Culture Matters

Culture Matters

Turning Points
Tuesday, 02 July 2024 11:59

Turning Points

Published in Books

What makes people change their mind and their behaviour? It happens all the time, often in small but significant ways. In his first collection of short stories, Dermot Foster deftly brings out the variety and subtlety of the ‘turning points’ in our lives.

The stories are marked by vivid characterisation, fluent dialogue and mature psychological insights into the politics of personal relationships. We hope they raise awareness of turning points in your own life, and the lives of the people around you, and we hope they inspire you to making personal and political changes.

Turning Points by Dermot Foster, ISBN 9781912710607, £12, from here.

Happy Republic Day!
Saturday, 04 May 2024 12:21

Happy Republic Day!

Published in Poetry

The campaign group Republic, working towards the abolition of the monarchy and its replacement by a directly elected head of state, have organised a day of protest and celebration on the 5th of May, the first anniversary weekend of Charles' coronation. Republic Day will be marked by a major event in Trafalgar Square featuring a wide range of speakers including Culture Matters' very own Martin Hayes! Sock it to 'em, Martin!

To lend solidarity and support across the digital ether we are also collecting and “curating” a host of Republican content from a number of our contributors: poems that scrutinise and excoriate the monarchy, poems that apply pressure to the highly suspect nationalist scripts in which they are involved; poems that fight the erasure of our own working-class heritage and history.

It's toothless and sweaty!

The monarchy is not merely a toothless anachronism. It is not (despite what the strenuous exertions of their PR department would have us believe) a harmless cultural agent. It is a profoundly political one. The last ten years have seen increasingly desperate and sweaty attempts to free the monarchy from its difficult, morally compromised history, and cement it instead at the very heart of Brand Britain. There’s been a series of cultural levers – music, literature, film, sport, art, and drama – intended to evoke a nebulous though crowd-pleasing notion of Britishness with which to distract the populace at home and to woo the global marketplace. It was/ is deeply cynical, but it was/ is deeply strategic.

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The flag-waving spectacle created by mainstream media discourses empties the monarchy of political context, allowing them to become a hollow receptacle for whatever idea is useful to power. Cultural discourses have tended to heavily moralise the monarchy through representations of nationhood, philanthropy, and family, effectively masking their relationship to centuries of exploitation, accumulation, corruption, and conquest. The death of Elizabeth II sent this PR machine into overdrive: a daily torrent of sentimentalising guff that sought to silence debate about the future of the monarchy by equating pro-republican criticism with a hard-hearted absence of “sympathy”; exhorting would-be protestors to remember the late Queen's “humanity”.

As if humanity itself were some vaguely miraculous quality, and not the generic condition of everyone alive from Vladimir Putin to Britney Spears. No, theirs is a kind of Schrödinger’s humanity: an arbitrary rhetorical expedient that phases into existence at the precise moment scrutiny is applied. We're constantly told that the rich and powerful transcend our mere mortal existence; the monarchy spend their entire lives within the hazy, elevated aura of hereditary, institutional, and economic privilege, with all the exemptions and special dispensations this implies. They're not us. They are better than us. The rules do not apply to them. But if that is the case, then it's a bit much to expect readmission in the final extremis. Sympathy is a finite resource; our sympathy cannot and will not stretch to meet the irrational demands of our oppressors and class enemies to be loved. Especially, when history has shown us that they do not return the favour.

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Republic are doing good work exposing the secrecy of the royal family. And of course they have much to hide. In 2017 the Paradise Papers revealed the extent to which the Queen’s private estate used offshore private equity funds to avoid paying tax on its holdings. The Crown is already exempt by law from taxation, and also from inheritance tax on 'sovereign to sovereign' bequests. As Laura Clancy has pointed out, the royal family 'relies on the (uncodified) British constitution and political custom to play the same game' as corporate tax avoidance giants such Amazon and Facebook.

We fund this shit!

In the monarchy, historical custom and capitalist logic meet in the worst way possible. And we – that is PAYE workers – fund this shit, through the Sovereign Grant. As austerity bit, and the cost-of-living crisis escalated, causing upwards of 130,000 preventable deaths in 2019 alone, this was the thought that stayed with me: Britain needs better symbols, and a more inclusive, empathetic vision of itself.

A good place to start creating that vision would be by ridding ourselves of an institution whose wealth and history is inseparable from the depredations of colonialism, and whose cornerstone is inequality. In recent years, many former British colonies in the Caribbean have declared their intent to abolish the monarchy including Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica and St. Kitts. Barbados has already cut ties with the British monarchy to become the world’s newest republic, and to rightly pursue reparations for the horrors of the slave trade.

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Campaigners are right: an apology is not enough. King Charles “acknowledging” the atrocity of slavery isn’t enough. An institution whose wealth was built on and maintained by slavery telling the descendants of slaves, whose families, cultures, and communities were scarred by colonialism, that they feel their pain is frankly insulting. You cannot cherry-pick which parts of Empire to whitewash and to fetishize. The foundation of Empire is slavery; slavery is the direct consequence of Empire. The same applies to hierarchy, poverty, and gross inequality at home. You cannot honour the victim if you are actively sympathising with their abuser.

To jail with you!

