John Keats: Revolutionary Romantic

Jenny Farrell

Culture Matters | February 11, 2021

John Keats: Revolutionary Romantic
Jenny Farrell marks the 200th anniversary of Keats’s death. The image above is of Keats on his deathbed, by his friend Joseph Severn

G. B. Shaw stated that “Keats achieved the very curious feat of writing a poem of which it may be said that if Karl Marx can be imagined writing a poem instead of a treatise on Capital, he would have written Isabella.” Shaw’s view clashes with that of most mainstream critics, who deny Keats any political thought and declare him a worshipper of some unspecified ‘Beauty’. This month marks the 200th anniversary of Keats’s death and is an opportunity to spend a moment reclaiming this revolutionary romantic.Read More »


Baked Alaska

Alan Morrison

Culture Matters | January 09, 2021

Baked Alaska

Emperor Trump’s mob took him at his word,
Stormed the Capitol, seat of American democracy,
Vandals sacking Rome, Spartans spilling into Athens,
Barbarians at the gates in red baseball caps branded
Barbarians from within, chanting empty mantras
And chauvinistic rhetoric – “Stop the Steal!”
Amongst the gold-braided Vikings and buffalo-horned
Visigoths, one key agitator known by the moniker
Of ‘Baked Alaska’, an Alt Right conspiracy theorist,
Real name Anthime “Tim” Gionet, who set about
Trying to prove how fragile American democracy
Actually is when push comes to shove and there’s
A lot of shoving, punching, shooting – that the Capitol
Could be, at least symbolically, crushed like meringue,
Shattered glass and debris litter the east steps
It was simply too good an opportunity to miss
For White Supremacists and shadowy Far Right groups
To gather together in broad Washington daylight
And march on that impertinent neoclassical building
Whose wedding-cake dome overpowered its own
Porticos, as it did their rust-belt hopes – how dare
That building pay host to the temerity of representative
Democracy when it didn’t represent them,
The Sunburnt White Privileged, Rednecks, Confederates –
A president coaxing his supporters into insurrection,
We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave – I love
Pennsylvania Avenue – and we’re going to the Capitol –
Only no we’re about it: the perma-tanned rabble-rouser
Would be safely tucked behind his Oval Office desk,
Orange thumb poised on Twitter – it would be They,
His underlings, Myrmidons, remote-controlled thugs
Who in one brief afternoon would storm the Capitol,
Overpower the seemingly powerless police, and attempt
To smash up American democracy as easily
As crushing a meringue, too tempting an opportunity
To pass up, too much of a coup, a scoop – that Capitol
Dome sat there impertinently like a Baked Alaska
Seemed in need of some caramelising,
Just long enough to tan and tarnish its exterior
Without completely melting its ice-cream insides…

Read More »


The Case of George Nkencho

Kevin Higgins

The Case of George Nkencho

If this boy had been more prudently
dropped into life on, say, a street
with trees that throw out their annual yellow
to make a welcome parade for the sun;
had as childhood neighbours a Circuit Court judge
whose front door had no letterbox,
a Garda Chief Inspector with an opinionated
and over-confident dog;
kicked a ball up and down summer evenings,
dead apart from the occasional well-behaved bee,
with the boy next door (but one) who blossomed
into a political correspondent
and now gets to make up truth,
another way would’ve been found.

But for coming at Gardaí
with a chemical imbalance,
what some people are calling
a machete
and a totally inappropriate
the only sentence
was that ethically administered,
democratically accountable,
bolt-action firing squad.

The eminent and learned
bottoms we employ to sit
on the inquiry into this
need not fret the task ahead of them.
For their report is already written.

Read More »


Christmas 2020. It’s all about the loved ones

Annie McCrae

Culture Matters | December 20, 2020

Christmas 2020. It’s all about the loved ones

but what about the sick ones
the bullied ones
the just about surviving ones
the unemployed ones
the struggling ones
the can’t cope any longer ones?

And what about the lonely ones
the grieving ones
the drowning ones
the exploited ones
the abused ones
the trapped can’t leave ones?

What about the homeless ones
the left out ones
the voiceless ones
the ignored ones
the selfless ones
not in it for themselves ones?

And what about the honest ones
the starving ones
the care home ones
the stranded ones
the shielding ones
the not a Tory crony ones?

The dead ones
the unloved ones
What about them?

Annie McCrae

Annie McCrae is a retired English teacher and trade union activist, including a stint as a national organiser for the EIS teaching union.



