A Poetic Coupling of the Communist Manifesto by Peter Raynard (with Karl Marx)
Counting in at around 12,000 words, can there be a more influential book with so relatively few words, than the Communist Manifesto? Today (21st February, 2018) is said to be the 170th anniversary of its publication. Written in a six-week rush, after the Communist League imposed a deadline on Marx, its take up has been phenomenal and its relevance remains today, if not more so.
Much is planned to mark the occasion, especially as it is also the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth on May 5th. I have read the Manifesto a number of times over the years. However, as a poet, I hadn’t given it…
‘There is nothing one man will not do to another.’ (The Visitor, Carolyn Forché)
On 7th January 1915 the war in Europe was at a stalemate. Soldiers were still dying for an unknown cause but the papers in the UK at least, were headlined with floods that covered much of the country. On the following day, the future UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George, in response to the war not ‘being over by Christmas’, said that half a million new volunteers should not be ‘thrown away in futile enterprises’ and by ‘this intermittent flinging …. against impregnable positions’.
‘Tumbling over hills, likes waves of the sea/Staggering on, attracted magnetically by Death.’ (At the Beginning of the War, Peter Baum, 1915)
When you look at the iconic picture taken of the German city of Dresden in 1945, it is as though the statue of the Rathausturm, known as ‘Die Gute’ (the Goodness – a personification of kindness), is pointing in disbelief at the utter devastation wrought by the British, where an estimated 25,000 people (many of them civilians) were killed. Almost five years previously in November 1940, my home town of Coventry, was heavily bombed by the Germans because of its industry and munitions factory. Although the death toll (estimated c560+) was far less than in Dresden, it was still massively devastating in terms of the damage done to the city, which took years to rebuild.
The greatest symbol of that destruction is the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral. I still go up its tower, St Michael’s, and two things stay with me when I look at the view; the…
A Fish Rots From The Head: A Poetic and Political Wake (published by Culture Matters) is a flash anthology of poetry and artwork, by around 100 poets and artists from England, Scotland and Wales. It expresses the fury and betrayal felt by working people about the leadership of this country – the mendacity, selfishness, corruption, smears on opponents and disregard for the general public shown by leading figures in the Johnson government.
This collection of images, parodies, rants, squibs, and full-on poems, put together in less than three weeks, is just part of a tide of satire now sweeping across Britain. It challenges, satirises, despairs, and even dares to laugh at the venal moral hypocrisy of our leaders, whose malignant mixture of callousness and ineptitude has never made life so hard, in so many ways, for so many working people in this country. Through its demonstration of compassion for the suffering of others, and its protest against wrongdoing by those in high office, this collection of poems and artworks provides a very necessary space and inspiration for solidarity and resistance. Let’s hope the removal vans come soon!
The book is available below. Feel free to download it and share with your friends and networks. You are also free to make a donation towards Culture Matter’s costs, as much as you like, using this button and download the anthology here. In solidarity!
At fifteen I was a punk. I don’t have the spiky hair anymore (don’t have any in fact) but I still like to think I have a little bit of the ethos. My son is fifteen and into much the same type of alternative music, although his relates more to the various genres of heavy metal. It is only now, however, I have spotted a contradiction in our choices, for although I reveled in being different, I also wanted to be part of a group who looked and felt the same.
What we all have in common, whatever identity we feel we have, is the need to belong to something. It may only be with four other boys playing Warhammer in Games Workshop on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or as in Hannah Lowe’s poem Dance Class, being with ‘the best girls posed like poodles at a show‘. But it is often not that…
The late great Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly had many famous sayings that are repeated to this day. The one that struck me growing up was, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Although I have followed football all my life, I have rarely, if ever worn my team’s shirt. For one, I didn’t want to get beaten up by any wayward away fans; and two, I have never liked the tribal allegiance element of the game nor the violence that lies behind it.
Football is also not devoid of influencing national politics to the point of igniting armed conflict as was the case in 1969 between Honduras and El Salvador. The political map influences where teams will play; most notable being that the Israeli…
On This Day She is the new book from Jo Bell, Tania Hershman and Ailsa Holland – a page-a-day history book featuring 366 women who have earned a place in history, but haven’t always got it. You can watch a recent event in which the three of us talked about the book and some of the women in it, here.
History is not just ‘what happened in the past.’ It is the story of what happened in the past. Our existing stories need an overhaul, because women have not been fairly represented in them. There are plenty of women who should have taken their place in any accounts of great deeds and cultural change. If they don’t appear in those accounts, that is not because they weren’t there.
