Culture Matters

Culture Matters

Dungheap Cockerel
Tuesday, 04 July 2023 08:32

Dungheap Cockerel

Published in Poetry

The mission of Culture Matters is to promote cultural democracy. This means providing articles and works of art for people whose views and voices go largely ignored by the ruling classes of late capitalist Britain. We aim to be a platform where the oppressed and exploited can develop and express their own intellectual and artistic output.

In the summer of 2023 no minority was more brusquely and effectively suppressed than republicans. Our new anthology, Dungheap Cockerel, has been created in a few weeks to counter that injustice with satires on monarchy in general and its latest incumbent in particular. 

We are grateful for the massive response to our callout for poems, which has now been edited by Rip Bulkeley, illustrated by Martin Gollan and Mike Dicks, and made into a free downloadable pdf (attached below) by Alan Morrison. Because of the quality of the poems and illustrations we have also decided to hang the expense - or do I mean guillotine the expense? - and print a small batch of books, which are available at £9 each plus £2 p. and p. using the button above.

Machine Language
Friday, 26 May 2023 12:29

Machine Language

Published in Books
Machine / Language
 
Martin Hayes has long been one of the most prolific and original poets of labour writing in this country. In Machine / Language he further details our descent into enmeshment with the apparatus of our oppression: an oppression that functions legally through the economic exercise of state power, and intellectually, through the operation of language. Within neoliberal society personal identity becomes fused at the bone to our economic output; we are swallowed whole by our designation as workers and compelled to identify with a system that slowly destroys us. In this regard Machine / Language can be read in a number of ways: as a document of struggle, an aesthetic meditation, an act of solidarity, and a mode of resistance. 

One of the preserve ironies of capitalism is that while society itself is often figured as a living and frequently besieged organism, individual human bodies are more and more frequently treated as blunt instruments or faceless economic units. This bitter paradox underscores Machine / Language.

Martin Rowson's nervy illustrations capture this contradiction, bringing us agonised grotesques.

A very necessary, powerful voice in this era of austerity, inequality and exploitation. 

—Fred Voss

Machine / Language by Martin Hayes with illustrations by Martin Rowson, ISBN 978-1-912710-59-1, £7 plus £3 p.and p.

Wolves Come Grovelling
Sunday, 07 May 2023 13:13

Wolves Come Grovelling

Published in Books

Thirty poems in various forms and styles—rhyme, blank verse, free verse, villanelle, and ‘villanelle-vague’—tackle the seismic events and vicissitudes of recent years: Brexit, Grenfell and the “hostile environment”, the proroguing of Parliament, Boris Johnson’s shambolic premiership, Covid and the lockdowns, “Partygate”, Trump’s insurrection, the resistible rise of Keir Starmer, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Platinum Jubilee, the JUST STOP OIL protests, the death of Elizabeth Windsor and the suppression of republican expression during the mourning period, and the Coronation.

Wolves Come Grovelling primarily challenges the paradoxes of British citizenship and subjecthood, democracy and monarchy, which have never been resolved, not even during the Republic of the 1650s—a period in our history which tends to be airbrushed out in spite of Hamo Thornycroft’s imposing bronze statue of Oliver Cromwell serving as permanent reminder outside Parliament since 1897.

But for all the pomp and majesty of the Coronation there is still the whispering hope of republicanism among sections of the British populace which may yet ripen and come to cast a significant shadow on this Second Carolean Age.
 
Morrison writes in a rich, Miltonic voice, heavy with anger and prophecy.
                                                                                                 — Andy Croft

Wolves Come Grovelling, by Alan Morrison, 60 pps, ISBN 978-1-912710-57-7, available for £10 incl. p&p.

The Haunting: Deleted Scenes, by Kevin Patrick McCann
Thursday, 29 December 2022 14:49

The Haunting: Deleted Scenes, by Kevin Patrick McCann

Published in Books

The Haunting: Deleted Scenes is a free downloadable pdf from Culture Matters, available below. 

