Mike Quille

Mike Quille

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

I believe in the common man: an interview with Fred Voss
Thursday, 12 May 2016 21:15

I believe in the common man: an interview with Fred Voss

Published in Poetry

When I asked Fred Voss if we could do an interview by email, little did I know what would happen. In response to my prosaic questions, he sent back a stream of prosepoetry, an inspired, Whitmanesque outpouring of creative thinking and feeling.

'How did you do that?' I asked him afterwards, amazed at what I'd read. 'It was your questions, they sparked something in me' he said, modestly. But as you will see, there was nothing special about my questions, they are the usual ones all writers get asked. The answers, though, are anything but usual.

However it happened, I feel privileged to have sparked this torrent of imaginative prose, and am very proud to present it to you here on Culture Matters. I hope you feel something of the surprise and joy I felt when I opened his messages. And I hope you agree that if ever proof was needed that culture mattered, then surely this is it.

Q. Can you tell us what it's like to live in Long Beach?

I have lived in Long Beach for 40 years, and I love it. It is Los Angeles County’s second largest city, located 20 miles south of L.A. on the Pacific Ocean, and its port of Long Beach/San Pedro is the largest in the U.S.

It has a long history. It was a navy town for many decades, had one of the most famous amusement parks and roller coasters (The Pike on the beach) in the U.S., and was home to Douglas Aircraft Company, builder of aircraft for the U.S. WW2 war effort and of airplanes for the world after the war.

Star Kist was one of many tuna canneries on the waterfront, there was a ferry from Long Beach to San Pedro across the harbor, Todd Shipyard and the Naval Shipyard employed thousands of blue collar men, a statue of Harry Bridges the famous Wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World) union hero stood beneath the green Vincent Thomas Bridge, oil refineries and oil islands and oil derricks dotted the landscape, the downtown streets were full of all-night movies showing men’s movies and cowboy movies, bars with names like The Pink Elephant and The Poop Deck and the V Room full of pool hustlers and sailors with peanut shells strewn across the floors were on every corner, there were old Hollywood sound stages and the Villa Riviera 1928 hotel with a green copper roof where Clark Gable and Rock Hudson and many other movie stars liked to stay (the ghost of Clark Gable is still said to haunt Ocean Boulevard). In Visions of Cody Jack Kerouac mentioned visiting Long Beach in the 40s and seeing the downtown streets full of guys in cowboy boots.

It is an eccentric city of nearly half a million, and when I moved here in 1976 The Pike Amusement Park was shutting down and the International Long Beach Grand Prix was starting up, making the downtown streets shake. I got a job at Douglas Aircraft Company where over 50,000 people worked, joined The United Auto and Aerospace Workers union and began my career making aircraft parts.

There were hippies in the parks playing softball and sometimes throwing rocks at police, the Morningland religious cult with its purple banners on 7th Street, witchcraft stores selling oils and herbs, and poetry readings in the many bars. California State University at Long Beach, with its 32,000 students, has fostered a strong creative writing poetry tradition since the late 60s inspired by the literary legend Dr. Gerald Locklin, and Charles Bukowski gave several of his first readings in the early 70s at the university and in the city’s bars where he drank and read his poetry in defense of the down and the defeated and the working men and women and the joys and laughs of going crazy and rebelling against the American bourgeois way of life.

An editor of the Long Beach poetry magazine Maelstrom Review, the late Leo Mailman, said he thought there was something magical about Long Beach that made people write, and I’d have to agree, having written 7 novels and 3,000 poems here at kitchen tables as motorcycles roared and old ladies hobbled down sidewalks on canes. On Grand Ave. I lived next to door to Big Ivan from Russia who told me stories from his days wrestling professionally at the storied Olympic Auditorium in downtown L.A., then drank himself to death after his drunken wife went crazy throwing furniture at the walls and singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and was hauled away in a police car. How can you not write when you share a paper-thin wall with people like that?

For 26 years I have lived happily two blocks from the sea with my wife the poet and publisher Joan Jobe Smith, founder and publisher of Pearl magazine for 40 years, close friend of Charles Bukowski and author of “Charles Bukowski: His Art & His Women, and I have enjoyed rubbing shoulders with Long Beach’s vast array of roustabouts, pipefitters, bartenders, welders, electricians, tree trimmers, construction workers who walk hundreds of feet up in the air, bookmobile drivers taking Dickens to old people in wheelchairs, nurses, waitresses, shipyard workers, dishwashers, professional wrestlers and truck drivers with the black asphalt roads of America in their bones, graveyard shift janitors and candle makers and pool hustlers as we shared smiles and stories and raised schooners of beer to life.

Long Beach is indeed some kind of a magical city, the land of workers and poetry.

