Month: November 2015

Driftwood Detroit by Julie Hogg

Imagine a city built from nothing. A city that didn’t begin its life as a series of villages. A city, once a wasteland that now houses hundreds of thousands of people who work in the purpose-built factories, to make goods for the capitalist world in order to service a communist dream.


Lanzhou Xinqu is said to be China’s newest city, hewn out of the country’s northwest mountains, which by 2020 will have half a million inhabitants. These cities literally start completely empty. Such utilitarianism has given rise to the most aggressive form of industrial development in human history. One that is driven by a technological revolution backed by authoritarian rule. What will happen when a particular city’s utility ends, especially if only one product is being made? Will they simply close the city like a shop?

The lessons from western democracies, similarly driven by capitalist development, is not a good one. Local economies, founded on a single product or industry, are at the mercy of fickle and itinerant globalisation. The poster child of such a change is Detroit, the motor city. Once a thriving metropolis, now whole swathes of it are empty, with the population dropping by 25% in the first ten years of this century.

We saw something similar in the UK at a smaller scale with the mining industry, and now more recently in steel. As the base price of steel falls, the owners such as Tata in the North-east of England decide that’s it – up FullSizeRendersticks and leave. Julie Hogg’s poem, Detroit Driftwood is a Philip Levine inspired lament for Middlesbrough, where in nearby Redcar over 2,000 workers will lose their jobs. “A city is being sedated/Jesus Christ where are you now!/Listen, for God’s sake, to the almost incidental/silver-tongued debates.” (more…)

The Schoolboys by Andrew McMillan

I was once part of a team carrying out a Gender Audit of an academic institute, one involved in the field of international development. I ran a focus group with the senior male professors and got them to role play their female research fellows, for whom their career prospects were far more limited. It was one of the most hilarious and depressing experiences of my professional career. They simply couldn’t do it, and when they tried they were so lacking in empathy, it was frankly embarrassing. It was an expression of this dominant culture, one practised by those who held power in the institution and had no awareness of how it affected those who were not white, middle-aged men.

My sons look different – well, different to the majority of boys their age; they have long hair of ever-changing colours (red, bleach blonde, black), have in the past wore eye make-up, and their clothes are black. Gay, faggot, queer, are terms regularly used by passers-by at them, and sometimes those looking for trouble. The currency of such a derogatory term has increased massively in the past five years among people. It is an indicator of the way in which, what lies beneath can easily come to the fore, to the mainstream. In other contexts it is this type of behaviour that blocks pathways to opportunity for many people who look different. It engenders a fear, a dislike of ‘others’, whether they be refugees, a woman breastfeeding in public, or people with ginger hair.

Andrew Author PhotoAndrew McMillan’s poem, The Schoolboys shows the subtlety of this type of discrimination; the one that lurks and only comes out at particular times, one that is not the whim of a teenage child either, but from someone who has for many years possibly not seen such behaviour as exhibited by the subjects of the poem. (more…)

Sorry by Amir Darwish

I used to play football for a Catholic school old boys team. At the time, I never thought much about the background of the lads playing (first generation English born Irish). We all believed in a United Ireland, sympathised with the Republican cause, but it was never really spoken about. When playing football however, I began to notice the divide amongst the different teams. Our lads would often be called a dirty Fenian, or IRA bastards by the white teams. Then there were all english-defence-league-attack-funnyPakistani teams, West Indian etc., who no doubt received racist abuse during matches. In fact, I remember the Irish manager of our team, once being cut up by a black driver on the way to a game and shouting, “You fucking black bastard, get back to your own country”, without any sense of irony. This was the 1980s, and time moves on, you would hope.

It used to be ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’ where racism was casual in everyday use. However, we seem to live in a time where the racists think it a clever ‘political’ move, to couch their discrimination in a fight against ‘extremism’; which in today’s heated planet reads as anyone who’s a Muslim, or looks like a Muslim – I recently saw a picture of the Brighton Pavilion, where the English Defence League mistook it for a Mosque. It of course drew much bile from gullible racists. The latest incarnation of such a political strategy are Britain First, who in a documentary tried to show their ‘non-racist’ political opposition to mega-Mosques, yet when confronted by a man of sub-continent origin, shouted back at him, “Go back to the desert.”

amir darwishYou would think that all of this is beyond satire, but not for Amir Darwish, who in Sorry gives us so many things to laugh, marvel and cry about – “Abdul in the US is sorry for what so and so did;/He does not know him but he is sorry anyway”, or “If we forget to apologise for something, never mind,/We are sorry for it without even knowing it.(more…)

The Wake, and I, Agitator by Matt Duggan

Many on the Left in Scotland voted for independence from the United Kingdom in last year’s referendum; and many of those of the same persuasion in England supported that position. I didn’t, but fully understand why the Scots wanted away from Westminster control. I tend towards a more internationalist, even idealistic/impractical anarchist position – given their history, I am not a great fan of countries, especially when it comes to abstract notions such as pride, which often lead us into wars.

Nationalism tends to have two political faces united by a strong feeling of injustice. In developing countries throughout Africa and Asia, this injustice was real and came from a position of weakness and disenfranchisement. But the other nationalistic face, comes from a position of power, where they feel either under threat, or in the case of the Nazis, was deeply ideological and needed to be perpetuated throughout the world.

My fear for Scottish independence was that it would give rise to this second type of English nationalism, and the bull necked, shaven educated view that comes with it (as well as the possibility of a permanent Tory government in England). That doesn’t forego any discussion about England’s position in the world by the Left. Billy Bragg for example, has been doing this for years, and has even called for an English parliament. Poets have also been part of that conversation, as highlighted in a great review by Peter Riley, of Simon Smith’s Navy and Steve Ely’s Englaland.

20150808_152657It is most often individuals, who have influenced the history of a country; and sometimes ones who have not garnered great attention. Matt Duggan’s two poems, The Wake, concerning the almost mythological Hereward, and I, Agitator about Wat Tyler, nicely illustrate the lives of two men involved in different periods of English history. The Wake, takes the turbulent time of the 11th century during the Norman Conquest and resistance led by the likes of Hereward the Wake. “My country crippled under ember skies/land courted in blood and black bile,/the last king of England has died/a battle paced on my brethren isle.” As Matt explains, “I am drawn to characters from history that we rarely hear about these days, so, I wanted to write a longer piece about Hereward and how he became ‘The Wake’. Even today people know very little about his life, was he just a myth or was Hereward a real man bent on revenge, or maybe, just a story used to scare children?” And Matt takes a similar approach when portraying the life of the infamous Wat Tyler, who led the Peasant’s Revolt against the original Poll Tax of Richard II some three hundred years later. (more…)