It's an unsettling poetic riff on the 1963 film The Haunting, and the book that inspired it, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, McCann’s poems traffic in the uncanny and the unsaid, merging moments from across the house’s long and morbid history into a single, though unstable, present. Just as Jackson’s novel is a story of frustrated passions and repressed pain, McCann’s poems also deal in the missing, the buried, the deliberately obscured. 

A donation towards the costs of production would be welcome and will help us produce more free downloadable pamphlets. You can make a donation here.

This book is now available as a pamphlet, ISBN 978-1-912710-58-4, £5 plus £3 p. and p. Pay here using the Donate button, and send your name and address to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve to Exist
Monday, 12 December 2022 15:43

Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve to Exist

Published in Films

Brett Gregory was recently interviewed about Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve to Exist, a self-funded film that has won a host of international awards. Starring David Howell (Brassic), Reuben Clarke (Peaky Blinders) and Wendy Patterson (Spencer), it's a thought-provoking and powerful working-class feature film exploring solitude, sanity and suffering under the British state. It's loosely based on Hieronymus Bosch's 'The Garden of Earthly Delights', John Bunyan's 'A Pilgrim's Progress' and Albert Camus' 'The Myth of Sisyphus'.

The interview is also available in audiovisual form at the end of this article and here.

CM: You wrote and directed this film, which is is available to watch on Amazon Prime. What’s it about?

BG: The film is about class and morality, about how those in power treat us and about how we treat each other. It’s also about abandonment, loneliness, mental health and a breakdown in communication between the working and middle classes. In turn, always in the background, is the North/South divide – how this is continually reinforced by right-wing ideological forces in order to distract and weaken any serious collective opposition to the systematic asset-stripping of what remains of the United Kingdom.

In terms of plot, it starts with Old Jack in his gloomy flat in Hulme in 2020 under Boris Johnson’s rule as he appears to wake from a fever dream about sex and murder in Manchester, overshadowed by the city’s Gothic architecture, civic statues and towering skyscrapers. He reads an old text from the wife of a good friend who informs him that her husband is on a ventilator with COVID and that she is struggling to breathe herself. He also discovers that he has an unwelcome voicemail on his phone from his long-lost grandmother in Oxford who wishes to secretly meet up with him after four decades, before she dies. All of this proves too much for him however, and he takes a fistful of anti-depressants and washes them down with a mug of vodka.

Film Still 2

Thus begins his descent into his own private rabbit-hole, where he meets himself as a young boy in 1984, living on a rundown council estate under Margaret Thatcher during the Miners’ Strike, and fantasising about escaping into a world of fiction and illusion.

He is then later confronted by himself as a university student in 1992 during John Major’s tenure, riddled with Class A drugs, alienated from his peers and his studies, and questioning his purpose and sanity in violent messianic outbursts. These psychotic visitations are intercut with imagined, Brechtian interviews with a number of women from Old Jack’s past who seem to appear not only as witnesses, but also as judge and jury: his half-sister, his old English teacher, his former college manager, his ex-girlfriend’s Christian mother, and his nervous next-door neighbour.

Overcome by the weight of his own history in a country where he doesn’t believe he belongs, Old Jack finally embarks on a pilgrimage to the historical Stoodley Pike monument in West Yorkshire, on the outskirts of society, to find some sort of answer which will put an end to his misery.

What were you aiming for with the film, and what were the reactions to the film from critics and from working-class people?

A crucial aim of the film was to represent the Northern working class on screen with intelligence, authenticity and dignity, in direct opposition to the demeaning stereotypes and caricatures which are regularly churned out by the corporate mainstream media based in London.

Such a genuinely independent, counter-cultural creative decision directly challenges the status quo currently being maintained by the ideological state apparatus in the cultural industries and so, of course, we received no funding or investment or support from any public or private organisation.