 Q. What have been the main influences in your life?

Watching the stars and planets with my father on our front lawn
as a young boy
infinity gripped me
H.G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe at age nine
Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone and Hemingway at age 11
Playing basketball in High School age 14-15
Emerson and Kant and Whitman and Hart Crane and Camus’s The Rebel
and Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Doors and getting kicked off
the varsity basketball team for going to a Doors concert instead of a game
and James Joyce’s Ulysses at age 15 -16
Rimbaud and LSD and demonstrating against the Vietnam War at The University of California
at Riverside campus and Pindar and Baudelaire and Blake and Beowulf and Pink Floyd and Heraclitus and my first girlfriend at 17-18
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight at 19
Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and blues blues blues music and Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski at 20
At age 22 after dropping out of the U.C.L.A. Ph.D program in English literature and going to work
in the factory world my father
came to my side and became a big influence again
my rudder against crashing against the rocks of the real world
as I lost my way and life became a nightmare my father
told me of his wanderings across the country in Great Depression 1933 America
and told me I could make it through the long dark subterranean night of my soul to the light
of some kind of dawn
and working in a steel mill with blast-furnace-burned-face and slivers of cut steel piercing my palms my dawn
was setting pen to paper
and writing 7 novels
to the syncopated rhythms of Thelonious Monk’s piano
the golden midnight tones of Miles Davis’s horn
the angry black throbbing explosions of Charles Mingus’s bass
(always I was close to the soul of the American black man as I floated down the Mississippi with Huck and escaped slave Jim)
then the great Marvin Malone
editor of The Wormwood Review poetry magazine entered my life after I submitted the first 4 poems I wrote to him in 1986 and he told me I would survive in literature
Marvin Malone
the main magazine publisher of the great poet Charles Bukowski
Bukowski a huge influence on me since the age of 20 (I was 34 now) with his poetry and novels made of slaughterhouses and lettuce pickers and bicycle factory and post office Neruda
Henry Miller Herman Melville Mark Twain Richard Wright Tennessee Williams Robinson Jeffers
among my heroes as Marvin Malone published over 100 of my poems and I met my wife Joan Jobe Smith on the pages of Wormwood Review: 105 (we had our poems published together on its pages) and later I met her in person at a Long Beach California poetry reading
and Joan and I were married
Joan the founder and editor of Pearl the leading Long Beach poetry magazine for 40 years now
became the second great editor of my poetry
each weekend morning
she hears my latest poem and helps me with her brilliant instinctive poetry ear
listening to my voice as I read my poems aloud to her
and then John Osborne published 100 of my poems in Hull’s Bete Noire literary magazine
and Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books published my first poetry book Goodstone in 1991 (published in the U.S. by Joseph Cowles of Event Horizon Press) and The Poetry Society
booked a whistlestop tour for my wife Joan and I
and we crossed the Atlantic and set foot on the emerald isle of England for the first time
and rode the Brit rails to Hull and The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and The Poetry Society of London and The Bristol Poetry Festival and since then I have been blessed
by being published by some of the best publishers in Britain
Martin Bax in his galvanic avant garde literary magazine Ambit
Alan Dent in his hard hitting Penniless Press and Mistress Quickley’s Bed magazines
Michael Curran in his beautiful limited edition hardbound Dwang
Joan Jobe Smith and Marilyn Johnson at Pearl magazine
and Dan Veach at Atlanta Review are regular publishers of my poems
and I have grown to love classical music these last 20 years
Ives Stravinsky Shostakovich Duke Ellington Mahler Debussy Beethoven
and with me always as inspiration is the great Edward Hopper
with his paintings of the lonely American pushing a rake or standing nude at a window
or cutting hair or sitting in a bright lonely diner
swallowed by American night at 3 am
and Van Gogh’s sunflowers Gauguin’s dreamy-eyed Tahitian women
Eakins’s swimmers Grosz’s
fat piggy cigar-chomping capitalist Berliners
and always Neruda
with the foam of his Chilean beaches his ghost of Magellan
on Cape Horn rocks and Buk
smiling over his typewriter just finishing a poem with a bottle by his side grinning as he laughs
at bourgeois America
and always Joan
my incredibly wise and loving wife by my side with her brilliant sense of humor
inspiring my comic relief Frank and Jane poems
and always the factory workers
the never-boring real-as-nails funny exciting bow-down-to-no-man
ready-to-haul-their-toolbox-down-te-road-to-the-next-machine-shop
never-say-die infuriating inspiring shocking x-rated brutally honest indomitable working men
who keep these poems alive.

 Q. What brought you into writing?

I needed something
I had the fierceness and realness of a steel mill I was working in
and I worked at a blast furnace burning the moustache off my face
then moved into the machine shop where the razor-sharp teeth of shell cutters sliced
through ¼-ton steel standards and threw red-hot
chips of steel onto my neck where
they stuck and sizzled
but I needed something more
something that would keep me from feeling empty and hungry inside
I needed to find a spirit within me
as fierce and real as that steel mill
I needed to nail it down onto a page
I needed to bring art into this steel mill of blank tin walls and ticking time clocks
and snarling foremen where no Vincent Van Gogh sunflower had ever
been seen
no Beethoven DA DA DA DA crescendo ever heard
no Hemingway Cuban fisherman old man ever dreamed of African lions sleeping on the beach
I needed to dream I could change the world just a little bit
like Nelson Mandela stepping out of his Robben Island prison cell
Jim Morrison breaking on through to the other side
Jean Valjean
free at last

Q. Do poetry, music and the other arts have anything to do with economic and political realities?

The great ships have circled the globe and stolen the Mayan gold
200 + years of industrial revolution
and 900 lions are left on this earth
as the tiger and the gorilla
barely hang on….
as America has become an oligarchy/plutocracy mouthing words about free speech and voting rights but enslaves its masses in economic chains of exploitation
America ruled by men with clean hands who shuffle the papers and walk the 80th-floor offices
as the earth enters its death throes….

My viewpoint is from the earth-level shop floor where men get their hands dirty. Whitman and Neruda and Brecht are on my shop floor. Neruda’s father worked for the railroad, my father was an outdoors man swimmer and mountain climber (his grandfather a Nebraskan homesteader) who hopped freights in the Great Depression and could walk up to any man on the street and start up a conversation with him and be at ease with him.
I am walking with Brecht’s Mother Courage as she forges ahead through a war-torn landscape.
I am with Whitman walking down his open road and taking off his hat to no king Neruda escaping the fascists by horseback over the Andes Charles Bukowski saying, “The worst men have the best jobs and the best men have the worst jobs.”
I am with Charles Ives the great iconoclastic American composer writing symphonies and songs of marching bands passing each other in the American streets and the sounds of Central Park in the dark and Emersonian universal brotherhood and small town dance bands playing “Turkey in the Straw”, Ives who sent up Wall Street greed with the cacophonous insanity of his 4th symphony’s 2nd movement.
I am with John Huston and his classic American film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre that shows how we rip gold from the earth and how money can ruin and take our marvellous gift of life by dividing men against each other.
I am with Whitman and Blake and D.H. Lawrence and the great American artist Thomas Eakins who believed in the honesty and dignity and holiness of the naked human body the laboring human body and I believe in the soul of the labouring man not in top hats and gold and guns and locks and locked vaults full of money and $2,000 suits but bread
for all free concerts in the parks openness and caring for all Yosemite National Park and Sequoia redwood trees for all

I believe in the common man the man of the earth of sweat of shouts in the street and meetings on street corners of Van Gogh’s coal miner potato eaters Eakins’s shad fishermen Goya’s blacksmiths Hemingway’s old Cuban fisherman Santiago battling the sharks Hugo’s Jean Valjean carrying Marius through the Paris sewers Melville’s sailors and his mighty white whale Steinbeck’s farmers Mark Twain’s escaped slave Jim Neruda’s mineworkers Diego Rivera’s mural glowing with assembly line blast furnace flame Philip Levine’s Detroit auto plant workers Thoreau’s homemade cabin on Walden Pond Kerouac’s Sierra Mountains fire lookout August Wilson’s black trash truck driver Troy Maxson Arthur Miller’s thrown-away-like-an-orange-rind-by-the-company salesman Willy Loman Lautrec’s cancan dancers Homer’s warriors Shakespeare’s gravedigger Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony of revolution Stravinsky’s peasant dance folk music as Jim Morrison sings, “What have they done to the Earth?” and The Rolling Stones sing “Salt of the Earth.”

