The Poetry of The Communist Manifesto: a combination of past and present

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What would have happened if Karl Marx had become a poet? In this article, Peter Raynard takes The Communist Manifesto to new, poetic levels. 

The Foundation

“Capitalism has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities. Capitalism has agglomerated population, centralised means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands.”

As many readers will know, Karl Marx wrote these words, but used the term ‘bourgeoisie’ instead of capitalism. The words were swapped in a 2012 lecture by John Lanchester (he of Whoops, and Capital) marking Marx’s 193rd birthday, to show how prescient he was in describing the structure of capitalism and the way in which it changes the landscape.

But as well as Marx’s prescience, he has also been lauded for his literary style of writing. In Robert Paul Wolff’s book, ‘Moneybags Must Be So Lucky: on the literary structure of Capital’, he references Edmund Wilson who likens Marx to the great ironist, Swift.

“Compare the logic of Swift’s ‘modest proposal’ for curing the misery of Ireland by inducing the starving people to eat their surplus babies with the argument in defence of crime which Marx urges on the bourgeois philosophers…: crime he suggests, is produced by the criminal just as ‘the philosophers produce ideas, the poet verses, the professor manuals,’ and practising it is useful to society because it takes care of the superfluous population at the same time that putting it down gives employment to many worthy citizens.”

Where Marx may have used satire in Capital, The Communist Manifesto is more of a Promethean tragedy; or as has been argued, Marx is more of a dialectical Promethean;

“the idea or practical conviction that what is made can be unmade, what is bound can be unbound by purposeful action. It is the sober acceptance that stealing fire from the gods will have serious consequences that will ultimately lead either to the emancipation, or the annihilation, of humanity.”

The Combination

Karl Marx had two great loves in his late teens, which he put into practice by joining two social clubs when at the University in Bonn; the first was the Tavern Club, which his father disapproved of because of the prevalence of drunken duels (it’s said that Marx did in fact engage in a duel); the second, was the Poets’ Club, of which his father did approve. Writing to his father however, his love of poetry was superseded by the events around him, ‘I had to study law and above all felt the urge to wrestle with philosophy.’ I wonder what impact he would have had, if he became a poet.

But as we all know, he didn’t and some twelve years later, he wrote The Communist Manifesto. However, the mix of prescience, satire, and tragedy in theses writings seemed to me to be the perfect ingredients for a poetic response.

In January this year, I was introduced to the poetic form of coupling by Karen McCarthy Woolf. The form is a poetic response to a piece of text, where the poet divides up lines of prose and responds with lines that include rhyme, repetition and assonance. I took a paragraph of the Communist Manifesto. I decided to explore the form further; writing the Preface, then Part One, and so on, until three months later I had matched 12,000 words of Marx’s masterpiece with roughly the same amount of my poetic own.

Drawing on a wide range of references, I have tried to situate the Manifesto in a variety of contemporary cultural places, in particular to emphasise the dialectic nature of the text, in the form I am presenting. This is complemented by a series of images, again matching the bound with the unbound. As far as I am aware, this is only the second poetic response (after Brecht) to the Communist Manifesto.

Below is a sample of the book, where Marx is describing the rise of the bourgeoisie:

Extract from The Combination

(rise of the bourgeoisie)

The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production
a set of pipes excavated from the intestines of serfs

was monopolised by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed
because the human body parts were too emaciated

for the growing wants of the new markets
who were still yet to discover the delights of the flesh

The manufacturing system took its place.
robots of various stomach sizes, blustered and bulged their way ahead

The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle class
something the middle class did very passively aggressive like

division of labour between the different corporate guilds
confraternity contracts between belligerents, some say

vanished in the face of division of labour in each single workshop
atomising systems turning the metal of men into powder

Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising.
man-sized tissues no longer required, as it was nothing to be sneezed at

Even manufacture no longer sufficed
hands took to the machine not the article of craft

Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionised industrial production
playthings of the mind, exponential change in fortunes, spin the wheel

The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry
all hail the shibboleths of mammon and their bloody tongues

the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires
poor souls in the middle playing catch and missing

the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois
come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough

Modern industry has established the world market
connecting cracked palms that never shake hands

for which the discovery of America paved the way
with their independent isolationist do-what-I-say

This market has given an immense development to commerce
so fly high my sweet nightingales of the east, you bulbul song birds

to navigation, to communication by land
enabling the troops of civilisation and Sodom to rape for progress

This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry;
a cleaning up if you will of virulent middle-aged faces

and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended
like a pop-up book with a mind of its own

in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed
maturing like cancerous cheese on a wood-rot board

increased its capital, and pushed into the background
its nodules of self-aggrandisement, displacing

every class handed down from the Middle Ages
and so say some of us, and so say some of us, for

We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie
the one percent to you and me

is itself the product of a long course of development
yes, yes, yes, we know what you meant

of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange
round and round we go, where will we stop – hold on, I know!

Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied
by the ‘gertcha’ of Chas and Dave eulogising the end of days and

by a corresponding political advance of that class
who still dance on this parliamentary isle to Milton’s ‘light fantastick’

An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility
as it was, as it is, as it was always meant to be

an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune
oh for those lazy, crazy anarchistic days, sat around a smoky haze

here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany)
where townsmen gave purchase to their rights with moneyed fists

there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France)
the 98% of us scrapping over a share of bronze medal

afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper
the threads of stratification began to untwine

serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy
the Naxalites of India can tell you a thing or two here

as a counterpoise against the nobility,
it always comes down to standing, back straight!

and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general
whose spines were now curving to the submittal

the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry
with all its rising fallacies and clocking on palaces

and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State
the porous borders of innovative disorder

exclusive political sway.
you turn if you want to, but the old lady of England, is not for turning

The executive of the modern state is but a committee
with their bingo numbers to hand & Saturday night covers band

for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie
so not the main party to make us all free

About the author of this post

Peter Raynard Photo (6)

Peter Raynard is the editor of Proletarian Poetry: Poems of Working-class Lives (www.proletarianpoetry.com). He has written two books of poetry, his debut collection Precarious (Smokestack Books, 2018) and The Combination, a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto (Culture Matters, 2018), available here.

 

References:

Barker, Jason (2016) EPIC OR TRAGEDY? KARL MARX AND POETIC FORM IN THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, (sourced here)

Lanchester, John (2012) Marx at 193 (LRB podcast)

Nicolaievsky, Boris & Maenchen-Helfen, Otto (1933) Karl Marx: man and fighter (Pelican Books)

Wolff, Robert Paul (1988) ‘Moneybags Must Be So Lucky: on the literary structure of Capital’ (University of Massachusetts Press)

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Why poetry?

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“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence,” Audre Lourde famously opined in a stunning argument on the importance of poetry as a tool of protest and resistance. In these times of extreme global crises, it may be tempting to write off things like poetry as an unnecessary luxury – something beautiful and enjoyable, but ultimately superficial.

It may come as no surprise to you that we here at Nothing in the Rulebook take a different view.

It is for this reason that we are extremely excited about a new project from the team behind the excellent Lunar Poetry Podcast (read our interview with their founder, David Turner, right here on NITRB).

The team are celebrating four years of poetry podcasting with the publication of an anthology of 28 poems by former guests of the podcast. Why Poetry? will be published September 27th by Verve Poetry Press.

Unique and surprising

The anthology promises to be a unique and surprising book, charting as it does the history of LPP alongside showcasing poems, most of which will be published for the first time in this book.

The featured poems will be paired with quotations taken from the 28 featured poets’ Lunar episodes. In this way, Why Poetry? highlights the inextricable link between process and final draft, and helps move us slightly closer to answering that gosh-darned question ‘but what is the point of poetry?’

Included in the list of poets discussing their process are four ‘Next Generation Poets’, major prize nominees and winners, and – most importantly – a number of writers without pamphlets or collections.

Writers who consider themselves ‘page poets’ sit alongside spoken word artists and poets known more for their performances than their journal appearance. Those who teach workshops and attend residencies accompany those whose ‘other jobs’ are in cafes and offices. In keeping with the core essence of the Lunar style, the anthology blurs the lines when it comes to what makes a poet a poet and why.

“An enigma”

Speaking about the anthology, Nothing in the Rulebook’s very own Professor Wu said:

“There seems a common misconception that the only purpose of poetry is to try and ‘solve’ it – perhaps a hangover from old school syllabuses that teach students to decipher poetic language and reduce it to a code of metaphors and analogies that need to be broken. Yet poetry is so much more than an enigma. For millennia, its purpose has been to move us, to help us see the world from different perspectives and to gain a deeper understanding of the world and of ourselves. Indeed, one of the finest things about poetry is that it makes us ask that simple yet difficult question: ‘why?’

It is for this reason projects like Why Poetry? are so important. They carry on a conversation that we risk seeing die out unless we recognise the importance of poetry. They engage us; offer new ideas and, most importantly; make us ask more questions.”

About Lunar Poetry Podcasts

Founded in October 2014 in south-east London, Lunar Poetry Podcasts features discussions, interviews and live recordings with poets in the UK and further afield.  Now based in Bristol, the podcast recently agreed a deal with The British Library which will result in the entire series being archived in their audio archive.

