Mike Quille

Mike Quille

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

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2020: The winners!
Thursday, 30 July 2020 11:44

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2020: The winners!

Published in Poetry

This year the judges, Andy Croft of Smokestack Books and Mary Sayer from Unite, picked seven rather than five poems which they thought worthy winners of the Award. So Unite have kindly agreed to provide additional prize money this year for all seven poems. The winners are

Handbook for 2021 by Jane Burn

A Stitch in Time by Annie McCrae

Donkey Jacket by Raymond Miller

Burden of Ownership by Jenny Mitchell

If Boris Johnson had a Cuppa with my Nan from Willenhall by Antony Owen

Salvation by Laura Taylor

All Our Shadows are Black by Sylvia Telfer

The mentoring package this year, to help unpublished writers with their first collection, will be offered to Trisha Heaney. Congratulations to the seven winners and the mentee (if that's the right word) and thanks to all those who entered.

This year's Bread and Roses anthology containing a selection of entries will be available to buy later in the year. If you wish to order copies in advance please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Here are the judges' comments on this year's entries:

It is hard to write about the injustices of contemporary society without slipping into easy denunciations, second-hand phrases and borrowed anger. The best political poetry should also be painful to read, interrogating itself and challenging what the reader thinks they know or believe to be true.

The entries to this year’s Bread and Roses competition certainly share a sense of impatient rage and revulsion at the way the world works; but they are also distinguished by intellectual ambition, literary technique and political resilience. And they say what needs to be said about the subjects that matter most – inequality, work, unemployment, solidarity, struggle, homelessness, racism, illegal wars, environmental disaster. - Andy Croft, publisher of Smokestack Books

I was listening to Linton Kwesi Johnson on the radio the other day when he said 'poetry doesn't change the world, only people can do that'. Reading these magnificent, resonant poems and thinking about the people who wrote them and the people who will read them – gives me hope that massive and meaningful change in these overwhelming times is possible. - Mary Sayer, Unite in Schools Coordinator

Here is one of the winning entries: 

Burden of Ownership

by Jenny Mitchell

He measures cost in body parts. A head pays
for a month of food; two eyes a week of drink.
Christmas adds a throat. Carved out with care
the neck still holds a yoke if the chin is firm
weight evenly proportioned.

Four breasts pay for his wife's new car, a mad
extravagance she must not think will be the norm.
Her furs demand a score of navels.
One manly chest is paid for every house –
he only wants the very best.

A waist is worth the price of land: an acre for two wombs.
Twelve manhoods buy a gushing stream
to serve his many fields. A sack of feet placed
in a bank account, maintains his balance
and the boast: he's always in the black.

The cry of the poor from inner-city Dublin: Sacred Symphony
Wednesday, 29 July 2020 12:43

The cry of the poor from inner-city Dublin: Sacred Symphony

Published in Poetry

Sacred Symphony is a new collection of poems on life in inner-city Dublin, by Karl Parkinson, with photographs by Peter O'Doherty. It includes All the Swings are Gone and is introduced by Father Peter McVerry, who concludes with these words:

Those who are economically unproductive are considered a drain on the economy, undeserving of support. Those who are homeless, addicted or long-term unemployed are not just excluded from society, but unwanted by society.

This oppressive ideology has become so embedded in the thinking of many, including our decision makers, that any alternative seems unimaginable. That is why the poems in this book are important. They challenge that ideology, they reflect the anger and feelings of those who are excluded and feel unwanted, who see no future for themselves in our present society.

Some of these poems are dark, despairing and difficult to read. Many are about the use of drugs, the only respite available from a painful and seemingly meaningless existence. Others reflect dreams that will never be fulfilled, or a search for meaning, or for answers to half-articulated questions. And the poems show a resilience that often characterises those who have to struggle hard, on a daily basis, to survive and make sense of their lives.

But these voices, uncomfortable as they may be to many people, have to be heard. They have to be listened to. And they require a response.

