A small man sits at a very long table telling very big lies and staring like a doll  
Wednesday, 06 July 2022 03:13

A small man sits at a very long table telling very big lies and staring like a doll  

Published in Poetry

A small man sits at a very long table telling very big lies and staring like a doll  

by Claudia Court, with image by Alix Emery

Russian dolls are built to shrink

     wrap around the next size down

         stream bursting its banks

         invest your money

     can’t buy you love

is like a merry-go-round

table discussions will take place

     names to be written in capitals

          Paris Rome or Kyiv

          patrolled by soldiers

     made of toast

masters raising their glass

ceiling for the fairer sex

     bomb explodes without warning

          flares are so seventies

          music was uniquely good

     gracious is that the time

zone in on your target

practise what you preach

     to the converted

          barn owls screech all night  

          sirens wail in wartime

     rations are never enough

to satisfy a small man

In Dire Parenthesis
Wednesday, 06 July 2022 03:13

In Dire Parenthesis

Published in Poetry

In Dire Parenthesis

by David Betteridge, with cartoon by Bob Starrett

When it comes to marching, many do not know
That their enemy is marching at their head...
- Bertolt Brecht

Whichever way your missiles fly,
reducing lives and hopes to debris, ash,
or dust; whichever way your anger
and your loathing lie, leaving space
for little else, and least of all for peace;
whichever flag you raise, or language speak,
whichever loyalty events have forced you,
cruelly, by their logic to embrace -
ask this:

Who can speak of "Victory"
or celebrate some smaller gain
that might be deemed success,
when every half a league or verst
that nations may advance
is paid for dear, in blood,
and our world is less?

Who can speak of "Glory"
when the cause of building for
and building by the people
for our common good
has been so widely lost?

After the great sacrifice of the battlefield
and the siege, the blitzkrieg
and the enormities of hate and rape,
what next?

Our class war for justice
and the peace that it may bring
is set aside once more,
put in dire parenthesis,
as our leaders make us ready,
all too ready, for no end of slaughtering
in their next -
and their next one after -
war.

Mr. Zelensky Goes To Washington
Wednesday, 06 July 2022 03:13

Mr. Zelensky Goes To Washington

Mr. Zelensky Goes To Washington

Vladimir Zelensky has been called many things, depending on which side of the now firmer divide, with the U.S. attempting to recreate the old Iron Curtain, an observer falls. To some he is a hero, valiant defender of a small nation against a mighty one, David to Putin’s Goliath, or a saviour, turning back an invasion by sheer willpower. To others he is a stooge, playing at diplomacy while not actually knowing what he is doing or, worse yet, a puppet, with the U.S., NATO and Ukrainian oligarchs pulling his strings. But, perhaps the more accurate characterization of Zelensky is to take seriously what he is in actuality, an actor, one who has been called upon to play at least four roles.

Servant of the People

Zelensky’s series, Servant of the People, now a global sensation running on Netflix and Arte in France, ran for three seasons, 51 episodes. It catapulted an Alberto Sordi-type everyman into the Ukrainian presidency, based on a diatribe against corruption that one of the students in his high-school history class recorded and posted and then went viral.

DB Zel

The show, which premiered in 2015, is a populist fable about how Vasily Petrovich Holoborodko, in his 30s, divorced and living with his parents, boasts that the country would change if he could just rule it for one week and then gets his wish. The villains on the show are Kiev oligarchs, shown in the opening from the back or in close-up with just their deceiving lips moving as high above the city they boast about the mockery of elections where each controls a different candidate supposedly opposing each other.

Holoborodko unifies the country, claiming that a small portion in the extreme East “The Separatists” and the West “The Nationalists,” both supported by the oligarchs, divide the nation by “country, language and birth.” Instead, Holoborodko preaches unity since “we are all human beings,” illustrated in the last episode by Ukrainian Russians from the “Far East” with their technical expertise assisting in saving miners trapped in the “Far West”. This recalls Georg Pabst’s Weimer film Kameradshaft (Comradeship) with its German and French working class coming together to heal the wounds of the trenches where they were exiled by their oligarchs. The show is a sort of Welcome Back Kotter meets House of Cards where the innocence of the high school teacher in the first rubs up against the cynical power structure of the second.    

