Monday, 19 October 2009

Brecht Poem

The Playwright's Audience

The other day I met my audience
In a dusty street
He gripped a pneumatic drill in his fists.
For a second he looked up. Rapidly I set up my theatre
Between the houses. He
Looked expectant.

In the pub

I met him again. He was standing at the bar.
Grimy with sweat, he was drinking. In his fist
A thick sandwich. Rapidly I set up my theatre. He
Looked astonished.


I brought it off again. Outside the station
With brass bands and rifle butts I saw him
Being herded off to war.
In the midst of the crowd
I set up my theatre. Over his shoulder
He looked back
And nodded.

From The Messingkauf Dialogues by Bertolt Brecht.

100 Poets against the War

WH Auden

Radical Essays

Radical Responses to the Great Depression

The Radical Novel

Workers Climate Action

Feminist Fightback Photos

Some Classic Songs

Bob Dylan
Idiot Wind Live-1976

VAN MORRISON - Sweet Thing - Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Van Morrison - Cyprus Avenue, Live at Fillmore East 1970

Joan Baez - It Ain't Me, Babe (Live 1965)

ODETTA SINGS BOB DYLAN (Blowin' in the wind)

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Faber Book of Utopias

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution

In 1789 the West Indian colony of San Domingo supplied two-thirds of the overseas trade of France. The entire structure of what was arguably the most profitable colony in the world rested on the labour of half a million slaves. In 1791 the waves of unrest inspired by the French Revolution reached across the Atlantic dividing the loyalties of the white population of the island. The brutally treated slaves of Saint Domingo seized at this confusion and rose up in rebellion against masters. In this classic work, CLR James chronicles the only successful slave revolt in history and provides a critical portrait of their leader, Toussaint L'Ouverture, 'one of the most remarkable men of a period rich in remarkable men'.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Jack London's writings

Why Socialism ? by Albert Einstein

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Brecht on Epic Theatre

Above all things that theatre was and what he wanted theatre to be, Brecht believed that the theatre's broadest function was to educate. "It is the noblest function that we have found for 'theatre'".

Brecht wanted the answer to Lenin’s question ‘Wie und was soll man lernen?’ ('How and what should one learn?'). He created an influential theory of theatre, the epic theatre, wherein a play should not cause the spectator to emotionally identify with the action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the actions on the stage. He believed that the experience of a climactic catharsis of emotion left an audience complacent. Instead, he wanted his audiences to use this critical perspective to identify social ills at work in the world and be moved to go forth from the theatre and effect change.

Hans Eisler has noted that these plays resemble political seminars[citation needed]. Brecht described them as "a collective political meeting" in which the audience is to participate actively. One sees in this model a rejection of the concept of the bureaucratic elite party where the politicians are to issue directives and control the behaviour of the masses.

For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself, which he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as distancing effect, estrangement effect, or alienation effect). Such techniques included the direct address by actors to the audience, transposition of text to third person or past tense, speaking the stage direction out loud, exaggerated, unnatural stage lighting, the use of song, and explanatory placards.[61] By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience's reality was, in fact a construction and, as such, was changeable.

Another technique that Brecht employed to achieve his Verfremdungseffekt was the principle of historicisation. The content of many of his plays dealt with fictional tellings of historical figures or events. His idea was that if one were to tell a story from a time that is contemporary to an audience, they may not be able to maintain the critical perspective he hoped to achieve. Instead, he focused on historical stories that had parallel themes to the social ills he was hoping to illuminate in his own time. He hoped that, in viewing these historical stories from a critical perspective, the contemporary issues Brecht was addressing would be illuminated to the audience.

In one of his first productions, Brecht famously put up signs that said "Glotzt nicht so romantisch!" ("Don't stare so romantically!"). His manner of stagecraft has proven both fruitful and confusing to those who try to produce his works or works in his style. His theory of theatre has heavily influenced modern theatre. Some of his innovations have become so common that they've entered the theatrical canon.

