Dungheap Cockerel
Tuesday, 05 March 2024 05:23

Dungheap Cockerel

Published in Books

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. It is available as a free downloadable pdf in the Poetry section, and we have also printed a few books, which are available at £9 each plus £2 p. and p. using the button below.

Dungheap Cockerel
Tuesday, 05 March 2024 05:23

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.

Coronation Poem: Not Yours To Take
Tuesday, 05 March 2024 05:23

Coronation Poem: Not Yours To Take

Published in Poetry

Not Yours to Take

by Sam Marshall

Come down!
Come down!
Red white and blue
In overdose,
As the man in the big hat
Takes his seat
On the undemocratic throne
Of our mass stolen heritage.

We stole
the gold,
the land,
the people

Took it all,
And now we are expected
To celebrate,
As we suffer poverty
Because mummy's dead
And her son,
Has an ersatz right
To something that was never anyones
To begin with

Coronation poem: Corodividednation
Tuesday, 05 March 2024 05:23

Coronation poem: Corodividednation

Published in Poetry

Corodividednation

by Steve Pottinger

by now, of course, you’ll know
the way the day panned out

mid-morning, the mood dark
as skies, heavy as policing

abbey filled with the great and good
whose mouths taste of leather

whose souls are spreadsheets
their world an unending transaction

who watch the robe presented
to a rough sleeper curled in a doorway

on Euston Road his filthy sleeping bag
laid upon the monarch’s shoulders

the holy oil, brought up the aisle
in a dinghy found on Dover beach

to Canterbury, life-jacketed, sodden,
who drips salt water and the echo of prayers

in Albanian, Dari, Farsi, and homegrown
poverty over the heads of the congregation

the jewelled sword of offering
the bracelets of sincerity and wisdom

pawned for foodbanks in forgotten towns
where bread and tinned goods count for more

than any circus

that Black Power salute
a thing of wonder

nightingale singing in Berkeley Square
the Thames running out to the sea

 

The Divine Image by William Blake
Tuesday, 05 March 2024 05:23

Coronation Poem: I Pledge My Allegiance

Published in Poetry

I Pledge My Allegiance

by Andrew Greenhalgh

I pledge my allegiance
To the source from whence I came
To the one divine creator
To that which has no name
To the power in and of me,
That rules all I touch and see
It never has to prove itself
Because I know it cares for me.

I pledge my allegiance
Not to a gilded throne,
Or to crowns and jewels historic,
Or to ceremonial stone
But to souls of pure intention
To those born of the light
And, standing at my side, unhindered
Still fight for what is right.

I pledge my allegiance
To those who guide my hand
Unseen but ever-present
They are the rulers of this land
This land and every other
The planets, moons and stars
Who guide the fates of mortal kings
Who heal my wounds and scars
Who protect me from the darkness,
And light the path ahead
Who reward me with experience,
And will raise me from the dead
I pledge my allegiance
To the one true consciousness
The one you've all forgotten
The one who loves me best.

I pledge my allegiance
With every earthly breath
To the cradle of creation
My home, come mortal death
Immortal I become then
And I will join with thee
And next you pledge allegiance
That pledge you'll make to me.

Coronation poem: When the New King Came
Tuesday, 05 March 2024 05:23

Coronation poem: When the New King Came

Published in Poetry

When the New King Came

by Mike Jenkins, with image by Steve Bell

When the new king came to the Diff
There were many lining the streets
Waving their Union Jacks
Ready to take mobile snaps :
Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Others who sang and heckled -
Glyndwr, Yes Cymru banners and placards;
The purple-headed girl with hers
"Fuck the Royals,  Feed the Poor"
Warned of arrest by the cops.

When the new King came to the Diff
There were police on castle turrets
Spying on every movement
Others with guns like adverts
For an arms fair welcomed to Wales.

When he came he would not have seen
The many homeless huddled in doorways,
Like they'd been spewed out and rejected,
And not one rose to greet
His cavalcade and big, black limousine.

When the new King came to the Diff
Press-ganged pupils squealed
And even shouted "Cymru!" in confusio ;
In that place of Normans and coal barons,
He came, he spoke.....but did not conquer.

Note: The diff is local slang for Cardiff

Tuesday, 05 March 2024 05:23

Culture and barbarism: the work of Walter Benjamin

Published in Cultural Commentary

Culture Matters is pleased to present this short film by Professor Esther Leslie, Carl Joyce and Mike Quille. Professor Leslie's text is below.

