Festivals/ Events

Festivals/ Events (6)

This section contains previews, reviews etc. of arts and cultural festivals and similar special events.

May Day Greetings from Smokestack Books

May Day Greetings from Smokestack Books

Written by

Gathering

by Andy Croft

for Chris Searle

When I woke in this city one fine May Day morning
I saw a small crowd, like a gathering stream,
And though they were only a few hundred strong,
They were singing old songs I’d not heard for so long
That it seemed I was still in a dream.

‘O where are you going this fine May Day morning?
And what are these flags that you carry so bright?’
‘We are marching,’ they said, ‘in the steps of the dead,
Of all those who have marched under banners of red,
So that we may continue their fight’.

‘But why are you angry this fine May Day morning,
When the Summer is wearing its holiday hat?’
‘We are angry,’ they said, ‘that the people must pay
With their jobs and their homes for the world’s disarray
While the rich and the powerful grow fat.’

‘But what can you do on this fine May Day morning?
When their lies are so many and you are so few?’
‘Our strength’ they replied, ‘is not measured in numbers,
For our songs have awoken the dead from their slumbers.’
And I listened and knew it was true.

For I heard in the crowd on this fine May Day morning
The voices of those who had marched here before:
In the fight for the Charter, for Land and for Bread,
For the Eight-Hour Day, for the Haymarket dead,
For the victims of hunger and war;

They were marching from Sedgemoor, from Newport and Burford,
They came from Soweto and Moscow and Spain,
And they carried their flags from Hanoi and Havana
Till it seemed that the city was one scarlet banner
And it shone like a glittering plain.

And I watched as they marched on this fine May Day morning,
Like a field full of folk by the banks of the Tyne,
As strong as a river that reaches the sea,
As old as the rings in a blossoming tree,
And I saw that their banners were mine.

from The Sailors of Ulm (Shoestring, 2020)

May Day Greetings from California

May Day Greetings from California

Written by

The Steel Bones of Our Cities

by Fred Voss

The COVID-19 virus is spreading across California
and we are at our vertical milling machines
our horizontal boring mill machines
our 12-foot-long engine lathes
like we were
through 1929 stock market crash
total eclipse of the sun
Einstein overthrowing the universe
with his pen
Lindbergh back from flying across the Atlantic smiling through showers
of New York City confetti
our hands on the machine handles
our feet on the concrete floor
our eyes on the tin walls
a thousandth of an inch is still a thousandth of an inch
chips of steel still fall from the edges
of our cutting tools
carving faucet
and wheel
red-hot rivets still hammered into Golden Gate Bridge
waves throwing their arms around rocks
sailors
studying stars cats
still finding their way across cities back home to bowls
of cat food
the COVID-19 virus has the streets of our cities in its grip
we don’t blink an eye
or miss a beat
making pipe to carry water or easel
to hold canvas
a Gershwin melody is still a Gershwin melody
a falling star still a reason
to kiss as we carve
keys and wheelchair wheels and soup spoons and clown horns
out of shiny steel and brass and aluminum
a laugh is still a laugh
a marriage ring is still a marriage ring
I-beams still the steel bones
of our cities
and a steel block gripped between the steel jaws of a vise on our machine table
might still help make
a new world.

Breaking Through the Tin Walls

by Fred Voss

As our machines chew and slice and groan
through steel and aluminum and bronze
I hope
one of my fellow machinists is dreaming of a union strike
that can make an owner walk into a machine shop and really listen to men
with black machine grease on their hands and heads held high like they’ll never take a back seat
to any man
I hope
one of my fellow machinists dreams of the day when these blank tin factory walls
we’ve been hidden behind all our lives
fall
and we begin to become as famous
as pundits and tv clowns
and kings
I hope
one dreams of the day when machinists don’t have to have grip contests
wrestling each other to the concrete floor to prove
they are men
when machinists can bring bouquets of yellow daffodils into the shop
and proudly set them on their sheet metal workbenches
beside oily shop rags and not
be laughed at
or hang
a Van Gogh on a tin wall because they know Van Gogh would love to paint
our green engine lathes and sweaty faces
I dream of Buddha and Mandela and Whitman
sitting in front of machines on stools in front of us
because nirvana and freedom and beauty
have no need to wear
a white shirt
and the fall of a government can start with a machinist
laying down a micrometer
and I write these poems because Neruda’s father worked on the railroad
Jack London and Herman Melville were sailors and loved the sea
Dostoevsky hauled 150-pound loads of rocks in his arms in a Siberian prison camp
and every man who ever carved a train wheel out of steel
also needs to carve out
a dream.