The ascension of Charles zipped past with indecent haste, ensuring that no conversation about the necessity for a monarchy could even intervene. Stability is the status quo, and not everyone benefits equally from preserving that. Republican protestors were arrested. A woman in Edinburgh for holding a sign reading Fuck imperialism, Abolish monarchy, and a man in Oxford who shouted “who elected him?” during a reading of a proclamation. Both protestors were arrested for a ‘breach of the peace’. This is where we are, and this is what accretes around these figures, what concentrates within them, this is the state that they legitimate. Not sufficiently respectful? To jail with you. The state is criminalising protest. The monarchy lends tacit approval to this project.

I want to be part of a country where everyone has a right to be heard. I want to live in a country that faces its difficult history head-on and with humility. I want to be part of a country where my head of state is accountable; where the most vulnerable citizens are treated fairly and with dignity, and where those in power are not so terrified of a dissenting opinion that they'll do just about anything to stamp it out. I believe that ridding ourselves of the monarchy has the potential to catalyse more radical and egalitarian demands. If we can question the power of the monarch, we can also question the power of bosses, politicians, economic elites. It is a beginning, but it is a hopeful and necessary one. One that is not only anti-monarchy, but pro-republic.

I hope you enjoy the parade of poems below, collected for Republic Day. If you would like to support this branch of our cultural struggle please consider buying our anti-monarchy anthology Dungheap Cockerel, edited by Rip Bulkeley and Mike Quille and/ or the republican-themed Wolves Come Grovelling by Alan Morrison.

Wolves CG cover         Dungheap Cockerel cover jpeg

If you are interested in joining Republic and finding out more about their campaigns and how  you can join the fun, please visit them here.

Make way for more polemic! 

The monarchy is the pinnacle of the British state and that state’s increasing authoritarianism has been on full display since Charles came to the throne. Police swooped on peaceful protesters at events proclaiming him king in several British cities. Some were arrested simply for holding up blank pieces of paper. Royal assent has just been given to the Public Order Act, the latest in a long line of repressive laws passed since the 2019 election.

The thuggish intimidation of republicans is inseparable from the project to shrink the range of permissible political opinion after the shock the Corbyn surge gave the ruling class. [...] The character-assassination campaign against Corbyn himself regularly involved allegations of disrespect towards the monarchy—and the monarchy’s place above Parliament was cited by generals briefing the press that the army might have to remove an elected socialist government.

Nor should it be forgotten that the monarchy, greedily supported by a sycophantic aristocracy, is the main foundation of the inegalitarian and corrupt system of land ownership in Britain, an outrage that is centuries overdue for reform.

So the monarchy is not neutral. It can appear so when the status quo is not threatened, but its undemocratic state power will be deployed if the ruling class consider it necessary to prevent radical change. And the growing opposition to monarchy should not be separated from wider political trends either. It is bound up with anger at an unrepresentative and oppressive British state and an economy rigged against ordinary people.

- Excerpt from the Introduction to Dungheap Cockerel, by Rip Bulkeley & Mike Quille

Stand clear! Watch out! Here comes the parade of poems!

To Crown It All

As far as the news went, all the wars
in Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen, and anywhere
else were suspended; no one whatsoever
died of Covid; no celebrities did anything
remotely celebretitious; no crimes were
committed, whether violent or otherwise;
there were no major accidents and no
natural disasters; nothing went extinct;
bizarre coincidences failed to coincide.

The glaring shortage of factoids left
the media havering between panic and
a self-destructive blamefest. But someone
had happened on an interminable ceremony
in a minor, post-imperial European nation.
The vultures descended, gorged for hours,
regurgitating regularly for an audience
denied any choice of infotainment.

Next day people went about with a strange
look on their faces, a blend of shame,
bewilderment, and momentary flashes
of relief as they realized that neither they
nor anyone else were ever going to say
one word about the orgy of inanities
from which they were slowly coming round.

By Rip Bulkeley

*

I don't care whether the monarchy stays or leaves but I wish they wouldn't be presented as a Godly power one minute, and human beings/an ordinary family the next. I also wish people would ask simple questions like 'Why do the “royal” family need so many houses when there are children in the UK who don't have beds to sleep on?

- Jenny Mitchell

The Queen is Black

The Queen Turned Black

When granny dies, her skin transforms,
not limb by limb but all at once –
dark brown becomes red, white and blue.

Her hair has lost its kink, becomes a stately crown.
I’m not surprised. She loved Great Britain
even when in ’56 a turd slipped

through her letterbox. Neighbours called police
in ’58 to say her bible class – loud prayers
to a blond-haired Jesus – sent them mad.

More than once in ’63, the local press reported
that her house became a den of vice – Black
Madame Must Be Stopped!

She used the settlements to build a large extension.
Most recently, the man next door, caped
in a Union Jack, ordered her to go back home

with the other immigrants. Home was called
the Mother Country where the Queen
once welcomed her, waving from a balcony.

Now ever since she died, the Queen has been
transformed, her skin turned black,
her hair a tall, soft afro. She lies

next to my granny in a special plot, white
roses planted close. Are they holding
hands, having shared so much?

By Jenny Mitchell

*

That decade in the middle of the 17th century seems to have been airbrushed out from our royalty-dominated history. But republicanism has remained, among a significant minority, as an enduring dream of generations who have dared to imagine a true democratic society with no hereditary head of state and whose sovereignty is properly represented by Parliament, and implicitly in the People.

- Alan Morrison

Wolves Come Grovelling 

With a video by Vanessa Sadri:

Out of the forests of towns & hovelling,
Wolves of poverty, howl out in worship,
Bow to your Wolf-queen, wolves come grovelling.

Away from your wolf-fare of food bank shovelling,
For one weekend, share in wolf-fellowship,
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling.