Although Brecht's work and ideas about theatre are generally thought of as belonging to modernism, there is recent thought that he is the forerunner of contemporary postmodern theatre practice.

This is particularly so because he questioned and dissolved many of the accepted practices of the theatre of his time and created a political theatre that involved the audience in understanding its meaning. Moreover, he was one of the first theatre practitioners to incorporate multimedia into the semiotics of theatre

The birth of Brecht's theories, centering around his writing of Baal and In the Jungle of Cities, was the core of the plot of the play The Concrete Girl by Bertolt Brecht written by Josh Morrall and Simon Farid. Set in 1921, when Brecht was 23, the short play featured an actor portraying Brecht on stage as a tortured, young, famine stricken writer, recently arrived in Berlin. In order to inspire himself to finish a play he is writing (the fictitious, supposedly 'lost' play The Concrete Girl) Brecht summons Frank Wedekind from his grave. Brecht hopes Wedekind will aid him in the writing of the play, but is ultimately left feeling discouraged, and burns the work, setting the tone for his early theory and later works.

The Real Spartacus

Slaves and fighters

In Spartacus's time, the Roman republic was entering a period of turmoil which would end with the rule of the Caesars. Roman territories were expanding east and west; ambitious generals could make a name fighting in Spain or Macedonia, then carve out a political career in Rome. Rome was a militaristic society: battles were staged in the newly popular sport of gladiatorial combat. While successful gladiators were idolised, in terms of social status they ranked little above convicts; indeed, some gladiators were convicted criminals.

Others were slaves. Slavery accounted for roughly every third person in Italy. It was an increasingly slave based economy. Slaves were liable to extreme and arbitrary punishment from their owners; while the death penalty for free Romans was rarely invoked (and humanely executed), slaves were routinely crucified. In the previous century, two slave revolts, both on Sicily, had been put down at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.

Gladiators and rebels

Spartacus was a native of Thrace (now Bulgaria). After joining the Roman invaders as a mercenary, he was enslaved and sold at auction to a trainer of gladiators in Capua. In 73BC, Spartacus led a revolt of 74 gladiators, who escaped and fled to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, where they set up camp.

Rome's response was swift and forceful: an army of 3,000 was sent to suppress the rebellion. Meanwhile, Spartacus's camp had become a magnet for slaves from the surrounding area, several thousand of whom joined him. In an impressive tactical coup, he defeated the Roman army by abseiling his forces down the side of the mountain during the night and attacking from behind. A second army was sent out, numbering 6,000 and bearing the fasces, the symbol of Roman authority. This too was defeated. Spartacus captured the symbolic fasces- ac act dramatised in the Kubrick film.

Spartacus's army spent the winter of 73BC camped on the south coast of Italy, building up its armaments and morale. In spring, it headed north; the audacious plan was to march the length of Italy, cross the Alps and escape to Gaul (present-day France, then largely outside Roman control). Two armies were sent to intercept it, and both were defeated.

But Rome scored one victory, defeating a Gaulish contingent which had refused to march under Spartacus's leadership; 20,000 Gauls were killed. In honour of the Gaulish leader Crixus, Spartacus held funeral games, including gladiatorial combat between captured Roman soldiers.

Winners and losers

At Mutina (Modena), Spartacus faced his greatest challenge: an army of two legions – 10,000 men – commanded by Cassius Longinus, the Governor of Cisalpine Gaul (Piedmonte). The army was massacred; Spartacus seemed invincible.

Then the plan changed. Perhaps drawn by Italian plunder, perhaps put off by the logistics of getting an army across the Alps, or perhaps even a sense of invincibility amongst the rank and file, Spartacus turned back: his army once more marched the length of Italy, repulsing an attack by two legions under the command of Licinius Crassus. By the end of 72BC, the army was encamped in the south, this time at hegium (Reggio Calabria) on the Strait of Messina: a few kilometres from Sicily, homeland of the previous slave revolts.