Artists and philosophers are downplayed as the ‘muses’ of men for whom they were…
My year began well. I spent a wonderful week on a Nine Arches retreat in Hartsop with fellow poets, Jane Commane, Jo Bell, Josephine Corcoran, Gregory Leadbetter, and Roy MacFarlane. At that point, COVID was still an inside page and I can’t remember it coming up in conversation. Roll on into the pandemic and I found it increasingly difficult to engage with poetry and the outside world more generally, so withdrew from most things beyond my front gate including social media.
Roughly two weeks ago, my 87 year old Father rang to say he was finally getting his second hip operation. So, although happy for him, the worry began its loop de loop. Despite a delay of over a year, he is one of the lucky ones. Born in the Gorbals in the early ‘30s, he’s been in many a scrape, from cracking his skull aged 3 to gang fights, bar fights, burst ulcer, kidney problems, and now his joints.
My extended family has been relatively lucky in terms of tragedies; but that ended this year, as it has for many people. The tragic irony was that ours wasn’t Covid. My wife’s cousin died in a car crash in April, after an impatient driver tried to overtake on the opposite side of the road, and hit him head on. He was a beautiful person; a teacher in Kent, aged twenty-six and just really starting his adult life. Because of lockdown restrictions, only his mother, father, and sister were able to attend the funeral.
Even though I have not read or written any poetry, I have still thought a lot about it, in particular working class poetry. In recent times, important poetry books of working class life have emerged, such as Caleb Femi’s recent Poor, all of Fran Lock’s brilliant writing, Jay Bernard’s Surge, Chip Hamer’s Class Act, and Julia Webb’s Threat, to name but a few. And I hope that 2021 sees more new voices.
I am most excited for Malika’s Poetry Kitchen 20th anniversary year, with its anthology (out in August) and series of events that will hopefully further fuse race and class within poetry. Malika Booker is one of the most inspiring people I have met, and Malika’s Kitchen is one of the most important things to happen in poetry, and I miss all of the members.
My son is a producer of drill and trap beats so I have been listening to quite a lot of Grime (check out GRM Daily). Some of the lyrics/poetry these young men and women are producing is lit (in my son’s parlance). Writing about poverty, gang violence, prison, it is a vital avenue for working class voices. I like Meekz, but I also love Ghetts’ video ‘Proud Family’ that goes beyond the horror stories, to portray his family life. Poetry can learn a lot from this genre.
Then, in the midst of my breakdown, I cancelled my third book (which was due to be published in two weeks). But after a few calmer weeks, my wonderful publisher and fellow Coventarian Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press, talked me round and the book will now come out in 2022 for my 60th year; although sadly I won’t be part the Coventry City of Culture’s Contains Strong Language weekend in September of next year.
Then, ratatattat eight days ago, my youngest son developed a cough and temperature, and tested positive for Covid. Three days later, my wife tested positive. I have a number of endocrine conditions, which puts me at heightened risk, so my anxiety hit the roof. However, the imperative of looking after the two of them, with the help of my older son, helped ease me away from my own dark thoughts.
Thankfully, he and I tested negative, so we are now running the Covid Hotel to feed my wife and other son and keep their spirits up. But it is exhausting, wearing a mask for most of the day, constantly cleaning, constantly stressed; though ten years a househusband has helped (unlike the so-called progressive Tony Blair, who admitted to not doing his chores – naughty boy). I can only imagine how truly horrendous it has been for nurses and doctors.
I am hopeful that things will be okay over the next day or two as their symptoms are subsiding, and we are nearing the end of enforced isolation. Though the best we could get for our Xmas meal is an Iceland frozen turkey crown – but it only makes me feel more working class 😉
My Father had his operation today, and thankfully it was a success and he should be home before Christmas Day. All of which makes me momentarily believe there is light at the end of a cliché.
I am hoping he can walk again in the New Year, and I have wrote this wee poem for him.
Keep well everyone, and I hope your year has not been terrible, thank you for continuing to follow Proletarian Poetry, even though like an old boxer, I keep trying to retire it. Much love to you all, and come Hogmanay, raise a glass for the sake of your own Auld Lang Syne.