Comments on the book so far include:

Here are poems that bear witness. Here are poems that do not look away. Sacred Symphony is, in essence, a holy book for our times – a book that illuminates the vast, oceanic nature of human grief caused by poverty, addiction and violence in inner-city communities and beyond. Parkinson is among the most important poets working in Ireland today. – Annemarie Ní Churreáin, poet, author of Bloodroot (Doire Press)

Karl Parkinson is amongst the most courageous of modern Irish writers. – RTE Lyric FM

Parkinson has set himself up unashamedly and without irony as a singer of the human soul in its contrary states of degradation and exaltation. It's worth listening to him. – The Irish Times

There is a very good interview with Karl on the excellent Island's Edge website.

Sacred Symphony by Karl Parkinson, ISBN: 978-1-912710-33-1Price: 12 euros, plus p. and p:

Or £10 plus p. and p. from Britain:

Sacred Symphony
Wednesday, 29 July 2020 12:22

Sacred Symphony

Published in Books

Sacred Symphony is a new collection of poems on life in inner-city Dublin by Karl Parkinson, with images by Peter O'Doherty, ISBN: 978-1-912710-33-1

It is introduced by Father Peter McVerry, who writes this in the Introduction:

Those who are economically unproductive are considered a drain on the economy, undeserving of support. Those who are homeless, addicted or long-term unemployed are not just excluded from society, but unwanted by society.

This oppressive ideology has become so embedded in the thinking of many, including our decision makers, that any alternative seems unimaginable. That is why the poems in this book are important. They challenge that ideology, they reflect the anger and feelings of those who are excluded and feel unwanted, who see no future for themselves in our present society.

Some of these poems are dark, despairing and difficult to read. Many are about the use of drugs, the only respite available from a painful and seemingly meaningless existence. Others reflect dreams that will never be fulfilled, or a search for meaning, or for answers to half-articulated questions. And the poems show a resilience that often characterises those who have to struggle hard, on a daily basis, to survive and make sense of their lives.

But these voices, uncomfortable as they may be to many people, have to be heard. They have to be listened to. And they require a response.

Comments on the book so far include:

Here are poems that bear witness. Here are poems that do not look away. Sacred Symphony is, in essence, a holy book for our times – a book that illuminates the vast, oceanic nature of human grief caused by poverty, addiction and violence in inner-city communities and beyond. Parkinson is among the most important poets working in Ireland today. – Annemarie Ní Churreáin, poet, author of Bloodroot (Doire Press)

Karl Parkinson is amongst the most courageous of modern Irish writers. – RTE Lyric FM

Parkinson has set himself up unashamedly and without irony as a singer of the human soul in its contrary states of degradation and exaltation. It's worth listening to him. – The Irish Times

Sacred Symphony by Karl Parkinson, ISBN: 978-1-912710-33-1. Price: 12 euros, plus p. and p:

Or £10 plus p. and p. from Britain:

A Kist of Thistles
Monday, 15 June 2020 09:35

A Kist of Thistles

Published in Books

A Kist of Thistles: An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Scotland, edited by Jim Aitken, with images by Fiona Stewart. 196 pps. ISBN: 978-1-912710-32-4

A Kist of Thistles is a new anthology of radical Scottish poetry. It is edited and introduced by Jim Aitken, an Edinburgh-based writer and lecturer, and illustrated with images by Fiona Stewart.

Most of the 62 poets in A Kist of Thistles would agree with Mary McCabe that Scotland should be engaged in ‘plannin a better nation’. But the poetry is not just about Scottish self-determination. This wonderfully diverse and skilful group of poets is also engaged with international, environmental and broader social issues that affect everyone.

All of Scotland’s languages are represented here and this diversity also shows a culture that is confident about itself as it looks out as much as it looks within, reaching out across the world to all those whose lives have been less than they should be. The poets show their concern for ordinary people, and rail against what Lesley Benzie calls ‘the bloodied carcass of truth’ as their poems seek to cleanse and redeem all the broken lives they encounter.

The voices in this anthology—with some humour, much conviction and plenty of style—look forward not only to a better Scotland, but also to a much fairer and better world for everyone.

