On Alan Morrison’s Shabbigentile (with poem, ¡Viva Barista!)

shabbigentileIn novels and films, plays even, there are state-of-the-nation portrayals aplenty; from Dickens to Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem the rich and the poor are double acts of a political stage that is the United Kingdom. In poetry? Not so much. The Waste Land comes to mind of course, and the writing of such poets as Fran Lock, and performances by Luke Wright, tell of the political scene in different forms (historic & contemporary). So, in reading Alan Morrison’s brilliantly titled ‘Shabbigentile’ you will be bowled over by the constant stream of anger-flecked images, which properly reflect the ill-state-of-the-nation we find ourselves in today.

Titles such as ‘Viva Barista’, ‘The Battle of Threadneedle Street’, ‘Wood Panel Parliament’, ‘RU-RI-TANNIA!’ and ‘A Modest Proposal by the DWP’, give you a clear idea of the mix of satire and political insight that much of the collection contains. His long poem towards the beginning of the collection, ‘Not Paternoster Square’ (i.m. Occupy London, St.Paul’s 2011-12) is a good example of the slice and dice stream of consciousness description of this country as it stands on its wobbly plinth.

‘A Portcullis Corporation struts its peacock tribunes
In a coruscation of Ruritanian spectacle,
State-sponsored pomp that puts our Duchy
Of Grand Fenwick-cum-Camberwick Green
Back on the map of postprandial naps,
And travesties the need for cuts: austerity’

This is a collection about the lack of accountability and concentration of power of a country held up as a shining light of capitalism and liberal democracy. One struggling to still fit into its shrunk-in-the-whitewash emperor’s clothes. There are many declamatory poems which address this imperial struggle. In ‘RU-RI-TANNIA!’, this is given in the melodic refrain,

Ru-ri-tannia!
How can ya’ now complain?
We’ll make Great Britain Great all over again!}

Such anaphora is put to good use in other poems, as in ‘Thirties Rut: Clocks Back Britain’ about austerity and Brexit.

Lies told for long enough become the truth they say;
Even a stopped clock shows the right time twice a day…

And the cultural references are as wide and deep as Alan’s imagination; so we have characters from Baron Rees Mogg, to Noggin the Nog, Baden Powell to Enoch Powell, and the mouse that roared to the lion that squeaked. The blurring of real/imagined lines is perfect for our times; postmodern or not, the poems smash the pallid news of stereotypical skinheads marching on Washington DC or Westminster. In the aptly named, ‘Drain the Swamp’ for example:

Now white supremacists doing Nazi-style salutes
To Donald Trump, sieg heil-ing in Washington DC
Openly for all to see on mobile phone footage–
Not blue collars or rust-belt rednecks but dapper
Men in sharp suits, Hugo Boss wardrobed
Businessmen –self-made plutocratic products
Of the globalization of capitalism

It is they who are to blame for fomenting the currency of hate – they have their central casting foot soldiers, but it is big money interests who hold the power – some things cannot change when in the framework of corporate capital. Workers are numbers to exploit and influence through ‘brand value’ and the fetishisation of commodities, and in a brilliant metaphor, the homeless are pigeons, treated like shit on the streets.

Alan sweeps history up in many of the poems and gives it a good dressing down with all its malcontents of privilege and the harm and influence they have had on working class culture. He calls for a return of books that properly reflect the culture of struggle and which give us the intellectual grounding to fight fascism and right wing populism on all fronts.

Now once more books need to be mobilised
Against the oncoming monsoon of moral
Panic and scapegoating, in the face of a new
Gentrified fascism, a bespoke chauvinism

It is within this book that the richness and inventiveness of language is used to such great effect. Skewed words, new words, old words with new meaning, all are here – taking them back from the right wing media demonization of the poor:

With cloven hooves and “workshy” horns,
Striking Right-twisted attitudes
On plateaus of pack commonality, spice up
Copy till it’s piquant with Scroungerphobic
Soupçon soaking up our lexicon

The state of the nation we are in, with all its uncertainty, chaos, pork barrel stomach churning venal governance, is covered in this collection of searing poems; poems that will make you burn with anger but also with hope. Hope, that the richness of working class culture, with its ability to get beyond conservative notions of an olde englande lost, has always had to adapt, so will always be revolutionary in ways the powerful will never be able to overcome.

You can purchase a copy of Shabbigentile here

alan morrison

¡Viva Barista!