For my Father, life has ever been a braw bricht moonlit nicht But Lauder was no Burns for the Ayrshire Bard’s picture was a fixture on the shelf within a line of our kin. Though my Father never read poetry Burns was the man like Celtic the team whisky the drink leaving Scotland the means to go down South behind auld enemy lines armed with saltire crosses their brogue voices lilting the bars with songs for the displaced who wandered many a weary feet singing their way home for the sake of a fading time for the sake of Auld Lang Syne.
Today’s guest post by Christina Thatcher is a fascinating account of being a working class academic, and the feeling of not fully belonging to your past or present. It tells of her upbringing in the US by hard working parents, doing well at school, then going on to University to study, and now living in the UK working as a Creative Writing Lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University. The poem ‘Subtext’ is from Christina’s brand new collection, How to Carry Fire. You can buy a copy of the book, here:
“I grew up in a working class family. My mom worked on a farm and my dad in a factory. These were physical jobs. When I was a kid, I remember bragging to friends about how strong my mom was: she can lift 50 hay bales. I have a filmic memory too—which plays on repeat—of my dad walking through the back door after work, dropping his car keys, grabbing a Budweiser and heading straight to the couch. His back was a constant ache.
Both my parents valued hard work and believed in the adage that children should ‘be seen and not heard’. I knew better than to bother them with my child-sized worries. After all, my dad’s reply would only ever be ‘wait until you get to the real world, honey, then you’ll know what worries are’. So, my brother and I tried to keep out their way but often found ourselves eavesdropping on adult discussions about work, food and money: how much or how little of it we had. These eavesdropping sessions transformed us in different ways; my brother turned to material goods (‘if only we had a bigger TV…’) while I turned to education (‘a degree is my ticket out…’).
Both my parents were high school drop outs. Although they encouraged me to study and get good grades they frequently spoke about how much they hated school. They joked about how it was a place where children ‘did time’, a necessary evil. Still, when my report card arrived, they never missed an opportunity to say how proud they were of me. Soon, school became my place, the teachers offering their bay-windowed classrooms as safe havens and creative sanctuaries.
In 2004, I graduated high school and then went on to graduate university. After that, I won a scholarship to come to the UK where I completed two Master’s degrees and, very recently, a PhD. Every step of the way, my parents cheered me on from afar but, as I attended class after class, I could feel a gulf opening between us.
As I progressed further into my education, I could feel myself straddling my old life and my new life, never quite feeling at home in either. I had no one really, to introduce me to academia or make it clear what was expected of me. I frequently asked myself: do I belong here? Am I good enough for this?
I tried so hard to quiet these questions and, instead, focus on learning. In addition to my coursework, I practiced handshakes with well-to-do friends, noted down new words to expand my vocabulary, asked for professional clothing advice from university counsellors; but it never felt like enough. Meanwhile, other working class friends and acquaintances would poke fun at me, call me books or professor. Soon, I began to feel like I didn’t belong anywhere.
Now, even as a full-time Creative Writing Lecturer, I am still trying to figure out what it means to be a working class academic, to navigate a world that once seemed so impossibly out of reach. I am still trying to figure out a way to both honour my roots and embrace my new path. One way I am figuring these things out, is by writing poetry.
My new collection How to Carry Fire speaks to my experiences of growing up in America and, much later, moving to Wales. Several poems in this collection deal with class issues but I will leave you with just one today. This poem ‘Subtext’, attempts to capture some of what it means to be both working class and an academic, although, honestly, I still have so much to figure out.”
Christina Thatcher is a Creative Writing Lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University. She keeps busy off campus as Poetry Editor for The Cardiff Review, a tutor for The Poetry School, a member of the Literature Wales Management Board and as a freelance workshop facilitator across the UK. Her poetry and short stories have featured in over 50 publications including The London Magazine, North American Review, Planet Magazine, The Interpreter’s House, and more. She has published two poetry collections with Parthian Books: More than you were (2017) and How to Carry Fire (2020). To learn more about Christina’s work please visit her website: christinathatcher.com or follow her on Twitter @writetoempower.
What the doctor means when he shows you the scan, points
to visceral fat clinging like anguished ghosts to your pancreas,
is that you were poor. He means your body was built on Big Macs,
stacks of Ramen noodles. He means you should never have eaten
those sweet treats dad smuggled from factories, burping up
synthetic mint for weeks. He means you are smarter now.
You know the definition of subcutaneous so your belly must
shrink, assume its correct position. He means you must eat
green leaves until your insides gleam, pop enough blueberries
to grow neurons. He means you must shed your cells
like thousands of colorful scales. Only then will you be new.