Mike Quille

Mike Quille

Mike Quille is a writer, reviewer and chief editor of Culture Matters.

Climate Matters
Friday, 06 November 2020 16:23

Climate Matters

Published in Books

Climate Matters: A collaboration between Riptide Journal and Culture Matters, edited and introduced by Virginia Baily, Sally Flint and Mike Quille

In 2019 we challenged writers and artists to address the burning topic of the climate crisis and question its relationship with capitalism. In 2020 Covid–19 erupted and spread across the world.

The whole of this anthology has been assembled under the on-going but ever-changing restrictions imposed by this pandemic, which has necessarily coloured the content in ways that we could not have foreseen when we put out the call for submissions.

The collection makes for sobering reading, but it is also beautiful, insightful, occasionally uplifting and leavened with humour, mainly of the gallows kind. And it is also necessary, because the first step to action is to seek the truth, not to flinch or seek token responses, not to close our eyes and turn away, not to shrug or be side-lined by despair or eco-terror, or the magnitude of the vested interests, including our own, at stake.

Greta Thunberg was right to excoriate the rich and powerful gathered at Davos earlier this year, for having done ‘basically nothing’ about the issue. But as we have seen throughout the pandemic, an economy geared to the maximisation of profits, and a state shaped to facilitate that goal, means that our society is poorly equipped to plan for an emergency at all, whether that be a health emergency or a climate emergency. Climate change and the coronavirus are hitting the poorest hardest, and capitalism is making things worse.

Climate Matters is a powerful expression of the inextricable connections between capitalism, Covid-19 and the climate crisis, and the need for a new, democratic and socialist vision of how we see our world and our place in it – a new definition of what constitutes a good life.

Through words, metaphors, images and scientific argument, this collection brings to life the nature of the cliff edge on which we teeter. It is the clamour of clear, resounding voices calling from that cliff top, saying that we need to act now and act fast, because our survival depends on it.

The book is available to download here, and is also available as a free ebook - please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

No Home for You Here: an interview with Adam Theron-Lee Rensch
Wednesday, 04 November 2020 16:54

No Home for You Here: an interview with Adam Theron-Lee Rensch

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mike Quille interviews Adam Theron-Lee Rensch about his new book No Home for You Here: A Memoir of Class and Culture

Q. Can you tell us about why you decided to write the book; what the book is about; and why you chose the ‘memoir’ genre to write it in?

A. I was very resistant to writing a traditional memoir, and the first draft of the book included very little personal narrative. While I’ve written about my life and experiences in essays, I believe the memoir or “creative nonfiction” genre tends to perpetuate neoliberal narratives that eliminate structural critique in favour of emotional identification. Everything becomes about the writer as an individual: their suffering, their triumph, etc. Who cares about the larger set of social relations that make this possible? What matters is what is moving enough to sell copy. So, I knew I didn’t want to play into this.

At the same time, I realized my life was something of a convenient structure onto which I could hang my critique: I was born in 1984, came of age in the post-9/11 landscape, and internalized the liberal obsession with meritocracy. If I was going to make something of myself, I thought, I had to become educated. The middle-class fantasy of managerial creativity was baked into how I saw the world, and how I imagined solutions to its problems. I had to unlearn all of that. I think the “left” more broadly also needs to unlearn this, and I’m hoping that people will find something useful in reading about my own process.

Q. Yes, and one of the ways you are clearly hoping that readers will ‘unlearn’ their political outlook is through a more accurate understanding of their class position, and the importance of class-based politics. Can you tell us about your own journey to a clearer understanding of class, and your thoughts on how the left can achieve a cultural shift towards a greater class consciousness amongst working people?

The biggest obstacle for me in understanding class was, as it is for many, the cultural and aesthetic markers that are often confused for class: education, taste, etc. I grew up in Ohio, surrounded primarily by poor and working-class whites. For a long time, I was ashamed of this fact, and attempted to leave it behind by embracing a stereotypically “cultured” aesthetic. I placed a lopsided emphasis on “ideas,” that elusive resource utilized by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the so-class professional-managerial class. There was something seductive about feeling smart, but at the end of the day it did not change my material conditions. I was still struggling to find reliable work, and was in debt from all that schooling I was certain would bring me success.

