Monday, 1 October 2018

An anthology of anger


The Anti-Austerity Anthology brings together some of the best active indie authors in a collection of original poetry, prose and more. It is an angry book. It should be

What does the word “austerity” mean to you? In its most generic form, of course, it just means plainness, simplicity, an absence of the superfluous. When I was younger, it had a more specific meaning; “austerity” clothes or furniture were those made during and especially after the war, when there was a scarcity of materials and skilled labour. Today, however, it has taken on another meaning – an economic policy that seeks to reduce budget deficits at all costs, through raising money and through not spending it. It’s a policy that has been widely adopted, especially in Britain, since the 2008 crash.

(Cover design by Chris Harrison)
On the face of it, this is reasonable. Every country has finite resources. But not everyone agrees that austerity is the way to conserve them. It’s not what Roosevelt did in the 1930s, when he raided the coffers in order to get men back to work; do that and they’ll pay taxes instead of being a charge on the public purse. Whether that’s a better idea than austerity is a big argument, and best left for another time. But the key point about austerity, for me, is that successive British governments have sought to reduce the deficit not by raising taxes from those who can afford to pay, but by cutting social support to the poor, the jobless and those who for health reasons cannot work.

The way this hits people was the subject of Ken Loach’s recent film, I, Daniel Blake. Loach was not joking. According to the food-bank charity the Trussell Trust, there were 1,332,952 emergency food supplies delivered by food bank charities to people in the UK between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018. Britain had the world’s 24th highest per capita income in 2017 (according to the World Bank; the IMF and the CIA World Factbook put it a little lower). So there’s no excuse for this. As Steve Topple writes in the Foreword to the The Anti-Austerity Anthology: “In reality, austerity is much more than just a policy and a word no one had really heard of until 2010. It’s a cover for an ideological position. One that has its roots in the very structures of society we see around us.” Yep.

Now we’ve gathered together some of the very best indie authors, in the Anthology. The proceeds will go to foodbank charities. It’s our way of fighting back.

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I first heard of the Anthology back in 2016, when writer Rupert Dreyfus asked if I would like to contribute. I had come across Dreyfus the previous year, when I read and very much liked his debut novel Spark. In it, a young finance professional becomes disaffected and decides to use his IT skills to blow up the entire system. It’s a fast-moving little thriller, definitely political, but also very funny. It is especially memorable for Vinnie Sloan, one of the great comic creations of all time – a foul-mouthed posh git who makes his living from internet scams while ingesting unpleasant substances. In 2015 Dreyfus followed on with a satirical short-story collection, The Rebel’s Sketchbook, which I described in a review as one of the few books can make you laugh and vomit at the same time. His latest, Broke, a savage take on austerity, will be out soon. Dreyfus is a fiercely contemporary writer; his preoccupations are austerity, Trump, the NHS – in fact much of what’s in the news today. And yet he’s also part of a very English tradition of bawdy dissent that stretches back through Gillray, Hogarth, John Wilkes and into the stews of Elizabethan London.

George W. and Laura Bush meet food-bank volunteers in Washington
Dreyfus knows plenty of radical indie writers and poets, and the Anthology began to take shape. But it was a lot of work, and in 2017 he roped in Harry Whitewolf and myself as co-editors. He chose well in Whitewolf, who is a creative professional but also a startlingly original radical poet. He styles himself as a Beat poet but is actually something unique in his own right, writing repetitive, rhythmic, barbed poems that fall, every now and then, into unexpected humour or tenderness. He is a talented illustrator and cartoonist, and has also ventured into travel writing – with two books describing anarchic journeys of self-discovery, in Egypt and in South America. He’s certainly political, as seen in his poem Short and Long Division, from his collection Two Beat Newbie:

Me and my neighbour hated each other.
Our street hated the next street, so me and my
neighbour would then stick together.
...Our country hated another country, so our counties would then stick together.

Whitewolf has a wide frame of reference, citing influences as diverse as Milton, John Cooper Clarke and Baudelaire (another of his collections, New Beat Newbie, contains a short but elegant tribute to the last-named, Ragmen). But his style is very much his own.

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I already knew, and liked, a number of the writers in this book. They included poets M.J. Black and Andy Carrington – like Whitewolf, they’re hard-hitting and political. Steve Topple is a frequent contributor to the online news site The Canary, where’s he’s called the Department of Work and Pensions to account for some of what they’ve done to people in the name of austerity. 

 Amongst the prose writers, I’m a fan of Rebecca Gransden, who is less overtly political and yet deeply subversive; her strange and beautiful books anemogram. (sic) and Rusticles strongly repay close reading. The one US contributor is Riya Anne Polcastro; I already knew her work but only slightly, and will now read more. Her piece here packs a serious punch. Ruth F. Hunt let us use a powerful extract from her 2015 novel The Single Feather, about austerity and disability. Mary Papastavrou, who contributed a dystopian short story, Maria Jumps, is also the author of a strange and compulsive novel of ideas, How to Sew Pieces of Cloud Together; like Gransden’s work, it rewards a close read and is very subversive. 

Come on, admit you want the job
Leo X. Robertson is the author of much short fiction with a horror bent, but also a couple of novels – one of which, the wonderful Findesferas, weaves together Paraguayan history, science fiction and Guaraní mythology to create a novel that, despite being quite short, has an epic quality. Jay Spencer Green contributed Green’s Vacuous Vacancies, a series of career opportunities that are scattered through the Anthology; do check them out (come on, you’ve always fancied a post as a Witchfinder, haven’t you?). He’s the author of several books, including the outrageous satire Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s. Last but not least, Dreyfus, Whitewolf and I have also contributed. In my case, it’s a preachy essay on the roots of austerity. The other two have deployed their satirical wit.

Other contributors I didn’t know. There’s a witty short story from Chris Harrison, for instance; he’s the author of a series of original vampire novels with a twist (the TotenUniverse). We owe him especial thanks as he also did the excellent cover for the Anthology. When not writing, he’s a landscape architect. Bradford Middleton is a poet and short-story writer who sometimes looks at the dark side of life; he’s published widely, and not just in Britain. So has Bristol-born writer Matthew Duggan, whose work has appeared in a number of periodicals; his first collection, Dystopia 38.10, was published in 2015. Guy Brewer is another new one on me; besides writing poetry, he also undertakes union work. (I especially liked his poem Choking Fumes and Smoke-Filled Skies). Connor Young, from Brighton, gave us a Poem for the Brighton Homeless (Ed gets his head kicked in as he sleeps/By pale blue shirted West Street creeps). Ford Dagenham is an unusual poet with a nice line on everyday hypocrisies – this comes out well in his contributions here.

We hope you like the Anti-Austerity Anthology. It was a lot of work by a lot of people. But the proceeds will be going to food banks. And anyway, this all matters. We can’t go on as we are. At the end of the book, we quote Plutarch, who wrote over 2,000 years ago that: An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Let’s not put that to the test.

You can buy the Anti-Austerity Anthology here (or in the US, here), as an ebook or paperback – or order the paperback from from any bookshop using the ISBN 978-1724577962.

Mike Robbins's essay Such Little Accident: British democracy and its enemies  was published in December 2016 and is available from Amazon and other online retailers, or through bookshops 
(ISBN 978-0-9978815-0-9, ebook; ISBN 978-0-9978815-1-6, paperback)



 Follow Mike Robbins on Twitter (mikerobbins19), on Facebook or on Goodreads


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