A Kist of Thistles: An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Scotland, edited by Jim Aitken with images by Fiona Stewart, 196 pps, £10. ISBN: 978-1-912710-32-4

Why culture matters more than ever
Saturday, 25 April 2020 14:50

Why culture matters more than ever

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mike Quille makes an appeal for support for Culture Matters, and introduces a new series of articles on the effects of the coronavirus crisis on culture. The image is of Efa Supertramp, who was among the many radical artists bypassing the gatekeepers of cultural production by appearing at the WSO Isolation Festival on April 11. Broadcast live on Facebook, it raised more than £27,000 for food banks

How do working people achieve more personal and political freedom? In the Wages of Labour, written in 1844, Karl Marx had this to say:

To develop greater spiritual freedom, a people must break their bondage to their bodily needs — they must cease to be the slaves of the body. They must, above all, have time at their disposal for spiritual creative activity and spiritual enjoyment.

The same point was made more poetically in a poem based on Helen Todd’s speech on the aims of the women’s movement:

Hearts starve as well as bodies. Give us bread, but give us roses.

The Culture Matters Co-Operative is all about bread and roses. It has been running for nearly five years and promotes bread and roses for all — a progressive, socialist and democratic approach to all forms of cultural activities.

We believe that all forms of culture should be for everyone and that class-based divisions in society constrain, prevent and spoil our enjoyment of all the cultural activities which we need to enjoy life and be fully human. This is also recognised in the expanded references to culture in the latest version of Britain’s Road to Socialism, the programme of the Communist Party of Britain.

By culture we mean not only the arts — poetry, film, theatre and visual art — but other activities like sport which bring enjoyment, enlightenment and entertainment into our lives. And using media like the internet, TV and social media is an important cultural activity and one of the few cultural activities we’ve been able to practise under lockdown.

Digital technology also has great potential to democratise culture, allowing working-class radicals to bypass the gatekeepers of cultural production, and we use it to run a website which publishes creative and critical material on a range of topics.

Supported by trade unions — mainly Unite, the Communication Workers Union, the Musicians’ Union and PCS — we have also run a number of Bread and Roses arts awards to encourage cultural production by trade unionists and other workers that is meaningful to work and life in a class-divided society.

We've also published a range of poetry books such as Witches, Warriors and Workers, a groundbreaking anthology of poetry by working-class women, edited by Jane Burn and Fran Lock. Supported by various trade unions and trades councils, we’re also publishing a series of anthologies of radical literature.

Poetry collections from Ireland (Children of the Nation) and Wales (Onward / Ymlaen!) have already appeared and there will be an anthology of radical Scottish poetry coming out later this year. These books are all for sale on this website, see links above.

We’ve grown fast in just a few years and that’s thanks to the voluntary work of committed writers, artists and activists and to trade-union support. We’re proud that our mission has been valued by creative workers, readers and the labour movement generally.

We want to refresh and broaden the content of the website and tackle class-based discrimination in publishing by building networks of creative workers. We want too to expand our output in Britain and abroad and support the labour movement in local campaigns for cultural democracy.

To do that we need financial resources, so that we can meet the expenses of running a website and publishing operation and commission more material. You — or your union or trades council — can make donations here or drop us a message at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we’ll supply our bank details. At the same time, feel free to suggest — or ask for help with — projects to promote cultural democracy.

Coronavirus and culture

It's inevitable that the current coronavirus crisis will affect all kinds of cultural activities, in all kinds of ways. Going to a concert, a film, a football match, a religious service, is never going to be the same again.

The virus has driven us apart. Yet, as socialists, we have always been committed to the way culture brings us together in shared and social activities. Culture gives voice to the values of solidarity, the dignity of work, concern for the poor, celebration of our strength and potential and in imagining a better world.

So how are we going to do that, now? What does a socialist response to the effects of the coronavirus crisis on culture look like? How should things change around the content, management and state support of culture? What does the coronavirus crisis means for our “spiritual enjoyment” of different cultural activities?

To help answer these questions, the Morning Star and Culture Matters will be jointly publishing a series of articles over the next few weeks. Whether we are consuming or creating culture, it’s hoped they will help the discussions and debates about “bread and roses” and how we achieve greater freedom. Please get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you wish to contribute something to the series — an article, review, poem, image or music clip.

Onward / Ymlaen!
Tuesday, 11 February 2020 16:42

Onward / Ymlaen!

