British poetry against nuclear weapons


This video from Britain is about Antony Owen reading his poetry.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

21st Century Poetry with Andy Croft

Wednesday 6th September 2017

Peace activist sheds light on ‘the ink of human darkness’

AFTER the election of Donald Trump earlier this year, the hands of the Doomsday Clock — calculated by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — were reset at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.

This is the clock’s second-closest approach to midnight since its introduction in 1947.

Yet, 72 years after the US dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing over 200,000 men, women and children, only 122 countries could be found to endorse the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

These, of course, do not include any of the nuclear powers. Russia and the US are currently modernising their strategic nuclear forces, North Korea claims that its nuclear missiles are now capable of attacking the US “any place, any time” and Trump threatens North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

These kind of foolish boasts are what Antony Owen calls the “speeches of men playing Gods,” written in “the ink of human darkness.”

Owen is a CND Peace Foundation patron who teaches peace education in Britain’s schools. The Nagasaki Elder (V Press, £9.99) is his fifth collection of poems and his best yet.

He started writing the book after a visit to Japan to hear the testimonies of the hibakusha (“explosion-affected people”) who survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Hiroshima Day last month, Owen read from the book at Coventry Cathedral, accompanied by a violinist from Coventry’s twin city Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).

His book has the inspired ferocity and prophetic fury of those British poets like Edith Sitwell, Randall Swingler, EP Thompson, James Kirkup and Adrian Mitchell who have protested so eloquently against nuclear weapons.

Owen describes a hellish world of “unforgettable fire,” “black rain” and the “ruined corn.”

Here is a shadow “that once cast a boy,” there is a playground where “children vanished into black magic,” human remains are like “Pompeii ornaments,” the world’s empires are “realms of pot-bellied maggots.”

There are some fine individual poems, notably How to Survive a Nuclear Winter, To Feed a Nagasaki Starling and The Stars That Wandered Hiroshima. One of the most memorable is The Art of War:

“The old Hiroshima trees in autumn scratch the ill wind till it bleeds in time for spring when the dead each blow a petal and their fragrant inferno engulfs a man coughing blossoms of blood from weak boughs of bone… when spring leaves Hiroshima, all that remains of trees are fingers of the dead, holding birds that swept across sky like ashes, throwing their urn of shrieks to a scarlet sun… Every year the cherry blossoms get redder and a zephyr sighs as they fall…”

In the second half of the book, Owen writes about Basra, the bombing of Dresden, the Coventry Blitz and British tabloid hostility to refugees: “Those who fight refugees from coming into the country forget that not so long ago… we were called evacuees; it means the same thing”

And he reminds us that: “The new talk was exodus,/children sent from Coventry,/clasping umbilical gas masks tighter than their mothers… there is no love rationed when a child is cleaved from their kin.”

The book ends with two pages filled with lines of black dots, each representing one of the 2,058 nuclear tests conducted since 1945.

Owen points out that it would need another seven pages of black dots to represent the number of nuclear weapons in the world today.

Antony Owen is launching The Nagasaki Elder at the Inspire Cafe Bar in Coventry on Thursday September 7, details: antonyowenpoetry.wordpress.com.

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Jewish Soviet author Ilya Ehrenburg


This video is called Ilya Ehrenburg reading Marina Tsvetaeva’s poem “You Walk, Resembling Me” 1913.

By John Ellison in Britain:

A poet for all seasons

Thursday 31st August 2017

JOHN ELLISON remembers the trying times and extraordinary life of the Soviet-Jewish author Ilya Ehrenburg who died 50 years ago today

ILYA EHRENBURG — Russian poet, novelist, war correspondent, peace campaigner, autobiographer and spokesperson for humanity — was born in January 1891 and died on August 31 1967, 50 years ago today.

On hearing of his passing, his friend the painter Pablo Picasso cut telephone communication with the world, while this paper’s obituary quoted Ehrenburg’s words at the World Peace Congress in 1950: “War is not the midwife of history, it is an abortionist of the flower of humanity.”

