Alan Morrison (poet)

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Alan Duncan Morrison (born 18 July 1974, Brighton) is a British poet.[1]

Background[edit]

Morrison's Christian name was chosen after two of his father's boyhood heroes, Alan Breck, the Highland Jacobite fictionalized in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped, and, sans the second 'l', Allan Quatermain, from the novels by H. Rider Haggard. Morrison's early years were spent in Worthing, West Sussex. In 1985 his family moved to a small hamlet, Trematon, outside Saltash, in South-East Cornwall, just over the Tamar River from Plymouth. Due to unforeseen vicissitudes, several years of rurally isolated near-abject poverty followed, which had a profound influence on Morrison's development, personally, poetically and politically (he 'converted' to socialism at the height of Thatcherism). He was educated at English Martyrs Roman Catholic Primary School (1978–85), Saltash Comprehensive (1985–90), Plymouth College of Further Education (1991–94), and the University of Reading (1994–97) where he initially studied Sociology but later switched to Ancient History (graduating with what W.H. Auden termed "A Poet's Third" (Hons)). In 1998 Morrison moved to Brighton (his birthplace) where he cut his teeth in poetry while working for a number of years in various unrelated jobs and voluntary roles (including secretary, homelessness worker, mental health poetry tutor, freelance editor, designer, and occasional magazine journalist).

Overview of works[edit]

Morrison's work owes some debt to fairly unconventional influences such as Anglo-Scots poets John Davidson and Harold Monro, and Anglo-Welsh poets Alun Lewis and Dylan Thomas. However, his earliest influences were John Keats, Wilfred Owen, William Blake, Andrew Marvell, Emily Brontë (whose novel Wuthering Heights first inspired Morrison to write) and Percy Shelley (his introduction to the latter was via a stanza from 'The Mask of Anarchy' excerpted on the back of The Jam's 1980 LP Sound Affects -the lyrics of Paul Weller were also a potent influence on Morrison's early poetry, along with those of Kate Bush and Matt Johnson). Critics have frequently drawn comparisons between Morrison's often didactic and polemical style and a wide range of poets and writers such as John Milton ('Miltonic' has often been coined), William Blake, John Clare, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, W.H. Auden, Alun Lewis, Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith and Tony Harrison.

His work is often characterised by a strongly social and polemical tone (drawing on the Audenesque), as epitomised in two of his long poems: Clocking-in for the Witching Hour (new revised edition, Smokestack 2010), which charts the thought processes of his father on a night shift as a security officer, through themes of ancestry and fate; and the Blakeian Keir Hardie Street (new revised edition, Smokestack, 2010),[2] in which a fictitious, turn-of-the-century, working-class poet, Allan Jackdaw, discovers a Socialist Utopia off the dreamt-up Sea-Green Line of the London Underground.[3] KHS not only pays homage to its namesake but also to poets William Blake and John Davidson (whose 'Thirty Bob a Week', a mock-Kipling balladic monologue of a broke city clerk, strongly influenced the style of Morrison's long poem), the socialist writer Robert Tressell, and artist Walter Sickert. In 2011, KHS was recorded to CD by film, television and radio actor, Michael Jayston (Cromwell, Nicholas and Alexandra, Jane Eyre, Flesh and Blood, A Bit of a Do etc.).

Morrison's work can also demonstrate an acute empathy for mental suffering, as in his openly confessional piece Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever (2004), in which he traces the possible origins of his own obsessive preoccupations to a childhood subtly punctuated by Catholicism.[4]

Morrison's Picaresque, a play for voices, was based on his experiences working at an all-male night shelter in Brighton, in which he juxtaposes the homeless "residents" with piratical alter-egos. The piece has been performed several times between 2000 and 2006, at venues including The Poetry Café and the George Bernard Shaw Theatre, RADA. Comparisons have been drawn with Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood – (DADA South and Samuel French Ltd.), but in terms of subject and tone other reviewers have seen the work as more echoing the likes of Robert Tressell and Maxim Gorky (Andy Croft, Smokestack).

His 2006 collection, The Mansion Gardens, was nominated for the 2006 T. S. Eliot Prize by publisher Paula Brown and critically praised in journals such as The London Magazine and Other Poetry. His 2009 volume, A Tapestry of Absent Sitters (Waterloo Press) demonstrated a further radicalising of his already distinctive voice with a wide breadth of style and subject and nods to his own poetical and political influences.