But events were no longer moving Spartacus's way. Crassus, a wealthy and ambitious Roman politician, built up his forces. For reasons which are unclear, Spartacus proved no more able to cross the Strait of Messina than the Alps. Seeing Spartacus trapped, Crassus built fortifications, which contained the rebels in the peninsula.
After a small skirmish, Spartacus had a Roman prisoner crucified, in sight and earshot of the Roman army. Spartacus had continually subverted a Roman Ideology that perceived slaves to be unintelligent.

The crucifixion served the double purpose of warning his own men of their potential fate if they lost This new transgression was the final provocation for the Romans. Two Roman generals were recalled, Pompey from Spain and Lucullus from northern Turkey. Spartacus carried out one final coup, breaching Crassus's impregnable wall and making for the port of Brundisium (Brindisi), where Lucullus's army was landing. In the event, Spartacus's army was intercepted and trounced by Crassus. Crassus was keen for the glory of victory in his competition for power with Pompey.

Myth and reality

Contrary to the celebrated sequence in Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film, Spartacus, the survivors of the battle were never asked to identify Spartacus; he had died on the battlefield cut down trying to reach Crassus. . The subsequent mass crucifixion scene, however, is historically accurate: Crassus had 6,000 men crucified along the Appian Way between Capua and Rome – a distance of about 200 kilometres.

Spartacus was a brilliant battlefield tactician with an eye for the defiant gesture. ( Before one battle he had killed his beloved white horse in front of his army saying that if they won he could pick any horse from the Romans he wanted and if they lost , then it didn’t matter as they would all be crucified anyway) Little united his army except the goal of continuing survival. Internal dissent and sheer confusion sealed its fate as surely as Rome’s superior forces . The revolts took place at a time when conditions made success virtually impossible.

Nevertheless, the legend of Spartacus lived on. For the Romans, the story of the slave revolt was an awful warning: it suggested that a society built on the backs of slaves and subject peoples might one day be overthrown by them. Four centuries later, this is exactly what happened, and Rome fell to the 'Barbarians'.

Peter Burton- July 2009- Info from the documentary “The Real Spartacus “

Thursday, 4 June 2009

4 June 1989

Its twenty years since Tiananmen Square
Twenty years since i stood by the Clydeside
in silent protest with democrats and shame-faced Stalinists

Twenty years since angry right-wing Chinese students
rapidly moving leftwards watched protestors with clenched fists
sing the Internationale at confused, fearful, murderous soldiers

Twenty years since slaughtering old men chose to treat
their people like cattle fearing worker solidarity
and the inevitable Fourth revolution which, of course, they only delayed.

Peter Burton

Holding up a Tank

LIAO YIWU served 4 years for this poem about Tiananmen

LIAO YIWU 廖亦武 屠杀

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Bob Dylan Community

Discussion forum on guess who.

This Train Is Bound For Glory

This Train Is Bound For Glory

This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory,
Don't carry nothing but the righteous and the holy.
This train is bound for glory, this train.

This train don't carry no gamblers, this train;
This train don't carry no gamblers, this train;
This train don't carry no gamblers,
Liars, thieves, nor big shot ramblers,
This train is bound for glory, this train.

This train don't carry no liars, this train;
This train don't carry no liars, this train;
This train don't carry no liars,
She's streamlined and a midnight flyer,
This train don't carry no liars, this train.

This train don't carry no smokers, this train;
This train don't carry no smokers, this train
This train don't carry no smokers,
Two bit liars, small time jokers,
This train don't carry no smokers, this train.

This train don't carry no con men, this train;
This train don't carry no con men, this train;
This train don't carry no con men,
No wheeler dealers, here and gone men,
This train don't carry no con men, this train.

This train don't carry no rustlers, this train;
This train don't carry no rustlers, this train;
This train don't carry no rustlers,
Sidestreet walkers, two bit hustlers,
This train is bound for glory, this train.

