Mike Quille

Mike Quille

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

Apricot Sun
Monday, 12 July 2021 07:49

Apricot Sun

Published in Books

Trisha Heaney’s poems are  sincere, authentic and true. Her polemical pieces show no pity for the pitiless, combining outrage and insight, but the political is often potently personal, whether the focus is on the communitarian solidarity experienced growing up on a Glasgow housing scheme, or on the sense of belonging she discovered as a teacher in poverty-stricken Sudan. 

Sharp of eye and tongue, Trisha Heaney listens with her heart. Though much here is dark and dismaying, hope is never quite given up and this splendid poet’s Apricot Sun glows with warmth and illumination. Empathy, compassion and love are expressed with technical elan, imaginative verve and a natural storyteller’s talent for compelling communication, making this an uplifting and notable debut.
                                                                      — Donny O’Rourke

Apricot Sun, by Trisha Heaney, ISBN 978-1-912710-26-3, 88pps., price £10 inc. p. and p.

Our Father Eclipse
Thursday, 11 March 2021 13:53

Our Father Eclipse

Published in Books

Our Father Eclipse is a pseudo-apocalyptic, eco-socialist, dystopian vision of the world. Framed amid the realities of global pandemic and climate emergency, it speaks to a post-truth political era where neoliberal capitalism is clearly and dramatically failing. Dark, yet edged with hope, it contains questions of faith, belief and truth at its heart. Visionary and observational by turns, it is both unsettling and provocative, full of radical passion and revolutionary compassion. 

Our Father Eclipse, by Rebecca Lowe, ISBN 978-1-912710-37-9 , 67pps., price £10 inc. p. and p.

Anonymous Bosch
Thursday, 11 March 2021 13:47

Anonymous Bosch

Published in Books

Mike Jenkins once again invites us into the daily lives of austerity-struck residents of Merthyr Tydfil and the Valleys, in this bittersweet collection of poem-monologues, communicated in the sympathetic Welsh working-class voice that has become the poet's signature.

Once again we find them coping with the stresses and strains on the social fabric caused by decades of deindustrialisation and abandonment by Capital, magnified by recent Tory cuts to public services. Nevertheless, in the face of this oppression and depression, Jenkins' picaresque, expletive-rich speakers are defiantly talkative, witty and irrepressibly expressive as ever.

The striking, poignant black and white images of Dave Lewis brilliantly evoke the setting for these gritty, singsong poems. Together they form a modern mythology of Merthyr and the Valleys, which brings to mind the nightmarish imaginaries of Francisco Goya, William Hogarth and, of course, Hieronymous Bosch, all set against a hopeless backdrop of pandemic, poundshop and foodbank.

Anonymous Bosch, by Mike Jenkins with images by Dave Lewis, ISBN 978-1-912710-35-5, 83pps., price £10 inc. p. and p. 

Ballad of the Black Domain
Thursday, 25 February 2021 17:36

Ballad of the Black Domain

Published in Poetry

Ballad of the Black Domain

by Alun Rees

When you’re born in Merthyr Tydfil
you’re brought up in grief and rain.
God himself was afraid to go
alone in the Black Domain.

Recession or Depression -
our loss was someone’s gain.
Living was lean and dying hard
in the terrible Black Domain.

Where body and soul were fed to coal
so that iron and steel might reign
a stern and stubborn race evolved
to survive in the Black Domain.

They say the Viking guys were tough,
stout Swede and dreadnought Dane.
But I tell you, lads, they weren’t a patch
on the boys of the Black Domain.

Some claim the Saxons were harder than us
but their boasts are vapid and vain:
it took a whole gang to martyr Tydfil,
just one girl from the Black Domain.

Where did Keir Hardie roar his wrath
against poverty’s stench and stain?
Where did the Red Flag first fly free?
Here, in the Black Domain.

They wanted to wipe us off the map
for we bore the mark of Cain,
a furious folk and a fierce folk
prowling the Black Domain.

We were born to want and hardship,
we ate grit instead of grain,
but we were rich, yes, rich in rage,
we in the Black Domain.

Smooth talkers will tell you that such days
will never come again,
that they’ve interred and tarmac’d over
the rage of the Black Domain.

But when the valleys dream their dreams
something stalks in my brain.
A bloody something, fury-fuelled,
howls the songs of the Black Domain.