Her crowned head, minted on our pound sterling
& postage stamps, shadows our hardship—
Bow to your Wolf-queen, wolves come grovelling.

Believe or get even, there’ll be no levelling
Up, except in Uxbridge & South Ruislip—
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling;

It’s all just so much Cat-Rat-&-Lovelling
Of Big Hog’s nodding-dog dictatorship—
Bow to your Wolf-queen, wolves come grovelling.

Come famished & homeless join the street-revelling,
Come unemployed, lumpen, unpaid internship—
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling,
Bow to your Wolf-queen, wolves come grovelling.

Wolves Come Grovelling (Again)

Out of the forests of towns & hovelling,
Wolves of poverty, howl out in worship,
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

Forget soaring bills & the cost of living
For one weekend, spaff on wolf-fellowship,
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling.

His crowned head, minted on our pound sterling
& postage stamps, shadows our hardship—
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

Grab the bank holiday, string out the bunting,
You’re Subjects of strung-along citizenship—
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling;

It’s all just so much Cat-Rat-&-Lovelling
Of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha & kingship—
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

Or mark the Coronation by protesting,
Yellow placards packed up in creeping censorship—
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling,
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

By Alan Morrison

*

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Weekly Briefing

Starving children trudge to school
while I serve tea to his Majesty
and the Prime Minister.

The King urges his PM to
try his new range
of Duchy biscuits.

As the meeting closes,
the PM plucks a gift bag
from his case.

For your dogs, your majesty.
Fresh bones
of your starving subjects.

Collected this morning.
Children’s, I believe.

By Owen Gallagher

*

The Thread

Every man born in England cannot, ought not, neither by the law of God nor the law of nature, to be exempted from the choice of those who are to make laws for him to live under – and for him, for aught I know, to lose his life under.
- Thomas Rainsborough

We fastened a stretch of thread to the front gates of your palace,
and took the other end to town, where we tied it up in the square.

The first night, as the guard changed, we heard the grind of the thread
as it began to wring itself. The fastening bled, and all along
its length the wraps dropped scarlet, damson, crimson: the dead
who any measure from the gates of your palace
must contain in the telling.
The tightness held all night, and the noise of their blood rose.

The next week, the clotted length gave forth
a sickening green that dropped from its weft in odour, rancour,
connivance and hoard. Such rancid riches dripped along
every step of the line, and we noticed that the guards were gone.

It was seven days on when the end of the line led half of the crowd
from the marketplace where the knot we had made had turned black.
Along the long road to the gates of your palace,
where those petrified reds had withered to dark
and the heavy green was now trash in the wind,
the black thread tied to the gates of your palace
pointed us all to the no-light beyond,
to the darkness and quiet that now filled your palace,
the bags left half-packed and the horses long gone.

It took only one child
to twitch on the red thread
and laugh at the crash and the fall of those gates.

You needn’t return, to where you left your palace,
we’ve more than enough things to do with the space,
and should you turn back, to where once stood your palace,
there’s a thread that we’ve kept, just for you, just in case.

By Patrick Davidson Roberts

 *

 Big Issue on X:    Picture10

Jubilee
(from the Latin Jubilo = to shout)

1.
Wake up dry-eyed with excitement
On this your special day
(This morning another ex-squaddie’s
Found dead in another doorway)
And now there’s a ring on the doorbell
And the first of your friends are here
And she’s brought a bottle of Moet
And he’s brought some rather nice beer
So you nip out and fire up the Barbie
And then pour a large G and T
And talk of the need for harsh measures
Because there’s no money tree:
Out there the cupboards are empty,
Out there someone takes their own life,
Out there every state celebration
Is another twist of the knife.

2.
You wake up hungry and tired
(Every morning’s always the same)
Make teas and toast for your breakfast
(Ditto lunch and your evening meal)
Then have a quick flick through the Ceefax
Because daily papers aren’t free:
And all of your bills have just doubled
And you can’t seem to shake off that cough
And though your cold bones are aching
You’ll still keep the heating switched off.

By Kevin Patrick McCann

*

The thinking behind this poem is that the monarchy receives £86.3 million each year through the Sovereign Grant (it is fixed until 2025 then will go up to £123 million from 2026) which is directly funded by the tax taken from the wages and salaries of PAYE workers.

So the poem is written as a kind of collective voice against that tax money being given to the monarchy instead of being given towards the essential infrastructure to help the country run. The NHS mainly, but also education, youth clubs, aspiring musicians/bands unable to play live because of the cost, painters who, armed with the right mind to create, can't afford a canvas and a room to just sit there and contemplate their next masterpiece; the reintroduction of inter-school sport where you could play against the young men and women that lived in the block away from you and you could frame your interaction in football, cricket, basketball, netball, rounders, rather than in postcode defining wars and kebab shop scuffles... them... they could do with a bit of that 86.3 million a lot more than the King could... and our world – their world – would be better for it.

- Martin Hayes

the people kept on yelling

the Monarchy said
work
and the people said back
work, yes, but let it be fair
and then the Monarchy said
shut up and just work
we need your tax pounds coming in to help fund us
but the people said back
work, yes, but let it be fair
so the Monarchy sent its attack dogs in
to slap them across the back of their legs
with a baton
but the people took it and said back
work, yes, but let it be fair
and then the Monarchy’s attack dogs said
Fair!? I’ll show you what’s fucking Fair!
and so they invented their legislation department
to try and crush every uprising with its rules
but the people kept on yelling
work, yes, but let it be fair
and the moon kept on coming and going
and the sea was always there
and nothing could kill what was in the centre of the people
which was work and love
and the attack dogs understood this
so they came in the end in their billions to the power of 10
to protect the Monarchy
they did
from the people who wouldn’t stop yelling

work, yes, but let it be fair!

work, yes, but let it be fair!