The Irish: A Photohistory 1840-1940

The Irish: A Photohistory 1840-1940 by Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy
Thames & Hudson 224 pp £24.95
ISBN: 0 500 51097 0

Review by Sheila Corr

I am always excited to get my hands on an attractive new book on Ireland, especially when the reproduction is of such high quality. This one contains over 270 photographs from Sean Sexton’s Irish collection, which range from mid-nineteenth-century daguerreotypes to twentieth-century press shots, although most of the photographs were taken during a fifty- or sixty-year period around the turn of the last century. They are organised thematically – land, landlords and the big house; poverty, famine, evictions; from union to partition; towards a modern Ireland; with an interesting supporting text by Christine Kinealy under the same headings but with slightly different subject matter, so that text and photographs move along somewhat independently.

Similar chapter divisions worked rather better in Sean Sexton’s previous book Ireland: Photographs 1840-1930 which includes some of the same selection. Here, the distinctions sometimes seem rather forced. It’s clever, and a nice touch, to include photographs of Irish people outside Ireland, as emigration is obviously so critical to Irish history in this period, and it offers an opportunity to use some wonderful pictures, such as that of vagrants in Scotland on the title page. Perhaps, these pictures of emigrants could have been used together in some way, they might even have formed their own chapter which would have made this ....

Monday, 20 April 2009

Susan Sontag "On Photography"

Debate on the book

Refugee Blues

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
"If you've got no passport you're officially dead":
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread":
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die":
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

WH Auden

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Dark Times

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

Bertolt Brecht

Friday, 30 January 2009

City Art Gallery - Edinburgh

Robert Burns: The Patriot Bard

This new biography of Scotland’s national poet explodes the Burns myth, replacing the ram-stam lad of popular cliché with the real, living Burns. He is revealed as a Scottish patriot of the heart, an idealist who wished for ‘Freedom and Liberty’ for his beloved Scotland, but also a man who was pragmatically a British patriot who risked his life for democratic reform.

In Robert Burns: The Patriot Bard, the greatest of Scotland’s poets is placed within the true context of his times. He was a son of the Enlightenment, whose inspiration came from both Scottish and English poets, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution of Independence and the French Revolution of 1789. Burns is painted in his native colours as a highly complex, hyper-intelligent writer in both prose and poetry, not the semi-confused contradictory simpleton of previous biographies. The fascinating legend of Burns as ladies’ man is placed where it should be, as less important than the message of the bard.

The real day-to-day Burns was irascible, stubborn-minded, independent, controversial and opinionated. His voice was always in the language of the people and his idealist vision of a better world lifted him from being exclusively a patriotic Scottish and British poet to a poet of humanity ‘the world o’er’. Drawing from Burns’ existing canon of poetry and letters, plus some newly attributed works suppressed for over two centuries, this life story is a roller-coaster narrative that charts the success and untimely death of the greatest songwriter of all time, the real Robert Burns.

Guardian Review of Burns the Radical by Liam McIlvanney

The Canongate Burns

Drawing on extensive scholarship and the poet's own inimitable letters, this edition offers a wealth of information on Burns's life, the hardships of his early days, his political beliefs, his hatred of injustice, and his fate as a writer too often sentimentalized by biographers and critics. Through his poetry, and as if for the first time, we see Burns as a radical figure in a British as well as a Scottish context, the peer of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and Byron in the revolutionary and repressive world of the 1790s.

Containing recently attributed and never-before-published poems demonstrating that the poet's political sympathies were more radical than he could safely put his name to in public, The Canongate Burns also includes the sexually scandalous verses known as "The Merry Muses, " originally circulated only in handwritten copies. This major and definitive edition offers vitally fresh insights into the irreverent spirit and the democratic convictions of Scotland's greatest poet.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Radical Burns by Peter Burton

The 250th Centenary year of Robert Burns’s birth has seen even more events and merry-making than usual. The writer Andrew O Hagan has a series on TV, there are highlights of Burns poems on Wiseman dairies Milk cartons, and a bunch of new books on the bard –Robert Crawford and Patrick Hogg have produced new biographies, Donald Smith has written a Novel and photographer Andy Hall has persuaded Sir Alex Fergusson and other famous people to pick a favourite poem and say a few words about what Burns has meant to them. The Hall book and Patrick Hogs’ biography are actually worthwhile – particularly Hogs’ radical reinterpretation of Burns’ work.

