A Tapestry of Absent Sitters
Waterloo Press, 2009
Selected as one of the Purple Patch Twenty Best Individual Small Press Poetry Collections of 2009
'Morrison's political anger and vision find their true home in his superb poetry. The book is a delight - a challenging delight, it has to be said, but worth every furrow. Here is the poet introducing himself: 'They sussed I scrubbed up from humble origins/ by how my second-hand clothes wore me out/ of pocket...' From this point, there seems to be no aspect of society or art left unplumbed for truth-telling, in language that is rich, resonant, witty. The book's title is also the title of one of its sections, the 'Absent Sitters' being heroes of the poet, their names stitched in clever acrostics into their memorial verses. ...'The Ghosts of Haworth' evokes the dark brilliance of the Bronte household - the sisters' dialogue caught in dreamlike snatches (recalling T.S. Eliot or Beckett).... This is definitive stuff - when Morrison tells what has to be told, one feels suddenly there is no other way of telling it, which is how we think of the great poets. Morrison may well be one of them.' Frances Thompson, The Journal
'Morrison writes in a rich, Miltonic voice, heavy with anger and prophecy. Britain is a "mossbacked Kingdom" owned and policed by the "blazered ranks" of the "straw-boatered," "privilege-peppered classes."'
Andy Croft, The Morning Star
'A craftsman and maker of finespun poetry, a young poet as deep as the black lakes of mythology, ...Alan Morrison is like Musil's Young Torless armed with an all-seeing eye and a notebook. The end result is the counterblast that comes at us from many directions. Sometimes from many directions all at once. It's his destiny. His mission. And make no mistake about it. ...To read his latest collection is like a chocolate and champagne evening. A poetic luxury. ...In a universe full of ten-a-penny poets Alan Morrison is the genuine gold-struck and ready to be minted article. He is a poet setting off on his own unique journey; one that many will want to follow. A Tapestry of Absent Sitters is a clear step-up from Morrison's well-received Mansion Gardens for it packs the anger and verve we've been anticipating, hoping would dare break-out. It's a great feeling to be in at the start of what may ultimately prove to be a massive career. Gwilym Williams, Poet-in-Residence
'There are sonnets and villanelles in this collection, alongside a variety of looser verse forms, where the energy of Morrison's epic struggle within his main themes of poverty, class, education and social exclusion is aided by a wide vocabulary and a passionate intensity. This is a poetry which seems to be entirely devoid of the frenetic energies and increasingly empty ironies of much post-modern writing and there's a refreshing sense of engagement which is encouraging, especially in a young writer. …There's also variety of subject and a cultural richness within his writing which is impressive in its sweep. There's a depth and an energy to Morrison's writing …and there's a long way to go. The best could yet be to come.' Steve Spence, Stride
Review by Kevin Saving in The Penniless Press
Alan Morrison, A Tapestry of Absent Sitters, Waterloo (2009)
ISBN: 978-1-906742-04-1, 121pp, RRP: £9
Alan Morrison's is an 'angry' muse. His -unposed- concern for social justice is melded in this volume with an interiorised landscape fraught with dragons. Any resolutions which occur are fully capable of alchemising into poetic gold -not the fatuous iron pyrite of too many recent publications.
One of this collection's opening poems, 'A Stone's Throw', displays a clear-eyed compassion which refuses to dilute into sentiment. When coupled with the poet's fascination for classical mythology, the resultant admixture consolidates into a type of (fully-involved) grandeur.
A STONE'S THROW
There goes Polyphemus,
He's got his one red eye on you
And on his Diamond White.
Here comes limping Oedipus
Dragging his swollen leg;
Guinea-pig of self-injecting,
Needle for a peg.
There's Medusa furnishing
Her flattened card-box home.
Every nickel chucked at her
Turns into a stone.
Crucially, Morrison knows whereof he speaks. Much of his early career was spent working with disadvantaged client-groups (fuelled by an empathy arisen from having grown up in relative poverty himself in Late-Thatcherite Britain). As an erstwhile editor of the -Arts Council undermined-Poetry Express, (written both by and for 'survivors of the mental health system') he has had the happy knack of 'inspiring' -I don't believe the word's misplaced- contributors towards competencies which, in some cases, they didn't know they possessed. He currently practices (part-time) as poet-in-residence at the Mill View psychiatric hospital in Hove.
Auden was probably right- poetry doesn't make too much happen, but Morrison's great gift is to allow us, now and again, to willingly suspend this cynical disbelief. At its best, his work takes on something of the timbre of three of his poetic 'heroes' (John Davidson, Harold Monro and Alun Lewis). At its very best it is Blakean and, well, 'Morrisonian'.