By Martin Hayes

*

By way of a note on the poems: the Jack Cade Rebellion, which took place over the summer months of May, June and July in 1450 was arguably one of the most important popular uprisings to take place in England during the long Middle Ages. It began as an orchestrated demonstration of political unrest by the inhabitants of south-east England (Kent) against the mismanagement and oppression of Henry VI's government. Its participants, both and women, mostly labourers, artisans, yeomen and farmers expressed concerns over unfair wages and taxes. Their Bill of Complaint also attacked the cronyism and corruption they perceived at various levels of government and within the church. The Complaint included an extensive catalogue of judicial misconduct: selling the goods and property of those accused of treason (before they were convicted), leasing of judicial offices to those who used them to gain money through extortion; bringing default judgments against defendants who had been neither summoned nor notified of suits pending against them, and the illegal eviction of people from their property. While little is known of the historical Jack Cade, we do know that his insurrection was popular and initially successful: the Rebellion brought London to a virtual standstill and caused Henry VI to flee the capital for the relative safety of Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, some one-hundred miles from the city.

If people have heard of Cade at all, it is usually as an antagonist in Shakespeare's Henry VI Part II (first performed in 1592), where his portrayal is complex but not exactly kind. While the grievances of the rebels are presented within the play as deeply serious, and would have resonated powerfully with its first audience: by 1570 the purchasing power of agricultural wages was 40 per cent lower than it was in 1450, as a result of which it became near-impossible to support a household containing young children or infirm adults on wage labour, and by 1592 acts of enclosure had begun to be roundly and publicly condemned), Cade's revolutionary message is continually undercut by his presentation as politically crude, megalomaniacal and bloodthirsty.

Living in Kent, I have become increasingly absorbed in researching Jack Cade, and thinking about the lost link in our radical heritage that he represents. The Cade Rebellion did not seek to overthrow the crown; rather it sought relief for the 'extraordinary distresses' of the populace. Which the monarchy – who do not love their subjects, true to form – refused to recognise. For me, Cade stands for the history of the commons, a story that elites have sought to bury and revile, overwriting us with the infinitely more “glorious” history of Kings and Queens. It's a moment in time where radical energy erupts from the hard-pressed, and people – the people – attempt to take their fate into their own hands, a cry that says – to quote Martin – Let it be fair!

Here's to fair......

- Fran Lock

Public lecture

“The purchasing power of agricultural wages was 40 per cent lower in 1570 than in 1450. As a result, it became impossible to support a household containing young children or infirm adults on wage labour...”

she says. i dream of martyrs' mischiefs. things
remote and then revealed: jack cade, quartered;
the poor commons of kent, routed and scoured.
fanatical attentions, folded-faces. you, hanging
listless in the pillory of a poorly pressed suit,
the airtight turmoil in my gut. give the century
its skirmishes, incite and license all collapse.
we coin new crisis hourly; ply our riot against
misrule, your catalogue of crowns. we are
stuck, sessile and assailed. i dream of ceded
fiefdoms, of precedents, repeals. our long, cold
night is sectioned into sieges, or the claims
of rival roses; your extraordinary distresses,
kent. your brutalist's warrant of chalk. this is
my dream: penury portending insurrection,
the lightly reckoned necks of vagrants
and of traitors. emaciated labour, leagues
and guilds. and men, syndicated bitterly,
execute routines: the hokey-cokey of execution,
execration, the tyrant's damp alas, the bigot's
sour amen. i dream a dream of righteousness,
riddled into writs, writ in a calfskin codex.
the pig who is stretched into velum; the goose
plundered for primaries: scribal and flightless.
clerks, who fabricate feathers; informers,
foremen, forgers. i dream of wat tyler, tilling
the tax collector's head, the wrath of roseate
angels whose hour is at hand. kent, you are
slashed in the neck, paraded on pikes,
dragged like a plough behind horses. this
crew of skulled dunces, dancing. on hot
coals, on livid cinders of conscience. stop.
these are tiltyard retributions, tournaments
and courses, antics for ascension days. but we
will bury all errants, beneath the conjuries
of commonweal. their distorted law, and our
extinguished skin. kent, like a loafing ghost will
rise. cuckoos of the calendar. sing, dream. you
mendicants, you miscreants, you louts of rebel
decibel. give the populace its knives. bright
knaves. you plebs of brimstone and fidelity.

The History of the Old Kent Road resized

Cade's chroniques

tight-lipped light tipped down toward
bank and fen, the yokeman's meadow.
sodden skies will tutor me to brood. yr
den of nettles, kent. the muddy bulge
and muddle of u. there is a little bird
that sits in scrub and sedge and sings
its hedge-invective. teach me this, yr
sparrow's gammon. sauntersick, i am,
and thistle-billeted. they scant yr right
of shack, and laugh to see yr manhood
thatched with spit and twigs. they call
u rabble kent, tap-shackled obstinates.
rascal kent, u rakes of affray. they call
u kent of mongrel measures, mulling
yr dull wits to malady; pot-plateaued
kent, whose livery is ditches. they do
not love u, mullocked sons of chalk. I
know. oh, u chronics of kent, hold me
up! they have their law, and it comes
in swinging its chancer's mallet. men
there are, who live to heap yr head
with conqueror's calumnies, a mean
encoffined logic under which we lean
like wheat. kent, they shall kill me. u,
must be free. in the vigour of yr sling-
shots. rēsen, rise. the brawny disarray
of u. blackthorn, cockspur, purging
buckthorn, quickthorn, firethorn, all
the thorns of thrusting fief. on yr hind-
legs through the wet hush. to file yr
teeth. tight-lipped light tipped down
toward the samphire bank where cade
has crept. will pierce the very varying
moon in its emphasising eye.

