Mike Quille

Mike Quille

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

Release a Rage of Red
Wednesday, 02 October 2019 11:11

Release a Rage of Red

Published in Our Publications

£5 plus £1.50 p. and p. ISBN: 978-1-912710-21-8

Release a Rage of Red is a selection of entries to the Bread & Roses Poetry Award 2019, sponsored by Unite. 

Every year it becomes more of a challenge to judge these poems. This year, there was a large number of beautifully written, often angry, urgent and deeply moving poems on a wide range of compelling issues, including many more entries from women and young people. Our ‘Unite in Schools’ programme takes us round schools to talk to young people about trade unions and the kind of collective action that’s needed to campaign against inequality.

We need to run a version of this fabulous competition in schools, colleges and universities, to support the young activists of tomorrow to creatively express their growing, sharpened sense of inequality, along with support for their ability to self-organise and to harness social media.

 – Mary Sayer, Unite Education Officer


Not only were there many more entries than in previous years, there was also not a weak poem among them. It was good to see so much feeling and argument harnessed to craft and invention. There was also a tremendous range of subjects addressed — inequality, racism, poverty, austerity, environmental destruction, disability, class, gender, education — not as abstract evils, but as lived, felt oppressions.

A lot of these poems express a kind of helpless melancholy about the state of the world. Others are written in anger and shame at what this country has become, but manage to contain their rage and focus their anger to hit precisely described targets.

– Andy Croft, poet and publisher of Smokestack Books

Raptures and Captures
Wednesday, 25 September 2019 10:22

Raptures and Captures

Published in Our Publications

£8 plus £1.50 p. and p. ISBN: 978-1-912710-18-8

Raptures and Captures follows on from Muses and Bruises and Ruses and Fuses, both published by Culture Matters. It is inspired by liberation theology and a fascination with the continuing relevance of the lives of the saints to a radical, liberating politics. As one poem’s title states, we are ‘In Need of Saints’.

So Fran Lock sets about re-imagining the lives 0f the saints in modern contexts. Apocryphal juxtapositions are sprung in the shapes of modern-day activists, enduring pop-culture icons like Tony Hancock and Ian Curtis, and the exploited, abused and oppressed amongst us.

Fran Lock's poems are slip-stitched with punchy tropes and vivid turns of phrase. There are echoes of Sylvia Plath, John Clare and Gerard Manley Hopkins in her uncompromising psychical explorations, self-scouring confessionalism, and vivid, macabre imageries. Suffering, trauma, and spiritual anguish, and the exhaustion, depression and suicidal ideation of working women and men, all overlaying visions of hope and redemption, are continuous themes in her poems.

The images by Steev Burgess which accompany the poems share and express the same dialectical combination of anger and gentleness, strength and vulnerability. As in the other two volumes, the stunning, taboo-busting collages poignantly combine the grime and glitter of modern life in fragmented, uncertain but coherent juxtapositions of images and words, reinforcing, developing and extending the meanings of the poems.

The film itself is Bait
Tuesday, 10 September 2019 18:09

The film itself is Bait

Published in Films

Class conflict, and the various ways class divisions are expressed and resolved in personal relationships, from outright violence to affection and peaceful co-existence, form the central themes of this outstandingly original new film, written and directed by Mark Jenkin. Set in a Cornish fishing village, the story is about the clash between well-off incomers and the local precariat – working families struggling to make a living.

It’s modern Britain writ small, where fundamental economic inequality generates mutual incomprehension, resentment, and an angry sense of betrayal brought on by the loss of proper work and decent housing. Ring any bells with what you’ve just heard on the radio?

bait 1

The story is rooted in Jenkin’s experience of dispossessed working-class communities, scarred by unemployment, poverty, and social exclusion. A well-off London family has bought and gentrified ‘Skipper’s Cottage’, one of the harbourside cottages. They’ve installed a porthole as a window, filled the fridge with prosecco and pasta, bedecked the rooms with fishing buoys and nets, and rented out the net-loft to tourists who complain at the early morning noise of the fishing boats. The family is itself divided – thoughtful mother, smug father, flirtatious daughter, and boorish son.

