capitalism

Saving for the Hamper by Ali Jones

oxfam coop stampsWhen I was young, my mum used to collect stamps. We had a Co-op on the corner. I remember she would come home with the shopping and blue stamps, letting me stick them in to slowly fill the pages until you had enough for a dividend (the books are low value collector’s items these days). The Co-op’s stamps were a response to their competitors’ schemes, especially the catch-all Green Shield stamps, which were very popular during the 1960s and 70s. Its founder, Richard Tompkins went on to set up Argos. These were the precursor to modern-day loyalty cards that now involve you giving them information about your habits through your purchases thereby capturing your ‘loyalty’.

The stamps were first introduced in the United States towards the end of the 19th century; given to customers who paid in cash as opposed to credit. There are though other schemes, especially saving for Christmas, which is implied in Alison Jones’ poem, “Saving for the Hamper”: “There was more to it than I thought, the pulling together Profile Picof pennies/ in a small leather purse and counting them when no one was looking,/ the card left face down on the kitchen table, in anticipation of a stamp.” These schemes were/are targeted at those who may not have bank accounts, or a way in which they have enough extra money at the beginning of December. This was the case for the grandmother in this poem, “I did not see the strange woman/ who woke in the dark and went digging through her pockets,/ knowing she would find nothing more than ghosts and prayers.” The schemes are now fairly widespread, the latest being Toys R Us; this despite a number going bust, sometimes before the Xmas return to its customers, such as Farepak where people tried for years to get their money back without success. Pleasures change, whether it be a computer game, or as in our poem, “The sweetness of boxed dates was as surprising as summer rain,/ and now I know that hope was a wellspring beneath the ground.” Merry Christmas everyone, whatever your faith or time of the year it may be, at least when it comes to the concerns of capitalism.

 

Ali Jones is a teacher, and writer, living in Oxford, England. She holds an MA in English, focused on poetry in domestic spaces and has written poetry in a variety of forms for many years. She is a mother of three. She is interested in the relationships between place and personal, in terms of ancestry, the everyday, geology, folk lore and fairy tales.  Her work has appeared in Fire, Poetry Rivals Spoken Word Anthology, Strange Poetry, Ink Sweat and Tears, Snakeskin Poetry, Atrium, Picaroon Poetry, Mother’s Milk Books, The Lake Magazine, Breastfeeding Matters, Breastfeeding Today and Green Parent magazine. She writes a regular column for Breastfeeding Matters Magazine, and blogs for The Motherload. She was the winner of the Green Parent Writing Prize in 2016, the runner up for the Mother’s Milk prize for prose in 2016, and has also written for The Guardian. Her poetry pamphlets, Heartwood and Omega are forthcoming with Indigo Dreams press in 2018.

 

 Saving for the Hamper

There was more to it than I thought, the pulling together of pennies
in a small leather purse and counting them when no one was looking,

the card left face down on the kitchen table, in anticipation of a stamp.
There’s more to making a celebration than I ever expected,

the small processes of finding one thing to set against another
one thing to leave out, to make do without. The chill of the larder,

the echoes in the meat safe that I did not hear, stilted to lift it
from the reachings of hungry mice. I did not see the strange woman

who woke in the dark and went digging through her pockets,
knowing she would find nothing more than ghosts and prayers.

It was always better than I hoped, the old need keeping us strong,
the anticipation of cardboard boxes and shredded newspaper,

spam, Dundee cake, jellied fruits, Baxter’s soup and beetroot relish,
My grandmother’s cooking always tasted the best. At those times,

I think we had something else with us all along, in the way she worked
hour after hour, back bent beneath the heat, drifting between

house and garden, bringing everything in, currants and plums,
potatoes and peas, turning the soil, not a scrap wasted, ever.

The sweetness of boxed dates was as surprising as summer rain,
and now I know that hope was a wellspring beneath the ground,

as she worked, letting things in, immersed in the purr of the wireless,
bleeding carols through the air, making things possible, gathering us in.

the spaces left bare by matt duggan

Homage_to_Catalonia,_Cover,_1st_EditionIt is seventy years since George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia was published; his personal account of the Spanish Civil War. Now, the papers’ headlines carry the same title, as the people of Catalonia once again go against the Madrid government in a so-called ‘illegal’ referendum on independence. Irrespective of one’s views about the subject of the vote, the state response of violence against all and sundry was abhorrent. Scenes across the region, but in particular Barcelona where much of the media was concentrated, and lest we forget where a terrorist atrocity was carried out along the famous Las Ramblas, showed an elderly woman with blood pouring from her head, another with a woman’s fingers being broken, and many other such beatings.

