for the Morning Star.

Lucy Pearson is Lecturer in Children's Literature at Newcastle University.

Dan Perjovschi is an artist, writer and cartoonist born in Sibiu, Romania.

Mark Perryman is a writer and the co-founder of Philosophy Football.

Jody Porter edits the Well Versed column for the Morning Star.

Carolyn Pouncy, a historian specialising in Muscovite Russia, writes fiction under the pen name C. P. Lesley. Two of her novels—Desert Flower and Kingdom of the Shades—explore themes from the classical ballets Giselle and La Bayadère. See http://www.cplesley.com.

Deborah Price lives in Deri. She has written four books for children and collaborated on and published another ten. They include poetry anthologies/collections and a 30th anniversary commemoration of the 1984 Miners' Strike.

Steve Pottinger is a performance poet who's passionate about the power of poetry to create connections between people. He believes in making an audience laugh and think and decide that poetry isn't so bad after all.

Mike Quille is a writer and reviewer for the Morning Star, and co-managing editor of Culture Matters.

Peter Raynard is a writer and editor of Proletarian Poetry, www.proletarianpoetry.com. He has been widely published and has a collection out soon, The Common Five-Eighters, from Smokestack Books. He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, a poetry collective set up by Malika Booker.

Kimberley Reynolds is the Professor of Children’s Literature in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University in the UK. Recent publications include Children’s Literature in the Oxford University series of Very Short Introductions (2012) and Left Out: The Forgotten Tradition of Radical Publishing for Children in Britain, 1910-1949 (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Dave Rogers works for Banner Theatre and is a political activist and campaigner.

Michael Rosen is a freelance writer, teacher, journalist, performer and broadcaster. He supports Arsenal Football Club.

Gerry Rowe is a writer, disgruntled minor functionary, and a Labour councillor in Chepstow.

William Rowe is Anniversary Professor of Poetics at Birkbeck College, London. His most recent book is nation (Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2016).

Martin Rowson is a multi-award-winning cartoonist, writer and broadcaster. 

Christopher Rowland is the Dean Ireland professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture Emeritus at the University of Oxford.

Ignacia Ruiz is a Chilean born, London based illustrator with a strong interest in printmaking and reportage. She has exhibited her prints both in the UK and abroad and currently teaches at Central Saint Martins, London.

Ghada Al-Samman is a Syrian writer, journalist and novelist. Her website is at http://ghadaalsaman.com.

Sanjiv Sachdev is a Senior Lecturer at the University of West London. Formerly a trade union research officer, one of his interests is political art.

Mike Sanders is Senior Lecturer in Nineteenth Century Writing at Manchester University.

Helena Sheehan is an author and activist. She is emeritus professor at Dublin City University where she taught history of ideas, science studies and media studies. She is an active contributor to mainstream, alternative and social media.

Paul Simon is a reviewer for the Morning Star.

Alex Simpson is a Lecturer in Criminology at the School of Applied Social Science at the University of Brighton.

John Smith is an award-winning avant garde film-maker, based in London.

Vicky Sparrow is a Ph.D student working on the poetry of Anna Mendelssohn, at Birkbeck College, London.

Sue Spencer is a poet, writer, educator and facilitator. She is the Poetry Adviser for the BMJ Journal Medical Humanities.

Bob Starrett was the official cartoonist of the work-in at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971-2.

Ben Stevenson is a designer, trade unionist and political officer, and business manager of the Morning Star.

Will Stone is news editor for the Morning Star and freelances for various other national newspapers. He has written for online theatre review site What's On Stage, music magazines and has produced and presented several series on post-punk/industrial for ResonanceFM, an arts radio station in London.

John Storey is Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies at the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland, UK. He has published widely in cultural studies, including ten books. The most recent is From Popular Culture to Everyday Life (2014). He is also on editorial/advisory boards in Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the USA, and has been a Visiting Professor at the Technical University of Dresden, the University of Henan, the University of Vienna and the University of Wuhan. 

Dr Anthony Sullivan lectures in Cultural and Historical Studies at the London College of Fashion.

Andy Summers is a writer based in Birmingham. 

Jon Tait is a postal worker and writer from Northumberland who lives in Carlisle.

Fred Voss is a machinist and poet in Long Beach, California, has had three collections of poetry published by the UK’s Bloodaxe Books. His latest is Hammers and Hearts of The Gods.

Derek Wall is International Coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales and writes for the Morning Star. His latest book Economics After Capitalism was published by Pluto in 2015.