The former inhabitant of the cottage is an impoverished fisherman who can’t afford to buy a boat. He lays nets on the beach outside the house to catch a few fish (bait), which he sells to the local pub for a high price, but gives to local families on the estate he now lives on. Throughout the film he simmers with barely contained rage at his inability to make a living any more from fishing, provoking (baiting) the rich incomers. ‘You didn’t have to sell us this house’, they tell him: ‘Didn’t I?’ is his sarcastic response.

His family is also divided. His brother still has a boat, though it’s used not for fishing but for coastal cruise trips for drunken tourists. But his brother’s son won’t work on the cruise boat, preferring to struggle like his uncle with the beach nets, and form a liaison with the rich family’s daughter.

These characters hit, miss and crash into each other in their houses, on the harbour and in the pub. Collaboration, confrontation, violence, and a tragic accident is the shocking outcome. A symbolic and yet also grittily realistic class struggle is played out in the film, in a nuanced, understated yet very powerful way.

None of the characters are happy in their own skin, except perhaps the daughter, who both symbolically and literally embraces both sides of this unhappy, class-divided community. A niggling, aggressive unhappiness and resentment pervades all the other characters, just like the shouting and discontent you’ve just heard on the TV news.

Bait Movie

This story of alienation and anger is not told in the usual, straightforward narrative arcs of social realism employed by Ken Loach or Mike Leigh. Its art owes more to Bertolt Brecht, the great socialist theatre-maker and poet. In order to clearly express his critique of the inhuman nature of capitalist society, and avoid the way living under capitalism taints the experience of artworks, Brecht developed various techniques which are used to great effect in Bait.

Just as Brecht always foregrounded the theatricality of his plays, Jenkin never lets us forget we’re watching a film. Visually, the film was made with hand-cranked cameras, like silent movies were made, then hand-processed into scratchy, lined images which are almost tactile in their materiality.

Aurally, the soundscape of the film stands out in a similar way. The dialogue has been recorded and dubbed onto the film, giving the uncomprehending, Pinteresque conversations an eerie atmosphere of alienation. Between the conversations there are hypnotic, rhythmic sounds, an underlying thump, thump – sometimes like the sea on the harbour wall, or the engines of the boats, or the wind, or the persistent tick of a clock. The effect of the sound design is both disturbing and reassuring, enhancing the tensions of the unfolding story. 

The editing has a similarly disorienting and disturbing effect. The point of view switches from landscape or group shots to macro close-ups, taking us out of the story being told and into material reality. It can linger on objects, but also often moves violently fast between the characters’ clipped and sometimes comic exchanges, so that separate conversations appear to be in some kind of weird, surreal conversation of their own. Occasionally shots of scenes are shown in advance of their chronological place in the plot.

And finally, the ending of this amazing film is edited in a deliberately low-key, undramatic and workaday way. Does the ending give hope? Yes and no. We’re not a happy country, but we might be if we worked equally together. What do you want?

I don’t know what you want, but I do know that if you go to see this film, you will be prevented from suspending your disbelief and getting pleasure from immersing yourselves in an entertaining story. Instead, just like Brecht, Jenkin insists that you understand the issues at the heart of the film, and not be a passive consumer of a piece of entertainment. So in a sense the film itself is bait – for you.

All these ‘distancing’ techniques work together to express the alienation, conflicts and collaborations in modern British class-divided society. The Cornish fishing village is a microcosm of post-industrial, post-referendum life today all over this country, where the dispossessed many confront the privileged few. You won’t see a better film this year about what you’ve just heard on the radio, seen on the telly, and read in the newspapers.