A few years after the financial crisis of 2008, I moved back to Ohio. Slowly, and admittedly with some resistance, I began to see that all the stuff I thought mattered was not very important. It was mainly a way for me to rationalize my own position in the hierarchy: I may be poor, but at least I’m not stupid! Sadly, this is still a common reason for many to justify inequality and suffering. I think the first major step in creating class consciousness would be to understand that it has nothing to do with individual beliefs and traits of this sort. You likely belong to the same class as many of your partisan adversaries—the working class—and while it may feel uncomfortable to demand justice for them as well it is nevertheless the only way forward.

What I mean is that a majority of workers receive a wage that barely covers their cost of living. It is enough to cover rising costs in housing, food, and insurance, perhaps a credit card or car payment, but not enough to get ahead. Many are not “lucky enough” to even make this much. These are the conditions that shape the lives of most people. They are material, not cultural, and they unite workers in a way that other categories cannot.

The left’s best chance at organizing a broad movement is to focus on these material conditions that a diverse population has in common. This is of course easier said than done, because cultural divisions are powerful. Resentment is a logical reaction to suffering, and it is easier to blame someone than it is to accept that your pain is simply the result of an indifferent economic logic. But again, I think focusing on material condition is a necessary first step toward creating a political movement that a mass of people find appealing.

Q. Ok so if we need to develop a new culture of class-based politics which will unite the mass of working people, this will mean engaging in so-called ‘culture wars’ against the dominant forces that shape our culture. In this context, what do you think is the responsibility of cultural workers – artists, poets, writers, film-makers, playmakers etc. – to help our class develop and apply a more class conscious approach to social and political campaigns?

This is a good but difficult question, but one I think about a lot given my own position as a writer who values culture objects like novels and films. I am not “influential” in any meaningful sense, at least compared to mainstream writers and filmmakers who reach the general public. Nevertheless, I am conflicted by the role works of culture play. It is something of a cliché to bemoan the fact that art is a commodity, and that works of film or literature, even those with explicitly political commitments, must in some sense appeal to a market for distribution. But acknowledging the cliché doesn’t change that fact. The market’s primary function is to relegate politics to the realm of consumer preference: this film appeals to your political sensibilities, that novel appeals to someone else’s, etc. In my more cynical moments, I often wonder if art is not inherently conservative, even when its aesthetic is outwardly radical.

At the same time, I don’t think being a philistine is a useful position for anyone to take. So, what we’re left with is a tension between market forces and the individual commitments of cultural workers, the latter of whom must court the market for an audience. Their politics, much like the critics handing out prestigious awards, tend to skew liberal. But I would say if there’s one thing cultural workers can do it is challenge the sort of narratives the market finds so appealing, and that justify the neoliberal worldview of individual adversity and triumph. What this would look like, exactly, I’m not sure. Class relations have nothing to do with “the individual” in the narrative sense, or even “lived experience,” to borrow a term used a lot these days. Perhaps the role of cultural workers is simply to find ways to make objects that acknowledge this. I think a film like Parasite comes close: it is a film first and foremost about class, and adopts genre tropes to offer a description of class relations, which is totally smart and useful.

Q. Thank you! There is a lot there to think about, and that resonated with our approach to culture on Culture Matters. Can I now turn to the main political and cultural issue in the United States – the presidential election. In the light of the need for more class-based politics, what’s your take on Trump’s presidency and the class consciousness of different segments of the American people?

Contrary to popular belief, I think class consciousness does exist in America. The problem is that it’s the wrong class. The wealthy have a keen sense of their position, and as our political “spectrum” shows they are willing to put aside differences to make sure they maintain their power. Indeed, bipartisanship is never greater than when workers try to organize or fight back.

There are many obstacles preventing widespread class consciousness among workers, from the shame of admitting one is poor to the atomization characteristic of what I like to call “curated capitalism.” The algorithm has done a lot to fracture any sense of a common or “mainstream” culture that everyone interacts with. Everything can be tweaked and personalized, and soon you find yourself online in communities of people just like you, never needing to interact with anyone outside of it. Add to this our lack of organized labour, our culture wars, and a deep suspicion toward the possibility of change, and you’re left with a country of alienated people who are often too exhausted to do anything except find small comforts in leisurely activities.