The Burns events form part of the Scottish Governments’ year long ‘Homecoming Scotland’ campaign designed on the surface to help celebrate Scottish culture and boost Tourist trade in these hard credit crunch times. Nothing to do then with the fact that there is a referendum on Independence next year which the SNP has no guarantee of winning. Once again-for the millionth time – Burns is being used
by politicians with agendas –plus ca change!

To begin to understand Burns it is necessary to place him in his historical context. He was a product of Scottish enlightenment ideas in an Age of Revolutions – first the American then the French. The peasantry were being squeezed and many farms were failing with peasants unable to maintain their debt bondage to Landowners.

A teacher , John Murdoch hired by his father William Burnes' helped create a voracious reader and wordsmith from an early age . Arthur Masson’s ‘Collection of Prose and Verse’ which included the work of Shakespeare, Milton Thompson,Pope,Gray,Shenstone,Addison and Akenside was read by Burns till it fell apart . Of these Joseph Addison was seminal .Fellow Scottish poet Robert Fergusson became Burns greatest influence

In the aftermath of the French revolution Robert Burns was engaged in refuting accusations that he was a member of the reforming Friends of the People in Dumfries and in joining a rendition of the French revolutionary song ‘Ca Ira’ in the Dumfries theatre.

His denials came against a background of Louis XV’s execution in France
and the arrest and charge of the lawyer and reformer Thomas Muir. (Muir was sentenced to 14 years in Botany Bay). The British state was stepping up its persecution of dissenters in fear of the reform movement in Britain and the ideas
of the French revolution that movement stood for. By 1793 the repression
aimed at nothing less than the crushing of the whole democratic and reform movement and a network of spies was on the hunt for examples the State
could use to crush dissent.

Robert Burns had by this time become an Exciseman after successive attempts
at make a living as a ploughman from farming had failed. His class was being squeezed out of existence by enclosure and agrarian ‘reform and Burns knew it.
He feared for the destitution of his family and dealt with the repression by using the guile and native wit of an educated poor peasant –a public face of being a good excise men to his employers and maintaining good personal relations with them – Burns came up with the idea of a local tax on the breweries in Ayrshire netting the
excise vastly increased revenue. He combined this public face with the sending of radical poems and songs anonymously or pseudonymously to dissenting papers such as the Edinburgh Gazetteer. Morning Chronicle (London) and Glasgow Advertiser.

Burns survived by being careful who he sent his work to refusing to even acknowledge the existence of some poems to publishers he did not trust He also avoided the Mail system. The Victorian mythologizes who presented Burns as a heaven taught ploughman who quickly gave up dissenting work when the going got tough could not have been more wrong. Poems and Songs such as’ Scots What hae’ were coded attacks on the ongoing repression of the Pitt government .Ostensibly this Song was about the Bruce and Wallace of centuries ago but was really full of veiled references to the French Revolution. Its last line ‘let us do or die’ came from the famous Tennis court Oath made during the French Revolution

By Oppression’s woes and pains!
By your Sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
Lay the proud Usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!-
Let us Do or Die!

Or in another poem about the French revolution published posthumously

The Tree of Liberty

"Heard ye o' the tree o' France,
I watna what's the name o't;
Around it a' the patriots dance,
Weel Europ kens the fame o't.
It stands where ance the Bastille stood,
A prison built by kings, man,
When superstition's hellish brood
Kept France in leading strings, man.

"Upo' this tree there grows sic fruit,
Its virtues a' can tell, man,
It raises man aboon the brute,
It maks him ken himsel, man.
Gif ance the peasant taste a bit,
He's greater than a Lord, man,
And wi' the beggar shares a mite
O' a' he can afford, man.