By Fran Lock

Hurrah for the contributors!

Rip Bulkeley is a more or less retired political activist, peace researcher and historian of the Cold War, the earth sciences, and Antarctica. He has been trying to write better poetry for 68 years. His début as an organizer was the 1960 Adelaide students’ ‘Prosh’ (rag day), and as a protester, the 1962 Aldermaston March. He founded Oxford’s thriving Back Room Poets in 1999, and published War Times with Ripostes in 2003. He speaks 5½ languages, has lived in four countries, and edited seven anthologies including Dungheap Cockrel (Culture Matters, 2023), Poems for Grenfell Tower (Onslaught, 2018), Rebel Talk (Extinction Rebellion Oxford, 2021), and A Fish Rots From the Head (Culture Matters, 2022).

Jenny Mitchell is winner of the Poetry Book Awards 2021, the Bedford Prize, the Ware Prize and joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize 2019. Her poems have been widely published and she has been nominated twice for the Forward Prize: Best Single Poem. The best-selling debut collection, Her Lost Language, is ‘One of 44 Poetry Books for 2019’ (Poetry Wales). Her second collection, Map of a Plantation, has been chosen as a ‘Literary Find’ (Irish Independent), and both books are on the syllabus of Manchester Metropolitan University. Her latest collection is called Resurrection of a Black Man.

Alan Morrison is a Sussex-based poet. His collections include A Tapestry of Absent Sitters (2009), Keir Hardie Street (2010; shortlisted for the 2011 Tillie Olsen Award, Working Class Studies Association, USA), Captive Dragons (2011), Blaze a Vanishing (2013), Shadows Waltz Haltingly (2015), Tan Raptures (2017), Shabbigentile (2019), Gum Arabic (2020), Anxious Corporals (2021), Green Hauntings (2022), and Rag Argonauts (2024). In 2018 he was joint winner of the Bread & Roses Poetry Award, and was highly commended in the inaugural Shelley Memorial Poetry Competition 2022. He edits The Recusant and Militant Thistles, and is books editor and book designer for Culture Matters. 

Owen Gallagher is the author of four poetry collections, the most recent being Clydebuilt (Smokestack Books, 2019). The Sikh Snowman, a children’s picture book, was published by Culture Matters in 2020 and his poem 'Straight Up' was a Guardian Poem of the Week.

Patrick Davidson Roberts was born in 1987 and grew up in Sunderland and Durham. He was editor of The Next Review magazine 2013-2017, co-founded Offord Road Books press in 2017 and reviews for The Poetry School and The High Window. His debut collection is The Mains (Vanguard Editions, 2018) and a chapbook, The Trick (Broken Sleep Books, 2023) was recently published. His work has been published in 14 Magazine, Ambit, The Interpreter’s House, Magma, The Rialto, and on Bad Lilies, The High Window, One Hand Clapping, and Wild Court.

Kevin Patrick McCann is a poet, novelist and educator who has published eight collections of poetry for adults, and one for children: Diary of a Shapeshifter (Beul Aithris Publications). There is also a book of ghost stories: It’s Gone Dark (The Otherside Books), and Teach Yourself Self-Publishing (Hodder), co-written with the playwright Tom Green. Ov (Beul Aithris Publications) is a fantasy novel for children. Deleted Scenes: Poems i.m. Shirley Jackson is a new pamphlet from Culture Matters.

Martin Hayes has worked in the courier industry for 30 years. His collections include The Things Our Hands Once Stood For (Culture Matters, 2020), the critically acclaimed Ox (Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press, 2021), and most recently Machine Poems (Smokestack Books, 2024).

Fran Lock is an editor, essayist, the author of numerous chapbooks and thirteen poetry collections, most recently Hyena! (Poetry Bus Press), which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2023. She is a Commissioning Editor at Culture Matters, and she edits the Soul Food column for Communist Review.

The Orgreave Stations
Wednesday, 01 May 2024 14:15

The Orgreave Stations

Published in Books

On the 40th anniversary of the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike, William Hershaw has used the series of Christian images of the Stations of the Cross (Christ’s journey to his crucifixion) as a imaginative framework for a series of poems about the Strike, and particularly the Battle of Orgreave on the18th June, 1984. 

Hershaw’s Jesus is an individual who stands up to protect communities under threat and who believes in building a caring, sharing society. The poems are a timely reminder not just of a state-inflicted injustice but of a turning point in political and social history that still resonates at every level of UK life – and far beyond the coal mining communities that the Thatcher Government targeted so viciously.

It is a commemoration of the bravery, compassion and activism of the striking miners and all those who supported them, and a challenge to those who would prefer not to remember what happened. It records the genesis of our present world of foodbanks, homelessness, poverty, political corruption and deceit, and continual restrictions of individual and workers’ rights.