 Ballad of the Black Domain is a collection of poems about the 'Black Domain', the South Wales coalfield and the revolutionary traditions of Merthyr. It’s full of verve and sensitive empathy for the oppressed, with a deep sense of history that doesn't lapse into over-indulgent nostalgia.

There is a tension in the poetry between harmony and dissonance, whereby order can soon break down like society itself, and like the Rising in Merthyr in 1831, where workers claimed the town but paid with their blood. Alun Rees describes the fatal effects of pit disasters, and other examples of the callousness of mine owners to the needs of their workers. But he also conveys character and place with equal directness and telling descriptions. Poems like 'Werngoch Pond' capture a world outside the conflict of the class-divided and dominated Welsh nation.

Rees is a poet too long marginalised within his homeland and little known outside it—and yet his voice is surely as significant as that of his hero Idris Davies. He is a true poet of the people, who has never forgotten his home town and its central place in his imagination.

Ballad of the Black Domain and other poems, by Alun Rees, ISBN 978-1-912710-22-5. 46pps., price £10 inc. p. and p. 

Ballad of the Black Domain
Thursday, 25 February 2021 17:26

Ballad of the Black Domain

Published in Books

Ballad of the Black Domain is a collection of poems about the South Wales coalfield of its title and the revolutionary traditions of Merthyr. It’s full of verve and sensitive empathy for the oppressed, with a deep sense of history that doesn't lapse into over-indulgent nostalgia.

There is a tension in the poetry between harmony and dissonance, whereby order can soon break down like society itself, and like the Rising in Merthyr in 1831, where workers claimed the town but paid with their blood. Alun Rees describes the fatal effects of pit disasters, and other examples of the callousness of mine owners to the needs of their workers. But he also conveys character and place with equal directness and telling descriptions. Poems like 'Werngoch Pond' capture a world outside the conflict of the class-divided and dominated Welsh nation.

Rees is a poet too long marginalised within his homeland and little known outside it—and yet his voice is surely as significant as that of his hero Idris Davies. He is a true poet of the people, who has never forgotten his home town and its central place in his imagination.

Ballad of the Black Domain and other poems, by Alun Rees, ISBN 978-1-912710-22-5. 46pps., price £10 inc. p. and p.

Where We Get Magic From
Thursday, 03 December 2020 15:57

Where We Get Magic From

Published in Books

We tend to think that feeding and watering our kids is enough. Job done. We’re so busy making a living ourselves that we gladly hand them over to schools and to social media, to be fed the mainstream culture.

But that culture broadly supports the status quo. It does not do enough to produce confident kids with an imaginative ability to challenge and change the status quo.

So our true job is to teach them how to look. And when they have been encouraged how to look at things for themselves, how to create, shape and make things and ideas for themselves, then they will deep down know that things need to change.

These poems and images will work their magic, so that kids look for themselves and help themselves. So they write their own poems, make their own images, and live their own lives. That’s the true magic, knowing how to look and learn.

Where We Get Magic From, poems by Martin Hayes with 16 colour images by Adrian Malaiet, ISBN 978-1-912710-28-7. 63pps., price £10 plus £3 p. and p.

The Sikh Snowman
Wednesday, 25 November 2020 11:16

The Sikh Snowman

Published in Books

Some snowmen had topknots. Some wore football scarves and skull caps. Some had veils over their faces. One had fairy wings. They all began to sing......

Snowfall, friendship and feelings combine in this heartfelt and celebratory story about coming together. There's a relatable and joyous sense of wonder as the snow starts and as the friends pull together to build their snowman. Filled with heart, hope and humanity, it is easy to imagine The Sikh Snowman becoming a firm favourite. - Jake Hope, Youth Libraries Group

The Sikh Snowman, by Owen Gallagher with artwork by Fiona Stewart, ISBN 978-1-912710-29-4. Price: £9 plus £3 p. and p. We can supply the book to non-UK addresses as well, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for an estimate of additional postage costs.

Culture is Bad For You
Wednesday, 25 November 2020 10:55

Culture is Bad For You

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mike Quille interviews Mark Taylor, co-author of Culture is Bad For You, by Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor, published by Manchester University Press.

Q. The usual mainstream assumption is that culture is good for you – that it’s enjoyable, keeps you healthy, socially connected, inspiring etc. So ‘Culture is Bad For You’ is an interesting title for a book – can you tell us what you mean, the kind of research you’ve been doing over the last few years, and the core arguments that you’ve developed?