As a result, what changed was not only the timescale of the production from one year to six and half years, but also my personal finances. Even though every one of the cast and crew members committed their time and talents for free – a testament to the ongoing industriousness and inventiveness of Greater Manchester by the way – the production still left me around £36,000 in debt by way of personal loans, two credit cards and two overdrafts.

Laurel Strip resized

Since its release on Amazon Prime in May 2022 we have won over 50 international film festival awards and nominations, and received over 100 informed and passionate reviews on IMDb, Letterboxd and various culture websites. In the main these reviews praise the film’s anger, insight and originality, its production values, its performances and its soundtrack, comparing it to the works of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Alan Clarke and even Theodor Dreyer.

Standout quotes such as ‘a searing portrait of modern Britain’ are incredibly validating and prove that a large international audience – who are also going through their own individual horrors under globalised capitalism – need authentic stories like this to remind them that they’re not alone and they’re not going mad.

We hosted a free screening of the film on a working-class Manchester housing estate in Moston, for instance, and many of the attendees recognised the role poverty, alcoholism, drug use and domestic abuse have played in their day-to-day lives. A few also said that cinema should be ‘entertaining’ and ‘escapist’, and commented on the complex plot and timeshifts in the film

How do you respond to comments on indie and arthouse films, that they're too complicated and hard to understand?

Years ago I used to teach A level Cultural Studies, and whenever a new cohort of 16 year olds would arrive in the classroom in September I’d introduce the subject to them as a brand new way of looking at the world and everything in it. Naturally, the students who could be bothered to glance up from their phones would just pull a face at me.

So I’d start telling them a story about Picasso, the ‘weird’ famous painter who they’d hopefully heard about at school and, on the SMART board, I’d pull up a copy of his 1937 portrait called ‘The Weeping Woman’. The story may or may not be true, but it sounds true and that’s the point.

So it’s 1937 and Picasso is at this big party celebrating the completion of his latest masterpiece, ‘The Weeping Woman’, a study in female suffering. While he’s standing next to his painting, sipping a glass of champagne, a wealthy businessman steps over to speak with him.

‘Picasso,’ he says, ‘your new painting doesn’t make any sense to me at all. It’s called ‘The Weeping Woman’ but it doesn’t look anything like a woman.’

‘What do you mean exactly?’ Picasso asks.

‘Well, she’s all broken up into triangles for starters. And both of her eyes are on the same side of her face!’ he exclaims. ‘It’s ridiculous. She looks like a child’s unfinished jigsaw puzzle.’

‘But, Señor,’ replies Picasso, ‘this is a portrait of my lover who I care about very deeply. And whenever she’s crying, and there’s nothing I can do about it, this is how she appears to me: broken and in pieces.’

On a good day, after I’ve finished telling this story, most of the students who’d been looking down at their phones would now be looking up at Picasso’s painting with a smile on their faces, their eyes illuminated. A female student, usually, would suddenly announce: ‘Ooo … I really like that story!’

So that's why I decided to direct and edit ‘Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve to Exist’ from a similar perspective - because, during the actual process of creation, that's how grief appeared to me. That's how abandonment appeared to me, and how my country appeared to me: broken and in pieces.

What do you think of British cinema and the role it plays in our society?

The history of British cinema can primarily be understood in terms of the way it portrays class and the class divisions which flow from the hierarchical nature of the United Kingdom’s social system and which create advantages and disadvantages for different social groups in different parts of the country.

Great expectations

Many of us alive today first learned of the existence and influence of the rules and rewards of social class as children while watching, for instance, David Lean’s ‘Great Expectations’ (1946), Carol Reed’s ‘Oliver!’ (1968) or Richard Fleischer’s ‘The Prince and The Pauper’ (1977).

Repeated screenings of these movies usually took place in a school assembly or in the family living room over the Christmas period and, I would argue, such public exhibitions contributed to a cultural normalisation of social prejudice, inequality and exclusion by disguising these conditions as simply an inevitable part of British history and tradition.