Where do most of us spend most of our lives?
behind bus wheels at sheet metal bending machines behind donut counters at cash registers over jackhammers gripping wrenches flipping burgers serving coffee laying floor washing windows tarring roofs punching out motorcycle gaskets sitting in cubicles looking at inventories on computer screens where we barely feel human where we need poetry and art and music and theater and film to find us and tell our stories
Let Jackson Pollock paint the wall of a factory
Let a symphony grow from the booms and bangs and rattles and groans of an assembly line
Let the grease on a concrete shop floor be full of soul
Let Rembrandt set up his easel beside steel cutters
Is it the maintenance man gripping the monkey wrench that will save the earth?
Is it the heart of the man straddling the machine big as a locomotive that will save the tiger?
If men who stir red-hot molten steel with 20-foot-long rakes are treated like humans could it
keep the polar icecaps from melting?
men who walk the earth where panthers and giraffes and Buddha and Jesus walked
men who keep wheels rolling
old people walking and breathing
bridges hanging
water flowing
boats floating
with their hands
Can they save the earth?

 Q. What's your vision? What do you aim for when you're writing poetry and prose?

Dropping out of the U.C.L.A. Ph.D program in English literature in 1974, my writer’s instinct told me to leave the dryness and cynicism of the academic ivory tower and turn toward life.
“God is a cry in the street,” Stephen Daedalus said in James Joyce’s Ulysses and my writer heroes were
Jack Kerouac hungry for life rolling automobile wheels across America toward a San Francisco bebop jazz club
Hemingway risking his life on the 1937 Spanish earth fighting the fascists and writing For Whom the Bell Tolls
Whitman putting his arm around a dying soldier on the American Civil War battlefield
Melville on a military ship in his white jacket high up in the crow’s nest in the freezing wind and ice rounding Cape Horn
Richard Wright showing how quickly a black man’s life can turn into a nightmare in 1930s Great Depression America
Mark Twain guiding his steamboat around rocks through the fog on the mighty Mississippi
And I was drawn into the world of the factories and went into a steel mill
the fierceness and realness of a steel mill was what I needed
I was not studying Sir Gawain and the Green Knight I was Sir Gawain
in 1977 entering a new strange world of adventure and vernacular speech raw open emotions earthiness the sensuous beauty of toil the honesty of working with hands
humor exuberance shouting with 2-ton drop hammers pounding sizzling of cutting torches hissing of welding rods everything outsized and exploding with life
the backbones of cities ready to be carved and stamped out of red-hot molten steel ex-cons out of prison sweating and straining desperate to remake their lives
laughs and curses and screams all the wild guts and heart and passion of man living life hard

And I started writing novels of truth and fortitude and survival until in my last novel, Making America Strong, written in 1985, my vision and aim for my writing truly began to take shape. It was a short novel set entirely in a machine shop where a defense contractor, Goodstone Aircraft Company, is making nuclear bombers and raking in the big money from the Reagan-era military industrial complex.
Writing Making America Strong I had a vision of the corporation as America and suddenly realized corporate capitalism defined America as much or more than democracy did. In the novel workers without any say in company direction or management and forced to follow often insulting and senseless rules and procedures, turn to harassing and abusing each other like humiliated children, using drink and drugs and falling into racism and violence.

In 1986 I started writing poetry and this world of work became the subject matter of my poetry.
My poetry has been greatly affected by the men I’ve worked with in the factories all these years and the fact that I was a poet in the factories.
At first I thought (as we’ve been taught) the men were somehow less than human
less than poetry
less than me
but as the layoffs hit me and I learned what it felt like to know
I might end up living in the street
as I saw men going on gripping wrenches with hands swollen with arthritis
going on as bosses screamed at them
and aching and tired still smiling at the end of the workweek walking out into the sun like man
must never give up hope
and someday we must all be free
those men didn’t look down on me
because I didn’t yet understand how they could still laugh
between tin walls in the face of firings wrenched backs crazy bosses in this loud grinding factory
where no flower
or poem
ever grew
they didn’t look down on me because I didn’t know
what a micrometer or a ball peen hammer or a compound angle was
they handed me their tools
their hearts
wise with a lifetime of steel dust and driving their rollaway toolboxes down highways
and rolling them through countless machine shops and going on with a twinkle in their eye
I didn’t know I would soon begin writing poems about them
or that years later when they found out and read them
they would like them
who says this world contains
no miracles?

We can begin to see workers in factories are just as human
as kings
firemen orchestra conductors tightrope walkers ship captains ambassadors
nurses and novelists

we are all Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp twirling his cane walking down the open road at dawn
Toulouse Lautrec laying down paint onto canvas celebrating the high-kicking legs of cancan dancers though his crippled stunted legs ache
the fighter
getting up off his stool and coming back out of his corner though he was almost knocked out
in the last round

we invented the gods
built the cities
made the wheels the axles the chimneys the wings the masts the scalpels the rudders the valves
the rails the keys
and no corporation should ever stand above us.

See also: Let the poet lift a hammer: the prophetic poetry of Fred Voss

A Monument to the Working Class
Thursday, 12 May 2016 21:17

Let the poet lift a hammer: the prophetic poetry of Fred Voss

Published in Poetry

"I want to change the world, I want to strike the spark or kick the pebble that will start the fire or the avalanche that will change the world a little." - Fred Voss

Why have mortality rates amongst middle aged working class Americans suddenly increased? Why is inequality increasing, so that the top 1% of the U.S. population own 35% of the wealth, and why are bonuses on Wall Street more than double the total annual pay of all Americans on the federal minimum wage? Why has support swollen so rapidly for a buffoon like Donald Trump? And finally, in such darkly unequal times, what can poets do about it? 

Mortality rates for white working class Americans declined steadily until around 2000, as you might expect following the postwar years of peace and prosperity, the 'golden age of capitalism' as it is sometimes called. But in the last few years they have got worse, for the first time since records began. White working class men who never got beyond high school now have an absolutely worse mortality rate than black, Hispanic or any other demographic.

What are the causes of these early deaths? Drugs, alcohol and suicide, mostly. Basically, these men have killed themselves with drugs and drink because the rich and powerful American ruling class, running the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world, do not need or want them any more. They're on the economic scrapheap, or on their way there. There are simply not enough jobs for them, and the few jobs around are increasingly badly paid.