A. Culture can be good for you, depending on who you are. If you’re White, you’re not disabled, you’re a man, and you grew up in a household where there was at least one adult working in a well-paid high-status job, culture’s great. You probably grew up with positive examples of art, music, theatre, and so on all around you. You might also have decided you wanted to work in the creative industries: sure, you might have had to do a couple of unpaid internships in art galleries, or you might have spent months on writing your first Fringe show that you ended up losing money on, but you had good contacts that meant you were pretty sure that a promising agent would come to one of your performances, and you could keep living in your parents’ house in London while you were putting this together.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone: not everyone who works in the creative industries fulfils the stereotype above, and it’s not as if every single wannabe actor with parental wealth ends up making it. But our research shows that this is the broad direction of travel. There are exceptions to this, where some forms of culture do more to challenge social inequalities, but overall we conclude that culture primarily reinforces existing inequalities.

The first core argument in the book is to make this explicit. Culture is sometimes narrated as a place where anyone can make it and thrive; we show that it’s much easier for some people than it is for others. But we also want to unpack some of the reasons why this is, rather than stopping once we’ve mapped out the numbers. The second core argument is that this isn’t a new phenomenon. We often hear claims that there was a “golden age” in cultural work, and that the situation’s got worse more recently, particularly with reference to social class: we show that this is entirely due to changes in the labour market, and that cultural work has always been unequal. The third core argument is that negative aspects of cultural work that seem ubiquitous – for example, periods of working for free and navigating a freelance lifestyle – are in fact experienced very differently by different people, where they can be seen as freeing and exciting for people who are better-resourced and fit the “somatic norm” of a White middle-class man, but crushing inevitabilities for people with less money to fall back on and those who don’t fit that stereotype.

So culture can be bad for you if you’re working in the cultural industries and you don’t fit that stereotype of a middle-class, White, male person. What about as consumers of culture, can culture be bad for you then? And can you say something about how culture is defined?

When we’re asking how culture is defined, we need to think about who’s defining culture. For some people, “culture” will mean “the sorts of things that were funded by the Arts Council sixty years ago”: literary fiction, classical music, ballet, experimental theatre. For others, “culture” will mean hanging out with friends, going to gigs in independent venues, going to non-league football matches, or attending religious ceremonies. Both groups are right, but the first group tends to have its voice heard more often than the second group. It’s important to recognise that there are people who are in both groups, and that there’s plenty of other equally valid approaches to defining culture.

Consuming culture can be bad for you in much the same way that producing culture can be. Consistent with other research – people have known about this for decades! – patterns of attending different kinds of events, and patterns of people’s cultural tastes, are strongly associated with dimensions of social inequality, such as social class. The activities which skew most heavily towards people in the most privileged positions also tend to be the ones which are heavily subsidised by organisations like the Arts Council. This isn’t a criticism of the Arts Council, who are doing their best; it’s impossible to revert long-term patterns in a single strategy document. This means that the overall effect can be that when people from less privileged backgrounds attend these sorts of activities, they can feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Another effect can be that the activities whose audiences are largely from less privileged backgrounds are less well-supported financially, with programmes more likely to be cut. Of course, this isn’t deterministic: we’re not saying that every single working-class person walking into an opera house will feel uncomfortable and won’t come back. However, several of our participants from historically marginalised groups reported feeling uncomfortable and marginalised as cultural consumers, just as they did as cultural producers.

Ok so your research suggests that there are deep and enduring inequalities both in the production of culture, and in its consumption. Is this true of all cultural experiences, or are there exceptions? Is the pattern of inequality broadly the same in all regions of England? Your book also suggests that the inequalities are ‘intersectional’, involving social class, gender and ethnic background. What does this mean, and what is the relationship between inequalities in the cultural sector and inequalities in wider society?

In many ways, everything is an exception! Thinking about consumption, there are some activities that seem to cut across different groups much more than others. Carnivals are a good example: there’s similar fractions of people from different social classes, similar fractions of men and women, and similar fractions of White people and people of colour. (There’s also more younger people than older people, which is the reverse of the pattern that we see for a lot of activities). Video games are another good example.