His life demonstrated his love for humankind and its creativity in art, poetry and fiction, his love for the country of his birth, for the France which became his second home and for the Jewish people of whom he was one.

A first-hand witness of many of the world’s events and its violence for half a century, he survived many dangerous moments including some in his homeland where he picked, during the Stalin period, a lucky ticket in the bloody lottery.

Beginning with People and Life — six widely translated volumes of his memoirs — published in the 1960s, he delivered an enlightening, vivid and heartfelt account of his experiences and of the people he knew. Yet more can be learnt from Tangled Loyalties, a sympathetic and deeply researched biography by Joshua Rubenstein.

Ehrenburg was born into a middle-class Moscow-based Jewish family that had nothing exceptional about it apart from the person he was to become.

He was to recall helping to build barricades in Moscow’s streets in the closing stages of the abortive 1905 revolution and seeing blood on the snow from shot revolutionaries.

A childhood friend of Nikolai Bukharin, he was arrested for Bolshevik activity early in 1908 and after release from prison five months later was pursued again by police before escaping Russia to take up abode in Paris.

There he met Lenin, wrote poetry and before long visited Vienna where he stayed with Trotsky, whose “dogmatic pronouncements on the utilitarian essence of art” did not impress him.

Increasingly Ehrenburg put literature before politics. In Paris he made friends with Picasso, Modigliani and other artists.

Ehrenburg’s war correspondent career began quietly in late 1915, when his reports of the world war began to appear in Russian newspapers. He visited the Western front often.

In July 1917 the revolution in Russia took him home. At this point he was anti-Bolshevik, preferring Kerensky to Lenin and witnessing much hatred and violence, he felt despair. But poets Vladimir Mayakovsky and Osip Mandelstam became friends. In Kiev he survived the city’s occupation by anti-Bolshevik forces and their anti-Jewish pogroms.

After a period in the south, he was interrogated in a Moscow prison by the Cheka (the Emergency Committee) for four days as a suspected counter-revolutionary. His release was secured with the help of Bukharin, now editor of Pravda. He left Russia for Europe in 1921, settling for a while in Berlin.

He wrote 19 novels, beginning with Julio Jurenito, over the next decade, satirising greed and hypocrisy in the world around him and moving ever closer to “non-party member” support for a communist future.

In Rome in June 1924, appalled by the murder by Mussolini’s fascists of socialist deputy Matteotti, he became fearful for what lay ahead for Italy.

In 1931, visits to Berlin told him that fascism was on the offensive, that its opponents were disunited and that the crisis was growing. The following year he became Paris correspondent of the Soviet newspaper Izvestia (News).

Early in 1934 he sent dispatches about the fascist attempt to reach the French parliament building and then, from Vienna, about the violent suppression of left forces there.

Ehrenburg’s first Spanish civil war dispatch was from Barcelona in September 1936. He sent around 50 by the year’s end and many more during 1937. He admired and made friends with the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

Meeting writer Ernest Hemingway — a Spanish language misunderstanding caused Hemingway to attempt to hit Ehrenburg with a whisky bottle, but friendship followed.

Back in the Soviet Union before 1938 began, he was confronted with the menacing atmosphere generated by the arrests of many acquaintances. He accepted advice to be silent. In March 1938 his childhood friend Bukharin was, among a group of others, infamously tried, condemned and shot. Ehrenburg could not eat for several days and refused to write about the trial — he had come close to being a defendant.

As long as the Soviet Union remained a bulwark against fascism, Ehrenburg was ready to tolerate much. He wrote: “No matter what happened, however agonising the doubts … one had to be silent, one had to struggle, one had to win.” One of his poems opens with the line: “Let me not think too much, cut short that voice, I pray.”

In June 1938 he was back in Spain, writing many more articles filled with poignant detail and reflecting his expectation that the Spanish war would be followed [by] another, bigger and more terrible [war].

As the European situation deteriorated, he reported more from Paris.

For Ehrenburg the non-aggression pact (between the Soviet Union and nazi Germany) of August 1939 was inevitable but tragic.