Adam head shot

Adam Theron-Lee Rensch

Trump’s presidency has been painted as some sort of populist uprising, but I don’t think that’s quite right. About 110 million people didn’t vote in 2016, mostly those in the lower income brackets. If anything, the absence of working class participation is the real populist revolt, but this fact is never talked about seriously. Instead, we continue to inflate the problem of the “white working class” who of course is described as inherently authoritarian, racist, etc.

Why? Because it justifies the worldview of those who benefit from our class structure, and ensures that the discourse focuses on criticizing individuals (bigots) and not social relations. After all, if you’re a manager or media personality, even one with left-leaning politics, do you really want workers to organize and take away what power and influence you have? It’s not a surprise that during the 2020 primary, Elizabeth Warren’s base was educated professionals who preferred her top-down managerial approach to Bernie’s bottom-up solidarity. They were the ones who’d get to manage the “revolution”!

Q. Thank you. Finally, what is your view on the result of the election, in terms of the need to develop and promote class-based and socialist politics in the U.S.? What does the future hold for the U.S. and the world generally?

The 2020 election was in a lot of ways a missed opportunity for class-based politics in America. Sanders never fully recaptured the insurgency he represented in 2016, and I think his exit was seen by the establishment as an indictment of policies that prioritize the needs of the working class. As a result, the “choice” between Biden and Trump was basically aesthetic: which version of austerity do you prefer?

Moving forward, I think there needs to be a serious conversation about what “the left” represents. The culture wars of the Bush era never really went away, they were just given new descriptions. To be somewhat reductive, the Christian Right was replaced by the Fascist alt-right, and the Latte Left was replaced by the anti-fascist Left. A lot of self-described socialists still reflexively approach working people as incapable of contributing to the movement. They are often seen as too reactionary, or too uneducated, unable to participate in the discourse properly. As someone who has spent too much time in academia, I feel comfortable saying we need to stop taking our cues from intellectual vanguards and prominent media personalities who remain mired in the culture wars. Under this approach, material interests of working people are not always represented within this dynamic. This can make the left’s project alienating and incapable of attracting broad support.

I am not smart enough to offer an easy solution to this problem. What I will say is that we need to focus more on those material interests that impact a massive segment of the population: wages, insurance, housing, and debt. The U.S. economy is not productive in the way it once was, which means the source of exploitation has changed. While industrial capital still exists, much of it has been outsourced and replaced by finance capital. Monopoly rent-seeking has become a critical problem and effectively resurrected feudalism.

In other words, far fewer American workers are being paid to produce goods that other workers buy to realize profits. Rather, profits are realized by charging workers to use services. This is the Silicon Valley model as seen with Netflix, Spotify, and others. Amazon, for example, generates billions each year simply by charging people to host websites. How do these companies remain profitable? They do so by cutting costs, not by hiring more workers to produce more goods. So, focusing our energy on that parasitic model of profit extraction would have the greatest impact in changing the power relations to benefit working people.

Bread and Roses Poetry Award Anthology 2020
Tuesday, 27 October 2020 08:54

Bread and Roses Poetry Award Anthology 2020

Published in Poetry

Handbook for 2021 is the judges' selection of 40 entries to the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2020, including the seven winners. Image above: Martin Rowson.

The coronavirus pandemic this year has had a devastating human cost, with over 60,000 lives lost to date. The health crisis has also exposed the scourges of vast and growing poverty, inequality and low pay that continue to blight class-divided British society, after a decade of Tory cuts to
our public services. The achievements of the National Health Service, that beacon of socialised medicine for the common good, have been amazing,
fighting valiantly with inadequate resources to damage-limit the impact of the pandemic throughout 2020.

The poems in this year's Bread and Roses Poetry Award anthology bear the poetic scars of the searing, psychical conflicts resulting from the pandemic. They
also carry an expressive power and linguistic energy which brings a much-needed boost to the hearts and minds of whoever reads them, whether bereaved,
recovering, or still self-isolating. But other topical themes are tackled aside from the pandemic, such as the environment, poverty, homelessness, and
the Black Lives Matter movement and its associated uprooting of controversial statues in our cities.

As in previous years, what these poems demonstrate above all is an imaginative transcendence of circumstance and suffering. They show a vital and effervescent verse in adversity, rich in variety of tones and styles, from the viscerally expressive to the archly satirical. Every contribution to this anthology of selected entrants to the 2020 Bread and Roses Poetry Award is worthy of special mention. Normally prizes are given for five poems, but this year the judges - Andy Croft from Smokestack Books, and Mary Sayer from Unite - recommended seven poems for prizes, and Unite kindly agreed to fund the additional prizes.