Author's Note:

May Day greetings from California.

We are the ones at the machines, in the mines, at the desks,
behind the wheels, we are the ones
with the jackhammers and spatulas in our hands
we are the ones waiting for the day
we can make
a better world.

May Day Greetings from the Red Poets / Cyfarchion O'r Beirdd Cochion

May Day Greetings from the Red Poets / Cyfarchion O'r Beirdd Cochion

Written by

YN GADARN / IN SOLIDARITY

Poetry can change people’s consciousness, of that I’m confident. Our revolution must embrace words and song, dance and film, art and journalism and give voice to the many struggles of those whose aspirations are too easily destroyed by poverty.

We’d like to express our solidarity with the struggles against capitalism and imperialism throughout the world. We are a collective of poets based in Cymru/Wales who have been in existence for some 27 years. We have produced an annual magazine of left-wing poetry from Cymru and beyond, a live CD and a number of poetry books. Our next publication (in 2021) will be a history of the Red Poets by 6 of our regular writers. We were born out of Cymru Goch (Red Wales) the now defunct Welsh Socialists and myself and Marc Jones, the other co-editor (from Wrescam) were both active members.

One of the highlights of our calendar has been the Merthyr Rising Festival at the end of May each year, which celebrates Trade Unionism and the history of the Welsh working class. There are speeches, debates, poetry and lots of music and my poem ‘Bring the Rising Home!’, from a book of the same name published by Culture Matters, brings together the history and the music.

Bring the Rising Home!

by Mike Jenkins

Bring it home
bring the Rising home!

the truck shops
the loan sharks

the ironmasters
the opencasters

the British military
the Acts of Tories

the Welsh language
then and today

chwyldro –
a turning of the times

gweriniaeth –
rule by people not kings and queens

bring it home
bring the Rising home!

the demand for bread
the Food Banks

the bailiffs knocking
the bailiffs ringing

martyrs on the streets
suicides on benefits

the debtors’ courts
the disability assessments

and yet, the mills rolled -
while now the drummers beat.

Notes - chwyldro - Welsh for revolution
gweriniaeth - Welsh for republic

May Day 1

This is the cover of issue 25, with artwork by Fred Fitton a long-time activist from Wigan, who used to teach art in Swansea.
Here’s a poem from that same issue which wittily describes the Rebecca Riots of 1839, a widespread protest against the toll gates:

What A Riot!
(Wales,1839)

by Phil Knight

Her hat and her Sunday frock
fitted me to a tee, but she said
"Lay off the corset cariad".
But like a fool I would not listen.
Well they said "come as women"
and the wife never crossed
our threshold without her corset on.
So I would have felt undressed like
without it on, see.

It was a bit snug to start,
however when I was running
and whooping on the Toll Gate
I was fair dying of breath.
Some of the boys even laughted at me
and them all dressed as ladies.
Ladies with beards and hairy arms.

Never since the beginning of time
had St. Clears seen such a sight.
"A most shameful spectacle! A return
to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah"
said the Carmarthen Journal.
We burnt the gates of our oppressors.
We danced and sang, well they did.
My corset was fair killing me for breath.
None of the other boys wore corsets.
However the Reverend had
his wife's pink pantaloons on,
but they say that's a regular thing.
Still I know better for next time.

So up with Rebecca's Daughters!
Down with the Toll Gates!
Down with the soldiers!
Down with the Whitland Trust!
But take the wife's advice boys
and keep your hands off the corsets.

May day 2

Many of the poets included in the recent anthology of radical poetry from Cymru ‘Onward/Ymlaen!’ published by Culture Matters have also appeared in ‘Red Poets’ magazines over the years. Both the cover and several images in the book are by Merthyr artist Gus Payne, whose work has been closely associated with us for many years. One of the poems in this book which embodies our spirit is by a poet who has appeared in every single issue of the magazine, Alun Rees, a retired award-winning sports journalist. This poem won the Harri Webb Prize:

Taffy Is A Welshman

by Alun Rees

Taffy is a Welshman,
Taffy is no thief.
Someone came to Taffy’s house
and stole a leg of beef.

Taffy made no protest,
for he doesn’t like a row,
so the someone called on him again
and stole the bloody cow.

They stole his coal and iron,
they stole his pastures, too.
They even stole his language
and flushed it down the loo.

Taffy is a Welshman,
Taffy is a fool.
Taffy voted no, no, no
when they offered him home rule.