One of the show’s funnier sequences has two parliamentarians having sex in an antechamber in one scene and in the next violently opposing each other on the legislative floor. The fake antipathy recalls the Clinton era marriage of Democratic consultant James Carville and Republican and George Bush consultant and Clinton opponent Mary Matlin whose tryst, instead of suggesting complicity by the nation’s rulers in a faux two-party system, as People suggests, instead was marvelled at by the media as a model of “civility.”

Another sequence has a temporary female president supposedly worried about the country but with her anxiety then revealed to be instead about the outfit she is wearing, a page torn from the narcissistic would-be president in Veep. There is a kind of zaniness to this political satire, most evident in the unrelenting music, mocking the always-on-the-go advisors putting a president through his vacuous paces. The show’s dourness contains more than a dollop of Russian fatalist humor and the series was very popular in Russia.  

Servant of the People – The Reality Series

Scarcely had the show finished its run in 2019, when Holoborodko/Zelensky was himself elected president, running on a platform copied right from his character on the show, promising peace, prosperity, and unity while portraying himself as a kind of homespun man of the people, ala Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, who would wage war against political corruption. He would also be a healer, a Jewish Russian speaker from the East who promised to “reboot” failed peace talks with the breakaway provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk and negotiate a “ceasefire” to end a war that had been destroying the country since 2014. Ukrainians, whose level of distrust of their government had reached a world low of 9 percent by the time of that election, ushered Zelensky/Holoborodko into office in a second-round landslide where he beat the standing president Petro Poroshenko, regarded by electors as a part of the oligarchy, by 73 to 24 percent.

Servant of the Oligarchs

Unfortunately, once in office, he himself behaved more like Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian manipulator in House of Cards then Gabe Kaplan’s affable instructor in Welcome Back Kotter. His clean-up of corruption turned out to be primarily to make Ukraine safe for foreign capital, and so he set about attempting to please Western financial institutions above all else. His neoliberal reforms were in fact even too fast for, as he put it, “The Europeans, the IMF, the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and The World Bank, which were “very happy,” but, he reported, urged him to “slow down a little.”

A key demand of these institutions was “land reforms,” that is a privatizing and monopolizing of lands long held in common since the Soviet period, and the subject of Ukrainian filmmaker Alexander Dovzhenko’s 1930 film Earth, as well as deregulation of the banking system. The land reform measure was widely opposed with 72 percent against this attempt to accustom the country to, in Zelensky’s words, “the normality of capitalism.” These neoliberal reforms, which Zelensky happily championed, led to industrial decline, salaries in arrears, rising unemployment and—and this is before the war with Russia—massive labor migration and depopulation, with experts predicting the country would lose one-fifth of its population by 2050, to the point where, by the time of the Russian invasion, Ukraine was the second poorest country in Europe, behind only its neighbour Moldavia.    

sellers copy medium

On top of this, there was a paucity of cases instituted to further Zelensky’s nominal mandate, to clean up corruption. A promised corruption task force, the Bureau for Economic Security, still not fully operational almost 3 years after the election. Finally, tensions in Ukraine did not decline but increased as the war in the Donbass dragged on with 14,000 citizens of the two now-breakaway republics killed before the Russian invasion as “unity” broke down with Zelensky, the great unifier, refusing to contest a law that mandated Ukrainian state workers only to speak Ukrainian, though 40 percent of the country speaks Russian. A few months after entering office he had an approval rating of 57%, but by August 2021, that number had dropped to 29, with 69 percent believing the county was going in the wrong direction. Perhaps Zelensky as this point was simply channeling the Peter Sellers character in Being There, Chance the gardener who as unassuming advisor to the White House is inflated to become Chauncey Gardiner.