Unite, the biggest trade union in Britain, has supported and sponsored the Bread and Roses Poetry Award for four years now. Alongside the economic struggles over terms and conditions of employment, and the political struggles to advance justice and fairness for all working people, Unite recognises the importance of the cultural struggle to enable working-class voices to be published and listened to, across all cultural activities including poetry. Culture Matters is very grateful to Unite and in particular its Director of Education, Jim Mowatt, for their continuing support.

So congratulations to the the seven joint winners: Jane Burn, Annie McRae, Raymond Miller, Jenny Mitchell, Antony Owen, Laura Taylor and Sylvia Telfer. Congratulations also to the Glasgow-based poet Trisha Heaney, who will be mentored and helped to produce her first poetry collection, which will be published by Culture Matters in 2021. And thanks also to the other entrants who are in this anthology, for sharing with us their creative and resilient responses to the world around us in these hard but not hopeless times, and giving us an inspiring handbook for 2021.

Here is one of the winning poems:

Salvation

by Laura Taylor

We fucked in the morning
before dawn's light
choked desire with uncertainty.
And the bees didn't know
and the birds didn't care
that economy's collapse
was hanging in the air,
but we were frozen.
Libidos crashed as society
smashed against the ground,
and just as the Spring woke
land and lamb,
and bright sun rose
on magnolia's bloom,
butterfly's dusty rouse,
boom went bust,
jobs got lost, futures broke,
and national legs and lungs closed down.

We extracted empty promises
of ongoing hours
from bosses facing losses
on their capital gains.
Observed that poverty, profit and policy
never made love
though slept in the same wet bed.
But tenderness wrought
some comfort when
we fucked in the morning
before dawn's light
choked desire with uncertainty.
With arms and legs wrapped tight
round love, we kissed the lips
of fear and fate,
made a nest
for us to hide
and hunker down
to safety.

 

Handbook for 2021: The Bread and Roses Poetry Award Anthology 2020
Sunday, 25 October 2020 12:18

Handbook for 2021: The Bread and Roses Poetry Award Anthology 2020

Published in Books

Handbook for 2021 is the judges' selection of 40 entries to the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2020, including the seven winners. Cover image: Martin Rowson.

The coronavirus pandemic this year has had a devastating human cost. It has also exposed the virulent scourges of growing poverty, inequality and low pay that continue to blight class-divided British society, after a decade of vicious Tory cuts to our vital public services, and sheer incompetence and dishonesty in government.

The poems bear witness to the searing effects of the health crisis, as well as other themes such as the environment, poverty, and the Black Lives Matter
movement. They also carry an expressive power and energy which will bring a much-needed boost to the hearts and minds of whoever reads them, giving us
all an inspiring handbook for 2021.

It is hard to write about the injustices of contemporary society without slipping into easy denunciations, second-hand phrases and borrowed anger. The best political poetry should also be painful to read, interrogating itself and challenging what the reader thinks they know or believe to be true.

The entries to this year’s Bread and Roses competition certainly share a sense of impatient rage and revulsion at the way the world works; but they are also distinguished by intellectual ambition, literary technique and political resilience. And they say what needs to be said about the subjects that matter most —inequality, work, unemployment, solidarity, struggle, homelessness,racism, illegal wars, and environmental disaster.

—Andy Croft, publisher of Smokestack Books

Please use button below to purchase copies.

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2020: The winners!
Thursday, 30 July 2020 11:44

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2020: The winners!

Published in Poetry

This year the judges, Andy Croft of Smokestack Books and Mary Sayer from Unite, picked seven rather than five poems which they thought worthy winners of the Award. So Unite have kindly agreed to provide additional prize money this year for all seven poems. The winners are

Handbook for 2021 by Jane Burn

A Stitch in Time by Annie McCrae

Donkey Jacket by Raymond Miller

Burden of Ownership by Jenny Mitchell

If Boris Johnson had a Cuppa with my Nan from Willenhall by Antony Owen

Salvation by Laura Taylor

All Our Shadows are Black by Sylvia Telfer

The mentoring package this year, to help unpublished writers with their first collection, will be offered to Trisha Heaney. Congratulations to the seven winners and the mentee (if that's the right word) and thanks to all those who entered.