Six days a week upon his knees
Taffy dug for coal.
On the seventh he was kneeling, too,
praying for his soul.

And now the mines are closing down
and chapel’s had its day,
Taffy still lives upon his knees,
for he knows no other way.

Now sometimes Taffy’s brother
will start a row or so,
but you can bank on Taffy:
he doesn’t want to know.

For when they hanged Penderyn
he had nothing much to say,
and when Saunders Lewis went to jail
he looked the other way.

Taffy is a Welshman
who likes to be oppressed.
He was proud to tug his forelock
to a Crawshay or a Guest.

They give him tinsel royals,
so he has a pint of beer,
and sings God Bless the Prince of Wales
as he joins the mob to cheer.

Now Taffy is a fighter
when he hears the bugle call.
Name any war since Agincourt:
Taffy’s seen them all.

He’s fought in France and Germany
and many another land;
he’s fought by sea and fought by air
and fought on desert sand.

He’s fought for many a foreign flag
in many a foreign part,
for Taffy is a Welshman,
proud of his fighting heart.

He’s fought the wide world over,
he’s given blood and bone.
He’s fought for every bloody cause
except his bloody own.

welsh independence march ifan morgan jones llinos dafydd 27.jpg

Activism has always been integral to the Red Poets collective and as well as doing benefits for strikers, against the poll tax and for CND, many of us are still involved in various groups, parties and movements. Ness Owen’s ‘Caernarfon’ (from the forthcoming issue, 26) describes a march in North Wales on 27th July 2019, attended by over 10,000 supporters of independence:

Caernarfon

by Ness Owen

We arrived later than
we thought, running
to catch up, me and
an old school friend
short-cutted through
the car-park like we’d
lost the bus. Holyhead
Welsh standing on the
verge, watching clouds
breaking over Môn,
looking down Balaclafa
Road to a sea of red,
green, white, of Yes,
of Cymru, of rhydd,
fy ngwlad, fy nyfodol.
A wave flowing from
doc, rushing through
arches built to keep us
out, sunglasses on for
face detectors. Tim yn
ffycin cael wep fi. By
Black Boy, clickers count
our true numbers. The
castle is surrounded, stones
echo with our soft tread,
onto Y Maes, no tears of
blood, today, our hearts
in the hands of each other.

rhydd – free
dyfodol – future
Tim yn ffycin cael wep fi – Holyhead Welsh for ‘you’re not having my fucking face’
Y Maes – square in Caernarfon

9781912710089

Finally, I’ll leave you with the title poem from my book in Merthyr dialect from Culture Matters, ‘From Aberfan t Grenfell’, which was illustrated superbly by Swansea artist Alan Perry. It's about two man-made tragedies where working-class people suffered greatly:

From Aberfan t Grenfell

by Mike Jenkins

When I seen tha fire
blazin through-a flats
like they woz wax,
I thought o Pant Glas
children an teachers,
graves of rubble an sludge.

When I seen ow
the Tories didn wanna know,
I thought o Lord Robens
an George Bloody Thomas,
of ower Council oo’d bin tol
of the tip movin long ago.

When I seen them people
come from all over
with clothes an food,
I thought of rescuers
from all over-a Valleys,
come t search
f life in-a ruins.

When I seen tha block,
a ewge charred remains
a dark memorial t the pooer
kept there like battree ens,
I thought of-a tip come down :
ow ev’ry sum an song
never knew an answer or endin. 

YN GADARN / IN SOLIDARITY

May Day Greetings from Newcastle

May Day Greetings from Newcastle

Written by

Martin Gollan introduces a virtual May Day parade, produced by Newcastle Trades Union Council, and downloadable at the end of this article. The image above is Magical Nurse by Katie Marshall

What is the purpose of creativity and culture in a market-driven economy which is ruthlessly dedicated to the pursuit of private profit, the defence of property rights and largely blind to injustice and inequality – including inequality of cultural provision?

Is it that offered by Arts Council England, in its 'Next Ten Years' strategy consultation document: to uplift and entertain, to ‘help us make sense of the world and of ourselves’ and to ‘encourage us to empathise and bind us more closely together’?

Or should it be, as EP Thompson wrote (responding to Raymond Williams’ definition of culture as a ‘whole way of life’), a ‘whole way of struggle’? Surveying the damage inflicted by ten years of Tory austerity to individuals and communities across the North East of England, it seems fairly clear that Williams and Thompson offer the more urgent and relevant objective.