A more sinister interpretation though accompanied this drop in popularity, as it was revealed that the owner of 1+1 Media the popular television channel that aired Servant, Igor Kolomoyskyi, lent his personal lawyer to Zelensky to be campaign advisor and contributed to and promoted his candidacy on 1+1 and various other media outlets he owned. Once in office, Zelensky removed the oligarch’s opponents, the Prosecutor General, the Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine and his own prime minister who tried to regulate the media oligarch’s control of a state-owned electricity company. At that point Zelensky appeared more like the oligarchs in the opening scene of Servant than the crusading teacher who had only the people’s interests in mind. All this suggests that the serendipity of Servant may instead have been a carefully calculated campaign hatched not in 2019 at the time of the election but in 2015, as the show debuted to widely popular audiences.  

Servant of the Empire

Zelensky’s world popularity, after reaching its absolute nadir in his own country, echoes that of George W. Bush in his before and after 9/11 transformation from academic ne’er do well to wartime leader. Perhaps the last role though is more ominous. With his popularity declining, Zelensky moved to institute more strict controls on freedom in the country. He has sanctioned political rivals and silenced television channels controlled by them, going so far in 2021 as to suggest that those in the Donbass sympathetic to Russia “immigrate there.” His party has also moved to pass a regressive labour law, curtailing rights on working hours and working conditions, as well as making it easier to dismiss workers without compensation, while even going so far as to cancel the rights of women to not be compelled to do strenuous labor. A previous iteration of the bill by the way was supported by the British Foreign Office, no stranger to neoliberal “reforms.”  It should be noted that almost the first act of the Nazi regime in Germany was to outlaw labour unions, and this bill is certainly trending in that direction.  

In addition, just before the war, France and Germany attempted to revive the Minsk accords, which would have allowed a ceasefire, and Zelensky refused to agree to restart the talks.

Zelensky then embarked on his world tour, this time as a kind of Zelig, Woody Allen’s chameleon who simply assumes the personality of whatever foreign leader he is near. Zelensky has become all things to all people, but especially serving those in the West who want to keep the war going in perpetuity, seeing a chance to achieve a 20-year U.S. goal of effecting regime change in Russia, no matter the cost.

Thus, in the UK his “We will fight on the shores” echoed Churchill’s World War II challenge to the nation in his “We shall fight on the beaches” speech. In Germany, he raised the spectre of the Cold War division of the country, urging the chancellor to tear down the new wall being constructed in Europe by the Russians between “freedom and bondage.”

In the U.S. he urged congress to “Remember Pearl Harbour when your skies were black with people attacking you,” and then called for a no-fly zone which would almost certainly expand the war and potentially lead to nuclear destruction which would “blacken the skies” in the most dangerous way. Those who think the war was engineered by the U.S. as a trap for Russia might also recall John Toland’s Infamy where he attempts to prove that Pearl Harbour was deliberately manufactured by U.S. policymakers as a way to move the U.S. population to accepting entry into the global conflagration of World War II.

Finally, in Israel, he invoked the Holocaust claiming, “Ukraine made the choice to save Jews 80 years ago,” but there he was quickly rebuked with a charge that parts of the Ukraine had participated in the mass extermination of Jews.

meph

Which brings us to Zelensky’s last role, one where he moves from man of the people to perhaps now serving not only the U.S. empire but also, as aider and abettor of the Nazi Azov Brigade as it prepares for a last defence of Mariupol and of “Nationalist” parties such as The Right Sector, with that nomenclature often being a rebranding for a neo-Nazi formation aligned with the military. This new role is more akin to that of the actor in the 1980s film set in Nazi Germany who serves as a front for the government until he loses his effectiveness and is cast aside. Holoborodko, the Servant of the People, may be completing a long, arduous transformation into Mephisto.