Thinking about production is a bit different. We can start by comparing people working in film & TV with people working in museums, galleries & libraries. At first blush, they look very different; 29% of people working in film & TV are women, while 81% of people working in museums, galleries, and libraries are. So if your goal was to get all sectors to 50:50, you’d have to take a very different approach. Then again, what both sectors have in common is that the workforces get more male as jobs get more senior. So, while they’re different from each other, they’re not as far apart as you might think.

The patterns of inequality aren’t the same in all regions of England, but in many ways that reflects the large fraction of cultural jobs that are in London. We find that you’re much more likely to end up working in a cultural job if you grew up in London, and that’s after we take into account the strong associations with parental social class, education, ethnic group, and gender.

Finally, we find that the intersectional experience is really important. Some of the people who’d had the most negative experiences working in culture were women of colour from working-class backgrounds. Of course, these experiences of working in culture reflect wider society. But we found that some of the informal structures of cultural work, such as people getting jobs through informal networks and a hostility from more senior people to what they see as bureaucracy, can make the situation worse.

It seems to be a very sobering, not to say depressing, picture that’s emerged from your research – but it’s one that clearly has major implications for cultural policies and strategies. The research seems to confirm theories which claim that ruling classes and elites own and control cultural production and consumption in order to reinforce and legitimise wider economic exploitation and social oppression of women and people of colour – or perhaps to divert attention away from it. Is that fair to say? And is there any reason to suppose that other cultural activities, such as sport, or religion, or broadcast and social media, differ significantly from this picture of structural inequality? 

I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Some of our participants were senior White men from middle-class backgrounds who are working, or who have worked, in senior roles in cultural organisations. Of course, we wouldn’t expect them to explicitly say that they’re reinforcing and legitimising economic exploitation and social oppression of historically marginalised groups, but it went further than that: they described a real distress at the inequalities in their sectors and recognised how they personally exemplified structural problems. It’s for this reason that I don’t think it’ll be possible to transform inequalities in the cultural sector by addressing the cultural sector alone. When you have a sector that large numbers of people want to work in, people who go in with better resources are in a stronger position. This can’t be overturned with changes to how the Arts Council distributes money; I often find myself thinking that the most significant way to confront inequalities in the cultural sector would be to transform legislation around private rented accommodation.

In terms of how other activities differ from this picture of structural inequalities, I’d point to work by people like Daniel Laurison and Sam Friedman, who’ve investigated how the fractions of people from different backgrounds vary across industries. Culture, as you’d suspect, isn’t alone: in fact, it’s very similar to higher education.

If it’s true, as your research clearly seems to demonstrate, that class-based inequalities in cultural production and consumption mirror wider social and economic inequalities and class divisions, and that generally they reinforce and legitimise those inequalities, what should be done? What kinds of policies on culture should the current government adopt to deliver the promise of ‘levelling up’ the North?

What should ACE, local authorities and other bodies charged with managing and funding cultural experiences do to tackle the problem? What role should the labour movement – trade unions, trades councils, the Labour Party and other political parties – play? Should we be aiming to protest the unequal situation of working-class people, seek representation on strategic bodies like Compacts? Should we set up and support our own theatre groups, film networks, publishing houses etc?

A lot of the kinds of policy interventions that would be most effective in confronting inequalities in the cultural sector are broader than the sector itself. A simple example is formally regulating (and almost certainly banning) unpaid internships: the consequences of unpaid internships are particularly visible in cultural work, but it’s just as important for think tanks and the policy research environment more broadly.

A more complicated example is housing: several of our interviewees reported spending large amounts of money on low-quality accommodation in London where they were on edge about their landlord ending their tenancy at no notice. A few different policies would get at this: regulation of the private rented sector to look more like Germany; far more socially rented housing to look more like Austria; more homes being built so that housing is no longer such a scarce resource. This kind of transformation wouldn’t be targeted at the cultural sector, but for me it would be the most effective way to confront existing inequalities.

This doesn’t mean that the cultural sector is off the hook. It’s easy to blame broader structures for the inequalities in the sector, rather than taking responsibility. There are things that organisations like the Arts Council and DCMS could do, given the right support, such as committing amounts of money to Black-led organisations. There’s a very interesting and persuasive argument for this that Kevin Osborne’s recently written, that I’d recommend people read.