But this is not the only concern the people of Barcelona have had to fight against. In August of this year there was a demonstration on the streets and beach of the city against the continued building of tourist apartments, which is having a negative effect on local peoples’ access to housing. The head of the local federation of neighbourhood associations (the FAVB), Camilo Ramos who supported the protest, said it ‘demands that Barcelona reconquers spaces that were previously … in citizens’ control, such as la Rambla…; there are increasing problems in the city, such as expulsion of lower income people due to the increase in prices of rents and shopping halls, as well as a growth of flats altered into tourist houses.’

20150808_152657Matt Duggan’s poem, The Spaces Left Bare, reflects on such a protest during a stay in Barcelona; one that can be seen as a wider indicator of heightened capitalism and its effect on peoples’ ability to afford housing in major cities and conurbations throughout the world; something that echoes developments from San Francisco to Delhi and no doubt beyond. And like in London leaves many places uninhabited, at night the room lights up for no one/ then fades as dusk wakes the clock; / where guests will never reserve or stay.’ In the future, will they say this is a homage to capitalism? Is the Spanish government’s actions a homage to democracy? I think not.

Matt Duggan’s poems have appeared in Osiris, The Journal, Ink, Sweat, and Tears, Into the Void, Black Light Engine Room, Prole, The Dawntreader, Algebra of Owls. In 2015 Matt won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry with his first full collection Dystopia 38.10 http://erbacce-press.webeden.co.uk/#/matt-duggan/4590351997. In 2016 he won the Into the Void Poetry Prize with his poem Elegy for Magdalene. In 2017 Matt did his first reading in Boston in the U.S. and has been invited back to be headline poet at the prestigious Poetry Reading Series held at Cambridge Public Library in April 2018 where he will also be doing his first readings in New York with beat poet George Wallace. Matt is working on a new collection Look What We’ve Become.

 

 

The Spaces Left Bare

The only human figures to pass on these walls
are the shadows in opposing rooms
those reflections

                              during the summer months
bounce from the ceiling like ghosts dressed in black suits.
Air is stale and needs recycling
windows gleam with no visible fingerprints,
immaculate laminated tiles

                              underfloor heating
                                                  the spaces are left bare. ……

Where beneath the plush gothic balcony
a homeless man sleeps in the open air
at night the room lights up for no one
then fades as dusk wakes the clock;
where guests will never reserve or stay.

Chip Van by Lorraine Carey

tesco farmsThe supermarket giant Tesco did a funny thing recently. They invented farms. They began selling food items produced on farms that don’t exist. So now you can buy chickens from Willow Farms, diced beef from Boswell Farms, and a variety of fruit from Rosedene Farms. The amazing thing is, they can get away with it. But the reason they did it actually makes sense, for they realised that people still want to feel that the food they buy is made locally, and not in a factory. The tragic irony is that it is the real farms upon which these imagined ones are modelled, which are suffering at the hands of this type of big capitalism.

vans shoesOne of the contradictions of capitalism, or should I say one of its cons, is the issue of choice. On the ugly face of it, your choice of purchase, whether it be an earring or a car, is endless. You can get a seeming boundless range of designs; for example, when researching chip vans for this feature, I came across the popular shoe brand Vans, and yes, you’ve guessed it (unless you haven’t) was an image of a pair of shoes covered in chips – you can also get a pair with pepperoni pizza design. But the contradiction in all of this, is that as consumers we tend not to go outside our comfort zones. We wear remarkably similar clothes, eat a small range of foods. Hence trends emerge, promoted by social media, the most recent of which sees half the western world running around playing Pokemon Go.

Within this advanced stage of capitalism, a concentration of ownership by large corporations, puts pay to many small businesses which simply can’t compete with such economies of scale and bullying marketing tactics. You have to go ‘niche’ if you want to succeed; to carve yourself a slice of choice no-one has yet had a taste of. But even here, big business will eat it up. Take real ale, for example. For years the likes of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) supported such producers, but now it has been taken up and turned into ‘craft’ ales so as to make you feel that is more artisanal. Similarly, local coffee shops are under attack from the main chains such as Starbucks.

lorraine careySmall family run businesses and trades have been squeezed from such practices for many years. But I think one of the businesses that hasn’t been corporatised in this way, is your fish and chip shop (with the exception of Harry Ramsden’s in the UK, which is now a series of franchises). Lorraine Carey’s nostalgic poem, “The Chip Van,” takes us back to a time when such food outlets were more ubiquitous. (more…)

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.