Bucha
Wednesday, 06 July 2022 03:13

Bucha

Published in Poetry

Bucha

by Lisa Kelly

The man who confronted the tank captured
by drone footage. His hands held up.
His wife in the front seat, his child in the back.
What’s next is blurred, what’s later is burned.
The evidence remains. Pepper holes
of bullets in car doors. Shot after shot.

A body lies in the street. A camera shot
of hands tied behind a back. Another victim captured,
wrists bound with white cloth. Bullet holes
fired in backs of heads. Who would stand up
to their oppressor? Images of war crimes burned
in the mind – revealed once the occupiers drew back.

Calling a war, a special military operation takes us back
to calling a publicity stunt a wildlife campaign: a tiger shot
with a tranquiliser gun, a Siberian tiger that burned
brightly for a photo opportunity – captured
and over-sedated. It died for this. Its time up
when he got what he wanted. Amber eyes darkening holes.

All these holes
impossible to piece together, to bring back
meaning. No let up
in uncovering mass graves, basements where citizens were tortured, shot.
What they did…so many people were killed…just for nothing. Have we captured
enough eye-witness accounts? A burned

swastika on a woman’s body. Raped, killed, and burned.
Another generation falling through holes.
More cities like Bucha, more cities captured
with the same horrors unfolding. We roll the film back
and forward to where the past and future show the same shot.
Yet, there are denials, claims this is all made up.

If only the far-right was not on the up:
Putin, Orban, Vucic, Le Pen, Trump, Johnson. Civil rights burned
as they stoke the flames of nationalism. The cheap shots
at immigrants; the illiberalism; the bribes; the gaping holes
in their accounts. Always the fight back.
Complacency is the route to being captured.

Bucha citizens did not give up their right to live whole
lives. After Bucha burned, they took their city back.
For every despot’s shot, the people’s spirit uncaptured.

Siege
Wednesday, 06 July 2022 03:13

Siege

Published in Poetry

Siege

by Rip Bulkeley

'Wars are fought to change the enemy’s mind'. - Liddell Hart

The grandchildren of the mass killers of Dresden,
Coventry, Tokyo, and Leningrad, leave alone
the atomic bombs, few of whom were ever
prosecuted, now bleat about Mariupol. From war
comes siege, and in siege, from Alesia to Sarajevo,
civilians, including poets, perish like autumn leaves.
From a safe distance our rulers, knowing
that thousands more will die, reinforce
the defence against the option of surrender;
then wash their hands in filthy water.
Most of their comfortable citizens, preoccupied
with economic doom, raise no objections.

Tanka poems for peace
Wednesday, 06 July 2022 03:13

Tanka poems for peace

Published in Poetry

Gabriel Rosenstock's latest tankas respond to Russian artworks, with a nod to Tolstoy. Image above: Cut down birch, by Ivan Shishkin, 1874

Writing a poem bursting into tears having misheard deforestation for defenestration
Wednesday, 06 July 2022 03:13

Writing a poem bursting into tears having misheard deforestation for defenestration

Published in Poetry

Writing a poem bursting into tears having misheard deforestation for defenestration

by Lisa Kelly, in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Image above: Defenestrace, by Karel Svoboda

but before the mishearing and the frustration,
can we deal with

the bursting into tears, and whether the poem is
bursting into tears,

            those leaky, lachrymose drips, or tears,
those ripped up, papery bits,

propelled by frustration and closer to
deforestation, like felling trees

and chopping them into logs, little pieces of what
they once aspired to,

            a composite whole reaching up like
dreamy spires to inspire,

reaching past the highest window in the highest building,
where a general might resist, momentarily, against clear glass
           until
someone tears away from the crowd

           and lifts the latch and everyone sees the
opportunity

which might befall the general, the fate he
deserves, and surges forward,

             as if a valve has burst and liquid motion rushes
at the general who is stiff

as the trunk of a tall tree, whose bark is
bigger than his bite,

whose bite is a chunk taken out of his uniformed
arm by a black bear

which has stripped back bark for the sweet
sapwood, and uses every tool available