Andrew Warburton is a writer of short fiction, appearing in anthologies by Cleis Press (Best Gay Romance 2009), Alyson Books, and Lethe Press (Wilde Stories 2015: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction) and in magazines Chroma: A Queer Literary Journal, Chelsea Station, SciFan Magazine, and MCB Quarterly. Two of his short stories can also be found on the app and website Great Jones Street.

Lynn White lives in North Wales. Her work is concerned with issues of social justice and she has had numerous poems published online and in print. 

Bruce Wilkinson is an occasional contributor to the football magazine When Saturday Comes, generally writing about social issues affecting fans, and Blackburn Rovers. He's working with Dr Robin Purves, researching the influence of the occult on the avant-garde.

Steve Willey is a poet, researcher and critic, and as an organiser of several London based poetry readings (Openned, Benefits, Watadd) is committed to the development of dynamic poetry communities both in the UK and internationally. He is lecturer in Creative and Critical Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London. Elegy, his most recent book of poetry, was published by Veer in 2013. 

Merryn Williams has published four volumes of poetry and edited POEMS FOR JEREMY CORBYN (Shoestring 2016).

Simon Williams lives near Dartmoor and runs poetry and creative writing workshops and classes, including in schools, colleges and prisons. For over 10 years he has also run a monthly open mic session for poets, singers, musicians and storytellers. 

Rab Wilson is a Scottish poet who writes mainly in the Scots language. His works include a Scots translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. His latest collection is Zero Hours.  

Chris Wood is a songwriter from the south of England. His art school teacher once described him as having “a remarkable eye for trivia” like it was a bad thing. But Wood’s readiness to chronicle with candour and compassion the lives of the so called “ordinary” people has been compared to the documentary making of Ken Loach.

Jan Woolf is a playwright, currently working on readings for her fourth performed play The Man With the Gold for the World War One centenary. Her collection of short stories Fugues on a Funny Bone (Muswell Press 2010) is set in a children's home and her new fiction is published at international times.it. She is also a reviewer and is very interested in the links between art, literature and political activism, and is currently writer in residence at Hampstead school of art.

Bakshiram
Monday, 04 January 2016 21:45

Artist and Empire

Published in Visual Arts

Mike Quille explores the relations between art, politics and empire, in the current Artist and Empire exhibition at Tate Britain.

Has there ever been a more successful engine of global exploitation than the British Empire? And has any other empire been better at reframing that exploitation as benevolent paternalism, moral improvement and the general all-round civilisation of savages?

At its height the British Empire was the largest in history, covering almost a quarter of the world's total land area. It has shrank over the last hundred years to a handful of overseas territories, but its legacy is everywhere. It is most obvious in the statues and monuments all over the country to cruel, thuggish and racist monarchs, admirals, generals, politicians and imperial administrators. They dominate and disfigure our public spaces: hence the campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford.

Other legacies of Empire lie in social structures, in the fault lines of contemporary global politics particularly in the Middle East, and in art and culture generally. One of the sad and sobering aspects of this exhibition is the way it reveals how the ruling classes have since the early colonial period co-opted most art and most artists, most of the time. Commissioned by the rich and powerful, artists have themselves been colonised, paid to promote, legitimise, and even glorify Britain's violent and rapacious foreign conquests.

Six rooms at Tate Britain tell the story through art of colonial conquest, collaboration, subordination and resistance. Various items of visual and material culture eg paintings, flags, sculptures, clothing and maps, are used to illustrate various themes.

In the first room, Mapping and Marking, we see how British cartographers and surveyors mapped occupied territory, erased indigenous ownership, imposed new names and new borders, and presented domination as civilisation.

The next room, Trophies of Empire, focuses on the various objects, specimens and other examples of material culture brought back by explorers, sailors, missionaries and traders. It shows how the looting, bartering and purchasing which accompanied the imperial project penetrated museums, elite collections, laboratories and zoos.

Next, Imperial Heroics explores the explicitly ideological mission of most British history painting, which helped shape popular perceptions of the Empire. They include representations of heroic struggle and martyrdom by tiny bands of brave British soldiers, surrounded by crowds of savages. Some of the representations of nineteenth century jihadists resisting Empire are unnervingly topical, and seem prophetic in the light of the current Islamophobia in the media. Just how much has actually changed in the way our mainstream culture views people with other religions and darker skins?