While the 1960s’ new wave ‘Angry Young Man’ arrived and blew a plume of cigarette smoke in the face of authority, articulating alternative expectations and aspirations for white working-class British males, such insubordination was given short shrift.

saturday night sunday bfi 00m fw3

Despite dynamic and memorable performances from Richard Burton in ‘Look Back in Anger’ (1959), Albert Finney in ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ (1960) and Richard Harris in ‘This Sporting Life’ (1963), it is telling that their character arcs always concluded with them being either abandoned or emasculated as punishment for not knowing their place.

Against the cartoonish backdrop of the ‘Carry On’ franchise and its production line of pathetic proletariats, the trajectory of Michael Caine’s filmography throughout the 1970s provides an interesting counterpoint in that his commercial success rested largely upon the re-appropriation of his Cockney origins, persona and on-screen roles.

For example, only five or so years after the incendiary, anti-establishment release of ‘Get Carter’ (1971), he was suddenly battling on behalf of Queen and Country in ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ (1975) and ‘A Bridge Too Far’ (1976). So it is no surprise that when he left to further pursue the capitalist dream of Hollywood fame and fortune later in the decade, he was more or less deified by the country’s mainstream media.

Of course, everything exploded when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 and cultural war was openly declared on the men and women of the labour movement and their representation across Britain’s sterling silver screens. In the blue corner were David Puttnam, Richard Attenborough and Merchant-Ivory, and in the red corner were Mike Leigh, Dennis Potter and Alan Clarke.

Rita Rita 

Noticeably, state school kids were far too busy reciting profanities in the playground from ‘Scum’ (1979) or ‘Made in Britain’ (1982) to give a toss about the posh swag bag of Academy Awards accrued by state-supported nostalgia narratives such as ‘Chariots of Fire’ (1981) or ‘Gandhi’ (1982). I should note here that Michael Caine did go some way to redeem himself in this decade by supporting Julie Walters’ wonderful working-class lead in Willy Russell’s intellectually aspirational ‘Educating Rita’ in 1983.

Under the tenures of John Major and Tony Blair in the 1990s the changing of the guard necessarily took place, and Richard Curtis and Kenneth Branagh dutifully took up their well-financed positions with ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’ (1994) and ‘Notting Hill’ (1999), ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (1993) and ‘Hamlet’ (1996). Meanwhile, as a reflection of the ongoing embourgeoisement of mainstream British culture and society, authentic working-class cinema not only had to search for its roots and values in the iconography of the underclass or ‘poverty porn’, it had to also search for its funding abroad.

Films such as Mike Leigh’s ‘Naked’ (1993), Danny Boyle’s ‘Trainspotting’ (1996), Gary Oldman’s ‘Nil by Mouth’ (1997) and Ken Loach’s ‘My Name is Joe’ (1998) highlighted that the remnants of working-class togetherness and community could now only subsist on the margins by way of the narrative ritualisation of petty crime, drugs or alcohol.

During the 21st century, as the British Empire suffers its death throes and the country’s post-Elizabethan standing on the world stage rapidly dwindles away, the Establishment in its attempt to remain in power has in general reacted by re-asserting outmoded notions of cinematic representation that are increasingly reductive, intolerant and undemocratic.

Downton

While commercially successful film franchises like ‘James Bond’, ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘The Crown’ continue to suffocate the growing diversity and demands of our shared culture, the mediated elevation of privately educated white male screen actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hiddleston has seemingly transported us back to the post-war performances of Lawrence Olivier, Alec Guinness and David Niven.

To end, it is no coincidence that the working-class white male protagonist in my film has no community around him: he sleeps alone, he drinks alone and he weeps alone. He lives in a society that disrespects, mocks and ignores working people’s invaluable economic and cultural contributions to the nation. He feels that nobody loves him, and he doesn’t deserve to exist.

How could trade unions and activists get involved with the film, and films generally?