             from the sharpness of his incisors to the
tearing of his canines,

and naturally he is tearing up at the injustice of
his predicament for not giving

the right intelligence, for not speaking truth to
power, for not refusing the yacht,

            made of 40 cubic metres of mahogany,
50 cubic metres of cedar

and 50,000 hours of craftmanship, and now here
he is, framed, and about to

fall 40, maybe 50, maybe 50,000 feet to a landing
of broken glass and ransacked rubble

           with the unrelenting view of barren land
where once a forest grew,

where not even his bones nor blood will fertilise
the dirt, so what can he do

but scratch with his thumbnail in the
condensation on the glass a line about
            culpability,

            about tearing up or tearing up, and watch
the self-pitying rivulets

run down the pane, but of course he has no time
for any last words, all thought

evaporated, as he rushes towards his shadow,
leaving a snag of thread

           from his tearing uniform on the lintel as
proof he lived, as we consider

the venerable history of defenestration, Queen Jezebel,
who worshipped a nature god,

defenestrated by her eunuchs, her body eaten by
dogs, as we consider the irreversible

           history of deforestation, and write a poem
bursting into tears or tears having misheard
           deforestation for defenestration.

Mars, and To Cut a Long Story Short
Wednesday, 06 July 2022 03:13

Mars, and To Cut a Long Story Short

Published in Poetry

Mars

by Matthew Page

Minister of war, wherever men have walked
You have followed –
Thermopylae, Austerlitz, Damascus, Ukraine –
Ruddy orb, savage eye,

Eternal standby light between the trees,
Perpetually pulling us into orbit,
Just as we'd begun to believe
That the old hope would reign,

That we could circle distant dates,
Become voyeurs of wars in interstellar space;
That on the featherbed of Europe,
We might sink into civility, without end;

That fear of mutually assured obliteration
Had given way to finer feelings
That in your darkest core would cement,
But here we are, afraid, uncertain. Again.

 

To Cut a Long Story Short

by Matthew Page

He slogged an assembly line,
Dampeners one week, height risers
The other: a world of ghosts
With bodies in the Orient.

She worked in wholesale
And got calluses from ripping boxes open.
Only Sally from Health and Beauty
Had a higher score on Candy Crush.

When he'd flee from the estate
In search of water wide enough to skim stones on,
She'd watch the Emmerdale omnibus
And light a Yankee candle.

At some point, he became
Mr Half Decorated Rooms,
She became Mrs We Don't Eat it
Unless Iceland Sell it as a Ready Meal.

The Berlin Wall was back up.
Three children pole-vaulted between the two
(Occasionally evacuating to their nan's
When spuds were fired).

He never wanted a microwave.
She never wanted a mattress on the floor.
But something (necessity, austerity,
The devil himself?) made it so.

on living with a larger, expansionist neighbour
Wednesday, 06 July 2022 03:13

on living with a larger, expansionist neighbour

Published in Poetry

on living with a larger, expansionist neighbour

by Steve Pottinger, with image above 'The War Abroad' by Alix Emery

you know he has always coveted
your garden, considered to be his
by right the olive trees, the earth,
that access to the sea, believes

your home an extension of his own,
tells himself that you are leading
him on, asking for trouble,
driving him crazy by smiling

too much, by not smiling enough,
by smiling at all, flaunting that
independence you’re so proud of,
dressed in that provocative

geography he can’t get out of
his mind, refusing his advances,
gardening your land without
so much as a by his leave

while he presses himself tight
up against your borders,
belly over the waistband of
his trousers, simmering to fury

planning for the morning you
will wake to find the front door
off its hinges, the olive trees
your grandparents planted

chopped and cut to kindling, his
tanks flattening your flowerbeds
and him blocking the way to your
kitchen, stripping the fridge bare,

not expecting you to fight.

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