Such a call to the barricades may excite and bring together activists, trade unionists, artists, musicians and poets. But in working-class communities exhausted by austerity, inequality and lack of opportunity, there is likely to be other more immediate priorities to attend to. How then to purposefully engage communities and the arts?

Newcastle Trades Council’s May Day 2020 booklet was originally conceived as part of a wider project to bring together some working-class communities in Newcastle and Gateshead with artists, musicians, poets and trade unionists, working under the theme of ‘The Commons’.

The Commons sets out a different approach to how we can organise our economic, social and political relations. How, for example, we can make better, more sustainable use of not only natural resources, but also the systems we have created. In particluar, the vast digital networks that we have quickly come to rely on for work and maintaining social ties – especially at this moment when our only effective response to the coronavirus is lockdown and social distancing.

The Commons provides us with a framework within which to confront the inequalities and injustices, the exploitation and oppression of a capitalist, market-driven economy, along with the established networks and institutions – including cultural institutions – that protect and sustain the profits, property and power of the wealthy and connected.

By adopting the Commons as a framework, May Day 2020 sets out to develop a set of definitions that may help us to make sense of the world and ourselves, that may encourage empathy but also, as Owen Kelly says, which ‘critically use and develop traditional art forms, adapting them to present day needs and developing new forms… to effect social change and affect social policies’.

We are only at the beginning. The public health emergency caused by the coronavirus and the resulting lockdown meant the May Day celebrations of labour had to be cancelled. An irony of the current situation is that many of those whose work has been overlooked and dismissed as low-skilled and therefore only deserving of low pay, who have worked largely and precariously in the shadows – nurses, care workers, delivery drivers, supermarket staff etc. – are now ‘key workers’ and applauded for what they do. Yet because of the crisis we cannot properly and publicly celebrate these workers, and the values of solidarity, collective effort and the dignity of labour that they represent.

So this booklet, produced by Newcastle Trades Council, is our virtual parade, celebrating workers locally, nationally and internationally. It replaces some of the activities originally planned for this year, and begins to set out an approach and a whole way of struggling and working – and points us hopefully and confidently towards May Day 2021.

The Children of the Nation: An Anthology of Working People’s Poetry from Contemporary Ireland

The Children of the Nation: An Anthology of Working People’s Poetry from Contemporary Ireland

Written by

The Children of the Nation: An Anthology of Working People’s Poetry from Contemporary Ireland

On Saturday, 23rd November at 3 p.m. in Connolly Books, Dublin, Fr. Peter McVerry will launch a unique anthology of poetry in both Irish and English by Irish working-class writers from the thirty-two counties of Ireland. There are sixty-seven contributors, women and men, of all generations, including both emerging and established writers. The common focus is on themes which reflect the texture and preoccupations of working-class life in contemporary Ireland.

The anthology is edited by Jenny Farrell, published by Culture Matters, and has been generously supported by the Irish Trade Union movement.

The ‘children of the nation’ were promised equal treatment in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of 1916. However, the lived realities of the working class, the unemployed, the precariously employed, the homeless, and other groups have rarely appeared in mainstream published poetry in Ireland and Britain.

This is the first anthology to be published in Ireland which focuses on poetry written by and about working people and their experiences, cares and concerns. As Brian Campfield, past President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, writes in his Foreword:

The anthology is inclusive and egalitarian, and values authenticity, relevance and communicativeness as well as literary skill and inventiveness. It is grounded in individual effort, but has transformed these individual endeavours into a collective expression of the lives, aspirations, concerns and hopes of that class in our society which constantly has to struggle to get its voice heard and valued.

The poems are about life at the margins of society. The themes include class, the treatment of women, work and worklessness, poverty, violence, racism and many other social and political issues. They express suffering, exploitation and abuse, but also hope, solidarity and internationalism.

One of the central themes is homelessness – homelessness in the sense that people are alienated from this society, and forced into emigration; homelessness in the sense of not being able to afford a home, and being at the mercy of private landlords; but also homelessness in its starkest, most inhuman form of being out on the streets with nowhere to go. As one poet in the anthology concludes:

The/ rich get richer and the/ poor grow more/ poor, and most of us have/ nowhere to/ live. For there ain't no home/ in Dublin.

It is therefore fitting that Fr. Peter McVerry will launch this pioneering anthology. There will also be brief addresses from the Irish Trade Union Movement and from Culture Matters, as well as poetry readings by some of the contributors.

The Children of the Nation: An Anthology of Working People’s Poetry from Contemporary Ireland. ISBN 978-1-912710-25-6

Price: €10/ £9 plus p. and p., available here.