Those groups who have been on the margins of the capitalist USA for a long time have weathered the recession better because they have always had nasty, short, precarious lives. But white baby boomers, brought up to expect a brighter future, are discovering that they are going to be worse off than their parents. Most of their efforts to cope with, come to terms with, or struggle against this legalised robbery of their labour, their health, wealth and happiness, are failing. They are becoming more and more desperate, and so are voting for the dangerous, delusional fantasies of Donald Trump, when they are not drinking and drugging themselves to death.

Fred Voss expresses the situation poetically as

Shadows We Will Never Escape

All day as we work
we stare
out the rolled-open tin door at the 50-storey downtown L.A. WELLS FARGO
and BANK OF AMERICA and CITICORP
buildings gleaming
in the sun with all their wealth and power
trying
to keep our children fed
trying to keep from losing hope
and throwing in the towel
on our low wages
riding buses
bicycles
thin
with hangovers making us teeter and hold our stomachs
over pitted concrete floors
and stumps instead of fingers
we go without glasses and teeth and hope of anything
but poverty
in old age we
stick our chests out and throw around 100-pound vices and try not
to get strung out on drugs
or pick up guns and go crazy as we work
in the shadows
of those buildings
so close
with so much wealth and power we stare
out at those towering shining buildings
from the shadows on the concrete floor
of our factory
until we truly begin to know what it feels like
to be buried alive.

At the point of production, there is no democracy, no land of freedom and opportunity, not even adequate material rewards for punishingly hard work. For growing numbers of poor working class men and women there is only naked exploitation, built on centuries of racism and violence. In this impoverishing environment, suicide, madness and prison are only

One Hair's-Breadth Away

I sit on my steel stool at work at break and read
the news article
about the genocide we Americans committed against the Red Man
for centuries
I sit
and read about the genocide
we Americans committed against the Black Man
with nooses
and butcher knives
I read
the concern
the horror
the apology in these articles
the shock
that we as Americans could ever have allowed such genocides
then look around
this factory just like so many thousands of factories in this land
at the men
who cannot afford a pair of glasses a haircut shoelaces
a meal a room
a woman
men
one hair’s-breadth away
from suicide
madness
prison
the street
men
getting poorer penny by penny each hour each day each year
without hope of a raise
white men black men men from Mexico and East L.A.
and Guatemala and Vietnam and Russia
men
with twisted backs and tired tombstone eyes
and I wonder
where are all the articles full of concern and shock and horror
about them I wonder
why the only genocides that make our papers are the ones that are already
finished.

And where, you might wonder, are all the poems about work and the working class? The problem here is that

Only Poets With Clean Hands Win Prizes

The homeless woman pushes her little boy and girl in a shopping cart
down an alley to the trash cans
where she desperately looks for scraps of food
as the poet
writes about whether or not an ashtray on his coffee table
really exists
the man works 50 then 60 then 70 hours a week in a factory
so he can live in a tiny cheap room with another man
instead of in a car
and the poet
leans back pleased with her image
of a red teacup
sailing through a wall
the poets
are polishing lines about the shadows inside ivory bowls
and what time really means
as old people
must choose between their medicine and eating
people in agony with no health insurance spend nights sitting in chairs
waiting in crowded emergency rooms
men
go to prison for the rest of their lives for stealing
a sandwich
the poet
is writing about looking in a mirror
as a wave curls
over his shoulder and he knows it is all
an illusion
while men are thrown out onto the street
where they will pick up bottles
or needles that will ruin their lives because
there are no jobs
as the poets
work to polish words that prove the ticks of a clock
aren’t real.

Voss knows the ticks of the workplace clock are horribly real signifiers of oppression and exploitation. Not because of the work itself, but because of the conditions of employment which people work under. Voss sees and expresses the actual evil of capitalist production, but also the potential for good under different arrangements. And he expresses it clearly, lyrically, without ever losing sight of the factual, material basis of life, and the equally straightforward way things could be different. As he says in 'Bread and Blood', he is making parts for attack helicopters in Iraq, when he could be making socially useful things like wheelchair wheels.

Voss's dialectical understanding of capitalist production also connects the energy of work in his machine shop to universal values. See how in the following poem we move smoothly, seamlessly, from the sweaty, oily detail of early morning machining in a metalwork shop, to some of the finest scientific and artistic accomplishments of humanity, and from there to happiness, fulfilment and liberty.

By interpreting the world in this way, Voss is surely helping to change it. His poems sing out hope and possibility to us like Whitman's poems and Kerouac's prose and Ginsberg's poems and The Doors' music did for an earlier generation, or like a

Saxophone on a Railroad Track

There is nothing greater
than the energy in a lathe man at 6:07 am throwing every muscle in his body
into the steel 100-pound tailstock of an engine lathe
digging
his steel-toed shoes into a concrete floor and leaning
into the 100-pound tailstock and flexing muscle shoving it across the tool steel ways of the lathe
until the foot-long drill in the tailstock’s mouth meets
turning brass bar and begins to chew
an inch-in-diameter hole through that brass bar’s dead center
it is the energy
that raised the Eiffel Tower
pushed off
the shore in a canoe that crossed the Pacific
it is Einstein breaking through years of thinking to find time stops
at the speed of light
Galileo
daring to look through a telescope and prove the earth isn’t the center
of the universe
it is Houdini
breaking free of every lock and shooting up out of the river gasping
the air Van Gogh breathed
the minute he brushed the last stroke of oil across his canvas full
of sunflowers
look at the smile on the lathe man’s face as he turns the wheel
forcing the drill through the brass
it is the roar
of the tiger the ring
of the Liberty Bell the laugh
of that lathe man’s baby girl as she sits on his shoulder and reaches up
for a star and the lathe man puts everything he’s got
into turning that wheel
and smiles
because little girls laugh and planets revolve and telephone repairmen
climb telephone poles and train wheels carry a saxophone
toward a music shop window so a man
who has picked himself up out of a skid row gutter can blow Charlie Parker’s notes
off a green bridge again
as the butterfly wing cracks open the chrysalis and Nelson Mandela
steps out of prison
a free man.

Do not think that the clarity of expression is artless. At first sight Voss's poems look like chopped-up prose, but read them aloud and you will hear their sinuous, resilient rhythms, winding onwards like a Whitmanesque river, developing an idea from an initial striking title and first few lines, towards an always memorable resolution.

Here's a good question:

Can Revolutions Start in Bathrooms?

