British Labourite poet banned by Blairites for satiric Blair poems

This video from Ireland says about itself:

Kevin Higgins – An Introduction with two poems from Revival

Launch of the Revival Poetry Journal issue 7, recorded in The Whitehouse, O’Connell St., Limerick, on Wednesday the 9th April 2008.

By Steve Sweeney in Britain, Tuesday, January 2, 2018:

Calls grow for Kevin Higgins to be reinstated into the Labour Party

A letter signed by over 30 people in today’s Star brands the poet’s 18 month suspension ‘absurd’

POET Kevin Higgins remains suspended by the Labour Party 18 months after writing a satire about critics of party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

A letter printed in today’s Morning Star, signed by more than 30 people, has called on Labour to reinstate Mr Higgins’s membership, branding his continued suspension from the party “absurd.”

Mr Higgins was one of the many to receive letters from Labour’s compliance unit suspending him from the party after the Labour right organised a failed attempt to dislodge Mr Corbyn as leader in the fallout of the EU referendum vote in 2016.

Included in the list of accusations against Mr Higgins was that he had refashioned German writer Bertolt Brecht’s poem Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife as a satire about Tony and Cherie Blair.

The poet lives in Ireland but campaigned for Labour during a visit to Britain and has continued to pay his membership fee as an overseas member.

He has been a member of the party since the age of 15 and was active in the anti-poll tax movement.

In 2015 he wrote the satirical poem Blair’s Advice on hearing that the former prime minister had written a column in the Observer saying Labour would only be successful by occupying the “centre ground”.

He tweeted at the time: “Tony Blair needs to just go away. I hear he has an article in today’s Observer. I’d rather make love to John Prescott than read it.”

Mr Higgins’s supporters wrote: “We think it absurd that someone can remain suspended from the UK Labour Party for 18 months for the supposed crime of writing satirical poems.”

They called on the party to “immediately clarify this situation.”

Here is the 2015 poem about the failed Blairite coup attempt:

BLAIR’S ADVICE (On hearing tell of his column in Sunday’s Observer)

Easy to say,
you’d rather make loud love
to Lord Prescott, or have
your face smashed between
Sir Cyril Smith’s quivering cheeks
than read Tony Blair on how
the motorway to the mountaintop
he envisages lies
through the centre ground;
when you know neither
gentleman’s available, right
here right now, to take you.
We need to make voting Labour
as pleasurable
for call centre managers and
estate agents of a certain age
as lowering their roasting
menopausal testicles
into a nice cold bath.

To this end, we need a leader
with ideas thrilling as a dripping cistern,
a man (or woman) likely conceived during a Conservative Association dinner
somewhere in darkest Buckinghamshire;
who, while his or her fellow students
were thoughtlessly dancing the blues,
bravely danced the beige;
a person of exemplary character apart
from that one conviction for stealing
the brass handles off
their own father’s coffin.
We must offer hope
to those who aspire to shop
for gourmet sausage meat
at Waitrose, and not
waste time on people who perspire
as they rifle through packets
of past-their-use-by-date
picnic ham at Aldi.


– Kevin Higgins’s poetry features in the generation-defining anthology Identity Parade — New British and Irish Poets (Ed. Roddy Lumsden, Bloodaxe, 2010) and in the recent anthology The Hundred Years’ War: Modern War Poems (Ed. Neil Astley, Bloodaxe, 2014). The Ghost In The Lobby (Salmon, 2014) is Kevin’s fourth collection of poems. His
blog is at

This video from the USA says about itself:

New Report Finds Tony Blair Schemed With Bush To Invade Iraq

8 July 2016

An official investigation known as The Chilcot Report into how Tony Blair led Great Britain into war reveals that he and George W Bush conspired to bring their countries to a war of aggression based on faulty intelligence, lies and assumptions. Blair sent Bush a note promising loyalty.

And here is Kevin Higgins poem on Tony and Cherie Blair, based on Brecht’s Ballad of the soldier’s wife:

And what did she get, the girlfriend,
from the student union meeting
at which he rose to his feet
and realised he could speak?
From that meeting she got
the Snickers bar he forgot to eat
so busy was he watching them listen;
and that speech, unabridged,
every other night for thirty five years.

And what did she get, his new wife,
from the time he first used a party
conference microphone to agree with both sides?
Those okay with the Moslems/Mexicans/Gypsies being here,
and those who want them kept over there.
From that microphone she took away their
invitation to dine with the Deputy Mayor
and his not new wife.

And what did she get, his no longer new wife,
when, at the second attempt,
he won that seat on the City Council?
From his election she got to drink Pinot Noir
and go swimming in their private club
with the not-so-new wives
of those who got the contracts
to make the paving stones and install
the pay-and-display ticket machines
during his years as Chairman
of the relevant committee.

And what did she get, his well-maintained wife,
the night he was elected to the big shiny
parliament? From that night she took away
an architect to re-design their new three storey pad
in the priciest possible part of the capital,
and an article about herself
in the Daily Express lifestyle pages.