Last Verse

"Wae worth the loon wha wadna eat
Sic halesome dainty cheer, man;
I'd gie my shoon frae aff my feet,
To taste sic fruit, I swear, man.
Syne let us pray, auld England may
Sure plant this far-famed tree, man;
And blythe we'll sing, and hail the day
That gave us liberty, man."

Burns had written political poetry all his life .In ‘Holy Willies Prayer’ he attacked the idiocies of the salvation of the elect that Calvinism stood for– again circulating the poem privately amongst friends.

In a fantastic piece entitled ‘Address to Beelzebub’ Burns combined support for the ideas of the American and French revolutions with reference to the Highland Clearances and the escape by the poor to the colonies. It is a dramatic monologue in form addressed from hell and one of Burns best , if lesser known poems.

Address Of Beelzebub

To the Right Honourable the Earl of Breadalbane, President of the Right
Honourable and Honourable the Highland Society, which met on the 23rd of May last at the Shakespeare, Covent Garden, to concert ways and means to frustrate the designs of five hundred Highlanders, who, as the Society were informed by Mr. M'Kenzie of Applecross, were so audacious as to attempt an escape from their lawful lords and masters whose property they were, by emigrating from the lands of Mr. Macdonald of Glengary to the wilds of Canada, in search of that fantastic thing-Liberty.

Long life, my Lord, an' health be yours,
Unskaithed by hunger'd Highland boors;
Lord grant me nae duddie, desperate beggar,
Wi' dirk, claymore, and rusty trigger,
May twin auld Scotland o' a life
She likes-as butchers like a knife.

Faith you and Applecross were right
To keep the Highland hounds in sight:
I doubt na! they wad bid nae better,
Than let them ance out owre the water,
Then up among thae lakes and seas,
They'll mak what rules and laws they please:
Some daring Hancocke, or a Franklin,
May set their Highland bluid a-ranklin;
Some Washington again may head them,
Or some Montgomery, fearless, lead them,
Till God knows what may be effected
When by such heads and hearts directed,
Poor dunghill sons of dirt and mire
May to Patrician rights aspire!
Nae sage North now, nor sager Sackville,
To watch and premier o'er the pack vile, -
An' whare will ye get Howes and Clintons
To bring them to a right repentance-
To cowe the rebel generation,
An' save the honour o' the nation?
They, an' be d-d! what right hae they
To meat, or sleep, or light o' day?
Far less-to riches, pow'r, or freedom,
But what your lordship likes to gie them?

But hear, my lord! Glengarry, hear!
Your hand's owre light to them, I fear;
Your factors, grieves, trustees, and bailies,
I canna say but they do gaylies;
They lay aside a' tender mercies,
An' tirl the hallions to the birses;
Yet while they're only poind't and herriet,
They'll keep their stubborn Highland spirit:
But smash them! crash them a' to spails,
An' rot the dyvors i' the jails!
The young dogs, swinge them to the labour;
Let wark an' hunger mak them sober!
The hizzies, if they're aughtlins fawsont,
Let them in Drury-lane be lesson'd!
An' if the wives an' dirty brats
Come thiggin at your doors an' yetts,
Flaffin wi' duds, an' grey wi' beas',
Frightin away your ducks an' geese;
Get out a horsewhip or a jowler,
The langest thong, the fiercest growler,
An' gar the tatter'd gypsies pack
Wi' a' their bastards on their back!
Go on, my Lord! I lang to meet you,
An' in my house at hame to greet you;
Wi' common lords ye shanna mingle,
The benmost neuk beside the ingle,
At my right han' assigned your seat,
'Tween Herod's hip an' Polycrate:
Or if you on your station tarrow,
Between Almagro and Pizarro,
A seat, I'm sure ye're well deservin't;
An' till ye come-your humble servant,

June 1st, Anno Mundi, 5790.

Against a background of a National Seamans’ strike
he wrote to a friend a satirical political song
“ Why shouldna poor folk Mo” . It was one of many bawdy
Songs that Burns used to undermine the repression of the State
and church authorities with their Calvinist ideas on sex and the pre-destination of the elect.