A first step would be for trade unions to show active support for ‘Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve to Exist’ by directly recommending it to their members, their friends and their families. The film explicitly explores in detail issues that are close to working-class experience – the human consequences of redundancy, unemployment and the debilitating process of claiming Universal Credit, for example.

If there are activists who have access to screening facilities, I’ll be more than happy to send them a free copy of the film for exhibition, my email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if anyone is in the Greater Manchester region in January, we are holding an exclusive free screening at the Leigh Film Factory in Wigan on the 20th January, from 7pm onwards.

Finally, you can always watch the film right now on Amazon Prime for around £4.

Such a public display of support from the trade unions would alert other working-class filmmakers and documentarians up and down the country that there exists a real-world authoritative alternative to the ‘colour-by-numbers’ period dramas, CGI extravaganzas and quirky lifestyle stories plopped out by the BBC, Sky, Channel 4 and the British Film Institute. It will inspire them to work with trade unions to create challenging and humane narratives from a non-corporate perspective so the effects of, say, austerity cuts, COVID corruption and the cost-of-living crisis can be rigorously and memorably explored as we continue to suffer under this nice and shiny neoliberal kleptocracy of ours.

Just look at the ruckus RMT leader, Mick Lynch, has been causing on a weekly basis on inane television programmes like ITV’s ‘This Morning’ or ‘BBC Breakfast’, and the real hope this has inspired in ordinary people sitting at home.

Just think about what else we could do – about how much further we could go to bring back honour, dignity, fairness and intelligence back to the British Isles.

The soundtrack to the film is on Spotify

and below is the audivisual version of the interview.

A Book for Christmas: The Sikh Snowman
Friday, 18 November 2022 16:43

A Book for Christmas: The Sikh Snowman

Published in Fiction

Some snowmen had topknots. Some wore football scarves and skull caps. Some had veils over their faces. One had fairy wings. They all began to sing......

Snowfall, friendship and feelings combine in this heartfelt and celebratory story about coming together. There's a relatable and joyous sense of wonder as the snow starts and as the friends pull together to build their snowman. Filled with heart, hope and humanity, it is easy to imagine The Sikh Snowman becoming a firm favourite. - Jake Hope, Youth Libraries Group

The Sikh Snowman, by Owen Gallagher with artwork by Fiona Stewart, ISBN 978-1-912710-29-4. Price: £9 plus £3 p. and p.

The Haunting: Deleted Scenes, by Kevin Patrick McCann
Friday, 21 October 2022 10:16

The Haunting: Deleted Scenes, by Kevin Patrick McCann

Published in Poetry

Culture Matters is proud to introduce the first in their new series of digital poetry pamphlets, The Hanuting: Deleted Scenes by Kevin Patrick McCann.

An unsettling poetic riff on the 1963 film The Haunting, and the book that inspired it, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, McCann’s poems traffic in the uncanny and the unsaid, merging moments from across the house’s long and morbid history into a single, though unstable, present. Just as Jackson’s novel is a story of frustrated passions and repressed pain, McCann’s poems also deal in the missing, the buried, the deliberately obscured.

A donation towards the costs of production would be welcome and will help us produce more free downloadable pamphlets. You can make a donation here.

This book is now available as a pamphlet, ISBN 978-1-912710-58-4, £5 plus £3 p. and p. Pay here using the Donate button, and send your name and address to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Tribute to a folk legend – Woody Guthrie, a radical icon
Saturday, 16 July 2022 10:57

Tribute to a folk legend – Woody Guthrie, a radical icon

Published in Music

To mark the 110th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birthday on July 14, 1912, here is an edited version of an interview with Bobbi and Steve Siegelbaum from the Walkabout Clearwater Chorus New York, by Randolph Oechslein and Eva Petermann. It was first published in 'Unsere Zeit' (UZ), the weekly paper of the German Communist Party.

UZ: Which songs would you choose for a performance in an homage to Woody Guthrie today?