And what did she get, the no longer new MP’s
no longer new wife, the morning
they made him Minister?
That morning she got to go horse riding
with the Leader of the House of Lords’
fourth (or fifth) wife.

And what did she get, the no longer new
Cabinet Minister’s wife, the night the landslide
made him Prime Minister? That night
she got to hold to her breast
invitations to break foie gras
with the Sultan of Brunei, the President of China;
and the chance to write husband’s speech
announcing the crackdown on beggars
who accost hard working
families who stop to ask for directions
en route to the nearest funeral parlour

And what did she get, the ex-Prime Minister’s
no longer new wife, from all the depleted uranium shells
he had dropped during the Battle of Basra, all the soldiers
he sent to meet improvised explosive
in far Mesopotamia in the hope
of getting rid of something bigger
than the beggars and prostitutes
at Kings Cross. For these she got
white night terrors
of him on trial for all their crimes,
and the desire to never again
look out the front window of their fine
Connaught Square house
at the tree from which, it’s said,
they used to once string

While the Blairite Labour party bureaucrats keep banning Kevin Higgins for poetry, they apparently never even thought of banning Tony Blair for war crimes, torture, money grabbing or his expressed preference for the Conservative party over the Labour party.

Mr Wolff also claims in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House that Mr Blair tried to land a role as a Middle East adviser to Mr Trump: here.


Poet Mayakovsky in theatre play

This 10 October 2017 video from the Netherlands is the trailer of the play Majakovski/Oktober by theatre company De Warme Winkel.

On 23 November 2017, I went to see Majakovski/Oktober at the Leiden theatre.

Its subject is the life and work of Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930).

This video is called The voice and ethos of Mayakovsky.

When he started as a poet, he did not like symbolism, which was rather widespread then.

He was a radical innovator, inventing the ‘stepladder poem’, in which narrow lines run diagonally down a wider page. These innovations are similar to other avantgarde poets, like Flemish Paul van Ostaijen.

Before 1914, he joined the Futurist movement; which in Russia differed from their Italian colleagues.

In 1915, Mayakovsky fell in love with Lili Brik, a central person in the avantgarde art world. Later, she would feature on a famous Rodchenko poster.

Lili Brik on Rodchenko poster

In 1916, there was trouble in the relationship with Lili Brik. This led to Mayakovsky’s first, failed, suicide attempt. According to Brik, later there was a second failed attempt. Finally, in 1930 after more deceptions in his love life, Mayakovsky made his third attempt, this time successful.

What happened in 1917 in Russia caused him to overcome the sadness which had led to his first attempt to kill himself. In February, a massive workers’ strike drove away the repressive czarist regime. When the new provisional government continued the czar’s participation in the World War I bloodbath and told workers and peasants to wait for improvements till after victory in the war, the October revolution, with its ‘Peace, land, bread’ slogan expelled the provisional government.

Over 150,000 people came to Mayakovsky’s funeral, as this video shows.

In a 1930 obituary, Leon Trotsky wrote:

It is not true that Mayakovsky was first of all a revolutionary and after that a poet, although he sincerely wished it were so. In fact Mayakovsky was first of all a poet, an artist, who rejected the old world without breaking with it. Only after the revolution did he seek to find support for himself in the revolution, and to a significant degree he succeeded in doing so; but he did not merge with it totally for he did not come to it during his years of inner formation, in his youth.

This is a strange remark, as Mayakovsky had joined the revolutionary movement when he was only fourteen years old. More precisely, he joined the Bolshevik tendency among the revolutionaries; which Trotsky would only join ten years later, months before the October revolution. (Partisans of Stalin would reproach Trotsky with being a Johnny-come-lately. Though they were not really consequent. Look at prominent Stalin supporter Andrey Yanuaryevich Vyshinsky. In 1917 had been a pro-provisional government pro-World War I Menshevik. He had tried to have Lenin arrested, and joined the Bolsheviks three years after Trotsky did).

Trotsky had written about Mayakovsky more extensively earlier, with praise but also some sharp criticism.

A. V. Lunacharsky, ex-Soviet Minister of Culture, in a 1931 long obituary reacted critically to Trotsky’s obituary:

Trotsky says that Mayakovsky took his life because the revolution did not proceed according to Trotsky; now, had it gone according to Trotsky, it would have blossomed out in such dazzling fireworks that Mayakovsky would never have dreamed of grieving.

Now, from 1931 to the 2017 play.

This 6 November 2017 video shows what happens backstage at Majakovski/Oktober.

On the flyers of the play, the theatre company alludes to the Dutch social democrat PvdA party, which at recent elections lost most of their voters due to being infected with Blairism.

This 16 October 2017 video shows actresses Annelinde Bruijs en Mara van Vlijmen. They tell how they swapped their roles.

There are six actors in the play, four women and two men, apart from the Mayakovsky role. These six roles are not named. Who are they? Are they Mayakovsky’s lovers, Lili Brik and Veronika Polonskaya? And old colleagues of the poet from the Futurist movement? The dialogues give that impression.