Hershaw’s lyrical, vernacular poems are beautifully illustrated by Les McConnell’s vivid images.

The Orgreave Stations, Poems by William Hershaw with Images by Les McConnell, ISBN 978-1-912710-67-6, £10 plus p. and p., is available here.

Peaceweavers: Callout for new anthology
Friday, 19 April 2024 10:08

Peaceweavers: Callout for new anthology

Published in Cultural Commentary

Peaceweavers – Peacemakers, peace activists and radical advocates for justice.

Is a peaceful world achievable? Are war and conflict an inevitable part of human nature – or are there realistic peaceful and non-violent alternatives?

At Culture Matters we believe that without justice, there is no peace, and it is by tackling the many causes of social injustice and inequalities that a stable, peaceful society and world can be achieved.

We want to hear from those actively working for peace – whether at an individual, grassroots community or global level, working as activists, writers, critics or or creatives. We’re particularly (though not exclusively) interested in the following areas:

Conscientious objectors and alternatives to war
Restorative justice
Global peace witness
Peace activism
Peace education
Mediation
Humanitarian assistance
Radical forgiveness
Alternatives to violence
Interfaith dialogue
Challenging racism, homophobia and prejudice
Challenging economic and social inequalities
Disarmament and weapons amnesties
Peace and reconciliation work

We are seeking artistic as well as critical responses to the topic of Peace, in the form of original art, photography and poetry. (Visual art and photographs should be capable of being reproduced in black and white format).

Guidelines for Submissions

1. Essays should be between 500-1000 words, in English, on MS Word (2007/later version), font size 12, Times New Roman font.
2. Submissions should be your own, original, previously unpublished work.
3. Please send submissions as separate attachments, with a short biog (100 words), together with your full name, email address and contact address.
4. All entries will remain the copyright of the author but Culture Matters will have the right to publish them online and as a printed book. Contributors will receive a free copy of the anthology.
5. Artwork should be included as a jpg attachment, no less than 300 dpi.

PLEASE SEND SUBMISSIONS AND ANY QUERIES TO: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with subject line PEACEWEAVERS ANTHOLOGY, and copy to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

DEADLINE: 31 December 2024.

Review of 'A Brief and Biased History of Love' by Alan Humm
Tuesday, 16 April 2024 10:34

Review of 'A Brief and Biased History of Love' by Alan Humm

Published in Poetry

 A Brief and Biased History of Love by Alan Humm. £9.  Culture Matters.  ISBN  978-1-912710-55-3. Reviewed by Patricia McCarthy

This interesting debut collection from novelist Alan Humm merits reading and re-reading with its fresh, startlingly original images and equally original angles on ordinary lives, losses and loves.

The collection is introduced by what amounts to a three-page essay by Fran Lock. This is so articulate, so probing and detailed that it has to be wondered if it should have remained on its own as a wonderfully incisive review. The problem here is that the reader reads this almost overwhelming, detailed build-up to the poems to follow that, when the poems are encountered, with such expectations, they can only seem thinner and more slight than they should. Most readers don’t like having their opinions on a text dictated to, especially as poetry is elastic in meaning and therefore each poem is different to every reader. This is my only caveat.

Humm is billed as a poet who explores and represents working-class masculinities. I think this is to focus too narrowly, and too trendily, on his work. Yes his memories in these poems are those of a typical English male. The emotion seems somewhat restrained, withheld, which, in an ironic sense, perhaps gives the poems their power. It is a recognisable world of pubs, bars, squats, clubs with ‘girls sitting in a row’, village halls, estates, a mill, graveyard, river, a textile factory,  a supermarket which , in one poem, is visible in the playful rhyming couplet: ‘late at night/ like Santa’s grotto in the light’, ‘suburban nothingness’ circumscribed even from the very first poem by walls.

The walls of the persona’s body become the walls of his life viewed with the long-angled lens of memory in different lights. Within these parameters, the reader is confronted with the poet’s experiences of a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father, a feisty mother who ‘can make a fist/with her whole body’, and is capable of having it off with another man, forgiveable perhaps when her husband ‘with lamplight dribbling down his chin’ who ‘looked like someone’s dog’ tried to rape her. There is adolescent fumbling with the opposite sex … as the poet or persona balances between ‘fear’ and ‘love’. ‘Love’ of course is what has to be learned in order for it to be defined – definitely distinct from plain male ‘desire ’as in the poem ‘Julie (again)’. His adolescent self idolises Julie: ‘She was so blonde/ that I could hardly bear to look at her’, but he quickly realises ‘she was just a girl’… ‘bewildered by the ferocity of my desire’. He can’t quite define the word ‘desire’ except to say it was ‘like a dull endless explosion’. Yet he comes close to defining ‘love’ earlier as ‘that dark shape in your heart/ that comes to claim you as its own’. He also can’t quite define ‘the thing that music names’ and he wishes fervently for ‘decent tunes/ and a bright millwheel for a heart’.

Similes and metaphors abound which make the reader sit up with their accuracy. This collection is haunted by the ‘disgrace’ of an alcoholic father who links to the theme of violence. He is matter-of-factly described as he ‘wielded the leather/ and the bucket like a matador’ but in the evening he ‘was doubled/ in the funhouse mirrors of the pub’. At times he ‘will upend the wine bottle, like ketchup’. His father’s voice is always a threat: ‘It ebbs continually,/ its timbre mussed by distance into a dull/downpour in the room below’. Even the silences are ‘contaminated’: ‘They all contain my father’s murmur/like a river does a crocodile’.