Bobbi: This is actually a difficult question for at least three reasons: One is the sheer volume of Woody’s output which has been estimated at well over three thousand songs. Then there is the broad range of subjects - labour and union songs, Dust Bowl ballads, anti-fascist polemics, songs promoting electric power in the American West, peace songs, songs for children and so many more....

Steve: ......and there is the high quality of the songs, which demonstrate not only brilliant writing but a universality that makes them relevant to this day. So the question really becomes, not which songs to select, but which ones to leave out. here are the ones we think would best reflect who Woody was and why he remains so important today.  We have chosen a small representative number in each category, but could have included many dozens more:

This Land is Your Land - His best known and probably most important song.

SONGS ABOUT MIGRANT WORKERS: Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos) and Pastures of Plenty

DUST BOWL BALLADS: So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You, Do Re Mi and Talking Dust Bowl Blues 

ANTI-FASCIST WORLD WAR II SONGS: Tear the Fascists Down and Sinking of the Reuben James

LABOUR AND UNION: Union Maid, 1913 Massacre and Ludlow Massacre

SONGS OF THE NEW DEAL: Roll on Columbia and Grand Coulee Dam

CHILDREN’S SONGS: Why, Oh Why and Riding in My Car

PEACE SONGS: Peace Call and I’ve Got to Know

UZ: Would you mind telling us which of them are your personal favourites?

Bobbi: One of my personal favorites is Deportees.

Steve: Hobo’s Lullaby.

UZ: And which songs by Woody Guthrie have featured in your playlist?

Bobbi: It was Pete Seeger who brought Woody’s music to all of us. So from the very beginning, Walkabout has always included Woody’s songs in our performances. We have probably sung This Land is Your Land more than any other song in our repertoire. It is really our (and it should be America’s) anthem.

 UZ: In what way has Woody Guthrie been influencing or inspiring other musicians?

Steve: As we mentioned earlier, Woody - through the conduit of Pete Seeger - is generally considered to be the father of American political protest folksinging and songwriting. On many occasions Pete was heard to declare that he knew of two people in his life whom he considered to be a genius, Woody Guthrie and Lee Hays, from Pete and the Weavers.

I believe that Pete was referring primarily to two things. One was Woody’s unsurpassed ability to create meaningful, sensitive, human songs out of virtually any event, no matter how mundane or minor. And he did it prolifically, simply, and seemingly effortlessly. In this, I believe Woody’s genius recalls that of Mozart. Then there is his ability to tell a story and create clear images that instantly engage the listener, the very essence of songwriting.  

All of the great American (and other) folksingers who have followed Woody have been influenced and inspired by him. One need only recall the early Bob Dylan, but also Tom Paxton, John McCutcheon, Ani di Franco, who even performed together with Nora, Guthrie´s daughter; Tom Chapin, the UK’s Leon Rosselson and Billy Bragg...

UZ:...It was to him that Nora Guthrie gave more than 3000 unpublished poems that herself and her mother had found in Woody´s assets, absolutely unexpectedly. Billy Bragg then produced the legendary album Mermaid Avenue in 1998, together with Wilco. In this context we should also mention Hans-Eckardt Wenzel, born and raised in the GDR.

Steve: Yes, as I was saying, literally hundreds of others. While protest folksinging has always been with us in some form or other, what is known as the folk music boom or folk music revival in the United States can be said to have begun around the 1950s. By that time, Woody was no longer active, having been hospitalized with the disease that would take his life at age 55. But his influence, first and foremost on Pete Seeger, and then on those Pete inspired, is still strongly felt today. And it is likely that it will continue to be felt in centuries to come, even by those who don’t know his name.

UZ: How does Woody’s music resonate with young people?

Steve: The first part is a very difficult one to answer because more than ever, the listening preferences and experiences among young people are extremely diffuse. There are so many genres and niches. However, it is fair to say that only a tiny few would listen to folk music, as such. It is likely that several of Woody’s songs for children are enjoyed by youngsters, but rarely are his songs and/or recordings played on the radio. On the other hand, there are many rockers and others who have come across them on the internet and Youtube and found something inspirational in their “discovery.” His influence is always there, whether they know it or not.