The theme of the play is disrespectful treatment of someone who has died by survivors. Symbolized in the play by the six actors using Mayakovsky’s dead body as a plaything. Dik Boutkan, the actor of the Mayakovsky role, did well at being a dead body during most of the performance, except at the beginning and the end. He is not exceptionally tall, contrary to Mayakovsky. In general, the acting was good.

A review in Dutch daily De Volkskrant says that is a pity the play is more on the poet’s death and after than on his life and work. I have to agree at least somewhat with that.

There is a parallel with another famous artist who killed himself: Vincent van Gogh (though with Van Gogh it is less certain it was really suicide).

In a review of the recent film Loving Vincent, Joanne Laurier wrote:

In the course of the movie, [Doctor] Gachet’s daughter Marguerite asks Armand [Roulin] at one point: “You want to know so much about his death–but what do you know about his life?” This, unfortunately, is a question that can be posed to Loving Vincent as a project.

Ms Laurier cannot accuse Loving Vincent of neglecting Van Gogh’s work, as the paintings, recreated by oil painters, are at the heart of the film.

With Majakovski/Oktober, one may ask: is there enough in the play about his poems? Yes, many lines of them are quoted.

However, not more political lines, like pro-peace lines.

In 1917, Mayakovsky wrote one of various poems against World War I. This one:

Call To Account!

The drum of war thunders and thunders.
It calls: thrust iron into the living.
From every country
slave after slave
are thrown onto bayonet steel.
For the sake of what?
The earth shivers
and stripped.
Mankind is vapourised in a blood bath
only so
can get hold of Albania.
Human gangs bound in malice,
blow after blow strikes the world
only for
someone’s vessels
to pass without charge
through the Bosporus.
the world
won’t have a rib intact.
And its soul will be pulled out.
And trampled down
only for someone,
to lay their hands on
Why does
a boot
crush the Earth — fissured and rough?
What is above the battles’ sky –
When will you stand to your full height,
giving them your life?
When will you hurl a question to their faces:
Why are we fighting?

Still a pertinent poem asking a pertinent question, now with the 2017 wars.

And why does the play neglect Mayakovsky’s theatre plays (obviously useful at first sight for a theatre company)? The films he made? And how about the background, the 1917 Russian revolution mentioned in the title, but not elaborated on?

Dutch daily Het Parool is also critical on the play: here.

The Theaterkrant wrote a positive review: here.

The Dutch daily NRC also wrote a more positive review than De Volkskrant or Het Parool or Trouw; here.

Including the line (translated):

Later in his life he, like [Dutch poet Herman] Gorter, made the switch to socialist poetry and became a mouthpiece for Stalin.

The NRC is incorrect in this. Mayakovsky became a socialist before he became a poet, and wanted to make socialist art right from the beginning. While Dutch Gorter became a poet first, and a socialist later. Both Gorter and Mayakovsky were not ‘mouthpieces for Stalin’. Probably, the reviewer bases that mistakenly on the final part of the play. Then, Dik Boutkan in his Mayakovsky role arises from the dead, and speaks about the situation now in 2017. He attacks the restoration of capitalism in Russia; and claims a strongman like ‘the great Stalin’ is needed to redress that. Giving the wrong impression that the second part of that final speech is a logical consequence of the first part.

British author Michael Rosen interviewed

This video from Britain says about itself:

The Wicked Tricks of Till Owlyglass – DAY 12 – Kids’ Poems and Stories With Michael Rosen

When we hear how Till Owlyglass cured a small boy’s constipation, and how he taught a merchant to pack eggs tightly. Till Owlyglass (Till Eulenspiegel) is a boy who was special from the day he was baptised three times. But not in a good way. Not in a way his parents liked. He was always in trouble for his rudeness and practical jokes, and grew up to be the most outrageous trickster in Germany. Everyone told stories about him – and they still do five centuries later.

By Louise Raw in Britain:

‘I used to think Marx’s or Lenin’s books said communists must go camping’

Saturday 18th November 2017

MICHAEL ROSEN talks to the Star about his communist parents, his childhood, Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit and art.

I DON’T associate with many creative power couples. The Beckhams call, but there are only so many hours in the day. I’d be surprised, though, if they came much more productive or interesting than Michael Rosen and Emma-Louise Williams.

Williams, a radio producer and film-maker, is curating the current art exhibition at Bow’s Nunnery Gallery, along with her husband. It centres on the life and work of the extraordinary Albert Turpin: window cleaner, firefighter, anti-fascist and post-war mayor of Bethnal Green.

Turpin was a member of the East London group of working-class male and female artists, who painted life as they saw it in a way that was ground-breaking.

As well as the paintings, the exhibition displays Turpin’s sketch books — a pencil drawing of Mother, Asleep is breathtakingly tender — and his scrap books, which show how crucial politics were to him; he carefully preserved cuttings detailing the rise of fascism in the 1930s East End and the push-back from men and women like himself.

Williams has also created the show’s soundscape — an aural tapestry of voices and sounds evoking Turpin’s East London.

She tells me she has a long fascination with what the Germans call Strassenrausch — street clamour — and is often to be found around London, happily recording all its manifestations.