Robots Have No Bones
Monday, 05 August 2019 11:46

Robots Have No Bones

Published in Poetry

Robots Have No Bones (available here) is Fred Voss’s follow-up collection to The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Your Hand, also published by Culture Matters.

Robots in the workplace – computerized metalworking machinery – mean a loss of the tactile impact of ‘working’ a machine tool. And workers are still pushed to breaking point, working long hours in poor conditions and always on the tightrope of the poverty line.

In a series of sympathetic, sometimes visionary poems, Voss takes us into the lives of the American working class, manual workers who have been betrayed by successive politicians. Technological advances like robots mean that that there is enough wealth being created for working people not to have to work so hard, for so long, and for so little – but capitalism makes that impossible.

Like the machine presses he writes about, Voss’s poems stamp in our minds the nature of capitalist work, and the way it dehumanizes us. They also remind us of the potentially revolutionary strength of working-class people, who remain undefeated in the fight with oppressive bosses, venal politicians, and the financial class whose avarice is as automatic, ingrained and inhuman as the robots they use to make profits.

Robots Have No Bones

by Fred Voss

Old men
run the manual machines in this machine shop
I left the manual machines and learned to run computer-controlled
machines
so I'd be skilled on the cutting edge of technology in case I got laid
off
and needed to find another job
but as I grow old I miss running those old machines
feeling
their handles in my palm their vibrating tool steel tables
against my thighs the smell
of their grease-blackened worm screws the trembling
of their steel blocks in their vises deep in my bones as I strained
every muscle in my body leaning on those handles moving cutters
through groaning steel
they say another wave of automation is coming
truck drivers
welders
riveters assemblers machinists replaced
by robots
and I stand at my computer machine clicking through its automatic
motions without me
and I look over at those old men with their warm hands around the
handles of the manual machines
it felt good
feeling the trembling of steel in my bones as I gripped a machine handle
and carved the steel down
into axle
so a car could roll a just-married couple laughing
toward their honeymoon
a brass oxygen valve block
so a deep sea diver could look at blue coral for half an hour deep
beneath the waves
it felt good
to feel the steel of skyscrapers bridges fire hydrants jackhammers
emergency ward door hinges
bulldozer teeth cane tips water faucets in my bones
as I made this world
it felt good
putting every muscle in my body into cutting valves for pipes so water
could flow down the parched throats
of children
the hub
of a wheelchair wheel so a painter could roll to a window and put his
last sunset
on canvas
and what will we have left
after the computers and the robots have taken over
and we pace in circles flexing
our useless hands
what will we have left
when we can no longer feel this world
in our bones
and hearts?

 

Robots Have No Bones
Monday, 05 August 2019 11:33

Robots Have No Bones

Published in Our Publications

£10 (plus £1.50 p. and p.) ISBN: 978-1-912710-14-0

Robots Have No Bones is Fred Voss’s follow-up collection to The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Your Hand, also published by Culture Matters.

Robots in the workplace – computerized metalworking machinery – mean a loss of the tactile impact of ‘working’ a machine tool. And workers are still pushed to breaking point, working long hours in poor conditions and always on the tightrope of the poverty line.

In a series of sympathetic, sometimes visionary poems, Voss takes us into the lives of the American working class, manual workers who have been betrayed by successive politicians. Technological advances like robots mean that that there is enough wealth being created for working people not to have to work so hard, for so long, and for so little – but capitalism makes that impossible.

Like the machine presses he writes about, Voss’s poems stamp in our minds the nature of capitalist work, and the way it dehumanizes us. They also remind us of the potentially revolutionary strength of working-class people, who remain undefeated in the fight with oppressive bosses, venal politicians, and the financial class whose avarice is as automatic, ingrained and inhuman as the robots they use to make profits.

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2019: the winners!
Sunday, 04 August 2019 16:00

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2019: the winners!