I’m standing
in front of the bathroom mirror washing up after another day’s work
all my life
I’ve seen the working man beaten down
unions broken
wages falling
as CEO salaries skyrocket and stockbrokers get rich and politicians
talk of “trickle down” and “the land of opportunity” and “the American way”
and Earl on the turret lathe keeps tying and retying his shoelaces that keep breaking
and blinks through 30-year-old glasses and finally
gives up his car to ride
the bus to work
and Ariel on the Cincinnati milling machines turns 72 heaving 80-pound vices onto steel tables
with swollen arthritic fingers and joking
about working until he drops
all my life I’ve wondered
why we men who’ve twisted chuck handles until our wrists screamed
shoved thousands of tons of steel into white-hot blast furnaces
under midnight moons
leaned our bodies against screaming drill motors meeting cruel deadlines until we thought
our hearts would burst
are silent
as the owners build their McMansions on hills and smoke big cigars driving a different
$100,000 leased car to work each month
why after bailing out the banks
losing our houses
seeing our wages slashed and our workloads rise I’ve never heard one word
of revolt
and Teddy the bear of a gantry mill operator walks into the bathroom to wash
all the razor-sharp steel chips and stinking black machine grease off
his arms and hands
he’s been driving the same cheap motorcycle
for 20 years and says,
“Hey which front office person is driving that brand new Jaguar
I see parked out there now?”
and none of us can answer
as we raise our heads from the sinks
“Well, whoever it is,” Teddy says,
“They’re making too much money!”
After 40 years of silence
I can’t help wishing his words could be like the musket shot
that set off the storming
of The Bastille.

Voss never loses the sense of what work is really for, and what the ideal communist society might look like. He lifts his poetic hammer, verbally envisioning redemptive change, helping to create the communist and compassionate political movement needed so that all of us – but especially the poor – will be able eventually to restore our health and happiness and eat

Broccoli and Salmon and Red Red Apples

Let the poet lift a hammer
let the poet break bread
with a man lying down in a bunk in a skid row midnight mission homeless shelter
let the poet come out from behind the walls of his ivory tower
and feel the steering wheel of a downtown Long Beach bus in his hands
as he steers it toward a 66-year-old grandmother
who rides it to work at a factory grinding wheel
let him feel the 12-hour sun the lettuce picker feels beating down on the back
of his neck
let him pull a drill press handle
hook a steel hook through a steel pan full of motorcycle sidecar yokes and drag it
100 feet across a gouged concrete factory floor as drop hammers pound
let him grease a gear turn a wheel
crack a locknut serve a plateful of crab
drain a panful of oil plant
a stick of dynamite hook a tuna
in the deep green sea dig bulldozer bucket teeth
into the side of a hill feel
how good the sun feels on his face Sunday morning
when he’s finally gotten a day off after 72 hours behind windowless factory
tin walls
how good a tree looks
or a river sounds or a baby feels
in his arms
when he’s earned his bread with the sweat on his back
how true a star
and the notes of Beethoven and the curl of a wave around the nose of his surfboard are
when he’s thrown his arms around a 1-ton bar of steel
and guided it into a furnace full
of white-hot flame
how much a wildflower or a fire truck siren or a pick
in the fists of a man in the depths of a coal mine
mean
when he earns his bread by getting the dirt of this earth
on his hands
how human
we all are covered in soft skin and pulsing
with warm blood and deserving
of a roof over our head and a bed under our bones and a laugh
around a dinner table piled high
with broccoli and salmon
and red red apples.

Finally, here is one of Voss's most complex and successful poems, weaving themes of beaten-down oppression and class division with utopian aspiration and a willed determination to achieve human – and indeed universal – reconciliation through socially useful, unalienated work. It is a vision of

The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand

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

Fred Voss' poetry is rooted in factory life on the West Coast of California, but rears up and stretches our imaginations as we read it, taking us across time and space. It lives in the here and now and works to the tick of the factory clock, but transcends our 'cold competitive time'. Like Blake's poetry, it sees the world in a grain of sand, tells truth to power. And like Blake, Voss combines the precision and realism born of years of skilled craftworking with a sweeping, lyrical imagination and vision arising from years of reflection on work, on the working class, and on the dreadful but alterable material realities of the world around him. Voss's sword will clearly not be sleeping in his hand, any time soon.

Voss writes prophetic poetry with a deep spiritual content, focused on the point of production. He connects the inherent, present harshness of class conflict under capitalism with the ultimate, future promise of communism, a 'warmer way to live' as he says in the poem below. It can be ironic, satirical and even angry, but it always retains its dignity, warmth and humanity. He is searingly honest in description, visionary in imagination, and is surely one of our greatest contemporary poets, tirelessly lifting his poetic hammer and striking the spark of revolution into our hearts and minds.

Let him have the last word, as well as the first. This is a poem about making

A Clock as Warm as Our Hearts

As I sit at this milling machine cranking out brass parts
at the precise rate of 21 per hour
I wait for the sun to creep its way across the sky until it shines
through the high windows
in the west wall of this factory onto the top of the blue
upside-down funnel on the workbench
beside my machine
and then my fingers
the way it always does.
There is an order to things
men in caves
before sundials and hourglasses
and clocks
knew
an order
higher than staying competitive by turning out 21 parts per hour in this factory
or losing your job
a warmth
in the sky that always returns
to shine upon my fingers
the way the dying leaves of fall return
the way our dreams return
the tide
and the comets
and as the boss comes down the aisle cold and angry
and screaming for parts
I wait
for the soothing touch of that sun on my fingers to tell me
that someday
we may put our cold competitive time clocks and bosses away
and find a warmer
way to live.

This article is also published in Communist Review. Thanks to Fred Voss, Bloodaxe Books and the Morning Star for permission to republish poems. Two collections of Fred Voss's poetry are currently available from Bloodaxe: Carnegie Hall with Tin Walls, £8.95 Bloodaxe Books 1998, and Hammers and Hearts of the Gods, £8.95 Bloodaxe Books 2009. 

 See also I believe in the common man: an interview with Fred Voss.

National Children's Orchestra
Tuesday, 26 April 2016 14:39

Art for the many, not just the few

Published in Cultural Commentary

Thangam Debbonaire, Shadow Minister for media, culture and sport and MP for Bristol West, recently gave the following interview about arts policies to Culture Matters and the Morning Star.

Q. Unlike some other previous occupants of your position, you’ve had direct experience in the arts, particularly music. How did that come about and how does it influence your outlook?