The room on Power Dressing is a fascinating insight into how the Western elite tradition of grand portraiture, developed to convey the power and dominance of representatives of the ruling classes, arrived in colonies along with the gunboats, machine guns and deceitful diplomacy. British diplomats and administrators were often portrayed wearing indigenous clothing such as Native American costume. Colonised peoples, whilst often forced to adopt Western styles of clothing, often modified and resisted it, or knowingly played to imperial expectations by wearing their own. Trans-cultural cross-dressing expressed the tensions and conflicts between homeland, colony, and imperial centre, in striking and sometimes humorous ways.

Face to Face contains some fine examples of portraits of Empire's subjects. Both Charles Frederick Goldie and Rudolf Swoboda paint colonial subjects sympathetically, giving dignity and identity back to them, and revealing elements of doubt, even guilt, about imperial conquest. Swoboda's 'Bakshiram' (reproduced above courtesy of Tate Britain) is one of the finest paintings in the exhibition.

And finally, in the artworks in the Out of Empire room (and occasionally pointedly positioned in the other rooms) we see how post-colonial and contemporary artists developed some effective artistic practices which challenged, ironicised and thoroughly demolished the deceitful ideology and iconography of Empire. Gradually, through long and difficult struggles by Black and Asian artists who were initially marginalised by the art establishment, modern visual art has freed itself from the shackles of misrepresentation and glorification of Empire. Now, it is a much more critical and truthful representation of the political and economic realities which underpinned it.

Artist and Empire is revealing, educational and entertaining, and shows how important it is to present art within its political and economic context. Curating art in this way clarifies how art is rooted in and reflective of its historical and political environment. It shows, sadly, how art sometimes works by supporting and glorifying racism, sexism and other kinds of class-based cultural domination which enable and legitimise the straightforward economic exploitation which is the core project of empire.

You will surely come out of this exhibition, feeling moved and enlightened, as I did, asking questions, like Brecht's Questions from a Worker Who Reads. Why are the relations between art, history and politics not commonly shown in our art galleries? How much more relevant and popular art would become if we were shown, for example, how artistic images of women throughout history are linked to the class-based oppression and exploitation of women from time immemorial?

What if the pictures of representatives of the ruling class in the National Portrait Gallery, and in all our local museums and stately homes, were presented in the context of the actual exploitative economic realities underpinning their elite status?

What if all curators – as they do in Artist and Empire – routinely unearthed and exposed the true nature of the relations between art, ideology and the politics of class-divided societies, where wealth accumulates from the economic exploitation of subordinated working people? Would it not be a public service if more art gallery directors, curators and other cultural workers joined the struggle for our cultural liberation?

Artist and Empire is a brave and satisfying exhibition, a great help with that cultural struggle. And its huge popularity with the general public as well as critics suggests that it is high time this kind of approach was adopted more widely.

Artist and Empire is at Tate Britain until April 10. Admission is £16 but concessions are available.

Blake's Jerusalem Frontispiece
Tuesday, 01 December 2015 14:24

Welcome! Thank You! Join In!

Published in Round-up

Welcome to Culture Matters, a website about progressive art, culture and politics.

You'll find more information about us in the About Us section, surprisingly enough.

We hope you enjoy your visit, and are interested, engaged and even inspired by the material to join in the 'mental fight'.

The Home Page has all of our latest articles, you can go here for details on recent material, and you can look at everything using the buttons above.

In particular we recommend the material which is about (and by) Muslims and refugees, such as the poems and short stories of Mohja Kahf, Muhaned Khorshid, and Amir Darwish. And we recommend Salena Godden's post-punk poem on the Paris attacks; Christopher Rowland's insightful article on Blake; John Storey's cogently argued piece on why culture matters; and Andy Croft's lucid yet passionate case for the essentially communist nature of poetry. If you know anyone who can write like Andy about the other arts, please send them our way.

Thanks also to the Morning Star for their assistance and support. Some of the current pieces you see here are taken from that unique paper. They are there not only for their own sake but as examples of the kind of committed writing we hope you are looking for, and which we want to encourage. And thanks to the Communist Party of Britain for providing webspace and technical support for this broadly based artistic and cultural project.

Culture Matters is currently like a first edition, or a skeleton, or a thinly populated country which we have provisionally mapped out but not defined. Many sections need more articles, and more creative material. In the months and hopefully years ahead, we want contributors to populate the country, help put flesh on the skeleton, and clothes on the flesh.