Walter Benjamin was interested in the ways in which art, culture and politics flow together. He made a connection  in a line he used a couple of times:

‘There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’

This signals an insistence that all of our forms of culture are simultaneously politically, or socially, enmeshed, in the broadest sense. All cultural documents – artworks, films, novels, poems, statues – are produced within the prevailing barbaric circumstances of class-divided society. That something beautiful or awe-inspiring might be made by an artist relies on a social division of labour that denies most people any permission to be creative. The existence and persistence of culture confirms the validity of the production process that brought it into in being. Cultural documents of all kinds thus work to embellish the rule of those in power, justifying their elevation above the immiserated and disempowered.

The Colosseum is an example of real barbarism taking place in cultural form – for example, in gladiatorial battles, staged to underline the power of privileged families, or in the real executions of condemned people as the climax of stagings of myths. But there are more subtle ways in which culture hinges on barbarism. Cathedrals, full of artworks, carvings, opulence, do not glorify those who built them, but rather give consolation for ongoing suffering and the promise of something better to come.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - November 18: Official Portraits for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall November 18, 2019  AUCKLAND, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/ http://marktantrum.com)

There is no such solace apparent in the oil paintings of the wealthy, those who are ‘long to reign over us’, – the canvas simply covers over a world of immiseration experienced by those who are not expected to leave any traces of themselves to posterity.

The cities are littered with relics of individuals who are immortalised in granite or bronze and who gained from a barbaric system. Sometimes the wrong is righted, the barbarism inherent in the artefact exposed, the statue brought down, as when the late Victorian statue of Bristol-born merchant and transatlantic slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in 2020.

Art and Politics

Walter Benjamin lived through varying types of barbarism – coming of age in the years around the First World War, when experimental and avant garde art movements thrived, often alongside left wing and communist movements. He also lived through the years when the Nazis took power in Germany, fascism  dominated various parts of Europe and a Second World War broke out. One of his interests was in how art and politics worked together across time. There is a line in his programmatic essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility’ from the mid-1930s:

'Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.'

Here Benjamin observes that populations are encouraged to rush headlong into war and mass destruction. Fascism speaks of the glory of war – and some Futurists wrote poems to that effect. War is presented as a dramatic sensation, an intensified experience, like an artwork or a spectacle. Political rallies and parades, uniformed ranks of people arranged in ornamental fashion, blonde housewives with children, were enacted and broadcast using the latest medium of film and radio. They became cultural events. To counter this, Benjamin insists on regarding art as political, as intrinsically political and as a place where a progressive politics of liberation might be carried out. Art and culture might be used not to service the glorification of war or the deification of leaders, but rather as weapons wielded in social and political struggle.

But what kind of art.....? 

What art then? Benjamin argues that aesthetic choices, such as the choice to paint a picture or take a photograph, to make a collage or a poster, to write a poem in obscure and high-flown language or in the vernacular discourse of the street, the decision to work as an individual artist or as a collective of makers and producers, and so on: These are all political aspects of art.

Is an artist someone who sells work as a commodity – and what sort of a commodity is art? Benjamin’s interlocutors, Adorno and Horkheimer, wrote about something they called the culture industry. This described all cultural production first and foremost for money. Financial models, questions of access, the high price of art, the return on the value of investments, all this is part of the politics of art – and for Benjamin, the work of Brecht, John Heartfield or Eisenstein would be three methods of engaging with this field, in his time, under the conditions of his time, questioning in their various ways value, circulation, ideology, the purpose of art, distraction, propaganda, the relationship of image and world, beauty, horror, lies, violence, war, social relations.

And, furthermore, who is an artist? This too is a question with political aspects – who is allowed to be an artist when the roles the artist should perform have become highly politicised, as in the Great German Art Exhibition of 1937.

The 'brutal grasp' and 'destructive character' of art

'To the process of rescue belongs the firm, seemingly brutal grasp

Benjamin wrote this line in the Arcades Project in 1931. Walter Benjamin’s aphorism advocates a sudden movement, getting the hands dirty in grasping or grabbing in order to rescue something – what? A better life? Humanity itself? Nature? Art? Benjamin is interested in salvage, in extracting from the jaws of doom, a better life, through a decisive and hard gesture – or at least a ‘seemingly brutal’ one. Sometimes, he argues, it is necessary to take decisive action – and not even to reflect on that too explicitly.

This idea of acting sharply and brusquely comes together with a figure that Benjamin invented: the ‘destructive character’. The ‘destructive character’ is a type without memory, opposed to repression in its political and psychic senses, who – causing havoc by cutting ways through, by liquidating situations – removes the traces which sentimentally bind us to the status quo. They do this in order to make possible modes of behaving or misbehaving, which are appropriate to the brutal conditions of the world and to their dramatic overthrow. The destructive character rejects past traces, has abolished ‘aura’ and with it sentimentality about things, including his own self.