IF

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…)

Monopoly by Catherine Smith

monopolyI think we have all seen those World War Two prisoner of war movies, where the men connived their escape in secret, digging tunnels with makeshift, man-made tools, then releasing the soil from their trousers in the exercise yard. The men did however, receive assistance from their respective military services back home. One of the most ingenious of the strategies for escape came in the early 1940s from MI9, the British secret service unit responsible for escape and evasion; they hatched a plan with British Toy maker, John Waddington Ltd to develop the game of Monopoly for the imprisoned men. They set up bogus humanitarian organisations to get the games into the camps, but the aim was not to brighten the spirits of the men through this capitalist game, but to hide tools in small boxes within the package. The most important development however, and why Waddington were brought in, was their ability to produce silk maps; these were easy to hide (down boots) and quiet, unlike their paper counterpart. So the game was instrumental in the war effort.

100_1683Monopoly has been around for over a hundred years, although it was only licensed as such in 1935 and has been the joy, and frustration of many families across the world since then. It was originally intended to educate people in the iniquities of monopolistic capitalism; but as Catherine Smith’s poem beautifully shows, the competitive nature of capitalism, particularly between a parent and child can overcome any benevolent thoughts. “Almost bankrupt and only recently released from jail,/she owes her ten year old/four hundred quid in rent/….she pleads poverty.” But the boy is unrelenting, “He points out/she could give him Leicester Square,” showing no sign of compassion for his rival’s predicament. “She thinks how/this is what capitalism does to children,/-brutalises them.” So she fights back, “she’ll take her chances,/and hangs onto Leicester Square.” She does this not by rational economic thinking but through human experience; “She likes/the Japanese men with their cameras…/she likes the pigeon shit, the café/ with the gilt-framed photo of the Queen.” And I guess the moral of the story, whether it be to free prisoners or help educate our young, we need to be careful of the multi-headed hydra that capitalism can become, and how “no favours asked” is a rare and touching thing. (more…)

Poems from “How the bookmaker feels about the dogs” by Joey Connolly

You may not have noticed but the days are getting longer. Shops’ opening hours seem extend to meet the needs of everyone’s body clock. Superstores are 24/6, bars open to 2am, some banks on Sunday. It seems it is only doctors’ surgeries that escape the creep of capitalist opportunity. One that strikes me, given my previous life, is when walking home late evening to see the bookmakers (betting shops) still open till 10pm; when I worked in a bookmakers in the 1980s, there was no night racing, far fewer race meetings, no slot machines, you were never open on a Sunday, and there were no PDQ machines to pay by card – you could only lose what was in your pocket. Now their shops are open 12 hours a day seven days a week – 24 hours if you count online.

I feel that more than ever, being in a bookies is all about waiting and counting; whether it’s the time of the next race, your next win, the odds, how much you’ve got to bet with, how much you can afford to lose, how much you actually lose that gives you that sickening feeling when you walk home to face your family (it is rarely the more positive alternative). The same applies to the bookmaker/owner but more so for the person working on the till. How do you fill the time and what counts?

joey connollyJoey Connolly passes the time writing poems when he’s working in the bookies, which is a great way to pass the time, even when you’re being interrupted; and in a series of poems from ‘How the bookmaker feels about the dogs‘ he portrays this mix of creativity and capitalist intrusion very well. ‘It’s a position I struggle to reconcile,/naturally. But it’s more interesting than an office/and it’s anyway impossible/to stand completely outside/of Capital’s relentless comprehension in this day, this age.’ It is a frustrating position and not like any other retail position, because you are dealing with people for a number of hours during a day – they don’t all just walk in, place a bet and walk out again. ‘I trudge to the bookies where I work and will find time/to write this….and will concern money…– but also/other important things; all of which/are suspended to take Joe’s throw-of-the-dice tricast,/Joe, who is/a real misogynist.’ (more…)

Midlands Kids by Jane Commane

IMG_2830Like Jane Commane I was born in Coventry; my parents came to the city in the late 1950s from Glasgow and Gateshead as part of one of the biggest internal migrations of the post war era.

So I count myself as being one of Jane’s Midland’s Kids, who ‘grew up on the back seats of the long-gone marques of British manufacturing‘. Our first car was a second hand Wolseley, which was so big its backside stuck out of the garage. Not one for patriotism, we nonetheless bought Midland made cars thereafter – the ones ‘slightly crap even new‘. Coventry was a car park, like lots of Midlands cities, and there was many a child left on back seats, particularly in pub car parks, brought out pop and crisps, whilst Daddy had a few jars for the road. (more…)