A debut collection, The Mansion Gardens (2006) was, possibly, too candid to scoop prizes -though it was nominated by its publisher, Paula Brown for the T.S. Eliot. Never 'hip', Morrison is unafraid to work within 'traditional' forms, even -sometimes- (whisper it quietly) utilising end-rhyme. Although some of the more fashionable, clique-ridden, mainstream British poetry journals still elude him, his work has already appeared in a wide variety of more broad-minded literary periodicals (including Cadenza, Candelabrum, The Canon's Mouth, Poetry Salzburg Review, The London Magazine and -forthcoming- in Stand) whilst discerning critics, notably William Oxley and Andy Croft, have applauded its merits.
A Tapestry of Absent Sitters is too multi-faceted for any review of this length to 'cover all its angles' properly. In 'The Recusants' the author's childhood experiences (as part of an educated family plunged suddenly into poverty) pay belated but rich dividends.
THE RECUSANTS (1586-1986)
Our natures, frayed with sun-warped books
blanched khaki in the window beam;
cobwebbed in spider-hatching nooks
behind the hulking curtain screen
thick as the gown on plaster Mary
enshrined in the spare unpainted room.
Our stomachs howl hosts of weak refills
from stewed tea-bags: we fast past Lent.
Episcopises of toast-racked bills
numb us to TV's otiose vent,
while our own obscure, un-broadcast soap
is watched by the set-top's porcelain Pope.
A (slight), personal criticism -not shared in the reviews which the book has had previously recorded- might be that one of the volume's sequences (set in Sweden) is a little over-long. A change of tone is introduced with 'Now Barabbas', in which Arthur Koestler meets Monty Python on mutually agreeable ground. An epigrammatical section works well, as does a passage dealing with the fallout from a broken relationship. I'm caused to wonder if 'Organ Grind' -in which Morrison struggles with the 'Rubble' of his Roman Catholicism- is a 'Church Going' for the twenty-first century. 'Elocution Lessons' is nicely-nuanced, whilst 'Laughter in the Bathroom' is an effective piece (just sufficiently 'Artful' but also pithy and well-observed).
Whilst justifiably sceptical of 'Hype', I feel that in its own understated, even apologetic, way A Tapestry of Absent Sitters lays down a similarly gem-encrusted gauntlet to those once thrown by Lyrical Ballads, North of Boston and, even, The Less Deceived. Such challenges cannot exist entirely independently of the cultural milieu which has helped engender them -they require the 'oxegyn' of informed debate. Art has, in this sense, always been adversarial. Quiet, but insistent, Morrison's 'muse' has much to be angry about.' Kevin Saving
'A Tapestry of Absent Sitters is an excellent collection. I like the way in which it manages both to draw upon the recesses of English literature, and deal effectively with contemporary matters - the easier way, these days, is to write as if the postmodern present is all that existed and, in Morrison's resistance to that, he shows a considerable amount of quiet courage. I particularly liked three of the ’place’ poems - ‘Rainbow Road’ (one of the best ’Brighton’ poems I’ve read), ’Shrewsbury Apercu’ and ’Seeing The Night Entirely’ (the best of the Swedish pieces in my view). Of the sections, my favourite would be the final one, both for relatively short pieces such as 'Mister Aspidistra’ and ’Ravelling Williams’ and for the full-on Gothic of ’The Ghosts of Haworth’ (a splendidly untimely piece).
'‘Elocution Lessions’ is a nicely-nuanced piece. ‘A Stone's Throw’ is very, very strong. It comes, I think, from the same territory as Auden’s 'The Shield of Achilles'. ‘Vintage’...a powerful summation - vintage Morrison - which might, indeed, find maturation into adage.... ‘Tomorrow Will Be Another Day’ is damned good. ‘Now Barabbas’... Arthur Koestler meets Monty Python! ‘Laughter in the Bathroom’ works well: just sufficiently artful; also pithy and well-observed. Another gem.'
'A Tapestry of Absent Sitters is an advance on The Mansion Gardens. It is, like its predecessor, full of what I've come to regard as 'Alan Morrison-ism' - certain verbal characteristics, certain ways of using language in a very personal way. I'm not sure how else to describe it - I would have to quote a few examples - but for me it is unmistakably there. 'Praise with Faint Damnation'; 'Organ Grind'; 'Absolute Berliners'; 'Tall Thoughts in Gamla Stan'; 'Seeing the Night Entirely'; 'The Dead Falls'; 'Driven in Sundsvall'; 'Where Banshees Brought Me'; 'Shadows Die Hard', are all very good poems. Morrison has made a fine job of the villanelle, the first poem in the book. I know from experience that the villanelle is a difficult form to handle, especially regarding the two refrains and maintaining the momentum without becoming stale or banal. I congratulate him on this. But for me the cream of the collection is the group of four poems set in Sweden, cited above. In these four Swedish poems one feels Morrison has achieved a much greater fidelity between the language he has chosen and arranged and the experience which generated the poem. It is this quality that lifts the collection above its predecessor. I feel if Morrison achieves something like that level of fidelity in his work to come he will really be getting somewhere'