She and Rosen collaborated on the 2011 film Under the Cranes, set in Hackney, which uses both sound and image to capture the atmosphere of the place.

Merging words from a voice play by Rosen with geo-history and the testimony of migrants to the area from Bangladesh, Ghana and the Congo, it’s both dreamlike and politically forceful, showing us 1930s street fights with fascists and raising urgent questions about the treatment of migrants, regeneration and “gentrification.”

Rosen’s new memoir, So They Call You Pisher! (a Yiddish expression meaning “What’s the worst that could happen?”) is also redolent with the presence of the past.

The absences of Jewish relatives, there before the war then just gone, and of Rosen’s elder brother Alan, who died in infancy and whose existence Rosen discovered by chance only when he was 10, were palpable in his childhood. His mother Connie never spoke Alan’s name to him or acknowledged that she knew he knew about him. That silence must have reverberated.

Rosen is proudly the child of this intriguing, intellectually engaged couple. He and Williams come today from a meeting on education, and Rosen’s mother and father, both teachers, developed separate reputations as educational theorists.

Williams has to rush off to finish a blog as well as be ready for their 12-year-old’s return from school and, after we talk, Rosen is headed to Brighton for a publicity event for Pisher! and to meet an old friend — poet, legendary activist and CP member Len Goldman, now a mere 101 years old.

But the former Children’s Laureate still submits graciously to what must be a strikingly unprofessional interview in his publicity round (proper journalists don’t rant intemperately about politics, I think, or fail to make comprehensible notes).

Tremendously good company, Rosen is interested in everything and has read everything (probably twice), but wears his knowledge lightly, with no detectable pomposity.

His warmth and enthusiasm are palpable in his work, and key to the huge popularity of his children’s writing. He was one of the first poets not simply to draw on his childhood experiences for his poems, but recount them in words children could understand, and would use.

He’s modest and honest about the creation of his blockbusting kids’ book We’re Going on A Bear Hunt. It is based on an US folk song he used to perform live and his editor commissioned the magical illustrations by artist Helen Oxenbury.

Impossible as it is now to imagine the book without them, Rosen couldn’t at first see how drawings and text would combine, but trusted the process. It was only feedback from young readers down the years which made him fully appreciate what he and Oxenbury had created.

Men of letters tend not to admit to either their strokes of luck or cock-ups along the way, preferring to imply all was planned with godlike genius — not so Rosen.

In his memoir, he shares awkward moments like the sketch he devised at college in Oxford, intended to mock capitalism, which instead appeared to lampoon a flat-capped worker and the forthright consternation of his father on seeing it.

There was also a youthful essay he felt rather brilliantly skewered Jonathan Swift, until his tutor gently pointed out that Swift’s irony had gone soaring over his head: “I had been a knakke (‘know-all’), and thought I could rumble Swift… You can never rumble Swift,” he says. This is something of a relief, given the otherwise imposing scale and scope of Rosen’s achievements.

As well as the memoir, he has a collection of political poetry, Listening to a Pogrom on the Radio, and a biographical work on Emile Zola’s exile in England out this year alone. He presents the Radio 4 stalwart Word of Mouth and has advised the government on literature and literacy.

When his 18-year-old son Eddie, whom Rosen has called the hub of the family, died suddenly from a strain of meningitis, Rosen managed to parlay desolation into a campaign to add a vaccine to the childhood immunisation schedule and a book which helps children deal with grief.

Much of his art is for more than art’s sake, contributing something to the greater good or focusing on those who have, such as Turpin, who confronted British fascists head on, or Zola, who made his own life difficult by challenging anti-semitism at the highest level over the Dreyfus Affair.

He is very much a public artist, in and of the world, not sequestered in a study but out here with the rest of us, worrying about inequality and discombobulated by Brexit. As he’s written, “Poetry can stick up for the weak or it can mock the mighty; it can glorify our rulers or it can dissect them. You choose.”

Rosen’s father Harold joined the Young Communist League in 1935 and there met Rosen’s mother Connie Isakofsky.

In 1936, the young couple were at the battle of Cable Street; Connie would later work in the typing pool of the Daily Worker, the forerunner of the Morning Star.

Rosen’s childhood was shaped by their politics. His memoir recalls the Tuesday evening routine in his childhood home. He writes: “Now, boys, off you go to bed. We’ve got a party branch meeting.”

“Len Goldman himself was a regular attendee. My father said [he] was terrific’ but sometimes, no-one came.

“Even so, my parents still held their branch meeting. We sat on the stairs and they went into the front room and shut the door.

“I’ve often wondered how those particular meetings went…”

The young Michael copped some flak, too, for his and his parents’ views. A teacher he admired looked sideways at the May Day badge on Rosen’s school blazer and sneered: “Oh. We’re communists, are we?”

Bemused, he told his mum about the incident: “She looked into the distance for a moment and then glanced down at my shoes. She gasped. ‘Look at your shoes. You haven’t polished them. They’re going to think communists are people who don’t polish their shoes’.”