No wonder, then, that the friends addressed individually and fondly in a clutch of poems offer some relief. Yet what serves mainly as a counterpoint to the monstrous father is popular music which acts as a constant recitative throughout, whether it be made by an amateur band of youngsters ‘whose notes’… ‘had the breadth, the dull/intransigence of mud’. Even his own voice, he realises in retrospect, was ‘its own worst enemy;//each song weighed down/ by an acoustic like dull water’.  On the other hand, the voice of John Lennon, when the poet was a boy, made him rise from ‘Dumb skies’… ‘amplified, like a balloon’. Yet it is imperfect and perfect music that gives the poet a more wanted home than the one he has. He envies the house of his upmarket friend David who plays the cello: ‘Everywhere – books./  The house was built on them/in the same way that a mind/constructs itself upon/its memories’ – as Humm’s mind does in these poems.

Learning is a theme too: in the above poem he says ‘I learned that time/conspires to keep you/in the places that you love’ – just as in ‘Teaching at Addington’ he humbly acknowledges: ‘Which of us,/me or the kids,/ was teaching who’ pointing to the fact that teaching is the best way of learning, even to ‘become yourself/ when you transcend yourself’. Humm’s wisdom is apparent too in the haunting ‘Villanelle’ which elaborates on ‘Within the part of us that never grows/ the future is the past in different clothes’.

His friend Sam on the drums has ‘hands that begin to sing’ as his poems do when read, and re-read to give them their full understated rhythm and impact. In the poem ‘How to love music’, Humm states: ‘If rhythm was a liquid/ then a voice would be its grain’. And maybe in this collection he achieves just this: his voice the grain in the unswerving subtle rhythm of his verse.

Patricia McCarthy edited Agenda poetry journal for more than two decades. She won the National Poetry Competition in 2012 and has been a runner-up twice. Her poems are published widely and she has several collections to her name, the latest full collection, published a year ago, being Hand in Hand (London Magazine Editions/Agenda Editions) based on Tristan and Yseult, and the pamphlet A Ghosting in Ukraine (dare-Gale Press, 2023).

Convulsions, 2021-24: a Trusstercluck
Thursday, 28 March 2024 11:16

Convulsions, 2021-24: a Trusstercluck

Published in Books

These are polemical and activist poems written to predict and hasten the demise of our tottering government and—hopefully—of the Conservative Party itself. The present-day Tory party and its leading representatives are unequalled in their incompetence, arrogance, greed, mendacity, corruption, and systemic criminality.

The past fourteen years of Conservative rule have surpassed even the Thatcher period in terms of the social, cultural, and economic damage inflicted on the vast majority of ordinary people, especially the poor, the sick and the homeless.

Another Vote for Sunak!

Me, I’m your typical swing voter –
The only thing I care about’s my car.
Just keep your hands off me and my old motor
Else you’ll find out how narky us lot are.

That Sunak, he won’t screw my daily rota.
He knows this barmy Ulez thing’s by far
The biggest issue for your cash-strapped floater –
It’s all them doomsday types whose voices jar!

If I was Rishi’s party-line promoter
I’d say ‘just get old Clarkson as your czar
For drivers’ rights – he’d push the Ulez boat a
Whole lot farther out, our all-time star!

So tell the world we don’t care one iota
How anxious for their grandkids’ lungs they are,
Those Greens – we say ‘Jump back in your Toyota
And we’ll jump back in our old bangers, ta!’

to the frogs rev2

These intensely political poems are consummate examples of the art of resistance. They range widely in their targets, moods and formal structures, though they mostly concern some specific, invariably shameful abuse of office.

The volcano of satire, disgust and righteous indignation erupting from the texts is supercharged by Martin Gollan’s brilliantly pointed, ferocious cartoons. These poems and drawings are timely examples of how cultural workers across the arts can join forces in the unsparing exposure of political wickedness and evil.

Convulsions, 2021-24: a Trusstercluck, by Chris Norris, ISBN 978-1-912710-64-5, is £12 inc. p. and p. in UK, £12 plus £5 p. and p. elsewhere.

Please buy via Wales Books Council or via the Donations button here, and send your name and address to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Sacred and the Profane: Poetry workshops with Jenny Mitchell
Tuesday, 27 February 2024 15:14

The Sacred and the Profane: Poetry workshops with Jenny Mitchell

Published in Poetry
 

Culture Matters is proud to present two online poetry workshops on the theme of The Sacred and the Profane, led by award-winning poet Jenny Mitchell.

How can poetry help us to reimagine traditional ideas about belief? How can poetic approaches to spirituality and worship lead us to a renewed sense of Joy, Wonder, and Hope? And how might this help to shape a more radical and compassionate future?

The award-winning poet Jenny Mitchell will offer 2 online workshops of 2 hours each, using poetry prompts to encourage participants to write about secular and non-secular beliefs in a relaxed and creative atmosphere. There will be an opportunity to share work and receive constructive feedback, with ample time between sessions for participants to absorb ideas and craft their poetic responses. The workshops are open to new and experienced poets alike.

Dates: 29th May and 5th June from 4-6pm on both days. Fee: £5 for each session, with two free places. First come, first served. 25 Participants max. Sign up here to receive link.

The event will be hosted by Culture Matters' Commissioning Editor, Fran Lock, who will also introduce the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2024.