This year's Bread and Roses anthology containing a selection of entries will be available to buy later in the year. If you wish to order copies in advance please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Here are the judges' comments on this year's entries:

It is hard to write about the injustices of contemporary society without slipping into easy denunciations, second-hand phrases and borrowed anger. The best political poetry should also be painful to read, interrogating itself and challenging what the reader thinks they know or believe to be true.

The entries to this year’s Bread and Roses competition certainly share a sense of impatient rage and revulsion at the way the world works; but they are also distinguished by intellectual ambition, literary technique and political resilience. And they say what needs to be said about the subjects that matter most – inequality, work, unemployment, solidarity, struggle, homelessness, racism, illegal wars, environmental disaster. - Andy Croft, publisher of Smokestack Books

I was listening to Linton Kwesi Johnson on the radio the other day when he said 'poetry doesn't change the world, only people can do that'. Reading these magnificent, resonant poems and thinking about the people who wrote them and the people who will read them – gives me hope that massive and meaningful change in these overwhelming times is possible. - Mary Sayer, Unite in Schools Coordinator

Here is one of the winning entries: 

Burden of Ownership

by Jenny Mitchell

He measures cost in body parts. A head pays
for a month of food; two eyes a week of drink.
Christmas adds a throat. Carved out with care
the neck still holds a yoke if the chin is firm
weight evenly proportioned.

Four breasts pay for his wife's new car, a mad
extravagance she must not think will be the norm.
Her furs demand a score of navels.
One manly chest is paid for every house –
he only wants the very best.

A waist is worth the price of land: an acre for two wombs.
Twelve manhoods buy a gushing stream
to serve his many fields. A sack of feet placed
in a bank account, maintains his balance
and the boast: he's always in the black.

The cry of the poor from inner-city Dublin: Sacred Symphony
Wednesday, 29 July 2020 12:43

The cry of the poor from inner-city Dublin: Sacred Symphony

Published in Poetry

Sacred Symphony is a new collection of poems on life in inner-city Dublin, by Karl Parkinson, with photographs by Peter O'Doherty. It includes All the Swings are Gone and is introduced by Father Peter McVerry, who concludes with these words:

Those who are economically unproductive are considered a drain on the economy, undeserving of support. Those who are homeless, addicted or long-term unemployed are not just excluded from society, but unwanted by society.

This oppressive ideology has become so embedded in the thinking of many, including our decision makers, that any alternative seems unimaginable. That is why the poems in this book are important. They challenge that ideology, they reflect the anger and feelings of those who are excluded and feel unwanted, who see no future for themselves in our present society.

Some of these poems are dark, despairing and difficult to read. Many are about the use of drugs, the only respite available from a painful and seemingly meaningless existence. Others reflect dreams that will never be fulfilled, or a search for meaning, or for answers to half-articulated questions. And the poems show a resilience that often characterises those who have to struggle hard, on a daily basis, to survive and make sense of their lives.

But these voices, uncomfortable as they may be to many people, have to be heard. They have to be listened to. And they require a response.

Comments on the book so far include:

Here are poems that bear witness. Here are poems that do not look away. Sacred Symphony is, in essence, a holy book for our times – a book that illuminates the vast, oceanic nature of human grief caused by poverty, addiction and violence in inner-city communities and beyond. Parkinson is among the most important poets working in Ireland today. – Annemarie Ní Churreáin, poet, author of Bloodroot (Doire Press)

Karl Parkinson is amongst the most courageous of modern Irish writers. – RTE Lyric FM

Parkinson has set himself up unashamedly and without irony as a singer of the human soul in its contrary states of degradation and exaltation. It's worth listening to him. – The Irish Times

There is a very good interview with Karl on the excellent Island's Edge website.

Sacred Symphony by Karl Parkinson, ISBN: 978-1-912710-33-1Price: 12 euros, plus p. and p:

Or £10 plus p. and p. from Britain:

Sacred Symphony
Wednesday, 29 July 2020 12:22

Sacred Symphony

Published in Books

Sacred Symphony is a new collection of poems on life in inner-city Dublin by Karl Parkinson, with images by Peter O'Doherty, ISBN: 978-1-912710-33-1

It is introduced by Father Peter McVerry, who writes this in the Introduction:

Those who are economically unproductive are considered a drain on the economy, undeserving of support. Those who are homeless, addicted or long-term unemployed are not just excluded from society, but unwanted by society.