Childhood for the Rosen boys also involved Communist Party camping holidays. “No-one in my school went camping…

“Somewhere in one of those books by Karl Marx or VI Lenin on our shelves, I used to think, it must say communists go camping.”

Camps in France began a life-long love affair between Rosen and France and Frenchness (this has served him well: his page-turner of a book on Emile’s exile to England is all the more so because of Rosen’s translations of Zola’s letters home. It’s compelling to see the great author and political crusader moaning about English cooking — to both his wife and his mistress).

Rosen’s parents left the CP in 1957 though never disengaged from socialist politics.

I ask Rosen how they responded to the anti-semitism they inevitably encountered as a Jewish couple. He tells me they had very different approaches.

His father Harold let insults glance off him, and rather enjoyed baiting anti-semites. From his mother, however, he saw occasional manifestations of the pain and anger absorbing prejudice had caused her, as on the occasion she and Harold were lambasted, post-Hungary, for “betraying the working classes” with their CP membership. “Who else” she asked her accuser, “was going to stick up for us?”

Rosen’s father Harold comes across as formidable in the book, if not to his son, certainly too others; one girlfriend thought him something of an intellectual “ogre.”

I ask Williams how she got on with her late father-in-law. “Very well,” she tells me, though his primary relationship was always with Michael and she bonded with him initially over their shared interest in what made Rosen Junior tick. Through Harold’s reminiscences, she came to know the boy and young man who became her husband (‘It was a conspiracy!” chips in Michael).

I tell Rosen I found his mother a more mysterious presence in the book — harder to grasp. This isn’t a failure of characterisation, though, but deliberate.

Rosen found her that way too and realises that her maternal role was perhaps at the heart of that. The “comforts of philosophy” had to cede to day-to-day-life concerns about what to do about the corned beef, for example, of which she had a cupboard full when there was a health scare about it. Connie’s response was typically gnomic, keeping the tins, but not opening them until the panic was over.

After his mother’s death, Rosen came upon a piece of her autobiographical writing about her girlhood and felt he encountered a woman he didn’t quite know, with thoughts and feelings he hadn’t heard her express.

“I think that she must have felt there wasn’t the space in our home for her to say those things … She wasn’t given (or she didn’t take?) the space for that kind of reflection … the airwaves were taken up by Harold, me and Brian,” he writes. Even in a loving, fairly egalitarian household, corned beef can stifle a woman.

Connie really found herself, Rosen says, when she began to study educational theory in earnest and became known in her own right. She gave a series of morning talks on the BBC and suddenly people were coming to the house not for Harold but to talk to Connie.

I ask him if any of her writing is available now and he tells me he’s going to collate them, as he has his father’s.

Success has not steered Rosen’s own politics to the right. He contributed in 2015 to the e-book Poems for Corbyn.

How does he think Labour is doing now? He remains supportive of Corbyn but says he’s worried by signs Labour might “wobble” on immigration. He’s rightly adamant that the Left should always oppose protectionist arguments, such a dangerously slippery slope.

Labour should just tell the truth loudly and clearly. He thinks migration is and has always been a huge benefit to this country.

And Brexit? He is, he says, a “militant abstainer.” He sees the whole thing as an argument between sections of capital in which socialists wouldn’t involve themselves. “Corbyn should say one thing — that our concern is just jobs, conditions and services. Beyond that, let them fight it out.”

He uses the rather good analogy of of a boxing ring. All the lights and focus are on the two fighters in battling it out, but that’s not where the real game is. Surrounding the ring, quiet in the dark, sit the real players — the money and the men and women whose only interest is profit and who will always try to fix the match to their advantage.

He adds that he knows Labour is preparing for power and trying to cover all bases, that, inevitably the day after a Labour victory, billions will be wiped off the economy and the gloves will really be off. If we think the Establishment has gone after Corbyn before, we’ll see that was nothing, he says.

“[The capitalists elite] doesn’t care who’s in charge, as long as it’s a safe pair of hands for capital and its interests. Blair was fine, Corbyn is not.”

Our response, he says, must be to refuse to be panicked and simply call out the false narrative of the Establishment and media. “We should constantly ask them to prove it, to show us one immigrant who caused the flight of capital that has really rocked the economy, one immigrant who caused Dagenham.

“We should question what they mean when they say it’s ‘bad for the economy’. What is our economy? It’s a capitalist system and we have to constantly remind people of that.”

Would Rosen act as adviser to the Corbyn camp, if asked? Probably, he says, though on an independent basis. He is not a Labour Party member. Had he joined during Corbyn’s early term, he thinks he would have been used as a “scalp” in the same way Mark Steel was and refused membership.

He doesn’t agree, however, with my gloomy assessment that the Right has won the battle of language and thought.

Labour’s slogan, For the many not the few, he points out, is quite brilliant in its simplicity, Marx in a sentence, which has succeeded in turning the debate.

As we wrap up, I tell him that, although his career is inspiring in its refusal to accept limits (why “just” be a poet when you can also write biography, memoirs, plays?), it also seems impossible to emulate today.