UZ: What about the kids you encounter in your school appearances?

 Bobbi: The children we sing for (and with) in schools respond very positively to our music. Many of them know This Land is Your Land and perhaps one or two others. But they also enjoy the songs of Pete and other descendants of Woody. We have also engaged the kids by linking the music to events and names with which they are familiar, such as Martin Luther King and the civil rights struggle.

For us and for several other Walkabouters, doing music with schoolkids is our favourite activity.

UZ: We can remember Pete Seeger singing Woody Guthrie`s This land is your land together with Bruce Springsteen at Barack Obama´s inauguration in 2009.

Steve: For me, and probably for many American leftists, the singing of This Land was unfortunately the high point of the Obama presidential years. Although the huge majority of African Americans understandably remained strong Obama supporters, his failures, rooted in his adherence to the Democratic Party’s strong connection to the ruling corporate imperialist class, are what marked his eight years in office. So in choosing Pete to sing at the inauguration of Obama, as he did in so many other cases, presented us with a feeling of hope that was never fulfilled.

The most important aspect of it all was that when the proposal was put to Pete, he agreed only on the condition that he would sing ALL the verses. By that he meant the verse that exposes the failure of capitalism:

In the squares of the city, by the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office, I saw my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there whistling (that)
This land was made for you and me.

And the most radical, communist verse of all:

Was a great high wall there that tried to stop me
Was a great big sign, said “Private Property”
But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing
That side was made for you and me.

UZ: Woody Guthrie had this provocative inscription on his guitar This machine kills fascists. Do you think that his political radicalism might turn people off nowadays?

Steve: There is more than one answer to this question. Many musicians have emulated Woody by putting messages on their instruments. In the folk music world, most famous is Pete’s banjo which says, This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender. Historically, the US has successfully dealt with the political radicalism of artists in a variety of ways. They have been blacklisted as Pete and the Weavers were; they have been subjected to government harassment and restriction as Paul Robeson was; they have been commercially marginalized as so many others have been.

Bobbi: However, after these artists died or are no longer considered “dangerous” by the ruling class, they receive more benign treatment from the media. Sometimes they are exalted as cultural icons. Pete is probably the best example of this. As for Woody, he is probably better known now than he was during his lifetime. Remember, his creative and performing years were relatively brief. It is fair to say that most Americans are not familiar with his name… even if they do know a couple of his songs.

UZ: Can music change the world do you think?

Steve: To quote one of my very favourite lines from Pete’s song Letter to Eve: "If only music could bring peace, I’d only be a musician."

Both Woody and Pete recognized that in music, there is great power to move and motivate people. This, of course, is something virtually all religions have understood throughout millennia.  

Bobbi: It is why so many radical and progressive movements, from Joe Hill’s Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies), to the labour movements of the 1930s, to the Civil Rights movement in the US, and so many more employed the tunes from popular hymns and spirituals to which they set new words. To this very day, songs like Solidarity Forever, Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ´Round, We Shall Not Be Moved, and Which Side Are You On are frequently sung at rallies, marches and other street actions.

Steve: I should have added that probably the best and most important carrier of Woody and Pete’s legacy is my pal John McCutcheon. His fiercely powerful and militant song, The Machine, was inspired by Woody’s guitar. McCutcheon wrote it just after the events in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017. To quote just one of his verses:

But I was present when
We liberated Birkenau
I still see every face
I didn’t fight the Nazis
To allow them in this place.

With his verses John reminded people of Woody´s fight against Nazism: “I was present when we liberated Birkenau. I still see every face. I didn´t fight the Nazis to allow them in this place.“

I would say, then, that while music by itself cannot change the world, it is perhaps the best tool for organizing to make that change.

UZ: Thank you so much for this interview, dear friends! And thank you for your untiring commitment and for your past and future willingness to come to Germany to the Pressefest if possible. Please give our kind regards and best wishes to all members of the Chorus. Solidarity forever! No pasaran!