So please do join in, if you want to. You will find some common threads running through a lot of the material, a kind of emerging consensual approach to art, culture and politics. That approach, coming from contributors, is our steer, which we want to build on. Please help shape the site by reading the material, by making comments and suggestions, and by sending proposals and material to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Help build the new Jerusalem, artistically, culturally and politically, throughout Britain and the world as well as in England's green and pleasant land. Enjoy your visit, and please come back. Because Culture Matters!
Mike Quille and Ben Stevenson, Co-Managing Editors

 

Wednesday, 23 December 2015 20:05

Who We Are, What We Think and What We Want

Published in About us
Who We Are

Culture Matters is for everyone interested in the arts, in culture generally and in politics. We are a collective of writers and activists who want to provide webspace and editorial and technical support, in the interests of a 'broad left' cultural struggle for a better society.

What We Think

Culture matters. Enjoying artistic and cultural activities can help develop us and liberate us. They please the senses, stimulate the mind, arouse our emotions, and inspire us.  We have a right to freely access the co-created culture that is our common property. In our class-divided society, our cultural commons is under threat in many ways, and we need to learn how to defend and enhance it, for the common good.

Let's work out how this happens, and join in the cultural struggle for liberation.

Culture matters. The arts and culture are linked to politics in many ways. A capitalist market economy creates enormous potential and possibilities for creation, criticism and communication. But at the same time, the drive for profit and the associated ideological drive to dominate ways of thinking and feeling, constrain the free creation and consumption of the cultural commons that is so necessary for human development.

Let's work out how this happens, and change it.

Culture matters. The arts and culture can resist, oppose and overcome constraint, alienation and oppression. They can promote awareness, arouse indignation, and envision alternatives. Blake's 'mental fight' against the appalling social and political consequences of early capitalism is the same as our cultural struggle now, linked to our economic and political struggle against late capitalism.

Let's learn how to resist and oppose enclosure of our cultural commons, and instead expand it. Let's be creative and imaginative, and help build a more democratic, equal, and socialist society, a 'new Jerusalem', in the green and pleasant land not only of England and not only of Britain, but of the world.

What We Want

Submissions are very welcome, from anyone who has something to say about art and culture which contributes to these aims. We are currently unable to pay for material, unfortunately.

We welcome creative material (poems, images, music etc.) and commentary and critical material (reviews, articles, essays, interviews etc.). Please write as clearly, concisely and accessibly as possible, avoiding footnotes. Have a look at what's already up on the site, see how your piece relates to it, and try and shape the material to fit with our broad aims and perhaps also with topical events, anniversaries etc.

Submissions are subject to editing, in consultation with the contributor. Please say if the material has been published elsewhere, provide brief notes about yourself and a pic, and send it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Muslims Say Sorry! The poetry of Amir Darwish
Monday, 14 December 2015 22:48

Muslims Say Sorry! The poetry of Amir Darwish

Published in Poetry

Wars rage in the Middle East. The US and its allies pursue their policies of economic and military aggression, regime change, and the deliberate fomenting of chaos, instability and hardship. Refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants are forced to flee, towards the richer countries of Europe, whose wealth has been built on the imperialist exploitation of the rest of the world. There they are met by steel fences, police with dogs, endless paperwork, squabbling politicians and suspicious populations. Random atrocities are committed against civilians, on the ground and in the air, in Paris, Damascus, Jerusalem and Beirut.

That is the world in which we are living, and it is a world familiar to Amir Darwish. Amir was born in Syria in 1979 and came to the UK during the second Gulf War. His poetry has been published in the USA, Pakistan, Finland, Morocco and Mexico.

His recent book of poetry, 'Don’t Forget the Couscous' is in the words of the publisher, 'a book of poetry about exile and home. It is a love-song to the Arab world – Syria, Kurdistan, Morocco and Palestine. It is a memoir of the failed Arab Spring and the civil war that has turned Syria into a ‘fountain of blood’, as Darwish puts it in one of the poems. It’s a bitter account of the demonization of Islam in the West, and the violent interference of the West in the Islamic world. It is about being a Muslim and not a terrorist.'

Here are some poems from the collection, showing Darwish's poetic skills as a light, musical lyricist; as an honest, informative and insightful political commentator; and as a skilled ironist and satirist, capable of both sharpness and warmth.

Sorry!
An apology from Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) to humanity

We are sorry for everything
That we have caused humanity to suffer from.
Sorry for algebra and the letter X.
Sorry for all the words we throw at you;
Amber, candy, chemistry, cotton, giraffe, hazard,
Jar, jasmine, jumper, lemon, lime, lilac,
Oranges, sofa, scarlet, spinach,
Talisman, tangerine, tariff, traffic, tulips,
Mattress (yes, mattress) and the massage you enjoy on it:
We are sorry for all of these.
Sorry that we replaced alcohol with coffee for Enlightenment philosophers.
Speaking of hot drinks,
We are sorry for the cappuccino the Turks brought over.
Sorry for the black Arabian race horses,
For the clock,
Maths,
Parachutes.