Young people wanting a broad artistic career are often told they must “settle down” and specialise. I expect Rosen to agree that his trajectory would be hard to emulate, but, cheeringly, he’s having none of that. He doesn’t accept its uniqueness. “Look at the comedians who act, write and so on.”

He also thinks it would be entirely possible to do today. “I lived on soup for a long while and had one pair of trousers and one pair of shoes, but you can do it.” The key, he says, is to take projects that really interest you, regardless as far as possible of the money, because they will usually lead somewhere interesting.

Surely it’s a tougher world now, though, with arts cuts and austerity? Rosen points out that there are also the advantages of the internet and social media, allowing artists to market themselves more effectively than before. He offers some useful pointers. Keep your website clear and up-to-date, make it obvious what skills you offer and easy to book and contact you.

It’s nice to hear. Too often, those who have “made it” seem more interested in pulling up the ladder after them than helping others climb it.

Rosen’s career is also an illustration of Marx’s observation that most people possess a wide range of interests and abilities which they would enrich over their lives if capitalism wasn’t so stultifying limiting for the “cogs” in its machine.

In the awkward moment where you’ve said goodbye then realise you’re going in the same direction, Rosen has to walk with me to the station.

I feel sorry for him but he’s typically nice about it, and regales me with stories of treatment for his ongoing hip problem which necessitates “having my bum electrocuted, basically.” You wouldn’t, I imagine, have got this from Wordsworth, I ask.

At the last minute, I remember I wanted to ask him about an unusual facet of his autobiographical writing. I’d noticed he rarely tells the reader what the people in his life look like. Is this a deliberate strategy to make us focus on their personalities and voices alone?

Rosen thinks for a second, then says: “I suppose I’m just not very good at all that…” I raise an eyebrow: that seems unlikely for a writer of his calibre. “And I suppose it’s because when I went to school at Watford Boys, I got a lot of negative comments. I was told I looked weird. I think it’s because I looked Jewish, probably.”

As a result, he feels uncomfortable focussing on people’s appearances, to the extent that he feels guilty about having described someone several times as bald. “But he was bald,” I ask. “Yes, but I still feel bad about it.”

Michael Rosen is a poet, biographer, memoirist, film-maker and art curator.

Emma-Louise Williams and Michael Rosen’s free exhibition The Working Artist: The East London Group is on at the Nunnery Gallery until December 17. Entrance is free. For more informatiob visit:

Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky

This is a video of Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky reciting a poem.

By Peter Cardwell in Britain:

The Revolutionary

Saturday 4th November 2017

A poem for Mayakovsky

A practitioner of Russian roulette,
Mayakovsky sits in a workaday jacket,
breast-pocket full of pens, gauge, pencil

looking like everything but a sad poet
but more what he is every day —
shaven-headed and fully employed.

So far, no bullet has entered his brain —
the lonely man he is will write
his epic poem, give heart to other Russians.

And even though Stalin thinks he is a bore,
his work will be read by the lettered —
bread and iron have made him speak.

British Grenfell Tower disaster and poetry

This 4 July 2017 poetry video is called Grenfell Britain by Potent Whisper.

By Bethany Rielly in Britain:

‘What happened at Grenfell was an act of war’

Wednesday 13th September 2017

Spoken-word artist POTENT WHISPER talks to Bethany Rielly about the disaster that exposed the deep and dangerous divisions splitting Britain down the middle

THE GRENFELL disaster opened a chasm between rich and poor, exacerbated by a media and political Establishment which ignores and disconnects itself from such communities.

But there are people who have always represented and spoken up for them — artists.

While much of the press held back about how and why the fire happened, they immediately shouted the truth. It happened because the residents of Grenfell Tower are poor.

“What happened at Grenfell, that was an act of war/The murder of innocent people who died because they’re poor”, is the chilling opening of Potent Whisper’s spoken-word piece Grenfell Britain.

Along with Lowkey, Akala and Stormzy, the rapper and spoken-word artist from south-west London — aka Georgie Stephanou — was commended in Parliament as being one of the poet laureates of the disaster by Kensington’s Labour MP Emma Dent Coad.

His piece, released on YouTube shortly after the deadly fire, is an unflinching attack on Kensington and Chelsea Council, Grenfell’s Tenant and Management Organisation and the wider factors which have been eating away at social housing and endangering and displacing tenants for years.

The piece, performed in an estate in Woolwich, south-east London, acts as an auditory guide. It explains in detail who should be held to account, their exact role in the disaster and, more importantly, what we can do to ensure Grenfell residents get justice. “If you want revenge there’s many names to get your tongues on/Very many companies and many hands with blood on/But we won’t let any of those devils pass the buck on.”

This is Potent’s trademark and it links many of his works aiming to empower people with the knowledge they need to take action and resist.

“Perhaps the greatest attack on the British public is the deliberate lack of information and false information being provided by the mainstream media,” he tells me. “A person cannot defend themselves unless they first come to realise that they are being attacked.”

This is often the case when estates are targeted for regeneration. The demolition and rebuilding of social housing is often packaged as being “for” the community but in reality tenants are kicked out of their homes and the new builds are sold on the open market with little or no social housing in sight.