This oppressive ideology has become so embedded in the thinking of many, including our decision makers, that any alternative seems unimaginable. That is why the poems in this book are important. They challenge that ideology, they reflect the anger and feelings of those who are excluded and feel unwanted, who see no future for themselves in our present society.

Some of these poems are dark, despairing and difficult to read. Many are about the use of drugs, the only respite available from a painful and seemingly meaningless existence. Others reflect dreams that will never be fulfilled, or a search for meaning, or for answers to half-articulated questions. And the poems show a resilience that often characterises those who have to struggle hard, on a daily basis, to survive and make sense of their lives.

But these voices, uncomfortable as they may be to many people, have to be heard. They have to be listened to. And they require a response.

Comments on the book so far include:

Here are poems that bear witness. Here are poems that do not look away. Sacred Symphony is, in essence, a holy book for our times – a book that illuminates the vast, oceanic nature of human grief caused by poverty, addiction and violence in inner-city communities and beyond. Parkinson is among the most important poets working in Ireland today. – Annemarie Ní Churreáin, poet, author of Bloodroot (Doire Press)

Karl Parkinson is amongst the most courageous of modern Irish writers. – RTE Lyric FM

Parkinson has set himself up unashamedly and without irony as a singer of the human soul in its contrary states of degradation and exaltation. It's worth listening to him. – The Irish Times

Sacred Symphony by Karl Parkinson, ISBN: 978-1-912710-33-1. Price: 12 euros, plus p. and p:

Or £10 plus p. and p. from Britain:

A Kist of Thistles
Monday, 15 June 2020 09:35

A Kist of Thistles

Published in Books

A Kist of Thistles: An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Scotland, edited by Jim Aitken, with images by Fiona Stewart. 196 pps. ISBN: 978-1-912710-32-4

A Kist of Thistles is a new anthology of radical Scottish poetry. It is edited and introduced by Jim Aitken, an Edinburgh-based writer and lecturer, and illustrated with images by Fiona Stewart.

Most of the 62 poets in A Kist of Thistles would agree with Mary McCabe that Scotland should be engaged in ‘plannin a better nation’. But the poetry is not just about Scottish self-determination. This wonderfully diverse and skilful group of poets is also engaged with international, environmental and broader social issues that affect everyone.

All of Scotland’s languages are represented here and this diversity also shows a culture that is confident about itself as it looks out as much as it looks within, reaching out across the world to all those whose lives have been less than they should be. The poets show their concern for ordinary people, and rail against what Lesley Benzie calls ‘the bloodied carcass of truth’ as their poems seek to cleanse and redeem all the broken lives they encounter.

The voices in this anthology—with some humour, much conviction and plenty of style—look forward not only to a better Scotland, but also to a much fairer and better world for everyone.

A Kist of Thistles: An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Scotland, edited by Jim Aitken with images by Fiona Stewart, 196 pps, £10. ISBN: 978-1-912710-32-4

Why culture matters more than ever
Saturday, 25 April 2020 14:50

Why culture matters more than ever

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mike Quille makes an appeal for support for Culture Matters, and introduces a new series of articles on the effects of the coronavirus crisis on culture. The image is of Efa Supertramp, who was among the many radical artists bypassing the gatekeepers of cultural production by appearing at the WSO Isolation Festival on April 11. Broadcast live on Facebook, it raised more than £27,000 for food banks

How do working people achieve more personal and political freedom? In the Wages of Labour, written in 1844, Karl Marx had this to say:

To develop greater spiritual freedom, a people must break their bondage to their bodily needs — they must cease to be the slaves of the body. They must, above all, have time at their disposal for spiritual creative activity and spiritual enjoyment.

The same point was made more poetically in a poem based on Helen Todd’s speech on the aims of the women’s movement:

Hearts starve as well as bodies. Give us bread, but give us roses.

The Culture Matters Co-Operative is all about bread and roses. It has been running for nearly five years and promotes bread and roses for all — a progressive, socialist and democratic approach to all forms of cultural activities.