Published in Books

Onward / Ymlaen! An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Wales

170 pps., edited by Mike Jenkins, with a Foreword from Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, and with images by Gustavius Payne, £10 plus £3 p. and p.

ISBN: 978-1-912710-16-4

This new and unique anthology has poetry in both Welsh and English by around 70 Welsh working-class writers. There are women and men, of all generations, including both emerging and established writers. Gustavius Payne, a well-known Welsh artist, has provided stunningly appropriate paintings to accompany some of the poems in the book.

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union writes this in the Foreword:

The poems collected in “Onward / Ymlaen!” cover a diverse range of political themes and issues including poverty and class inequality, self-determination, internationalism, war, living on a council estate in Swansea, and the death of Jo Cox.

This is a valuable book and will be of interest to many people in Wales and across the UK, at a time when the political landscape is changing so dramatically. These changes have meant that times are hard for many people, but our movement has always had room for poetry and song. As the old radical poem says, “Hearts starve as well as bodies: Give us Bread, but give us Roses.”

Mike Jenkins, editor of Red Poets, says this:

This anthology brings together the finest radical political poetry from contemporary Cymru, reflecting the importance of community, co-operation and commitment to building a better world. There is sharp criticism, sad reflection, heartfelt protest and bitter humour in these poems. But there is also a sense of renewal, of what might develop from grassroots movements and activism. 

For discount prices on bulk orders please write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Children of the Nation: An Anthology of Working People’s Poetry from Contemporary Ireland
Saturday, 09 November 2019 14:15

The Children of the Nation: An Anthology of Working People’s Poetry from Contemporary Ireland

Published in Books

The Children of the Nation: 203pps., £9 plus £3 p. and p. or €10 plus €5 p. and p.

  ISBN: 978-1-912710-25-6

This is a unique anthology of poetry in both Irish and English by Irish working-class writers from the thirty-two counties of Ireland. There are sixty-seven contributors, women and men, of all generations, including both emerging and established writers. The common focus is on themes which reflect the texture and preoccupations of working-class life in contemporary Ireland. It has been generously supported by the Irish Trade Union movement.

The ‘children of the nation’ were promised equal treatment in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of 1916. However, the lived realities of the working class, the unemployed, the precariously employed, the homeless, and other groups have rarely appeared in mainstream published poetry in Ireland and Britain.

This is the first anthology to be published in Ireland which focuses on poetry written by and about working people and their experiences, cares and concerns. As Brian Campfield, past President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, writes in his Foreword:

The anthology is inclusive and egalitarian, and values authenticity, relevance and communicativeness as well as literary skill and inventiveness. It is grounded in individual effort, but has transformed these individual endeavours into a collective expression of the lives, aspirations, concerns and hopes of that class in our society which constantly has to struggle to get its voice heard and valued.

The poems are about life at the margins of society. The themes include class, the treatment of women, work and worklessness, poverty, violence, racism and many other social and political issues. They express suffering, exploitation and abuse, but also hope, solidarity and internationalism.

For orders from Britain, use this button, £9 plus £3 p. and p. 

For orders from Ireland and the rest of Europe, use this button, €10 plus €5 p. and p.

For orders from the U.S. and rest of the world, use this button, $15 plus $10 p. and p.

Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for bulk orders, trade orders or if you'd prefer to pay another way.

Thursday, 07 November 2019 09:48

Round Up

Published in Round-up

We've started a new section on the website, for Life Writing. See Michael Jarvie's introductory article there - and get writing!

There is one callout running at the moment, for Land of Change: radical writing from Wales (a follow-up to Ymlaen/Forward, see Fiction section). 

Winners of the Bread and Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award, sponsored by the CWU and the Musicians' Union, can be heard in the Music section. Winners of the Bread and Roses Poetry Award can be seen in the Poetry section.

arise! filmpoem
Friday, 01 November 2019 11:25

arise! filmpoem

Published in Films

Culture Matters has produced a short film, made by Carl Joyce, of the poem arise! by Paul Summers, which was sponsored by the Durham Miners' Association. You can watch the film for free on Vimeo here or on Youtube here.