Abdul in the US is sorry for what so and so did;
He does not know him but he is sorry anyway.
Sorry that we accompanied Columbus on his journey to the States.
And sorry for the Arab man with him
Who was the first to touch the shore and shout ‘Honolulu’
And named the place after him.
Sorry for the architecture in Spain and the Al Hambra palace there.
We apologise for churches in Seville
With their stars of David at the top that we built with our hands.
We say sorry for every number you use in your daily life from the 0 to the trillion.
Even Adnan the Yezidi (mistaken for a Muslim)
Is sorry for the actions of Abu whatever who beheads people in Syria.
Sorry for the mercury chloride that heals wounds,
Please give us some –
Because the guilt of initiating all of the above
Gives us a wound as big as this earth.
Sorry for the guitar that was played by Moriscos in Spain
To ease their pain when they were kicked out of their homes.
Sorry for the hookah as you suck on its lips
And gaze into the moon hearing the Arabian Nay.
Sorry for cryptanalysis and the ability to analyse information systems,
To think what is the heart of the heart of the heart and bring it to the world.
Sorry for painting Grenada white to evade social hierarchy.
Sorry for the stories inThe Arabian Nights.

Every time we see a star, we remember to be sorry for Astronomy,
We are sorry that Mo Farah claimed asylum here
And went to become the British champion of the world.
Sorry for non-representational art,
Pattern and surface decoration.
We are sorry for all the food we brought over:
From tuna to chicken tikka masala,
Hummus,
Falafel,
Apricot,
Doner kebab
Right up to the shawarma roll.
And don’t forget the couscous.

If we forget to apologise for something, never mind,
We are sorry for it without even knowing it.
Most of all we are sorry for Rumi’s love poems,
And we desperately echo one of them to you:

Oh Beloved,
Take me.
Liberate my soul.
Fill me with your love and
Release me from the two worlds.
If I set my heart on anything but you
Let that fire burn me from inside.
Oh Beloved,
Take away what I want.
Take away what I do.
Take away what I need.
Take away everything
That takes me away from you.

Please forgive us.
We are sorry and cannot be sorry enough today.

Palestine

Palestine is a rose that rose
To refresh the air as it enters the nose.

There must be a light at the end of this tunnel

There must be a light at the end of this tunnel
At a point where
So many eyes look into darkness
Cut through a bone and
Shine it.

There will be a creature there
A strange one
With no hands
No lips
No arms
No ears
No body
And only eyes
Eyes and soul.

That being will find a light from within you
And strike it out to the world.

Over there
In that place
The river of sadness dries
Melancholy waves hush and
The Sorrow garden
Reflects an Arabian desert moonlight
Shining the universe.

There
You sit with your hand back and forth
Playing the water of a Damascus fountain.

I interviewed Amir about his past, his poetics and his politics. Amir asked me to make it clear that he is not speaking on behalf of all poets, nor does he intend offer advice to others on what to think or write. His views are his and his alone.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself to start with, please?

I am a British/Syrian poet of Kurdish origin, born in Aleppo in 1979, and I came to the UK in 2003. I started writing at the age of 16 or 17. My poetry has now been published in the USA, Pakistan, Finland, Morocco and Mexico and in the anthology Break-Out. I recently completed an MA in International Studies at the University of Durham, and prior to that I gained a BA in history from Teesside University.

The book you've chosen the poems from, 'Don't Forget The Couscous' is a collection of poetry about exile and home, love and loss. My next book will be an autobiographical work, 'From Aleppo Without Love', touching on themes of pain and agony felt by myself and my sisters, Shaza, Rana and Layla.

Can you tell us something about your approach to writing, about why and how you write?

As a child and as a teenager, I experienced oppression both in the private and public spheres. I was both a subject and witness to violent acts for several years, and those memories have inspired my writing. My writing has become an outlet, to channel some awful experiences and redeem their pain.

Inspirational moments, for me, often arrive while on a journey. At stations and airports, poems are born, and then later on rise and mature, in quietness. The first stage of the process, the poem's conception, is more important than the second. I am constantly ready with pen, paper, phone and laptop, to put down words and thoughts when on the road. I am a writer who starts big and then goes small, small, small until the word is loud and clear. Nonetheless, the increase and decrease of thoughts is sometimes done as an experiment. Clarity, a sense of simplicity, and fluency are continuous aims.

How do you find living in Britain, on Teeside?