In August 2010 Morrison compiled, contributed to and edited a collection of political poems entitled Emergency Verse - Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State (Caparison press) endorsed by Caroline Lucas MP [5]

Morrison worked for over a year as editor and designer of Poetry Express, journal of Survivors' Poetry, (a mental health literary charity); a position in which he was able to promote the writing of other survivors of mental distress, most notably, David Kessel, whose collected poems, O the Windows of the Bookshop Must Be Broken, he edited, designed and prefaced.[6] Since then, he has run a series of poetry workshops in his local community for mental health and disabled service users. In 2008 he gained an NHS Artists' Award to produce an anthology of writing through his workshops at Mill View psychiatric hospital, Hove (in 2009). Morrison was then commissioned to write his own poetic response to this residency, resulting in his epic work Captive Dragons / The Shadow Thorns, published in October 2011.

His collection Blaze a Vanishing and The Tall Skies (Waterloo Press, 2013) was funded by an Arts Council Grant for the Arts Award. Much of this volume is about historical and contemporary Sweden, including poem-tributes to figures such as Emanuel Swedenborg, Alfred Nobel, Ingmar Bergman, but with particular focus on the early 20thc. Swedish 'proletarian' writers and poets such as Ivar Lo Johansson, Dan Andersson, and Moa and Harry Martinson.

In 2014, Morrison published parts of an epic polemical poem-in-progress, Odour of Devon Violet ([1]), which juxtaposes the austerity era of the present day with that of the Thirties. Morrison was awarded his second Arts Council Grant for the Arts Award in succeeding years for this literary project. The poem -attributed to 'Ivor Mortise', a fictitious alter-ego of Morrison's- takes a satirical and dialectical take on contemporary austerity culture, rhetoric and political propaganda, using the core leitmotiv of Devon Violet, a cheap perfume particularly popular during the Thirties and Forties, as an olfactory metaphor for a detectable tendency of our present day Tory-facilitated austerity culture to latch onto retro-rhetoric and synthetic nostalgia (a sort of austerity nostalgia or 'nosterity', or 'austalgia', as Morrison refers to it) for a pre-welfare state Britain of the Thirties and early Forties. The work dialectically draws on the period polemical works of Christopher Caudwell (Illusion and Reality, Studies in a Dying Culture etc.), Edmund Wilson (To the Finland Station), Cyril Connolly (Enemies of Promise), as well as focusing on other key cultural figures of the inter-war years, such as W.H. Auden and George Orwell.

In 2015 Lapwing Publications (Belfast) published Morrison's volume Shadows Waltz Haltingly. A deeply personal collection, it is a departure from his more socio-political poetry of recent years. Core to the volume is a series of poems charting his mother's 15+ year battle with Huntington's Disease, which finally claimed her in 2013; as well as many other poems on his family background, his own lifelong battle with chronic anxiety and obsessional neurosis (pure obsessional disorder, a lesser known but hugely debilitating type of obsessive-compulsive disorder), and poem-meditations on the lives and thought of Robert Burton (The Anatomy of Melancholy) and Søren Kierkegaard (The Concept of Anxiety etc.).

Morrison is founding editor of radical literary webzine, The Recusant and of the Caparison imprint which has produced the two anti-cuts anthologies Emergency Verse and The Robin Hood Book. He has also recently founded a polemical poetry webzine, Militant Thistles, which is the sister-site to The Recusant.

Morrison's poetry has been published in over sixty journals including Aesthetica, Aireings, Illuminations (US), The London Magazine, Pennine Platform, The Penniless Press, Poetry Salzburg Review, Stand (2010) and The Yellow Crane; and online at Great Works, Strix Varia and Snakeskin.

Publications[edit]

Awards, Commendations, Shortlists[edit]

  • Asham Literary Trust Award (1998)
  • NHS Trust Arts Award (Mill View Anthology, 2009)
  • Purple Patch Best Poetry Collections Shortlist (No. 11/ 20 for A Tapestry of Absent Sitters, 2009)
  • Shortlisted for the Tillie Olsen Award (USA) (for Keir Hardie Street, 2010)
  • Highest Runner Up in Morning Star Well Versed Prize for Protest in Poetry (for The Robin Hood Book, ed., 2012)
  • Arts Council Writer's Award (for Blaze a Vanishing/ The Tall Skies, 2012)
  • Arts Council Writer's Award (for Odour of Devon Violet, 2013)
  • Royal Literary Fund Award (2014–17)
  • Francis Head Bequest Award (Society of Authors) (2016)

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/sep/01/poetry-welfare-cuts-alan-morrison
  2. ^ http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/keir_hardie_street_alan_morrison_i020821.aspx Keir Hardie Street, Inpress Books
  3. ^ Alan Morrison, Keir Hardie Street, Smokestack Books, 2010, pp. 9-42
  4. ^ Alan Morrison, Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever, Sixties Press, 2004, pp. 1-68
  5. ^ http://www.therecusant.org.uk The Recusant eZine
  6. ^ Alan Morrison, preface to O the Windows of the Bookshop Must Be Broken, Survivor's Press, 2006, pp 7-16