I was brought up surrounded by classical music. My maternal grandfather was on the car assembly line in Cowley, Oxford — his wife was a part-time nurse — and my paternal grandfather was an engineer in India. They’d both been exposed to classical music at a young age, by their parents among other people. My mother and father were both lucky enough to find their ways to excellent piano teaching and met at the Royal Academy of Music.

That was back in the days when students still got grants and scholarships and young working-class people could afford to get through college with the help of a bit of extra work.
This has taught me that no art form should ever be thought of as inherently and only ever for one class. Classical music was the balm of the working class a couple of centuries ago, when cheap tickets to Mozart operas and memorable tunes meant a labourer was just as likely to hum an aria on their way home from a night out as the landed gentry. The difference was that the upper classes had better seats.

Such socialist values inform my approach to the arts and culture. I don’t want working people to be excluded from appreciating or working in any of the things that can make life good and rich and enjoyable. That includes opera, ballet and classical music. The most immediate way art and culture influence my politics is that I want the enjoyment, fulfilment and inspiration I get from the arts and culture to be shared by the many, not restricted to the few. Classical music has always been in my life and particularly recently I needed the joy and calm it brings me — I’ve grown to love Beethoven symphonies at last, I love music for string quartets of all eras and in the last year I have been studying the work of Shostakovitch.

This again informs my politics — Shostakovitch suffered under Stalin and his perceived failure to honour what the latter had decided was good for “the people” caused him to be effectively barred from working and risk imprisonment or death. Eventually Stalin changed his mind about Shostakovitch’s music and the past was suddenly wiped away from official policy.
This should be a lesson for us all — dictating to people in the arts how to do their job is not the role of politicians.

As a former professional classical musician, with a strong interest in the opera and the theatre, the terms and conditions of musicians and actors — and everyone in the arts — matter to me.
Everyone thinks of the better-paid, celebrity musicians and actors but the vast majority are on very low wages or uncertain job conditions, often a life-time of what feels like zero-hours contracts, supplemented by casual part-time work.

Musicians have to train for years and practice or rehearse for hours every day to be any good and that sort of craft deserves to be recognised in pay and conditions.
Similarly, actors have to work their craft and be willing to travel and leave family life for weeks on end and this has to be recognised. I will continue to listen to Equity and the Musicians’ Union on how the Tory government is affecting rank-and-file musicians and actors.

During my campaign to be elected I was proud to be supported by my own unions, the Communication Workers Union and Unison, as well as my former union the Musicians Union. They believed in me and I value their support hugely. The Labour Party has its roots in the trade union movement and I will always honour that.

Q. Evidence suggests there’s a disproportionate amount of government money spent on art for the privilged minority. What’s your view on that?

The Tories are satisfied to leave the pleasures of some art forms to the better-off and that’s the key difference on all policy matters between Labour and them. We want the essentials and the good things in life to be enjoyed by the many, not the few, whether that be safe and affordable housing or a ticket to the opera.

The Tory and coalition governments brought about a reversal of the achievements of the last Labour government which, from 1997 to 2010, made significant progress towards democratising access to all art forms.

Really good outreach should be a condition of public funding. The Arts Council agrees that public funding should help with the fullest possible democratisation of the arts and that’s why its policy document is called Achieving Great Art for All and its funding is conditional on outreach. I would like that outreach to go further and I will be exploring how this would work under a Labour government with my colleagues and arts practitioners.

Recently I went to an open rehearsal in Bristol for the National Children’s Orchestra under-13s in Bristol’s Colston Hall. The orchestra is ethnically diverse and I also noticed that instruments traditionally dominated by men in professional orchestras were very gender-mixed.

When I was in local and national youth orchestras in the 1980s, we were in the dying days of the peripatetic music teaching system whereby children in most local authorities could learn the instrument of their choice and be given one on loan, for free, from good quality teachers in their schools. Saturday morning orchestras and bands supplemented this — again, all free.
This was something which flourished under Labour governments in the 1960s and 1970s and was cut to ribbons by Tory administrations from 1979-1997. And here we are again — funding which increased under the 1997-2010 government for arts and culture for young people has been cut once more.

During that period, Labour governments supported many arts programmes to increase effective outreach, providing free tickets to school children from low-income areas and introduced the Creative Partnerships Initiative which brought the arts to the children in their schools and in incredibly imaginative ways which made a lasting impact on those children and young people.
Local authorities are doing their best. But the pay, terms and conditions for specialist music, dance and drama teachers is often now so poor that they are leaving the profession.

Q. What do you think about the difficulties faced by minority ethnic groups in the cultural industries?

The removal of arts from our education system is a tragedy. It reinforces the exclusion of the working class, including young people from minority ethnic groups, from the arts as employees and consumers. It needs addressing and that’s one of the things I will be working on with my colleagues in the shadow education team.

There needs to be more people from minority ethnic groups and disabled people on boards of trustees of arts and culture organisations and for principles of diversity to be more embedded.
Organisations need to look and feel like places that people from minority ethnic groups and disabled people can be comfortable and inspired in, not alienated by.

There is a need to help arts organisations to reflect diversity in everything they do and I know the Arts Council is working on this. But this has to be balanced with the fact that Tory policies are also doing their damage.

Q. Apart from education and outreach, should the arts be subsidised?

Yes — take the cinema, which rarely requires direct subsidy as it can stimulate larger audiences and profit. But, again during the Labour 1997-2010 government, support for Channel 4 and tax subsidies for film production meant that the proportion of British GDP from film production multiplied. That brought more jobs — technical as well as creative — to Britain and working-class people.

That’s what subsidies for the whole range of the arts and culture forms can do, democratise access to participation and employment in all those industries.
As socialists, we should all be in favour of that. The taxpayer gets a great return on that investment. Subsidies for the arts generate jobs inside and outside the sector, with an economic multiplier factor that helps boost economic growth and good jobs in the area where the subsidy is spent.

Q. What should be done about the different levels of arts provision between the north and south in England?

That disparity concerns me hugely. Part of my role will be to work on this with colleagues in the arts and culture industries and with people across the country to work out how we can remove this barrier to consumption and enjoyment.

There have been significant Labour achievements to balance this out. The Labour Gateshead council, supported by the Labour government, invested in world-class venues the Baltic art gallery, the Sage music and conference venue and a massive piece of public art, the Angel of the North statue by Anthony Gormley.