A patriot for both the Soviet Union and for France, he felt a traitor to the latter and became ill for eight months, recovering only after the nazis invaded.

Repatriated to Russia — after an arrest by the French authorities — publication of his articles, which had stopped abruptly in April 1939, was resumed. His anti-fascist novel The Fall of Paris was awarded the State Stalin Prize — and was published in English in 1942.

Days after the nazi invasion of his homeland on June 22 1941 Ehrenburg was signed up to write for the Red Star, the Soviet Army’s newspaper. Before the war’s end he wrote almost 450 pieces for the paper and more than another 1,500 for other papers. Many anthologies of his articles were published.

Reuters correspondent Alexander Werth said that every Red Army soldier was pulled together by Ehrenburg’s articles. When Kiev fell, he wrote, in the style that made him famous: “We will liberate Kiev. The enemy’s blood will wash the enemy’s footprints. Like the ancient Phoenix, Kiev will rise from the ashes, young and beautiful. Sorrow feeds hatred. Hatred strengthens hope.”

Ehrenburg also became a prominent member of the Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in which, under his direction, a team of writers worked on The Black Book — a meticulous record of the nazi murder of Soviet Jews.

In Red Star in November 1942 he wrote: “Hitler wanted to turn the Jews into a target. The Jews of Russia showed him that a target shoots.”

He met many Jewish partisans and in 1944 wrote the first poem about the massacre of Jews at Babii Yar. In it he said: “As if from every pit, I hear you calling me.”

In December 1944 he wrote in Pravda of the destruction of six million Jews: “All this began with stupid jokes, with the shouts of street kids, with signposts, and it led to Majdanek, Babii Yar, Treblinka, to ditches filled with children’s corpses.”

After arrest-risking lectures in Moscow when he expressed concerns about the behaviour of Soviet troops in Germany, Ehrenburg’s articles were refused on the eve of victory until after Germany’s surrender.

A passing attendance at the Nuremberg war crimes trials produced Ehrenburg’s comment that Goering and others were “petty criminals who have committed gigantic crimes.”

He travelled widely post-war, a cultural ambassador for the Soviet Union and simultaneously a passionate peace campaigner under the shadow of the atom bomb and the cold war.

But the publication of The Black Book was refused in 1947 and — after Stalin ordered in late 1948, the arrests of many Yiddish writers — Ehrenburg was again close to being arrested himself.

One year after Stalin’s death, in 1954, Ehrenburg’s optimistic novel The Thaw attracted condemnation from much of the Soviet literary establishment — its insightful real life criticisms of how things were under Stalin were deemed “anti-Soviet.”

In his last years came the astonishingly illuminating memoirs, volume by volume, albeit with censor-directed deletions.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, he argued against the ideologically narrow basis of Soviet literature published and the criminalisation of dissident writers.

His socialism was unqualified. An extraordinary life.

Theatre and dance in Den Bosch city


This June 2017 video is a trailer for the Boulevard theatre festival, 3-13 August 2017 in Den Bosch city in the Netherlands.

After we had arrived in Den Bosch on 10 August, we went to that festival.

First, we went to Eendje (Duckling), a solo play by actress Kim van Zeben.

Kim van Zeben with duckling, 10 August 2017

This photo shows Ms van Zeben during her 10 August Den Bosch performance. A cell phone photo, like the other Den Bosch one in this blog post.

The play Eendje is inspired by the fairy tale The Ugly Duckling, by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.

But it differs: in The Ugly Duckling a duck family hates one duckling because it is different: bigger and whiter than the others. In a happy end, the ‘ugly’ duckling grows up to be a beautiful swan.

In the play Eendje, a duck family (especially the mother) hates one duckling for being different as well. Not because of looks, but because that duckling does not like bread and would like to live in a house.

In Eendje, Kim van Zeben plays the role of Pia, a radio journalist, doing interviews with humans and, in this case, with the duck Dobber. As a ventriloquist, Ms van Zeben plays the six other roles (dolls) as well: duckling Dobber; its conformist mother; Theo, a sewer rat; a human housing bureaucrat; a guitar playing cat and a chicken.