Through rhyme, Potent breaks down complicated and deliberately misrepresented issues such as regeneration, translating politicians’ garble into accessible prose.

As a result he considers himself and other artists to be the “people’s media,” whose role it is to inform and arm communities with information.

The threat of regeneration features heavily in Grenfell Britain and follows a previous spoken-word piece Estate of War, released earlier this year.

In it, Potent warns tenants that if their homes are found to be unsafe in the wake of Grenfell, it could be used as an excuse to tear them down.

Knowing the fate of those who lived on London’s Heygate and Aylesbury estates — to name just two — Potent exposes what regeneration really means: “They’ll smash down your homes/You’ll get dashed out and cashed in/You’ll be on the streets in a click, it happens that quick.”

The 28-year-old is an activist as well as an artist. In heavily gentrified Brixton, he’s a wellknown and respected figure, having co-lead the Save Brixton Arches campaign against the mass eviction of a row of independent businesses and has challenged everything from library closures to Trident.

But his fight for the rights of social tenants is a more personal one. Growing up on an estate in a single-parent home, he and his mum routinely faced abuse by council staff, were threatened with eviction and denied vital repairs to their home.

“As a child I quickly learned that life would be quite the battle and that I, like my mum, would have to go on to fight for even my most basic needs,” he says.

With years of campaigning against gentrification, regeneration and evictions under his belt, Potent knows more than most how deeply connected the Grenfell disaster is to wider housing struggles across the country.

“The incident was caused by an amalgamation of factors that have been and continue to cause the suffering and death of social housing residents across Britain,” he explains.

“They include placing profit before people, the human cost of austerity, the destruction and violence of estate regeneration, the dehumanisation of working class people and the failures of housing legislation.”

He stresses that this is the context Grenfell must be viewed in. The disaster is a consequence of Grenfell Britain, in which nurses use foodbanks to survive, people with disabilities die after being declared fit for work and social tenants burn to death because money is valued above the lives of the poor.

“Every single day we’re seeing Grenfell killings/We suffer corruption is a Grenfell system/This isn’t Great Britain, it’s Grenfell Britain,” Potent declares and the piece ends how it starts, with a chilling battle cry: “Their screams are burnt into our minds/And their names into our hearts/The fire might be out but a rage has been sparked/It’s a rage that will blaze on every street, with every march/There won’t be a day of peace until justice comes to pass.”

His words still resonate deeply three months after the deadly fire. In that time, we’ve witnessed the Grenfell survivors treated with the same contempt that killed their family members and neighbours.

We’ve seen the repulsively rich reject them as their neighbours in a luxury block for fear they would “bring down the local property prices”. We’ve seen probe chair Martin Moore-Bick try to remove the social context from the inquiry.

And we’ve seen local councils continue to push through their regeneration programmes.

The deaths of more than 80 people have done little to change the Establishment but, as Potent warns, the rage it has sparked will not stop “until justice comes to pass.”

Potent Whisper’s Grenfell Britain is on YouTube. He’ll be appearing at a fundraiser for the Morning Star with singer-songwriter Lilly Gaskell on October 14 at the Constitution pub, 42 St Pancras Way, London NW1 0QT. The event starts at 7pm and tickets (£10/£5 reductions) are available from Mary,

London’s Grenfell Tower fire, Ben Okri poem

This video says about itself:

26 June 2017

‘Grenfell Tower, June, 2017’ is a poem written by Nigerian writer Ben Okri. To raise funds for relatives of victims of the Grenfel Tower fire, and for survivors.

By Paul Bond in Britain:

Poet Ben Okri on London’s Grenfell Tower fire: “It has revealed the undercurrents of our age

11 September 2017

The fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14 that killed at least 80 people has had an immediate impact on political life in Britain. It has had an impact on artistic expression too. There have been fundraising concerts, of course, but direct creative responses are also appearing.

Within days of the conflagration, the Financial Times commissioned a poem on the tragedy from the Booker-Prize-winning Nigerian author Ben Okri. The newspaper published Grenfell Tower, June 2017 on June 23 and Okri subsequently filmed it for Channel 4 News.

The poem encapsulates well the position now confronted by artists. Okri’s performance is dignified and moving, pointing to the work’s stronger aspects. As poetry, however, it is not so uniformly convincing.

Okri reveals a deep empathy for the victims and a disbelieving horror at the criminal administrative decisions that led to the tragedy. He recognises that this is not an individual failure. Okri’s declaration “It has revealed the undercurrents of our age” is absolutely on point.

Within certain limits, the poem points to the gulf between rich and poor and how each is treated. As Okri puts it in the poem, “If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.” Grenfell has forced home the realisation that class remains the fundamental division in society. In Okri’s words, “Poverty is its own/Colour, its own race … They were young/And old and beautiful and middle aged.”

This recognition of the importance of class brings with it a requirement to see what lies behind such a division of society. Okri recognises the capitalist profit motive in the decisions that led to Grenfell: “It happened in the profit margins. It happened/in the laws. They died because money could be saved and made.”

