Henry Hunt also known to some as the ‘Orator’, realised his talent for public speaking in the electoral politics of Bristol. Henry was highlighting the corruption of the ruling classes and the high tariffs given through mercantilist trade, where only landowners would benefit from it. Henry gave a radical speech at St Peter’s Field in Manchester on the 16th August 1819 which is known today as Peterloo (Named after the Battle of Waterloo). The Peterloo Massacre was caused by the over-reaction of local authorities, where 18 people were murdered. (more…)
It 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.’
Matt 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
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
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.
Like 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’.
Those 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.
Matt 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…)
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.
It 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…)