 

 

Brexit is Brexit – Donald Trump poetry

I think Britain is a very hot spot right now

Of course, it is a hell hole

With blood all over the floor

It’s a war zone

It’s going broke and not working

 

I just hope they get rid of the windfarms in Scotland

They’re destroying the golf there

 

I think they like me a lot in the UK

They think I’m really okay

I am inundated with fan mail from England

Because I do not have tiny hands

I have Boris Johnson, he’s a very special friend of mine

He’s always been very very nice to me

Theresa May gets very angry

Not like Lady Di

I could have, if I wanted, to, you know

Lady Di is my one regret in the woman department

 

Just remember the old Trump bullshit:

Brexit is Brexit.

~Anonymous 

A note on the above poem: 

All the lines of ‘My personal Vietnam’ are taken, verbatim, from Donald Trump speeches, Tweets, interviews or recorded comments. For a fully referenced version of the poem please send the NITRB team an email!

My personal Vietnam – Donald Trump poetry

Do you like me? That’s an important question

You should like me,

You can make me look nice, handsome and thin,

Like Lady Di, she had the whole thing,

She had that skin…

 

What do I think of Kim?

I think he liked me and I liked him,

He’s a fat dotard,

A crazy little rocket man,

I admire him very much,

I said, “do me a favour”:

We got to cure AIDS so we can stop wearing rubbers

Because, vaginas are like landmines,

That whole thing

Is my personal Vietnam.

Anonymous 

 

A note on the above poem: 

All the lines of ‘My personal Vietnam’ are taken, verbatim, from Donald Trump speeches, Tweets, interviews or recorded comments. For a fully referenced version of the poem please send the NITRB team an email!

Donald Trump poetry

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My name is Donald, no, I’m not going bald; that’s not a toupee, what a rude thing to say.”

Donald Trump’s often bizarre and frequently unsettling use of language has been a source of both amusement and horror to onlookers around the world. Yet, like many egomaniacs before him, his words have a strange aesthetic quality that seems to lend them to the form of poetic verse.

For a man who spins his own fictions and creates his own realities, moving into the world of poetry may not be a surprising career move for Donald (although, considering this is the man who moved from reality TV star and frequent failed businessman to become President of the United States, no career move should really be surprising). Yet it must be admitted that his creative writing ability may be impaired by his extremely limited vocabulary and the fact he thinks he can use “schlong” as a verb.

Within Trump’s crude and simple use of language, however, lies a natural poetic lilt. He speaks in compact, distilled phrases that tell you a lot about who he is – often in only a handful of words. His frequent use of declarative sentences and severe lack of complexity gives both his speeches and his tweets a natural staccato rhythm.

Like a child first learning to write and speak, Trump also repeats words and phrases again and again. While this primitive use of language may amuse many – particularly within the liberal metropolitan elite – these are the same linguistic qualities that give Trump’s words power.

By using simple sentences and phrases again and again – accompanied by sweeping generalisations and categorizing his ideas into simple groups (mostly “winners”, “haters” and “losers) – Trump is in some ways a natural communicator to the masses. People remember what he says and take away messages from what he says in a way they seldom do during the triangulated, euphemism-filled speech of most other modern day politicians.

How do we approach this power? How do we deconstruct Trump’s aggressive, misogynistic, racist, and, ultimately, stupid, turns of phrase into something else?

Well, here the best approach seems not to deconstruct it (spending too much time analyzing the babblings of an unhinged idiot is about as fun as trying to remove an ingrowing hair from your crotch with a pair of rusty tweezers).

Instead; it seems we may be best to reconstruct his words – keeping the same natural structures in his choice of phrasing, but mixing his quotes up, in a form of poetic collage, to create new poems and poetry.

We have done just this, exploring the aesthetic power of Trump’s nonsensical babblings about covfefe, and turning them into new forms.

You can read each of our poems below for free through the following links:

Nothing to hide 

So beautiful

Like, really smart

Humble pie

Thank you for listening

So that was my words

Nothing to hide – Donald Trump poetry

I don’t have anything to hide

I think Viagra is wonderful

I definitely don’t need Viagra

If you need it, Viagra is great

But I just don’t need it

Sometimes I wish there was an anti-viagra

Something that had the opposite effect

I’m not bragging

I’m just lucky: I don’t need Viagra

~ Anonymous 

A note on the above poem: 

All the lines of ‘Nothing to hide’ are taken, verbatim, from Donald Trump speeches, Tweets, interviews or recorded comments. For a fully referenced version of the poem please send the NITRB team an email!