Living on Teesside gave me a good start on the poetry road here in England. The poetry scene is lively and dynamic, with new faces often coming to light. Particularly through the MA Creative Writing course at Teesside University, led by two local poets, Andy Willoughby and Bob Beagrie.

I appreciate what Britain offers in terms of safety, shelter and an atmosphere to write fearlessly. These aspects are particularly relevant to my next work, “From Aleppo without Love” which is scheduled for publication in 2017. Not many places on earth are available to write such work bravely and feel safe. Britain is one.

Can you give us your thoughts on the current refugee crisis, and the troubles in Syria and the Middle East?

A poet is not a politician for sure, but more someone who can guide public opinion so that politicians are directed onto certain paths. When a poet tries to become a politician, there is a danger for him/her of restricting the imaginative self to intellectual certainties. Nothing kills creativity at the cradle more than adherence to one sole, specific view. As a poet, I try to stay free of specific political thought as much as possible, like a bird who visits nests but never resides forever in one of them. Not sure if I do that successfully! I do perhaps still exhibit partisan views, like everyone I have certain biases.

As for what goes on now in the region, I still feel traumatised by what went on, what goes on now and what might happen next. I don't have the ability to take up a pen and write properly on recent events. Maybe the next generation can. Possibly that is why some of my attempts to write poems about the refugee crisis are weak, powerless and tend to fail as poems. Humanity, and here I mean worldwide not specific governments or locations, will need to examine itself after such a crisis. The current Syrian refugee crisis is the largest since WWII, who would have thought the world would see such a massive refugee crisis?

What other poets do you admire, and would recommend to our readers?

Humanist poets in the Middle East are now necessary more than ever. The Syrian poet Adunis is a great example, tightly embracing the humanist ideal when the Arab Spring/revelation/uprising/ unrest (or whatever you prefer to call it) started. For an intellectual from the region to hold such views is not an easy task. Adunis consistently provokes us away from the thought of taking sides, whether that's Arab nationalism or another system of thought. The Middle East needs more poets like Adunis and wise words like these:

Do you remember how I followed that war? And how once I turned to time and said,
'If you had two ears to listen with
You too would have walked the universe, deluded and dishevelled,
no beginning to your end'

The second poet and writer who comes to mind instantly is Muhammed Shukri. Moroccan and of Berber origin, Shukri's writing breaks down social barriers that are put into place to hide the unknown. That 'unknown' is at the heart of what goes on now in the Middle East. Shukri speaks about Arab society with micro details. He does it with openness, frankness and insight into the 'how' and the 'why'. After all, rulers of the Middle East come from the region’s social fabric, not from Mars.

For Shukri to give us such a detailed vision is a luxury. Unfortunately, he is yet to find adequate echo from other writers in the region, and yet to be given the status he deserves. That is possibly due to the culture of shame, which still shackles the process of liberation in the Arab world.

Thanks very much, Amir. Which poem from your collection would you like us to end with?

I would like you all to read and enjoy 'It's All About Love'. And thank you very much!

It's All About Love

Be grateful for everything written about love
From the first ink humanity slaughtered in Syria

To this very last exact word right now on this page: LOVE.

Love is a misbaha:

Full of beads
Suddenly
Cut loose on the world
To drown lovers up to their ears
Leaving only the brain
To think of love.

Love like a red wall in the Al Hambra

Blushes when you enter.

It is an Andalusian hammam

A scar left for ever on the face of Granada.

Love is a palm tree in Fes

Taaaalllllll with a nest at its top
Grass on grass assembled by lovebirds.

Love is a poem you perfect for months

And like an ardent and sexually demanding young lover
Always wants more of you.

So follow the fine line of the curve

Then rest your head in deep sleep.

Love is a tear

About to explode
In the middle of an eye.

It’s a Barkouk with wrinkles.

The squeeze let its remnants come out of the fist
The way runny butter does.

Love rises with every virgin who keeps herself intact only for one.

Love is a pair of naked lovers in a pickle jar

Twisted on one another and promising to stay this way forever.

And this life must go on to have more of love

Be in and out of it,
Fall for it,
Around it,
Because of it.

Finally

One refuses to call love it
Or he,
Or she,
Or they,
We,
Us,
Them,
Love is different.
It is a ferry crossing between lovers’ eyes.
It’s in trees,
Water,
Sky,
Rivers.

It’s an ember as lovers embrace

By a fire in the Atlas mountains.

And as the story goes in The Arabian Nights:

Love becomes a red rose that jumps into the Nazareth palace
And gives it colour
While lovers sent to the moon kissing
Stay there forever.