The film invokes the collective and co-operative spirit of past generations of men and women who worked and struggled so hard to survive, to build their union, and to arise, organise, and fight for a better world by forming the Labour Party. It also celebrates the new spirit that has arisen in Corbyn’s Labour Party, and the rise of support for socialist solutions to the country’s growing problems of low wages, poverty, homelessness, and other signs of an unfair and corrupt system designed to benefit the many, not the few. 

Jeremy Corbyn said this about the poem:

It's wonderful to see the proud history of the Durham Miners' Gala represented in this powerful poem. Paul Summers has managed to capture the spirit of the Miners' Gala and its central place in our movement's mission to achieve 'victory for the many, and not the few’.

The film is not just a celebration of the tremendous working-class cultural heritage around mining, as expressed in the banners and the music at the Gala, but also the socialist, co-operative spirit of the women and men from mining communities that is alive and struggling today.

Martyrs of Coal

by Chris Norris

 You martyrs of coal, yours the glory
While there's still a miner alive,
Or singer to bring us the story
In which your proud legends survive.

You masters of coal, hear them calling,
Those martyrs you sent down to die,
Crushed lifeless by pit-rafters falling,
Or drowned as the waters ran high.

You martyrs, cry loud to remind us
That justice can never be done
If class-laws shall fetter and bind us
As long as the waggoners run.

You masters, you bled, starved and beat us,
You worked us to death for your gain,
You called out the troops to defeat us
And told us our strikes were in vain.

You martyrs of coal, stand beside us
As we stand today in your name
To win back the rights long denied us
And put our exploiters to shame.

And you modern masters, now hear us,
You tribe of dot-com millionaires,
Think now of their courage and fear us
When we raise the cry that was theirs.

For it's the same passion that fires us,
The zeal that gave courage its role,
And still their example inspires us,
Those martyrs of conscience and coal.

That martyr spirit has arisen recently in other current trade union struggles like the industrial action at McDonald’s, British Airways, and other employers, and in the outraged reaction to other injustices against the working class like the Grenfell tragedy. So there is footage from other campaigns in the film, showing how they are all part of our struggle for economic and political justice, for socialism in Britain and in the whole world.

And most of all the spirit of the miners has arisen in the modern Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn. Arise, resist, vote Labour, and struggle for a better world!

You can also buy a DVD of the film, which is licensed to be played anywhere. It is available here at £5 plus £1.50 p. and p., and 10% of sales proceeds will go to the Redhills Development Fund. The same applies to the poem, which is available here.

arise! filmpoem
Friday, 01 November 2019 11:11

arise! filmpoem

Published in Books

Culture Matters has produced a short film, made by Carl Joyce, of the poem arise! by Paul Summers, sponsored by the Durham Miners' Association. You can watch the film for free on Vimeo here or on Youtube here

The film invokes the collective and co-operative spirit of past generations of men and women who worked and struggled so hard to survive, to build their union, and to arise, organise, and fight for a better world by forming the Labour Party. It also celebrates the new spirit that has arisen in Corbyn’s Labour Party, and the rise of support for socialist solutions to the country’s growing problems of low wages, poverty, homelessness, and other signs of an unfair and corrupt system designed to benefit the many, not the few.

Jeremy Corbyn said this about the poem:

It's wonderful to see the proud history of the Durham Miners' Gala represented in this powerful poem. Paul Summers has managed to capture the spirit of the Miners' Gala and its central place in our movement's mission to achieve 'victory for the many, and not the few’.

The film is not just a celebration of the tremendous working-class cultural heritage around mining, as expressed in the banners and the music at the Gala, but also the socialist, co-operative spirit of the women and men from mining communities that is alive and struggling today.

That spirit has arisen recently in other current trade union struggles like the industrial action at McDonald’s, British Airways, and other employers, and in the outraged reaction to other injustices against the working class like the Grenfell tragedy. So there is footage from other campaigns in the film, showing how they are all part of our struggle for economic and political justice, for socialism in Britain and in the whole world.

And most of all the spirit of the miners has arisen in the modern Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn. Arise, resist, vote Labour, and struggle for a better world!

The DVD is £5 plus £2 p. and p., and 10% of sales proceeds will go to the Redhills Development Fund. The same applies to the poem, which is available here.

Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for bulk orders or if you'd prefer to pay another way.

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