Declarations of Love
Monday, 27 June 2022 09:54

Declarations of Love

Published in Poetry

This collection of beautifully illustrated love poems ranges from protesting the inequities and cruelties of our fragmenting world to delight in the variety and beauty of creation, and from a fierce compassion for the 'cry of the poor' to tender recollections of family and friends. These poems evince a radical empathy that lives electrically on the page. 

Aitken’s poems are illustrated by Martin Gollan, whose dynamic penmanship carries a similar sense of energy and defiance. Gollan’s illustrations lend Aitken’s work an urgency and immediacy, emphasizing the poems’ enmeshment in the ever-changing political world.

Yet throughout it all, love endures, and is the badge of our endurance. Love makes endurance possible. This ‘going on’ is also a poetic method: a refusal to lose heart and hope, to attend to those moments of joy and triumph as well as those of pain and suffering. This collection holds all of these experiences with an equal measure of tenderness and ferocity. It is socialist writing at its humane best.

Jim Aitken’s poems protest against the world’s injustice and unfairness, but they are underpinned by something quieter and perhaps mightier than rage, and that is compassion.’—James Robertson

‘Declarations of Love’ is an exceptional collection. In poem after poem the makar demonstrates his ability to put the reader in the position of the countless victims of the world’s broken and corrupt politics and ruthless financial exploitation systems. Yet he does so through the canny choice of telling images, through creating empathy with the subjects of his poetry rather than using the sledgehammer of a hectoring voice. Jim Aitken’s poems are about people and his care for people shines through. Yet he is fearless in standing up against those who would deny us our identities. This is poetry that comes from the head and the heart in equal measure. It shows us what could be. For that reason it is memorable and deserves the widest audience.’—William Hershaw

Declarations of Love, poems by Jim Aitken with drawings by Martin Gollan, 88pps., 14 colour and 2 B&W images, ISBN 978-1-912710-49-2, £12 inc. p. and p.
Declarations of Love
Monday, 27 June 2022 09:10

Declarations of Love

Published in Books

This collection of beautifully illustrated love poems ranges from protesting the inequities and cruelties of our fragmenting world to delight in the variety and beauty of creation, and from a fierce compassion for the 'cry of the poor' to tender recollections of family and friends. These poems evince a radical empathy that lives electrically on the page. 

Aitken’s poems are illustrated by Martin Gollan, whose dynamic penmanship carries a similar sense of energy and defiance. Gollan’s illustrations lend Aitken’s work an urgency and immediacy, emphasizing the poems’ enmeshment in the ever-changing political world.

Yet throughout it all, love endures, and is the badge of our endurance. Love makes endurance possible. This ‘going on’ is also a poetic method: a refusal to lose heart and hope, to attend to those moments of joy and triumph as well as those of pain and suffering. This collection holds all of these experiences with an equal measure of tenderness and ferocity. It is socialist writing at its humane best.

Jim Aitken’s poems protest against the world’s injustice and unfairness, but they are underpinned by something quieter and perhaps mightier than rage, and that is compassion.’—James Robertson

‘Declarations of Love’ is an exceptional collection. In poem after poem the makar demonstrates his ability to put the reader in the position of the countless victims of the world’s broken and corrupt politics and ruthless financial exploitation systems. Yet he does so through the canny choice of telling images, through creating empathy with the subjects of his poetry rather than using the sledgehammer of a hectoring voice. Jim Aitken’s poems are about people and his care for people shines through. Yet he is fearless in standing up against those who would deny us our identities. This is poetry that comes from the head and the heart in equal measure. It shows us what could be. For that reason it is memorable and deserves the widest audience.’—William Hershaw

Declarations of Love, poems by Jim Aitken with drawings by Martin Gollan, 88pps., 14 colour and 2 B&W images, ISBN 978-1-912710-49-2, £12 inc. p. and p.
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