The destructive character is the enemy of the comfort-seeking ‘etui-person’, who cossets everything in velveteen cases and plush, trying to individually make the hard edges of the world temporarily comfortable and for him or herself alone. In ‘The Destructive Character’, Benjamin writes about those who try to preserve the world – and art – as it is:

'Some people hand things down to posterity by making them untouchable and thus conserving them; others pass on situations, by making them practicable and thus liquidating them. The latter are called destructive.;

Benjamin is sometimes portrayed as a melancholic and fated individual who was unable to make his way in the world and prone to abstract theorizing. In actuality his writing about art was carried out in close conjunction with practice – including his own: for example he made many radio shows in the late 1920s and early 1930s – and he wrote fables and stories and poems.

He also worked with others who were questioning the ways in which art might contribute to social and political struggle, in the most revolutionary way, with implications for culture and social forms. For one, he was close to Bertolt Brecht, Marxist poet and playwright. Brecht praised a certain kind of vulgar thinking – forwarding the idea that truth is simple, graspable.

The new barbarism: shock and awe, work and war

Sometime between the spring and the autumn of 1933 Benjamin wrote a short reflection titled ‘Experience and Poverty’, which considered the new reality of world war in the twentieth century. Twentieth century warfare had unleashed a ‘new barbarism’ in which, observes Benjamin, a generation that went to school in horse-drawn trams stood exposed in a transformed landscape, caught in the crossfire of explosions and destructive torrents.

Benjamin’s was no lament for the old days, for those were unliveable for the property-less and the habits engendered by the cluttered and smothered interiors were unhealthy and uninspiring for the propertied. ‘Erase the traces!’ Benjamin proclaimed – a line he took from a poem by Brecht. Benjamin enthused about a ‘new, positive concept of barbarism’ and he championed the honest recorders of this newly devalued, technologised, impoverished experience: Paul Klee, Adolf Loos, and the utopians Paul Scheerbart and Mickey Mouse. In all of these the brutality and dynamism of contemporary existence, including its technologies, was used, abused, mocked and harnessed.

Property relations in Mickey Mouse cartoons: here we see it is possible for the first time to have one’s own arm, even one’s own body, stolen. Benjamin wrote about Mickey Mouse first in 1930. What fascinates him is the fact that Mickey Mouse can alienate from himself an arm or a leg, he can give up his body in order to serve the power structure operative within the cartoon. That fascinates Benjamin as an image of what we are required to do in order to survive or to live our bare lives. Experience, a sense of consistent development over time, wisdom and continuity, no longer is relevant in the modern world of shock and awe, factory work and war. These films disavow experience more radically than ever before. In such a world, it is not worthwhile to have experiences.

Charlie Chapin

Benjamin has a very sober sense of what capitalism requires of the body, the whole thing about film and its shock aesthetic subjecting the human sensorium to a type of training – this is painful. Benjamin thinks that there is a potential there to understand how we inhabit the world with technologies that might, indeed, alienate parts of our body in order to become this partly human, partly technological, endlessly refungible and brutalised subject. Audiences flock to these films not primarily because they are artworks of the mechanical age of reproduction – that is just a condition of their existence. They flock to them because they recognise something in them that gels with their own existence:

So the explanation for the huge popularity of these films is not mechanization, their form; nor is it a misunderstanding. It is simply the fact that the public recognizes its own life in them.

History and change

The final piece of writing by Walter Benjamin, from 1940, was not published. It is a few sheets of paper thinking about history and change. Benjamin advocates a mode of thinking that could overpower the political situation. It is written at times in an elusive language and it is not a manual. It is an effort at the production of an attitude, one that is open to imagining the breaking open the continuum of history or arresting it, one that sets out from the positive aspects of shock, breaking through the picture of history – a warlike, explosive assault on the state of things, snatching an evanescent memory that flashes up at a moment of danger.

Benjamin’s strategy addressed the idea of the image or picture of history. These metaphors cannot be simply translated into practical action. Or rather they might import themselves only at specific, charmed revolutionary moments. As he put it in one of the theses in Selected Writings:

'The consciousness of exploding the continuum of history is peculiar to the revolutionary classes in the moment of their action. … in the July Revolution an incident took place which did justice to this consciousness. During the evening of the first skirmishes, it turned out that the clock-towers were shot at independently and simultaneously in several places in Paris.'

History is exploded as an act of ‘genuine’ progress, which does not move simply forwards. Revolutionary time is not clock time, but rather the time of the present, filled with the moment of acting, an acting which is then re-invoked as a conscious reflection on what brutal, disruptive act brought the new time into being. A new calendar, such as that inaugurated in the French Revolution, should mark the discontinuity that has been brought it into being in its naming, its re-divisions, its spaces of commemoration – unlike the Weimar republic, born of a compromised revolution in 1918 and 1919, and which is unable to acknowledge its own constitution as a break in time, a break in tradition – and so returns to old times, business-as-usual.