All attract pride from, and create jobs for, locals and stimulate tourism from around the world to one of the poorest regions in the country. Labour did a brilliant job of recognising that investing in arts and culture across the board increases the sum of human happiness, democratises access to employment and enjoyment and also helps with urban regeneration, as it did in Gateshead and Liverpool, to name just two of our northern cities.

Add to that the Creative Partnerships programme and good outreach by arts organisations and you have something that was really working to help spread the reach of all art forms to all people.

One reason for the funding disparity is that so many of our national arts institutions are based in London. Of course, we outside London can go and visit them and often do. But many cannot afford to, or would not know how to access them. Even so, many national companies bring their work to the regions through touring and live cinecasts and the last Labour government supported the development of more national iconic cultural institutions around the country, such as the various Tate galleries in Cornwall and Liverpool.

Q. Working-class people are finding it increasingly difficult to get into the arts as a career and, due to spending cuts and the sheer cost, to enjoy the arts as consumers. What should be done about that?

The tragedy is that we have now gone into reverse to what Labour were doing. A Tory government prefers the patronage approach, whereby funds are increasingly drawn from private donations or trusts, with much less public accountability and often severe cuts to access and employment.

Young working-class people find it much harder to get a job in today’s arts and culture sector thanks to the decrease in support for apprenticeships, education and outreach. By contrast, current Labour policy development is as always informed by our socialist principles. Excellent art should be for everyone. This was reinforced from 1997 to 2010, with free entrance to museums, theatre, opera and concerts for young people. And there was the wonderful Creative Partnerships programme which helped bring arts and culture to children in schools.

Q. What developments in Labour Party policies might we expect from the new leadership and shadow cabinet?

I’m going to to help develop our arts and culture policy in collaboration with workers in the sector and Labour members and councillors across the country, as well as the performing arts unions. I’ll be holding a series of events nationally to bring the key people together to help answer the question: “How can we make Britain a place where excellent arts and culture is truly accessible to all? How do we in Labour support the arts to do what they do best, without dictating how they do it?”

By accessible, I mean for the full range, including disability and learning disability as well as race, gender, age, sexuality and class. I also mean access to creative careers as well as enjoyment. My biggest priority for policy development will always be education, education, education. Everything starts there. The audiences, as well as the performers, producers, directors and technicians of the future, are all currently at school. They need to be exposed to and be able to take part in art and culture of the highest order and of the greatest range. Arts and culture should feel like something all children and young people feel is for them, not just for other people. 
Just like you
Tuesday, 19 April 2016 07:32

Just like you

Published in Poetry

Just Like You
by Hanna Abdullah

I am human
Just like you.
I eat and I sleep
Just like you.
I walk and talk
Just like you. I have a family and friends
Just like you.
I have an education and I study
Just like you.
I have dreams and aspirations
Just like you.
And I have a home
Just like you.
Except my home has been crushed and raided by soldiers.
I witnessed my friends get killed right in front of me.
My mother is being held prisoner.
My baby brother was taken away by soldiers.
And me, I am alone, trying to live a normal live in a foreign country.
Remember, I have a beating heart
And blood running through my veins
Just like you.
I am not an animal,
I am not an insect,
I am not trash,
I am human,
Just like you.

Refugee Week

by Guste Bekionyte

Realising in the steam will make me,
Embarrass myself.
Flowing away,
Unforgettable pain that is still there.
Grief, not going away.
Ethiopia is where I was,
Extreme war was in my life.

We hate it here, it is very violent,
Empathy is what we need.
Enraged! We need justice,
Keeping hope in my heart.

These two poems by schoolchildren in Newham, London, are taken from the Newham Poetry Book, published by the Newham Teachers' Association and sponsored by the NUT. See

http://newhamteachers.org.uk/z-docs/refugeecomp/newham-poetry-book_0_2015.pdf

Tuesday, 17 October 2017 16:45

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. 

Sarah Alderton is an Assistant Nutritionist at Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar & Health, an organisation working to reach an agreement with the government and food industry over the harmful effects of high salt and sugar intakes and bring about a reduction to the amount in processed foods.

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.

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 

Pam Bishop runs Sing Political and the Political Songster, encouraging people to write and sing songs for our times.

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

Glenn Bradford is a poet and short story writer based in Sutton-in-Ashfield. He works for Royal Mail, and takes inspiration from the people and places he sees whilst out delivering the post. In some ways he genuinely is a man of letters.

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. 

Dennis Broe is a Sorbonne Professor and author of Hyperindustrialism and Serial TV: The end of leisure and birth of the binge.

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. 

Rip Bulkeley is a semi-retired research historian and non-retired poet.

Andy Byford is Professor of 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.

Stuart Cartland is a lecturrer in Humanities at the University of Brighton.

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.

Monique Charles is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Warwick.

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.

Richard Clarke works at Westminster Business School, Birkbeck College, and runs a consultancy in heritage management.

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. 

Sam DeLeo is a widely published writer of poetry, fiction, plays and cultural commentary. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

Jeremy Dibble is Professor of Musicology at Durham University. 

Peter Doran is a lecturer at the School of Law at Queens University Belfast and a life-long activist on issues ranging from the arms trade to the circular economy. He is also a senior writer and editor at UN conferences on sustainable development for the reporting services of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and blogger for the leading political website www.sluggerotoole.com.

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. 

Gareth Edwards is a socialist based in Portsmouth. He teaches on the Sports Journalism degree course at the University of the Arts in London. He blogs infrequently at https://inside-left.blogspot.co.uk

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. He published a novel in 2016, contributes history features to the Morning Star, and has written for Culture Matters about Alexander Blok's poem 'The Twelve' and about the life and work of Maxim Gorky. 

Alix Emery has had work exhibited at Tate St Ives, Birmingham Hippodrome, The Truman Brewery, Tenderbooks, The House of Blah Blah, and PS Mirabel. She is in her final year, studying BA Fine Art, at Central Saint Martins.

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.Robert Farrell lives and works as a librarian in the Bronx, New York. His poems have appeared in a number of publications and his latest chapbook, Meditations on the Body, will be published by Ghostbird Press in 2017. 

S. O. Fasrus is a published poet and has written articles for national newspapers and magazines. She's also a social research interviewer and a social justice activist.

Daniel Clarkson Fisher is a Canadian essay filmmaker whose work has been featured by The AV Club, io9, No Film School, Boing Boing, Film School Rejects, and Vimeo Staff Picks. His writing has appeared in outlets that include AlterNet, Bright Lights Film Journal, Nonfics, and Diabolique.  See danielclarksonfisher.com.