So beautiful – Donald Trump poetry

I’m so beautiful and good looking

That reminds me of another beautiful thing I’ve seen

Beautiful hats

Beautiful coal

Look at these scissors

I have never seen scissors that look this beautiful before

 

Beauty and elegance, whether in a woman or a building,

Comes down to one thing:

You don’t give a shit if a girl can play the violin

Like the greatest violinist in the world

You want to know:

What does she look like?

~ Anonymous 

A note on the above poem: 

All the lines of ‘So beautiful’ are taken, verbatim, from Donald Trump speeches, Tweets, interviews or recorded comments. For a fully referenced version of the poem please send the NITRB team an email!

Like, really smart – Donald Trump poetry

Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest

I guarantee I have a vocabulary better than you

I’m intelligent

Some people would say I’m very, very, very intelligent

I am, like, really smart

I am a very smart person

I went to school

I’m very intelligent

Trust me, I’m like a smart person

I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius

~ Anonymous 

A note on the above poem: 

All the lines of ‘Like, really smart’ are taken, verbatim, from Donald Trump speeches, Tweets, interviews or recorded comments. For a fully referenced version of the poem please send the NITRB team an email!

20 of the sexiest haiku you’ll read today

 

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After reviewing Nick Brooks’s excellent book, Sexy Haiku, we’ve been reading and re-reading this extraordinarily erotic collection over and over, picking out the haiku that just stay with you, leaving you turning them over in your head throughout the day.

Indeed, we’ve become a little obsessed with just how good this book is. In turns moving, funny, profound, filthy, erotic and – yes – sexy, this is the collection of erotic haiku that just keeps giving over and over (like an exceptional lover).

While we can’t recommend you pick up a copy of Brooks’s book highly enough from the exquisite publisher’s Freight Books, we thought we’d whet your appetites further with some of the sexiest haiku we’ve picked out from the collection.

Enjoy with a friend, the one you love, or read alone while crying into a bowl of milk watching yourself in the mirror – it’s your call. But enjoy you will…

1.

She holds up an

overripe avocado

winks coyly at me    licks her lips

2.

Looking at her body

in the mirror    its imperfections

make her beautiful

 3. 

Our mouths meet

Teeth bash intimate flavours

Our tongues grappling

 4. 

Surprise surprise

you climb on top    put me in

tight    easing it    rocking

 5. 

Do I look good?

semen bubbling on your lips

cheeks flushed red  

6.  

My semen spreads its

Loose vines inside you    searching

For nooks    for purchase

7.  

Zara’s pussy incredibly

wet and juicy    soaking everything

in its own pleasure

 8.  

Shall we make love

in the shower tonight    or

would you rather fuck in the bath?

 9. 

I put it in from behind

fuck you   hard     fast      deep

then ease back a little 

 10.

I wait for you to plead

Like that yes    oh   yes   please

Don’t torment me any longer! 

 11.

I thrust in go deep

her hands hold my hips in check

as I nudge her cervix

 12. 

Your brain is

the sexiest part of your body    I say

staring at her arse

 13. 

Your cock is so

beautiful    maybe it can live

inside me forever?

14. 

I place my fingers

over yours    on the fretboard

place them on the right notes

 15.

Peeling your panties

your spreading legs     soft down

It’s still the Seventies, you say

 16.

She always laughs

when she comes

still slick with juices    making tea

 17. 

We spend the entire day

in bed    fuck  til we’re both raw

gnaw holes in each other

 18. 

You show me your

breasts as we talk on Skype

tell me you don’t like the word ‘tits’

 19. 

I want you to fuck me

from behind then come over

my face     smear it with your cock

 20.

We come at the same time

both our faces raw     tangled

if it could always be like this   

Purchase Sexy Haiku from Freight Books here:  https://www.freightbooks.co.uk/product/sexy-haiku/  

Humble pie – Donald Trump poetry

I think I am, actually humble.

I think I’m much more humble than you would understand.

I do not have tiny hands.

That is where I draw a line in the sand.

Look at these hands.

Are they small hands?

I’m honoured to have the greatest temperament that anybody has.

 

I have to start by saying I’m a big fan.

I’m a very compassionate person.

We will make America great again.

Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?

A person who is very flat chested is very hard to be a ten

I understand why you would leave your wife for another man.

 

I’m like a magnet

With that fat, ugly face

I had some beautiful pictures taken

I looked like a very nice person,

Which in theory I am;

No – I’m not into anal,

I don’t even consider myself ambitious

My Twitter is so powerful

I say give them the old Trump bullshit.

~ Anonymous 

A note on the above poem: 

All the lines of ‘Thank you for listening’ are taken, verbatim, from Donald Trump speeches, Tweets, interviews or recorded comments. For a fully referenced version of the poem please send the NITRB team an email!