For people working in the sector, the first thing to draw attention to is campaigning and activism. There’s organisations operating in and around cultural work that are drawing attention to the inequalities in culture, and doing things about it – I’d particularly highlight Arts Emergency, who both campaign around these issues and work directly with young people from historically marginalised to improve their chances of working in culture. People working in and around culture can support campaigning charities like Arts Emergency as individuals; they can also try to convince their organisations for an institutional commitment. We should recognise that the unusual working patterns of a large number of people in the sector aren’t symptomatic of a stereotypical contract – although the precarity associated with cultural workers goes far beyond them – and defend and extend workers’ rights and conditions through trade unions.

Beyond this, a radical approach to addressing these inequalities needs radical measures. In the book, we suggest that it’ll be necessary to bypass current modes of cultural production: big changes don’t start by transforming the Tate, but by starting something new. We suspect that this is likely to follow from new digital business models, driven and controlled by the marginalised themselves. In addition, there’s also a responsibility from audiences: if there’s an alternative to mainstream cultural production, with all the problems that we describe in the book, then we should support it.

We demonstrate in the book that there’s an overwhelming belief in the power of culture: culture can change lives. This isn’t a marginal issue that we can deal with once we’ve confronted all the other inequalities and injustices in the world, it’s inextricably linked to them. At the moment, the power of culture is often negative. If we want to transform that, everyone needs to do their part.

Culture is Bad For You, by Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor, is published by Manchester University Press.

From the Plough to the Stars
Sunday, 08 November 2020 21:29

From the Plough to the Stars

Published in Books

From the Plough to the Stars: An Anthology of Working People’s Prose from Contemporary Ireland

This is the follow-up volume to Children of the Nation: An Anthology of Working People's Poetry from Contemporary Ireland, published in 2019. Like that book, it aims to express working people's perspective on life. There are 50 contributions from the whole island of Ireland, driving home the fact that their life experience as working people is the same, no matter where on the island they live, on which side of the border, rural or urban, female or male, younger or older, writing in Irish or English.

The underlying inequalities of our class-divided society have been laid bare by the coronavirus, including the ways in which working-class histories, experiences and values have never been adequately represented in Irish national cultural life. The common focus is on themes which reflect the texture and preoccupations of working-class life in contemporary Ireland. The writers create a complex and varied image of Irish working people today, one that challenges conventional stereotypes of their class.

The anthology is edited by Jenny Farrell, has a foreword by Gerry Murphy, President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and it has been generously supported and promoted by the Irish labour movement.

From the Plough to the Stars: An Anthology of Working People’s Prose from Contemporary Ireland. ISBN: 978-1-912710-36-2

212pps. Price: €12/ £11 plus €5/£4 p. and p. 

From Ireland and the rest of Europe...

From the UK...... 

From the U.S and rest of the world...

Climate Matters
Friday, 06 November 2020 16:23

Climate Matters

Published in Books

Climate Matters: A collaboration between Riptide Journal and Culture Matters, edited and introduced by Virginia Baily, Sally Flint and Mike Quille

In 2019 we challenged writers and artists to address the burning topic of the climate crisis and question its relationship with capitalism. In 2020 Covid–19 erupted and spread across the world.

The whole of this anthology has been assembled under the on-going but ever-changing restrictions imposed by this pandemic, which has necessarily coloured the content in ways that we could not have foreseen when we put out the call for submissions.

The collection makes for sobering reading, but it is also beautiful, insightful, occasionally uplifting and leavened with humour, mainly of the gallows kind. And it is also necessary, because the first step to action is to seek the truth, not to flinch or seek token responses, not to close our eyes and turn away, not to shrug or be side-lined by despair or eco-terror, or the magnitude of the vested interests, including our own, at stake.

Greta Thunberg was right to excoriate the rich and powerful gathered at Davos earlier this year, for having done ‘basically nothing’ about the issue. But as we have seen throughout the pandemic, an economy geared to the maximisation of profits, and a state shaped to facilitate that goal, means that our society is poorly equipped to plan for an emergency at all, whether that be a health emergency or a climate emergency. Climate change and the coronavirus are hitting the poorest hardest, and capitalism is making things worse.

Climate Matters is a powerful expression of the inextricable connections between capitalism, Covid-19 and the climate crisis, and the need for a new, democratic and socialist vision of how we see our world and our place in it – a new definition of what constitutes a good life.

Through words, metaphors, images and scientific argument, this collection brings to life the nature of the cliff edge on which we teeter. It is the clamour of clear, resounding voices calling from that cliff top, saying that we need to act now and act fast, because our survival depends on it.

The book is available to download here, and is also available as a free ebook - please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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