We believe that all forms of culture should be for everyone and that class-based divisions in society constrain, prevent and spoil our enjoyment of all the cultural activities which we need to enjoy life and be fully human. This is also recognised in the expanded references to culture in the latest version of Britain’s Road to Socialism, the programme of the Communist Party of Britain.

By culture we mean not only the arts — poetry, film, theatre and visual art — but other activities like sport which bring enjoyment, enlightenment and entertainment into our lives. And using media like the internet, TV and social media is an important cultural activity and one of the few cultural activities we’ve been able to practise under lockdown.

Digital technology also has great potential to democratise culture, allowing working-class radicals to bypass the gatekeepers of cultural production, and we use it to run a website which publishes creative and critical material on a range of topics.

Supported by trade unions — mainly Unite, the Communication Workers Union, the Musicians’ Union and PCS — we have also run a number of Bread and Roses arts awards to encourage cultural production by trade unionists and other workers that is meaningful to work and life in a class-divided society.

We've also published a range of poetry books such as Witches, Warriors and Workers, a groundbreaking anthology of poetry by working-class women, edited by Jane Burn and Fran Lock. Supported by various trade unions and trades councils, we’re also publishing a series of anthologies of radical literature.

Poetry collections from Ireland (Children of the Nation) and Wales (Onward / Ymlaen!) have already appeared and there will be an anthology of radical Scottish poetry coming out later this year. These books are all for sale on this website, see links above.

We’ve grown fast in just a few years and that’s thanks to the voluntary work of committed writers, artists and activists and to trade-union support. We’re proud that our mission has been valued by creative workers, readers and the labour movement generally.

We want to refresh and broaden the content of the website and tackle class-based discrimination in publishing by building networks of creative workers. We want too to expand our output in Britain and abroad and support the labour movement in local campaigns for cultural democracy.

To do that we need financial resources, so that we can meet the expenses of running a website and publishing operation and commission more material. You — or your union or trades council — can make donations here or drop us a message at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we’ll supply our bank details. At the same time, feel free to suggest — or ask for help with — projects to promote cultural democracy.

Coronavirus and culture

It's inevitable that the current coronavirus crisis will affect all kinds of cultural activities, in all kinds of ways. Going to a concert, a film, a football match, a religious service, is never going to be the same again.

The virus has driven us apart. Yet, as socialists, we have always been committed to the way culture brings us together in shared and social activities. Culture gives voice to the values of solidarity, the dignity of work, concern for the poor, celebration of our strength and potential and in imagining a better world.

So how are we going to do that, now? What does a socialist response to the effects of the coronavirus crisis on culture look like? How should things change around the content, management and state support of culture? What does the coronavirus crisis means for our “spiritual enjoyment” of different cultural activities?

To help answer these questions, the Morning Star and Culture Matters will be jointly publishing a series of articles over the next few weeks. Whether we are consuming or creating culture, it’s hoped they will help the discussions and debates about “bread and roses” and how we achieve greater freedom. Please get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you wish to contribute something to the series — an article, review, poem, image or music clip.

Onward / Ymlaen!
Tuesday, 11 February 2020 16:42

Onward / Ymlaen!

Published in Books

Onward / Ymlaen! An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Wales

170 pps., edited by Mike Jenkins, with a Foreword from Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, and with images by Gustavius Payne

£5 for ebook, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details

This new and unique anthology has poetry in both Welsh and English by around 70 Welsh working-class writers. There are women and men, of all generations, including both emerging and established writers. Gustavius Payne, a well-known Welsh artist, has provided stunningly appropriate paintings to accompany some of the poems in the book.

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union writes this in the Foreword:

The poems collected in “Onward / Ymlaen!” cover a diverse range of political themes and issues including poverty and class inequality, self-determination, internationalism, war, living on a council estate in Swansea, and the death of Jo Cox.

This is a valuable book and will be of interest to many people in Wales and across the UK, at a time when the political landscape is changing so dramatically. These changes have meant that times are hard for many people, but our movement has always had room for poetry and song. As the old radical poem says, “Hearts starve as well as bodies: Give us Bread, but give us Roses.”

Mike Jenkins, editor of Red Poets, says this:

This anthology brings together the finest radical political poetry from contemporary Cymru, reflecting the importance of community, co-operation and commitment to building a better world. There is sharp criticism, sad reflection, heartfelt protest and bitter humour in these poems. But there is also a sense of renewal, of what might develop from grassroots movements and activism. 

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