Love gives itself to everyone

Everywhere,
But since Eve’s arrival
What it gave so far nothing but this:.................

Love is a religion

So follow its scripture
Make love at certain times a day
On Friday,
Saturday,
Or Sunday,

Or even make your own new holy day and call it:
Loveday.

Love is a wave between Tangier and the sweetheart’s eyes
Daily it sails between the two.

Or maybe love is a stream of milk between a nipple
And the world to feed it tranquillity.

Love has one flavour

One colour
And no country.
Its inhabitants are everything that moves
including this pen as it writes.

It’s even in the sand clock that appears in a pupil,
Dropping endlessly as you watch it nonstop.

Love is the three quarters of the earth
Which is water,
You swallow it all

And your stomach can contain more if that is what love wants.

Love is a high mountain shadow

It appears and disappears on your lover’s back nightly
As he rises up and down in the act of making love.

Love is pure and never mixes itself with hate,

Yet it is part of it
The way an oil-slick moves in the sea.

Love is beautiful
So beautiful

That when you see it
You fall into a love-coma.

Love is the best form of government that political philosophy can offer

Where you have no duty but one:
To make love.


Thanks to Amir Darwish, and thanks to his publisher Smokestack Books for permission to publish the poems.
The poems are taken from Don't Forget the Couscous, by Amir Darwish, Smokestack Books, 2015.
The Third Man
Monday, 14 December 2015 21:32

The Third Man

Published in Films

Mike Quille unearths the radical politics and art in Carol Reed's great thriller.

In an uncanny parallel with today, many in the Britain of 1949 were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Labour Party’s policies for economic austerity at home and support for US imperialism abroad. Those concerns rumble below the surface in The Third Man, first screened that year. Written by Graham Greene and starring Orson Welles, the film is set in a post-war Vienna divided into zones of influence by the victorious but mutually suspicious Allies. It is a bombed-out, rubble-strewn city of darkness and disorder, emphasised by unsettling camera tilts and the distorted, wide-angle shots of landscapes, interiors and characters.

The film’s central character Harry Lime (Welles) is a US businessman criminally responsible for the death and chronic ill health of patients through diluting penicillin in the search for greater profits. Like transnational corporations, his business activities are lucrative and lawless — he avoids detection by using the city’s sewer system.

In a key scene, he literally employs high-flown rhetoric from the top of a Ferris wheel to justify making profits at the expense of the people far beneath him. Renaissance wars produced great art and philosophy, he argues, whereas “brotherly love, peace and democracy” in Switzerland brought “nothing but the cuckoo clock.” His words are a clear allegory of post-war US big business, a voracious, cynical capitalism cloaked — like its British forebear — in a veneer of culture and civilisation.

Writer Holly Martins, the film’s other main character, is a friend of Lime’s. The scripts he pens, where the classic cowboy strategy of solving problems with guns and calling it morality always prevails, implicitly reference US cold-war policy. Meekly followed by the Labour government, it dashed post-war hopes on the left that alliances with working people across Europe and the Soviet Union would be the best guarantee of lasting peace.

Lime has invited him to Vienna to write promotional publicity for his criminal enterprises — again, an allegorical expression of how advertising copywriters and other cultural workers were being commercialised and suborned to the US post-war project of promoting consumer capitalism while claiming the moral high ground of “freedom of the individual” over attempts in Europe to build fairer, socialist societies.

The Third Man is the Cold War in microcosm and a critique of its politics, accurately capturing the tension, mistrust and fear characteristic of Europe post-1945. Characters and their relationships assume the symbolism of economic and political forces without losing dramatic credibility as people in any way. The camerawork, the jaunty ambivalence of the music and the sombre shadows all create a sense of tension and uneasiness and the menacing, noirish atmosphere of betrayal and disappointment powerfully expresses the disappointment, disillusion and dissent amongst the British working class as the government drifts rightwards in its foreign policy and fails to challenge and change Britain’s rigid class structure.

Reed’s direction and all of the actors are outstanding but the most memorable performance is Welles’s brave portrayal of Lime, informed by his own radical politics and artistry, as was also the case with Greene. Lime’s persona brilliantly encapsulates the arrogance and violence beneath the surface of smooth-talking, charismatic capitalists. He’s a conscious recreation by Greene and Welles of Kurtz, the cynical and persuasive trader and tyrant in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Lime, who makes money from mutilated children in Vienna, personifies the predatory capitalism of post-war US big business just as Kurtz, who enslaves and mutilates workers in the Congo rubber plantations, personifies the murderous colonialism of European empires.