With this in mind, the poem summarises the spending decisions made around Grenfell, from the deadly cladding intended to prettify the tower for its rich neighbours to the skimping on safety measures. “But in twenty four storeys, not a single sprinkler./In twenty four storeys, not a single alarm that worked./In twenty four storeys not a single fire escape/ … That’s the story of our times,” Okri writes.

In the poem’s final passage, Okri points more broadly to the way social and cultural provisions are being axed—“Nurseries and libraries fade from the land”—and concludes “In this age of austerity/the poor die for others’ prosperity.” He also recognises the gulf that has developed in political representation, although he seems to blame the working class for this with his comment about “The poor who thought voting for the rich would save them.”

None of this is quite so pointed as it appears. The empathy of the poem is Okri’s solution as well as response. He is clearly sincere in his feeling for the victims, but he is addressing himself here above all to those in power with an appeal to pay closer attention to the effects of their actions (“…if you can pull/Yourselves from your tennis games and your perfect dinners”).

“A sword of fate hangs over the deafness of power,” he writes, clumsily, suggesting that they just need to listen better in order to avoid a ferocious reaction. If only they would go and see the horror of Grenfell and witness the way the local community has rallied round, he seems to be saying, their humanity could be revived—“See the tower, and let a new world-changing thought flower”—and politics overcome: “The heart reveals itself beyond political skills.”

It is noteworthy that the “See the tower …” line is part of a repeated chorus that punctuates the poem, and what will flower is, in sequence, a “dream,” a “deed” and finally this “thought.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy, with its determination to “teach … injured countrymen how to resist” (as Mary Shelley described it), Okri’s poem is not.

There has been a noticeable tendency lately for poems on social themes to be primarily performance pieces, often written by poets who emerged from the rap scene (poet and spoken-word artist Kate Tempest springs to mind). What makes a good performance poem, given the flexibilities of the medium, does not always look so convincing on the page, particularly with directly documentary political pieces like this by Okri.

Okri is perhaps best known as a novelist. His novelistic style relies much more on what he has called a “dream logic” than his more directly political poetry. This poem works much better heard aloud than read, allowing some of the clumsier and more trite imagery and lines to become more obvious. The poem is largely free verse, and its occasional rhymes are not always beneficial, as in the particularly awkward concluding passage already quoted:

“Nurseries and libraries fade from the land.
A strange time is shaping on the strand.
A sword of fate hangs over the deafness of power.
See the tower, and let a new world-changing thought flower.”

I have already commented on “the deafness of power,” but the previous line reads as if written mainly to fill the couplet.

The poem’s chorus, each line of which is also used as a refrain to close a stanza, is also rhymed and awkwardly scanned:

“Those who were [are] living are now dead
Those who were breathing are from the living earth fled.
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
See the tower, and let a world-changing dream [deed/thought] flower.”

Not all of the poetic imagery is unsuccessful, by any means, and some of the political points are well served by the imagery, as in his description of “ … Political cladding,/Economic cladding, intellectual cladding—things that look good/But have no centre, have no heart, only moral padding.”

Grenfell has thrown a spotlight on how artists will respond to changing times and conditions. The sincerity of Okri’s feeling for the victims is not and should not be in question, as is clear from his reaction to graffiti artist Ben Eine’s use of his poem in an east London mural: “Anything that can draw attention to that outrage to humanity, anything that can commemorate the dead and help the survivors has my support,” he told the Evening Standard.

Eine’s Shoreditch mural was the first contribution to a social justice art project, Paint the Change, founded by filmmaker Maziar Bahari as a way of discussing social issues through the arts.

The question of artistic and social interaction has come up even more sharply in the area around Grenfell Tower. Nearby, Opera Holland Park (OHP), whose front-of-house worker Deborah Lamprell died in the fire, staged a benefit performance of Verdi’s Requiem a month ago, raising £40,000 [US$53,000] for survivors.

OHP became an independent charitable organisation two years ago, when the last of its local council funding was cut. At the time there was criticism that the company was given a final £5 million grant from council reserves to enable it to continue its accessibility and outreach schemes at the same time as local services were under threat. As one protester said, “It’s high time [the council] stopped spending money on art frippery and concentrated on providing vital services.”

Michael Volpe, OHP’s general director, outlined the conundrum to the Guardian: “If we were asked the question: ‘Should money be spent on opera or social housing?,’ you’d only get one answer. But we don’t believe it should be a choice” [emphasis added].

He is right. The crisis that Grenfell has laid bare touches on every aspect of social and cultural life. Artistic responses are a significant part of the necessary addressing of this crisis. They have the ability to influence the thinking and feeling of masses of human beings. But for this to happen the artist must know something important about the world, society and history and to show life and reality as they are and not retreat into self-absorption and social indifference.

Grenfell is a sign that we have entered a new stage of development. The economic and social crisis, along with relentless wars and militarist violence, are fueling popular discontent and have created the conditions for an immense movement to the left that will lead inevitably to revolutionary struggles.

It is giving artists the opportunity to understand and reveal the truth about the complex, often confusing and intense experiences that millions of people are passing through.