After a quarrel, Dobber swims away from its family and lands in a sewer. It hates the faeces and urine there. Theo the rat living there likes shit and piss, and drives Dobber away for not liking it.

Dobber asks the human bureaucracy if it can get a house. The duck then has to jump through the bureaucratic hoops of various questions and tasks. The last, decisive, task is: can Dobber ring a doorbell? Dobber tries, but the bell is much too high. Then, Dobber remembers being a bird. It flies up to the bell and rings it. ‘Now, I surely qualify to get a house?’ No, says the bureaucrat, you have flown. Humans cannot fly. So, you are not human and don’t have the right to live in a house. Sad, Dobber has to go away again.

Then, Dobber meets a cat which tries to eat the duck. However, when Dobber talks about being a unusual, nonconformist duck, the cat stops being aggressive. As the cat is unusual and nonconformist as well, being able to play heavy metal music on a guitar. The cat’s girlfriend is a chicken. ‘How ridiculous, a chicken and a cat as a couple’, Dobber says. ‘No, not ridiculous at all’, the cat says. ‘Remember what you yourself went through. It is OK to be different’.

Now, Dobber really understands diversity, and discovers how to live a happy life. The duck can go back to its native wetland; and, as well, build a house there to live in.

After we came out of the tent where Ms van Zeben had performed, we were on the main theatre festival ground.

Boulevard theatre festival, 10 August 2017

Next, we went to a performance by the five dancers of MAN||CO.

This video announces their new thirty minute show The Winner Takes It All; which we saw. It is modern dance with also some spoken word (in English, about a president). Its theme is power, and how it may lead to militarism and oppression. With a hint in the show to, eg, Donald Trump.

Then, we went by bus from the city to the countryside, for a performance of Hallo Dampkring (Hello Atmosphere), by children’s theatre company Artemis.

Hallo Dampkring

The theme of the play is global warming. The text is based on letters about that by children from Terschelling island and the Den Bosch area. It is in the form of a Roman Catholic Requiem. Six children are the actors. The audience sings along in some parts.

The open air stands were full of spectators, who applauded much.

Passchendaele, World War I bloodbath of poets and other soldiers


Australian stretcher bearers trapped in mud, Battle of Ypres, 1917. Photo courtesy Australian War Memorial

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Passchendaele: ‘I could taste their blood in the air’

Tuesday 1st August 2017

BRITISH soldiers killed at Passchendaele were remembered yesterday on the centenary of the start of the WWI battle in Belgium.

More than half a million men from both sides were killed or injured in more than 100 days of fighting in the rain-sodden summer and autumn of 1917.

The Tyne Cot cemetery near the Belgian village is the largest Commonwealth burial ground in the world, with 11,971 servicemen buried and remembered there, 8,373 of whom are unidentified.

An account by Private Bert Ferns of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who fought in the battle, was read out by Fusilier Shaun Mclorie.

He said: “I staggered up the hill and then dropped over the slope into a sort of gully. It was here that I froze and became very frightened because a big shell had just burst and blown a group of lads to bits; there were bits of men all over the place, a terrible sight, men just blown to nothing.

“I just stood there. It was still and misty, and I could taste their blood in the air.”

This is a music video of a song from the British musical Oh! what a lovely war. About World War I. The lyrics are:

Forward Joe Soap‘s Army

Forward Joe Soap’s army, marching without fear,
With our old commander, safely in the rear.
He boasts and skites from morn till night,
And thinks he’s very brave,
But the men who really did the job are dead and in their grave.
Forward Joe Soap’s army, marching without fear,
With our old commander, safely in the rear.
Amen.

From the World Socialist Web Site, 31 July 2017:

At 3:50 on the morning of July 31, 1917, the allied troops of Great Britain and France begin the so-called Third Great Flanders Offensive, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. …

It becomes a grueling battle of attrition and a terrible slaughter that continues through November. For months, the ruins of a single location are fought over. For the first time, aerial battles take place involving more than 100 fighter planes. Only with difficulty does the German military command manage to replace the divisions which are quickly disabled.