The Third Man’s protagonist is thus the perfect symbol of the rising power of US post-war corporate capitalism. It’s no wonder that the US authorities bundled Greene out of the country in 1952 as a suspected communist or that right-wing Hollywood studio bosses regarded Welles as box-office poison and blacklisted him for years afterwards. By behaving in fact as Lime does in fiction, they could not have chosen a better way of demonstrating the truth of the radical politics and art behind this great film.
Unofficial War Artist: Peter Kennard at the IWA
Friday, 11 December 2015 00:00

Unofficial War Artist: Peter Kennard at the IWA

Published in Visual Arts

“The people’s peace museum” is Peter Kennard’s suggested name change for the Imperial War Museum, where his stunning images are currently on display. If Kennard ever does get his way on that one, it will be partly thanks to his 50-year artistic campaign of militant anti-war and anti-capitalist activism, the subject of this well-designed retrospective exhibition of over 200 of his artworks.

They make their impact through the cutting, pasting and juxtaposition of photographic images in ways which deliver striking and unsettling artistic and political messages.

Kennard turned to photomontage as a young art student because, he says, he could “rip into images and get at an unrevealed truth” for maximum aesthetic and political impact. Interventionist and activist, he has doubts about art “so layered with complex conceptual ideas that it only speaks to others in the art world.” Instead, he’s opted for an art form which he wants to use “to help build a mass movement.”

The exhibition’s powerful opening statement Decoration is a series of massive digital and painted prints of British and US war decorations from 2003, their ribbons ripped and their medallions replaced with images of bandaged heads, explosions and hooded Iraqi prisoners.
Following on, there are early montages referencing the Vietnam war, the “Prague spring” and the student riots of the late sixties and they have that provocative, deliberately disorienting and distancing effect which runs throughout his work.

On display in an “archival store” are his works Crushed Missile, Haywain with Cruise Missiles and Warheads in the form of posters, T-shirts, pamphlets, badges and placards.

These and other direct, simple and sardonic images are what Kennard described as “a toolkit of protest” which are reworked and used freely by the peace movement, student activists and anti-corporate groups. Kennard has always tried to make his art accessible and useful to Britain’s protest movement, in its form and in the way it is distributed.

Reading Room, an installation where lecterns are laid out with faces smudged onto the stock market reports from the financial pages, graphically illustrates the growing dominance of finance capitalism in the 1990s and the resulting social inequalities. On the walls financial pages are ripped and defaced in anger, frustration or, perhaps, revolutionary destructiveness.

A side corridor, lined with some of Kennard’s latest paintings, contains subtle, indistinct images of faces with no mouths, expressing his desire to “give voice to the speechless and marginalised.”

The concluding display Boardroom is a new installation. It’s an ambitious attempt to convey anti-capitalist, anti-militarist political messages through a series of 3-D montages of photographs, models and images, interspersed with facts and figures showing the connections between war, capitalism and poverty.

Their impact is akin to Bertholt Brecht’s “alienation effect” by engaging and shocking the viewer into seeing the truth by stripping away dominant ideological mystifications and denying comfortable illusions. Kennard’s work invokes astonishment and outrage by placing and re-placing images and events in unfamiliar contexts.

This is work exposing the ugliness of corporate capitalism, including its sponsorship of art. “Now we’ve got the unmentionables back in power,” Kennard says, “sponsorship will become much more important in the arts. And sponsors like bland and unthreatening messages, not focused, political artwork.”

In a sense, art itself is anti-capitalist, he asserts. But “self-expression is being pushed out of us by big corporations. Creativity can help us resist that, so it’s important for all of us to make and use art to resist and undermine corporate culture. Through changing consciousness, art can help create revolution.”

The best example of such politically effective art is probably the famous image — made jointly with Cat Phillipps — of Tony Blair grinning as he takes a selfie in front of a blazing oilfield in Iraq. Recently animated and projected onto the venue housing the Chilcot inquiry, it is an image which has helped define an understanding of Blairite foreign policy.

Confined as it is to a museum, the exhibition can’t possibly include all of Kennard’s site-specific interventions such as that projected image, the graffiti on the Palestinian Wall that he did with Banksy or the huge amount of work given to the Occupy movement and to student activists a couple of years ago.

Yet the very presence of this free exhibition for the next 12 months in the country’s main war museum, where it will be seen by thousands of people who may not otherwise visit an art gallery, is surely the most effective intervention possible by Britain’s most important, influential and inventive political artist. And regular reader of the Morning Star, of course.

The exhibition runs till May 2016

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