Published in Poetry

The five winners of the 2019 Award are as follows:

So, I Grabbed Ahold of My Own Cunt by Jane Burn

spines stronger than the back of the Earth by Martin Hayes

Pencils by Dave Hubble

Dark by Paul Summers

Bank by Rob Walton

Congratulations to the five winners and thanks to all those who entered. This year's Bread and Roses anthology containing a selection of entries will shortly be available to buy online at £5. 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 is one of the winning entries: 

So, I Grabbed Ahold of My Own Cunt

by Jane Burn

Better that than under the thumb of the wrong man.
The one that shits a brick cos your hemline’s above the knee,
the one who sights a level with your breasts.
Come, you upskirters,
gropers,
fiddlers.
Roll up, roll up to where we’re stuck,
behind our desk, our till, our bar, our counter top, our stall.
Come,
with moisture on your smacking lips, rub keen palms
on greasy fabric thighs.
Bless us and our pursefuls of pin money, shackled
to your trouser pocket rummaging for change,
your come-to-bed conversation, leaning that bit over,
catch
a sneaky treat of tit, a clue of cleft. Here, you say,
as we kneel to stack a shelf. While you’re down there, pet.
Look how we break the day around our babies,
bite our tongues
or get the boot.
Look how the bags-for-life have have swung
their weighted lacerations on our skin.
Watch us
check behind before we bend, sense you fix the open target,
thrust with the intrusion of your eyes.
Look at the glass ceiling, how we drown beneath it,
ice over a pond.
How you fear the witch that bleeds five days
and doesn’t die,
how we’ll only mutter on about down below, ask for time off
when our kids are ill. How we’ll only cry.
Look how my hand closes a fist, opens like a rose.
Look how we stop going out cos we’re sick
of midnight coercion whining up our legs, sniffing out the hole,
the pissed-up booze fumes tongued along our necks.
Listen to your songs – your I know you want it,
your justification of blurred lines.
I do not want the feel of you inside of me
and so I grabbed ahold of my own cunt
to save you a job,
to save me having to run.

Lyrics taken from Blurred Lines, sung by Robin Thicke.

 

The Trouble with Monsters
Thursday, 02 May 2019 15:26

The Trouble with Monsters

Published in Our Publications

£8 (plus £1.50 p. and p.) ISBN: 978-1-912710-12-6

Christopher Norris’s new collection of political poems take aim at some monsters of our present bad times, among them Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Theresa May, George Osborne, Benjamin Netanyahu, and assorted hangers-on.

These politicians act as if they have said to themselves, like Milton’s Satan, ‘Evil, be thou my good’. They are held to account here in verse-forms that are tight and sharply focused despite the intense pressure of feeling behind them. The satire is unsparing and the dominant tone is one of anger mixed with sorrow, compassion and a vivid sense of the evils and suffering brought about by corruptions of political office.

The influence of Brecht is visible throughout, as is that of W.H. Auden’s mordant verse-commentary on politics and culture in the 1930s, along with the great eighteenth-century verse-satirists Dryden, Pope and Swift.

Norris leaves the reader in no doubt that we now face a global, European and domestic neo-fascist resurgence. It won’t be defeated unless we act together to defeat these right-wing monsters.

A unique combination of political anger and poetic ingenuity

- Terry Eagleton

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2019
Friday, 01 March 2019 13:15

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2019

Published in Poetry

Culture Matters is pleased to announce that the third Bread and Roses Poetry Award, sponsored by Unite, is now open for entries.

Our mission is to promote a socialist approach to all cultural activities, including arts such as poetry. So we run the Bread and Roses Poetry Award to create new opportunities for working people to write poetry, and to encourage poets to focus on themes which are meaningful to working-class communities.

As in previous years, there will be 5 prizes of £100 for the best poems, and an anthology of the poems of around a further 20 entrants will be published later in the year. In addition, we are offering a mentoring and support package for writers who have not yet published a collection. Up to 3 of these entrants - who may or may not have won one of the 5 prizes - will be linked to an experienced, published poet, and they will be helped to produce their first published collection.