Jenny Mitchell is winner of the Poetry Book Awards 2021, the Bedford Prize, the Ware Prize and joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize 2019. Her poems have been widely published and she has been nominated twice for the Forward Prize: Best Single Poem. The best-selling debut collection, Her Lost Language, is ‘One of 44 Poetry Books for 2019’ (Poetry Wales). Her second collection, Map of a Plantation, has been chosen as a ‘Literary Find’ (Irish Independent), and both books are on the syllabus of Manchester Metropolitan University. Her latest collection is called Resurrection of a Black Man.

Fran Lock Ph. D. is a poet, writer and activist, shortlisted for the 2023 TS Eliot Poetry Prize, and the former Judith E. Wilson Poetry Fellow at Cambridge University (2022-2023). She is the author of thirteen poetry collections, most recently 'a disgusting lie' (further adventures through the neo-liberal hell mouth), published by Pamenar Press in September 2023. She is a member of the New Editorial Advisory Board for the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry, and she edits the Soul Food column for Communist Review. A collection of essays exploring feral subjectivity through the lens of the medieval bestiary is forthcoming from Out-Spoken Press later this year. Fran is an Associate Editor at Culture Matters. 

Callout: The Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2024
Tuesday, 27 February 2024 15:05

Callout: The Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2024

Published in Poetry

We are very pleased to announce that thanks to support from Unison (Newcastle City Centre branch), and Newcastle Trades Union Council, the eighth Bread and Roses Poetry Award is now open until the end of August for entries.

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

This year we are asking for poems to focus as usual on themes relevant to working-class life, struggle, communities and culture, including poems on the Spirit of Socialism / the Socialism of the Spirit, to be interpreted as broadly as entrants can imagine. Jenny Mitchell, a poet who has previously won the Bread and Roses Award (as well as several other awards), is supporting this strand to the B and R Award this year by running two workshops on the theme The Sacred and the Profane. See here for further details and to sign up.

As in previous years, there will be 5 prizes of £100 each for the best poems, and the judges will be Dr. Fran Lock, poet, Associate Editor of Culture Matters, shortlisted for the 2023 TS Eliot Poetry Prize, and Alan Morrison, poet, editor, Associate Editor of Culture Matters and also a past winner of the Bread and Roses Poetry Award.

Rules and Guidelines 

1. You may enter one or two original, previously unpublished (in print) poems in English, no more than 50 lines long each.

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

3. Entry is free and there will be five prizes of £100 each for the best poems.

4. Entries should broadly deal with themes relevant to working-class life, politics, communities and culture, including the Spirit of Socialism / the Socialism of the Spirit.

5. Entries should be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by midnight on 31st August 2024. No entries will be accepted after that date.

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

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

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

We will publish an anthology of selected poems and send free copies to all the poets included. Below is the pdf of last year's book, you're welcome to download it and we hope you enjoy reading it. You're also welcome to make a donation here if you can afford it, which will help pay for us to continue with the Bread and Roses Poetry Award.

 

A new and original anthology of radical Welsh poetry
Friday, 23 February 2024 12:21

A new and original anthology of radical Welsh poetry

Published in Poetry

Culture Matters intends to publish a new and original anthology of radical Welsh poetry. It will be edited by Mike Jenkins, founder member of the Red Poets collective and an Associate Editor of Culture Matters.

Submissions are warmly invited, and here are some guidelines:

Guidelines 

1. Entries can be one or two poems in English or Welsh, and can be in dialect variants of either language. Poems should be no longer than 50 lines, and be unpublished in print.

2. Authors do not have to be Welsh or live in Wales, but entries should broadly deal with themes relevant to Welsh working-class life, politics, communities and culture. They should focus on Welsh struggles for justice and peace, locally, nationally and internationally, and can be set in the past, present or future. Perhaps you could inspiration in the image above - The Idealist / Mae'r ddelfrydwr, by Gus Payne.

3. Entries should be sent toThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by midnight on 31st July 2024, copied to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. No entries can be accepted after that date.

4. Please include the poem(s) and your name, address, and contact details in the body of the email as well as in an attachment.

5. All entries will remain the copyright of the author, but Culture Matters will have the right to publish them online and as a printed book. Contributors will receive a free copy of the anthology.

Money and Blood
Sunday, 18 February 2024 13:24

Money and Blood

Published in Books

Anyone familiar with Wayne’ Dean-Richards’ work will recognise the themes in Money & Blood, chief among them being, as the title suggests, money and blood. The corrupting power of capitalism and its tragic, often violent consequences can be seen throughout the book.

Elsewhere the legacy of abuse is darker still: it’s revenge rather than redemption that motivates the hero of ‘Notes from an Angry Young Man’, for instance, who directs his own ‘great anger’ at society after a lifetime of mistreatment by his alcoholic dad. Such lives are shaped mostly by the past, and an inherited ideology: inherited values, inherited financial constraints, inherited systems of hierarchy and exclusion.

Wayne Dean-Richards may not be an overtly political writer, but it’s hard not to think in political terms when we read his work. The inequities of capitalism, and the values and assumptions that accompany it, frequently underpin the conflicts that drive his fiction. Alienation, alcoholism, broken relationships, diminished self-worth, and mental illness pervade these stories, and the connections between money and blood are everywhere to be seen.

Wayne Dean-Richards has been writing such stories all his life, and few would argue that they feel more relevant now than ever.

Money and Blood, ISBN 978-1-912710-56-0, £10 plus £3 p. and p. Please pay here and send your address to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

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