When Princes and Prilates and het-headed zealots (hot)
All Europe hae set in a lowe, (flame)
The poor man lies down, nor envies a crown,
And comforts himself with a mowe (fuck)

The poem goes on to express solidarity with the Poles who were
being oppressed by the Russia of Catherine the Great , each stanza undermining the pretentions and authority of those in power both here and internationally.

There were countless other satirical poems and Songs such as “ A Good Mowe ,and “Nine Inch Will Please a Lady” .Burns used bawdy verse to demonstrate the impotence of Church and State. He points up the hubris of totalitarian pretensions and their futile attempts to suppress sex by edicts. While other writers talked of the democracy of death, Burns preferred to contemplate the democracy of sex- Sex ran“frae the queen to the tinkler” ( ‘Bonie Mary’)

The Kirk and State may join and tell;
To do sic things I manna:
The Kirk and State may gae to h-ll,
An’ I shall gae to Anna

The sex drive outweighed Kirk, State and Houses of Parliament put together and burlesque anti- official language and popular culture were utilised by Burns to subvert authority and its
methods of control.

FIRST ,YOU,JOHN BROWN, there’s witness borne,
And affidavit made and sworn,
That ye hae bred a hurly- burly

‘Bout JEANY MITCHELL’S tirlie –whirlie,
And blooster’d at her regulator
,Till a’her wheels gang clitter-clatter.

Burns’ satire went as far as setting up a ‘court’ to penalise those
who were not good at fornicating amongst an Edinburgh society- “The Crochallian Fencibles”. They used the same legal language as the authorities in their poems and Songs .Burns was , of course , its President.

At the heart of all his political satires as well as his more straightforwardly political poems lay a deep desire to expose and defeat an absolute political power that was shored up by a reactionary institutional Christianity that presented hierarchy, Class, rank .status and power as natural givens .

This was an ambition shared by his contemporary Blake
though the two men seemed not to know of each other.
(Both men , as an aside ,were also obsessed by the ‘Book of Job’ in those repressive times)

Victorian Scotland turned Burns into an iconic national
figure of whiskey and shortbread and haggis eating at Burns suppers in opposition to the political values and aims he
had passionately stood for and there has been a terrible legacy
left from Victorian times. The first attempt to place Burns in historical context Catherine Carswells’ biography in the 1930’s led to her receiving a bullet through the post –but the arguments rage on.

Influences are way too many to list but the most intelligent and committed of Burns admirers were The Ulster poets , Burns ideas influencing the intellectuals of the 1798 rebellion.
Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley were hugely influenced
by his work.Other disciples followed – Emerson and Whitman to Maya Angelou – the latter no doubt influenced by his song ‘The Slaves lament’ Burns translation into Russian by Marshak led to his celebration as the working class embodiment of the Soviet ideal and domestically he has been used by Gladstone in his Midlothian campaign to the opening of the Scottish parliament to the current Nationalist campaign for Independence – Cue

A Man’s A Man for A’that

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a cuif for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

Recommended Texts

The Canongate Burns
The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns
Patrick Scott Hogg and Andrew Noble.

Robert Burns – The Patriot Bard -Patrick Scott Hogg

Burns the Radical -Liam McILvanney

Robert Burns- The Lost Poems -Patrick Scott Hogg (Not complete but most
of his work is here.)

Sunday, 25 January 2009

250 Years to the Day

It's the 250th anniversary since Burns' was born.
This came into my mind while being a little bit 'fou'-
(You ken the feeling - the period when you have had two or three
drinks - you are a bit more lucid and can think a bit more
clearly - before getting completely blootered.)
Please forgive its pishy quality.

Welcome to the bank

Your balance is nil !
You can withdraw nil !

Ha ha ho ho hee !

We are loaded
You are skint !

Ha Ha Ho Ho hee !

Time to fuck off
"On yer bike"

Ha Ha Ho Ho Hee !

We're to blame
but we've got no shame

Ha Ha Ho Ho Hee!

Peter Burton