Outnumbered and outgunned, the Germans overcome their disadvantage by using mustard gas for the first time, the barbaric chemical agent that burns the airways and skin within seconds. Professor Adolf Julius Meyer, the creator of mustard gas, later boasts: “The effect of mustard gas in the Flanders battle of 1917 grew more and more and it was often the case that the enemy was happy if he was able to keep a quarter of his men unharmed.”

The fighting lasts through mid-November. The military objectives of the offensive are not achieved. The only result—a relocation of the front line by 8 kilometers—is paid for on the British side with approximately 50,000 killed; 38,000 missing in action; and 236,000 wounded. On the German side, approximately 46,000 are killed and missing while 281,000 are wounded and seriously ill.

The grave of Hedd Wyn at Artillery Wood Cemetery in Belgium

Also from the World Socialist Web Site, 31 July 2017:

Western Front, July 31: Two poets, Hedd Wyn and Francis Ledwidge, killed in action

Irish poet Francis Ledwidge and Welsh poet Hedd Wyn are both killed during the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres.

Ledwidge, born in 1887, was associated with the Gaelic revival movement prior to the war, and he was also active in trade union circles. He tried and failed to establish a local club of the Gaelic League, a literary and cultural organization that promoted the use of the Irish language and was associated with the development of nationalism at the beginning of the 20th century. He was more successful in creating a local branch of the Irish Volunteers in Slane, the organization formed in response to the creation of the Ulster Volunteers to ensure the implementation of home rule for Ireland. Though Ledwidge initially sided with the minority of the Irish Volunteers, which, on the outbreak of war, opposed participation in the British army, he soon shifted his position and joined the military in October 1914.

Ledwidge’s poetry was influenced by rural life. He also responded to the radicalism of the 1916 Easter Rising, writing in “O’Connell Street”:

“A Noble failure is not vain
But hath a victory of its own
A bright delectance from the slain
Is down the generations thrown.”

Wyn, born Ellis Humphry Evans in 1887, is also killed near Ypres. He adopted the name Hedd Wyn, meaning blessed peace in Welsh, in 1910. His poetry drew heavily on the influences of the Romantic era, including themes of nature and spirituality, although he has also written several war poems since the conflict broke out. Wyn initially opposed the war on Christian pacifist grounds. He was conscripted in 1916 and then arrested by the military police in early 1917 after overstaying a period of leave at home. Wyn posthumously won an award at the National Eisteddfod, a festival of poetry and music, for his poem Yr Arwr.

Some of Wyn’s works have been translated, including the poem Rhyfel (War), which begins,

“Why must I live in this grim age,
When, to a far horizon, God
Has ebbed away, and man, with rage,
Now wields the sceptre and the rod?”

Death and injuries at the battle of Passchendaele

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Passchendaele: They lied then, they lie now

Tuesday 1st August 2017

ONE hundred years ago today, Daily Chronicle war correspondent Philip Gibbs recorded events on the first day of the third battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele.

An Irish soldier had gone over the top to attack the German lines in atrocious weather, glad to escape the “awful noise” of the field guns on the British side. He and his comrades had crossed blasted ground, where “trenches had disappeared, concrete emplacements had been overturned, breastworks had been flung like straws to the wind.”

Many of the so-called enemy had been buried alive along with their machine guns, trench mortars and bomb stores.

As Gibbs noted: “But there were other dead not touched by shell-fire, nor by any bullet. They had been killed by our gas attack which had gone before the battle. Rows of them lay clasping their gas-masks, and had not been quick enough before the vapour of death reached them.”

Over the following four months, half a million men and boys were killed or wounded in a series of brutal battles for five miles of Belgian mud.

In December 1917, Prime Minister David Lloyd George attended a private banquet where Gibbs recounted his experiences at the front in graphic, gory detail. The next day, Lloyd George confided to Guardian editor CP Scott the impact that this account would have on the home front: “If people really knew, the war would end tomorrow. But of course, they don’t know and can’t know.”