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.

Mike Gallagher is an Irish writer, poet and editor. His poetry collection Stick on Stone was published by Revival Press in 2013. 

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.

Harry Giles is a writer and performer from Orkney who lives in Leith; their latest book is Tonguit (Freight 2016). See www.harrygiles.org

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. 

Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt is the author of To Defend the Revolution is to Defend Culture: The Cultural Policy of the Cuban Revolution (PM Press, 2015). She also researched and drafted, for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, the report on Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing, 2017.

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.  

S. O. Fasrus is a published poet and has written articles for national newspapers and magazines. She's also a social research interviewer and a social justice activist.

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 a founding member 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).

Martin Hayes has worked in the courier industry for 30 years. His second book of poetry, When We Were Almost Like Men is published by Smokestack Books and he has another collection coming out with Culture Matters later in 2017. 

Ray Hearne is a member of the Radio Ballads team, and his songs are still sung by Roy Bailey.

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. 

Rebecca Hillman is a writer, theatre maker and activist. Her teaching and research at the University of Exeter, where she works as a Drama lecturer, are informed by her involvement in trade union and community campaigns.

Zita Holbourne is an award winning, author, poet, writer, visual artist, curator and community and trade union activist. She is national vice president of PCS Union, and National Chair and co-founder of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK. 

Owain Holland is an environmental worker in Cornwall, a shop steward and trade union activist and a member of the Cornish language community.

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.

James Martyn Joyce is a poet based in Galway.

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.

Peter Knaggs is the author of two poetry collections. He has had poems in The York Evening Press, The Hull Daily Mail, The Morning Star, The North, The Reater and The Banana Shovel. In 2017, 'You're So Vain You Probably Think This Book is About You,' was longlisted for The Forward Poetry Prize. 'Sunburnt Bollock,' is forthcoming.

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). 

Ira Lightman occasionally appears on BBC Radio 3's The Verb and is a professional proofreader and copyeditor, who makes public art now and then.

Christine Lindey is now retired from being an Associate Lecturer in art history at the University of the Arts, London and at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is a visual arts critic for the Morning Star and her fifth book, Art for All: British Socially Committed Art c.193 - c.1962, will be published in the near future..

Fran Lock is a poet and political activist. Her latest collection is Dogtooth, published by Out-Spoken Press. She is currently preparing a new collection to be published by Culture Matters.

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.

Len McCluskey is the General Secretary of Unite.

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. 

Scott McLemee is a critic and essayist living in the United States who writes for a variety of cultural and political journals. He has edited two volumes of writings by the West Indian Marxist C.L.R. James (and is working on two more) and appears in the documentary Every Cook Can Govern: The Life, Impact, and Works of C.L.R. James.

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. 

Erika Tiburcio Moreno is a teacher of Film, History and English for adults in Madrid.

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.

Marc Nash is a novelist and short story writer, and his fifth novel is published by Dead Ink Books in Autumn 2017. He also works with video artists to turn some of his short pieces into digital storytelling. He works for the freedom of expression charity Index on Censorship. 

Doug Nicholls is General Secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unions, and the author of numerous books on history, politics, poetry and culture. His latest book is Lugalbanda, published by Culture Matters.

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.  

Mair De-Gare Pitt worked in Community Education for many years and is now semi-retired, running Creative Writing classes. She attends a poetry group at The Capel in Bargoed and is one of the Welsh Red Poets.

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. 

Stephen Pritchard is a final-year PhD researcher at Northumbria University exploring how activist art and radical social praxis might create spaces for acts of resistance and liberation.

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

Peter Raynard is a writer and editor of Proletarian Poetry: poems of working class lives, which has featured over 130 poems. He has been widely published and his debut collection Precarious will be published by Smokestack Books in April 2018. His poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto will be published by Culture Matters in May, 2018. He is also a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, a poetry collective set up by the poet Malika Booker.

Farshaad Razmjouie is a refugee from Iran, currently a student and living in Liverpool.

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). 

Michael Roberts is Festival Producer of the Cornwall Film Festival.

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. 

Dan Rosenberg teaches history at Adelphi University, just outside New York City. 

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.

Sabby Sagall is a former Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of East London.  He is a regular contributor to Socialist Review and is currently working on a book about music - "Music and Capitalism: Melody, Harmony and Rhythm in the Modern World"

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.

Amy Skinner is Lecturer in Drama and Theatre Practice in the School of Arts at the University of Hull. Since completing her PhD on Vsevolod Meyerhold, she has published in the field of Russian and Soviet theatre. She is also a theatre director and designer, specialising in contemporary stagings of multi-lingual texts and plays in translation.

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 and trade union official for TSSA.

Graham Stevenson is a political activist and trade union leader who has held many senior posts in the labour movement.

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, University of Sunderland, UK. He has published extensively in cultural studies, including twelve books. He is currently working on a thirteenth book, Refusing to be Realistic: Cultural Studies and Utopian Desire, to be published with Routledge.

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

Andy Summers is a writer based in Birmingham. 

Paul Summers is a poet based on Tyneside who has written for TV, film, radio and the theatre.

David Susswein writes from the bottom of England in a town called Eastbourne. Sometimes you can hear the sea as you write. 

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.

Boff Whalley is a songwriter, fellrunner and former postman, previously in the troublesome pop group Chumbawamba. He has worked extensively in theatre and arts projects, collaborating on choral pieces at Manchester Museum, Tate Britain and Somerset House, London.

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 have come together to provide webspace and editorial and technical support for 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 it and enhance it, for the common good.

Let's learn how to resist and oppose enclosure of our cultural commons, and instead expand it.

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, private ownership of the means of production and the capitalist drive for profit constrain the free creation and consumption of the cultural commons that is so necessary for human development.

Let's work out how to change capitalist culture, through creativity and criticism. 

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 continue Blake's 'mental fight' to build a more democratic, equal, and socialist society, a 'new Jerusalem', in the green and pleasant land not only of England, 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 unable to pay for material, unfortunately.

We welcome creative material such as poems, and commentary and critical material such as reviews, articles, essays, and interviews. Please write as clearly, concisely and accessibly as possible, avoiding footnotes. Have a look at what's already up on the site, and try and shape your 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 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.

Our published material is nearly all original work. Feel free to link to or copy our articles, but all bodies must email us for permission first, and we require a contribution from commercial bodies who wish to reproduce or translate one of our pieces in full. All reprinted work must attribute the author, publication and date. 

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.
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