No one notices the poets muttering in mute
Pentameters as they sip cappuccinos,
Oval visages scooped up in coffee spoons,
Like cameos –foam-moustachioed;
Few of them have nerves for revolutionary views,
The politics of Castro aren’t accommodated
At Costa (though Guevara’s an Argentine blend
Finely ground as a goodwill gesture) –
Customers must choose between Trotsky and coffee,
You cannot consume two masters,
Bolshevik subscribers forfeit loyalty cards;
Baristas and Corbynistas rub shoulders
In café chains’ centrally heated exchange…

Capitalism’s spick and span in the polished
Many-levered silver Hydra, a gleaming
Meme machine, alembic altar-piece
Dispensing potent sap in a mystifying
Eucharist of alchemy and cream, worshipful
Suffusions and strange occulting symbols
Embossed on froth tops from milky outpourings
At the twirl of a wrist; Precariat
Of the world, unite!
–and percolate!
Have a cup of coffee on the welfare state
Before it’s finally dismantled into myth
Or picked up by the slate out on the patio,
Endorphins, serotonins, topped up while you wait,
Consumerist prescriptions, snowflakes alfresco…

It’s not religion but coffee that’s the opium
Of the people –French peasants sipped it for centuries
Mistrusting tea as a noxious luxury
Which turned the rich mad, so they stuck to their mud
Under Napoleons; and still today
Coffee is the tipple of the proletariat,
Most popular poison of public opinion…

Whoever would have thought that a bitter brown brew,
Arabic ambrosia, could come to undermine
Democracy, make us accommodate complacency?
Could Karl Marx have predicted capitalism
Embracing the bean and stamping its triumph
Through coffee-fetishism…? The West expresses
Its freedom with coffee in all its dizzying
Varieties and soupy nuances –espresso,
Cappuccino, frappuccino, Americano,
Macchiato, flat white– and endorphin-
Percolating properties that grease anxieties…

Ah! Kierkegaardian granules! Existential
Demitasses!    And the sweating barista
Is a living advert for individualistic
Service, for sacrifice of benefits in fellowship
For tariffs of the self –an embodiment
Of liberty in lubricated labour, Bartender
Of Arts, battery-acid libation bearer…

Heap Street by Hannah Linden

corrie

Image by MEN Media

Coronation Street is no more. Not the show itself but the original set, which was dismantled last year – bulldozers ripped through the Rovers Return and Jack and Vera’s pad sharper than Hilda’s Ogden’s tongue. Gone also has the quotidian mundanity so exciting back in the day; when Corrie’s own Raquel Welch, Pat Phoenix went through men like fags and we were regaled by the regality of the ever-so-well-spoken Annie Walker. It is gone, but only to reappear in its new form; it reminds me of the China Miéville short story ‘Reports of Certain Events in London’ about, ‘autonomous streets which phase in and out of existence, living complex and mysterious lives of their own, and even having romances and violent feuds amongst their alley selves.’ Although, categorised as ‘weird’, it is not such a stretch of the imagination to see streets humanised in that way. (more…)

Bread and Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award

HAPPY NEW YEAR FOLKS!

Bread and Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award

Culture Matters has launched the second Bread and Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award. It is sponsored by the Communication Workers’ Union, and the Musicians’ Union. There are five prizes of £100 each.

The purpose of the Award is to encourage grassroots music-making on themes relevant to working-class life, communities and culture.
Send your entries in the form of audio or live/pre-recorded video files (MP3/4 format or video) via email to entriesculturematters@gmail.com.
The deadline is March 2nd 2019 – so get writing and singing, and send them the results!

(more…)

Working Class Poetry Heroes of 2018 – Poets on the Picket Line

john mcdonnellIt’s been really hot at times this year – pushing into the 30s at times back in the summer. It’s been really cold at times this year – pushing into the minuses at times in the mornings. And yet, they are there, rain or shine, supporting the workers who are having to strike in order to either get proper working conditions or a living wage that they more than deserve. The heroes of Poetry on the Picket Line (PotPL) are the likes of Chip Hamer (Grim Chip), Nadia Drews, Mark Coverdale, and Tim Wells. And their support doesn’t stretch to reading poems, they have raised vital funds for the striking workers. Proper activist poetry, making a real difference to peoples’ lives when they most need it. So after little discussion with myself of the leading contenders, Poets on the Picket Line are Proletarian Poetry’s Working Class Heroes of 2018 (and 2017 & 2016 as well). (more…)

