Voices from the Charcoal by Matt Duggan

trump-juniorLike Father, like son. Well, when your father is Donald Trump, those footsteps should not be ones that you follow. But when nurture combines with nature, Junior treads where he has been fomented. DT Junior, has likened Syrian refugees to a bowl of skittles; if among the bowl there were a few bad ones (and he means really bad, as in blow you, and themselves up bad), would you grab a handful? It is not worth engaging in the argument against this besides saying, ‘Fuck off, will ya!” At the same time, it is the annual UN jamboree in New York, and the UK’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May is there talking about, yes you’ve guessed it, “Refugees”, or is it “Migrants”? She is urging global measures to tackle ‘uncontrolled migration’.

lifejacketsThose who came from another land, whether back in the day, or last week, are the currency of conversation and policy debate and inaction, at the present time. They are used in debates about Brexit, the war in Syria, lone terror attacks in the US, co-ordinated ones in Paris and Brussels. They are said to be the reason for Angela Merkel’s weak results in last week’s election in Germany, pushing her to admit ‘mistakes’ over her refugee policy. The obvious contradiction in all of this, is that in an increasingly interdependent world, there is shock that people who are in situations of war and poverty, look for a better life for themselves. Drawbridges are being pulled up, fences erected, tunnels closed. Fear of the ‘other’ is rife.

20150808_152657Matt Duggan’s poem “Voices from the Charcoal”, captures these fluid, turbulent and fateful times; “fishing boats once floating saviours for the persecuted/now we build walls from those we’ve liberated; /Cutting off our own ears /awakening a poisonous serpent for oil.” The powerful extract economically from other countries, through war for oil, then leave a mess that goes beyond the borders they originally set post-WW1. Matt reflects this marrying of history, “Those dusting jackboots are stomping/on the gravestones of our ancestors,/though we’d fill a whole lake with blood oil /we’d starve our own children leaving them to die on its banks.(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.


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…)

China by Clare Pollard

There is some doubt as to whether Zhou Enlai (it was not Mao) ever said, “Too early to say,” when responding to the question, “What significance did the French Revolution have on the world?” True or not, I think it is not too early to say now. The year 1789 was seen as the end of the divine rule by monarchy and hardcore nepotism. However, countries began to develop in a more paradoxical way through incremental freedom of the individual, innovation and trade coupled with exploitation and war. Today is no different. Western democracies develop through free market neo-liberal economics based on a democratic model that exports both goods and services backed up by war and centralised control.

But the reason I think we are in ‘interesting times’ is that in the past twenty years, the model of communist development has also embraced free market economics; but instead of a social democrat capitalist end game, the benefits of capitalism are being used to achieve a socialist utopia. We may not be at the end of history but you have a situation in China (and Russia too), of a ‘by whatever means necessary’ model of development; yes, let’s use the market model to create wealth, but be clear this is only to finance a socialist revolution.


photo by Hayley Madden

This creates all kinds of contradictions in the country, which are perfectly summed up in Clare Pollard’s eponymous poem, China;
you have some of the most polluted cities in the world, “I saw skies so full of filth the stars were all put out,/and bags dip and fly across the flat, farmed fields/in their thousands – a plague of doves.” Whilst at the same time huge investment in green technology and growth. People now own their own businesses for private wealth and ownership at hugely different ends of the scale: “Dumplings were sold on every cluttered corner -/their dour, pinched faces sweating in bamboo stacks -/that cost 10Y or so, nothing to us.” Whilst at the same time controlling their freedom of expression and wider human rights: “We bought a watch where Mao’s arm moves when it ticks:/complicit in how time runs evil into kitsch.” Present day China is incomparable to the evils carried out to get the country to where it is today, but as Clare says in the final line: “with all this harm done/can it really come all right in the end?” (more…)