The Sword and the Sickle: William Blake and Class Struggle

David Betteridge

Culture Matters | December 04, 2020

The Sword and the Sickle: William Blake and class struggle

To celebrate his 79th birthday, David Betteridge writes about swords, sickles and class struggle


Have a slow look at the drawing shown above. Is it not an image that captures our eye, engages our intelligence, and feeds our imagination, springing as it does from the artist’s own eye and intelligence and imagination? By means of his long-practised craft, the artist transports us into a Tale of Two Fields, of Two Bladed Implements, of Two Adversaries representing Two Classes, and of Two Ways of Life and Death. We see more than an illustrative drawing. We see an emblem, transcending the historic past in which it is set, and speaking of and to all times. This emblem is, I would claim, a gift to be treasured, likely to stick in our memories. It is beautifully stark in its overall impact, and subtle in its detail. Look, for example, at which blade overlaps which; and look at the two hands holding them. One is gauntleted, implying rank. The other is bare, implying the opposite.

The artist who drew our “Sword & Sickle” emblem above is Bob Starrett, best known as a political cartoonist. He is a latter-day “Eccles” or “Gabriel” of Clydeside and beyond, as readers of his Rattling the Cage know, and readers of the Culture Matters site, as also the many activists who have gone to him asking for campaign designs for leaflets or posters, and invariably got them, sometimes within a turnaround time of a day or a night.Read More »



Tom Hubbard

Culture Matters | December 03, 2020


Cardboard covers the flesh in a smitten street,
While, immunised from sudden empathy,
Flesh covers pasteboard as high chancers greet
Dank festivals of mediocrity.
Their very bodies crust into a mask,
And those who hark at them are marionettes
Of paper that absorbs, who scarce will ask,
And take no thought for future raged regrets.
With giant flapping banners of their creed
Rank gigglers march the unwoke to the abyss,
Brake at the edge; their followers proceed
To rising tides. Their masters smile at this,
Self-halted by their adolescent crazes,
Fiddling with their privates while the planet blazes.

The image is Evening on Karl Johan Street, by Edvard Munch

Read More »


What is Present: History, by John Berger

David Betteridge

Culture Matters | November 17, 2020

What is Present: History, by John Berger

What interests me about the existence of archives is that you enter the past which is as it were in the present tense. And so it’s another way of people who lived in the past who perhaps are still living or perhaps are dead; a way of them being present….

“History” is a poem which packs a lot of meaning into its eight lines:


by John Berger

The pulse of the dead
as interminably
constant as the silence
which pockets the thrush.

The eyes of the dead
inscribed on our palms
as we walk on this earth
which pockets the thrush.Read More »


Little Boy

Gerda Stevenson

Culture Matters | November 08, 2020

Little Boy

Little Boy is on his way, snug
in the metal womb of Enola Gay,
all of his components prepped,
but not quite ready yet –
his system fine-tuned only after take-off –
safety first for his birthing crew.
The pilot gives full throttle:
Do it for me, Momma!
Overloaded, Enola Gay
eats up the whole runway –
Momma, come ON! –
and lifts into night;

six hours to go;
lieutenant and weaponeer
grope in torchlight
along the portside catwalk
to the pitch-black bay,
armed with Thy might
in the name of Jesus Christ –
the chaplain’s prayer before flight
that nailed their mission to the cross
and gave it a tail wind of righteousness;

and he’s primed now – no going back –
Little Boy, nestling there,
like the baby saviour
in the virgin’s amniotic sac,
carried into that bright morning
on the last, steep climb
to bombing altitude,
and then
let go;
six miles
in 44 seconds,
to Hiroshima below,
where someone called Kazuko
lifts her child from his cot,
the River Ota outside, its seven streams
full and tranquil – slack water at high tide,
while high above in cloud-flecked blue
Enola Gay banks into her getaway –
a nine-mile dash – and makes it
by a hair’s breadth, chased by shimmers
from a ghostly flash;

barely born, Little Boy has made his mark:
lit ten thousand suns at every window,
then snuffed them out, shocked eyeballs
from sockets into palms, skin to rags –
futile surrender flags in sudden twilit limbo –
lungs and throats a desert drought,
bodies burning at four thousand Celsius
from the inside out.Read More »


An Interview with Julia Bell

Fran Lock interviews Julia Bell

Culture Matters | October 28, 2020

An interview with Julia Bell


Julia Bell is a writer and Reader in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, where she is the Course Director of the MA in Creative Writing. Her recent creative work includes poetry, lyric essays and short stories published in the Paris Review, Times Literary Supplement, The White Review, Mal Journal, Comma Press, and recorded for the BBC. She is the author of three novels with Macmillan in the UK (Simon & Schuster in the US) and is co-editor of the bestselling Creative Writing Coursebook (Macmillan) updated and re-issued in 2019.

She is interested in the intersection between the personal and the political, and believes that writing well takes courage, patience, attention and commitment. Radical Attention is Julia’s latest book and is available from Peninsula Press here. Read More »

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