A Cold Soil Waiting by Reuben Woolley

headlineImage.adapt.1460.high.Syrian_deaths_092915.1443561481518There are so many deaths in Syria that the United Nations stopped counting in 2014 because it could no longer rely on its own data. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights, 222,114 civilians had been killed between March 2011 and September 2018

I drew a sad child because my brother died. When I am sad I draw.” (11 year old girl, internally displaced in Iraq)

There have been an estimated 85,000 child deaths in Yemen over the past three years due to famine. ‘For children under the age of five this situation is proving a death sentence’ (Bhanu Bhatnagar, Save the Children) 

Child casualties for 2017 in Afghanistan stood at 3,179 (861 killed and 2,318 injured) – a 10% drop from 2016.

We cannot sleep day and night due to the frightening sounds of firing,’ an 11-year-old girl told Unama (The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan)

Delphine says that three of her four children, ages three, four and six – as well as her 28-year-old husband – were shot dead when rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of the Central African Republic (MNLC) attacked their village

‘If I close my eyes I think of my friends, the school and all my favourite places at home: everything there is better than here. They ruined everything for us. I just want to go to school, and learn a job and work! Here we have nothing, only this tent with no electricity.’ (Firas, 16 years old, internally displaced in Iraq)

A child soldier poses with a libyan helmAn estimated 2,000 to 3,000 children, sometimes as young as 9, are currently enlisted in the Somali armed forces. According to Unicef, the situation is currently getting worse because the militia have transformed schools into recruitment centres and forced teachers to turn their students into child soldiers’ 

My squad is my family, my gunis my provider, and protector, and my rule is to kill or be killed.”(Ishmael Beah, child soldier Sierra Leone)

‘Last week (in late October), over 250,000 children across Syria are sitting for their national Grade 9 exams, including students who have benefited from the UNICEF-supported remedial education programme in Tartous.’

“Aside from all the academic support I received at the centre, the teachers believed in me so much and lifted me up,” says Naya with a smile. “They became my friends and family,” (Naya, aged 16, internally displaced in Syria)

Me at Newcastle StanzaReuben Woolley has been published in quite a few magazines such as Tears in theFence, Lighthouse, The Interpreter’s House, the anthology: TheDizziness of Freedom, Ink Sweat & Tears, Proletarian Poetry, And Other Poems and The Poet’s Shed. He has five books to his name, the latest being ‘some time we are heroes’, published by The Corrupt Press (2018). He has a book forthcoming, this hall of several tortures, to be published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press (September 2019). He edits the online magazines, I am not a silent poet and The Curly Mind.

 

a cold soil waiting

not dead i say not
yet.they deal in cold
bodies / hope
for some
                 disaster

                 i will
not lie
in such dark
matter.it is
short a
way & not to move

i lose a wrinkled
face no means is
this not human
                          a possible / a
slight stretch of poor
accord.tell them where
a child sleeps in cold
ground / where they fuck
a lost mother still
there are no titles.these
pages blank they
tremble
               never
a peace

& rain falls dry.bring
a life / a sickness
in this black earth

We Drink for Them by Casey Bailey

In 1999, we used to live in Camberwell, South London in a top floor flat that overlooked the Camberwell Road and all of its ‘activities’. Besides watching Concorde fly over in the late afternoon with my newborn son, there would often be exchanges of different points of view on the street below. Then into the night, the club across the road would see the usual overspill of happy/violent drunks. However, maybe it was because I had already lived in London for seven years, or had known violence from living in Coventry, but I never felt threatened or in danger. Up the road in Loughborough Junction, there was a number of gang related murders, but otherwise it felt relatively peaceful. (more…)

Spirit of ’79 by Stanley Notte

cov 2021In 2021, Coventry will be the UK’s city of culture; the second city, after Hull in 2017. I am sure there is an air of excitement in the city, and the times I have gone back recently, there is certainly talk but as yet little knowledge of what it will entail. Us poets are hopeful of getting a chair at the table, but what will be the shoe-ins? Theatre, with the figurehead being the Belgrade Theatre, will be a hub of the arts, as no doubt will the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum; both in recent times mixing the contemporary with the nostalgic. And I think it is nostalgia, that music will take as its starting point. (more…)