The press barons and state censors ensured that most civilians never did read the truth about the Great War between the ruling classes of the British, French, Russian and Italian empires on the one side and those of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire on the other.

As Lloyd George had gone on to say: “The correspondents don’t write and the censorship wouldn’t pass the truth. What they do send is not the war, but just a pretty picture of the war with everybody doing gallant deeds.

“The thing is horrible and beyond human nature to bear and I feel I can’t go on with this bloody business.”

But he and his successors did go on with this “bloody business,” not only in Europe but in Iraq, India, Malaya, Korea, Kenya, Aden, Cyprus, the Falklands and Afghanistan.

And still we are not told the truth. At yesterday’s commemorations, a procession of military figures, princes, politicians and priests concealed the real causes and motives of the 1914-18 slaughter in a cloud of guff.

They yapped about freedom, duty, courage, service and sacrifice — but uttered not a word about the war criminals who incited, organised and applauded one of the biggest and most pointless mass slaughters in history.

Fittingly, this was on the same day that the High Court threw out an attempt to hold Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Lord Goldsmith to account for waging the murderous war of aggression against Iraq in 2003.

Meanwhile in Ypres, ever ready to let slip the dogs of war, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon linked Passchendaele and the first world war to Britain’s present-day military commitments and alliances.

They are indeed connected, although not, as Fallon would have it, in some common, timeless struggle for freedom and democracy.

Rather, Britain’s foreign and military policy remains to make the world safe for big business profits, bringing troublesome peoples and governments to heel while monopoly capitalism exploits their human and natural resources.

We would best honour the victims of Passchendaele by redoubling our efforts to challenge British imperialism, its bloody interventions, its nuclear weapons of mass extermination and its servile Nato alliance with US imperialism.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Passchendaele – where imperialism murdered hundreds of thousands of British & German workers

THE BATTLE of Passchendaele saw 275,000 British soldiers, workers in uniform, killed or wounded alongside 220,000 German workers in uniform.

This was a great imperialist slaughter directed by Anglo-French and German imperialism to re-divide the world between themselves. The general staffs and the governments involved fought resolutely and determinedly down to the last worker in uniform in the struggle in which shell-shocked workers were executed for desertion or cowardice.

It was … the ruling classes of the planet determined to safeguard and expand their empires no matter how many workers’ lives this cost. The Second ‘socialist’ International collapsed at the start of the war and supported their own governments, displaying ultra-patriotism and an extreme willingness to sacrifice workers lives for the benefit of their particular empire.

There were exceptions however. In Britain, John Maclean, James Maxton and the Clydeside Workers Committee opposed the war. James Connolly did the same in Ireland. In Germany, the anti-imperialist war struggle was led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxenburg, with Liebknecht voting against war credits in the German parliament on December 2nd 1914.

He told the parliament: ‘I am voting against the War Credits Bill today for the following reasons. None of the peoples involved in this war wanted it, and it did not break out to promote their welfare – not in Germany or anywhere else. It is an imperialist war, a war to dominate the capitalist world market and secure for industrial and financial capital the possession of important territories for settlement.’

In the Russian socialist movement … Lenin saw the Great War as the prelude to the socialist revolution of the working class. He would not support the war of the Czarist autocracy and saw the war as a great opportunity for overthrowing Czarism, breaking up the Czarist Russian empire which he termed ‘the prison house of the nations’. …

In November 1918, the mutiny of the German navy at Kiel saw the red flag raised over the fleet and in fact ended the First World War. On November 3rd, the sailors in Kiel, joined by workers from the nearby city, detained their officers and took control of their ships. They also formed Elective Councils, their own ‘workers soviets’ that drafted the Kiel Mutineers list of demands, the first six points being;

1. The release of all inmates and political prisoners.
2. Complete freedom of speech and the press.
3. The abolition of mail censorship.
4. Appropriate treatment of crews by superiors.
5. No punishment for comrades returning to ships and barracks.
6. No launching of the fleet under any circumstances.

This is a music video of a song from the British musical Oh! what a lovely war. About World War I. It is a parody of What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

World War I propaganda in video games: here.