They will also be invited, along with the winners of the 5 prizes, to launch their collections at the Teeside International Poetry Festival, to be held in Middlesbrough in April 2020.

Submission Guidelines and Award Rules

1. You may enter up to three original, previously unpublished (in print) poems in English, each no more than 50 lines long.

2. You must be resident in the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland.

3. Entry is free, and open to anyone regardless of trade union membership.

4. There will be five prizes of £100 each for the best poems. In addition, a mentoring and support package leading to a first published collection will be offered to up to 3 entrants, who may or may not be prizewinners.

5. Entries should broadly deal with themes relevant to working-class life, politics, communities and culture.

6. Entries should be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by midnight on Friday 14th June 2019, or by post to Culture Matters, c/o 8 Moore Court, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE15 8QE, to arrive by Friday 14th June 2019. No entries will be accepted after that date.

7. Please include the poem(s) and your name, address, and contact details in the body of the email.

8. All entries remain the copyright of the author but Culture Matters and Unite will have the right to publish them.

9. By entering the Award, entrants agree to accept and be bound by the rules of the Award and the decisions of the judges. We are unable to respond individually to submissions.

Copies of the Bread and Roses Poetry Anthology 2018 (along with many other fine books of political poetry!) are available to buy here.

From Aberfan t Grenfell
Thursday, 14 February 2019 16:21

From Aberfan t Grenfell

Published in Our Publications

£9 (plus £1.50 p. and p.) ISBN: 978-1-912710-08-9

From Aberfan t Grenfell shows that Mike Jenkins’s sublime skills in dialect poetry continue to shine as brightly as ever, as he evokes a bravura array of voices from his Merthyr bro. Using his work to give speech to people without power, Jenkins’s poetry dramatizes the characters and struggles of a community – but also a community’s surviving capacity to raise its voices against the power-structures which cause it to suffer. Compassionate and incisive in equal measure, From Aberfan t Grenfell is required reading in an era of austerity.
                                                                                                                           - Professor Matthew Jarvis, Anthony Dyson Fellow in Poetry, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

These poems locate the poetry freighted in the rhythms and rhetorics of daily speech and everyday conversation, and subtly tool them up and sharpen their purposes with punchlines of dark wit, love and anger in equal measure. Superbly illuminated by Alan Perry’s artwork, this book shows that, in Mike Jenkins’ hands, poetry is not only an unflinching mirror but also a righteous hammer.
                                                                                                                          - Robb Johnson, singer-songwriter


Shabbigentile
Wednesday, 30 January 2019 17:29

Shabbigentile

Published in Our Publications

£9 (plus £1.50 p. and p.) ISBN: 978-1-912710-10-2

Alan Morrison’s Shabbigentile is a counterpoint to his Forward Prize-nominated Tan Raptures (Smokestack Books, 2017), many of its poems having been written during the same period and on complementary polemical themes. These range from the ominous economic stormclouds of the banking crash, and eight years of scarring austerity cuts, to the potentially catastrophic cross paths of ‘Brexit’, Trump and the insurgent European-wide right-wing populism of the present.

Shabbigentile is populated by assorted grotesques, memes and leitmotivs, distinctly native to the turbulent and polarised Noughteens: the sweatshop barista, the coffee bean Corbynista, the Dole Jude and Welfare Jew, the Five Giant Shadows and Five Evil Reverbs, and the homegrown ogre of the title.

These part-organic, part-figurative amalgams inhabit the wastelands of asset-stripped Britain, where Tory and red top propaganda against the unemployed is a scapegoating pseudo-science (Scroungerology), and the DWP’s weapons of brown envelopes are transposed as Salted Caramels. From such hostile environments we jump to the dystopian atmospherics of a post-Brexit tinpot RU-RI-TANNIA which sees Easter Island heads sprouting from the white cliffs of Dover.

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