What Benjamin asserts in the essay ‘Experience and Poverty’ is the necessity to adopt brutal modes of thought and action not as a freely chosen strategy as such, but as a mimetic adaptation to the brutality that is the world and as a glimpse into what is needed to carry through a break, a revolution, a change in the state of things. Through a kind of doubling, the negation is negated.

Marchel Duchamp fountain sculpture SFMOMA 3700182764 resized     brecht play     situationist comic     Sex Pistols in Paradiso Johnny Rotten Steve Jones resized

We can find this radical brutality in various and varied documents of culture: in artworks like Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’; in Eisenstein’s montage and editing techniques; in Brecht’s plays and poems; in the Situationist ‘detournement’ of comics; in the music of John Cage or in punk.

There is also brutality in thought: a breaking with thinking as it has been thought to date, an assault on common sense, in order to annul the thinking that justifies, by not drawing attention to, everyday brutality. Brutality in action: a brutal, critical one, in which time itself might be interrupted. The world itself might stop spinning – such is revolutionary political action. The world is brutal and critique might become action on and in the world and its symbols:

‘There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’

Sometimes the statues that glorify brutal systems and their agents are kicked over, revealing a connection between culture and the barbaric that exists usually obscured. Such radical acts direct art and politics – and life – towards other possibilities.

You can also hear Professor Leslie talk about Benjamin on Radio 4's In Our Time, here.

Party Animals
Tuesday, 05 March 2024 05:23

Party Animals

Published in Poetry

Party Animals

by Paul Francis

Liz Truss is raving on the floor
as Tory members yell for more.
She beams in triumph. She’s so keen
she’ll hit the ground. What can she mean?
Full steam ahead, no ifs no buts.
Splash out the cash, but make no cuts
except for taxes on the rich.
Raise benefits? No. Life’s a bitch.
Among the pundits there’s some doubt
about how this will balance out
but Liz refers them to the man
who’s helped her draft this cunning plan.

Cue Kwasi, claiming his reward.
He’s worked out what we can afford
but check it with the OBR?
No way, he says. A step too far.
A TV star he’ll have you know;
he hit the buzzer like a pro
but still there has to come a day
when we hear what the experts say.
He holds his cards close to his chest;
he’s heard inscrutable is best.
Maybe November 23rd?
His critics say that that’s absurd.
OK. October 31st,
and let the markets do their worst.
Sadly, they’re not prepared to wait
and their unease will seal his fate.

The music’s loud, the lights are dim,
the future forecast’s looking grim
but still Liz parties to the end
and with delight she greets her friend.
“The poor”, says Coffey, plied with drink,
“are not as poor as you might think.
You want some pills to ease your cares?
Forget the doctor. I’ve got spares.”

The king’s next door. Liz took the oath
but her allegiance is to growth.
So all the governments she was in
get trashed; their work goes in the bin.
Around the world they watched, aghast
as everything unravelled, fast.
They see the carnage that ensued:
if you’ve a mortgage then you’re screwed.
Low wages now will buy you less
and as for energy – a mess.
You want to cry, you want to scream;
that press conference – was that a dream?
King Charles witnesses this farce,
the mounting debris, broken glass.
He speaks for all of us, it’s clear.
“Oh dear”, he says. “Oh dear. Oh dear.”

capitalism isnt workingSlideshow

Igh Sheriff o Merthyr
Tuesday, 05 March 2024 05:23

Igh Sheriff o Merthyr

Published in Poetry

Igh Sheriff o Merthyr

by Mike Jenkins

Ee wuz off of is trolley,
shoutin in-a middle o Penderyn Square
like ee woz a Town Crier.

Ee ad all the regalia -
chains, fancy at , medals galore,
buh ardly spoke posher.

“Yer ye, yer ye! Good folk o Merthyr!
I’m yewer bran’new Igh Sheriff
appointed arfta givin bagsomoney.

Ower good Queen 've sadly
passed away, wavin from-a sky
on a separate cloud to er ubby.

She ave served us mos graciously,
same time lookin arfta er famlee
(speshly er darlin son Andy).

Now we welcome King Charlie III
oo once spoke sev’ral words o Welsh
an loves talkin t trees.

We say ‘Croeso!’ t Wills ower prince
an look forward t showin im round
b’fore ev’ry business shuts down town.

As Igh Sheriff I yerby decree
Prince Charles becomes King Charles Ospital
An Keir Ardie Ealth Centre’s named arfta Camilla.

As Igh Sheriff I yerby declare
this square will enceforth be named arfta me -
Josiah John Bacon Homfray Crawshay.”