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Alan interviewed by poet and critic Fran Lock about Anxious Corporals


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'It's as if a kind of generational ennui has set in'

The Morning Star

Poetry 2021 Round-up

The Morning Star

  ‘The surge of syntax, the crackle of phonemes, electrify the long lines in this distinguished poem. Spectacular!’

Larry Beckett

author of American Cycle


'an extraordinary essay in verse'

 The Morning Star


'I am ravished by the epigraphs for Anxious Corporals, especially the Benda and Crosland, which propelled me into the book. I thought I would read until I got to a full stop and then I realised what a wonderful trick he was playing. I read the whole first ‘chapter’, reflecting on the odd readability despite the absence of pauses…

A very engaging surprise'

Michael Schmidt OBE FRSL


'splendid, tub-thumping stuff... will certainly repay re-reading'

 Greg Freeman

Write Out Loud


'deeply riveting, and sustains its tempo throughout'

Dave Russell

Poetry Express Newsletter

'Anxious Corporals is a compendious poem-essay, a ferocious lament over the decline of the autodidactic working class and the publishing culture that supported it: the discontinued (and now trendily rebranded) 'sky-blue' spines of Pelican books. Reading the book, I felt the loss of that era as I experienced it, or the tail end of it at least - the late summer heydays of independent and second hand bookshops in Britain. And in Morrison's impassioned ode to knowledge and literature for its own sake, and stinging critique of capitalist cooptation of human creativity, I was reminded again how prize culture undermines so many writers' belief in their work... and again to Alan Morrison - for his own staunch support of marginalised writers, and his indefatigable commitment to 'the written page . . . those captivating lakes / of meaning-making, of careful thought and crafted phrase'.

Naomi Foyle


Anxious Corporals

A Poem Monograph

Smokestack Books, 1 Feb 2021


ISBN: 9781916312128

To order go here

From the dismal 21st century vantage of 'blue-collar Conservatism', Anxious Corporals pays tribute to a more culturally receptive proletariat of times past: working-class autodidacts, lower-middle class clerks, and Koestler's culture-thirsty conscripts of the title. Those who sought 'self-improvement' through mutual societies, correspondence courses, helped by Pelican paperbacks, of the briefly flourishing post-war cooperative consensus.


Bourgeois suburbanism and acquisitive shopkeeper values that would ultimately alchemise into the anti-culture of Thatcherism are deconstructed. Such seminal works as David Lockwood's

The Blackcoated Worker, Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy,

Ken Worpole's Dockers & Detectives, and the definitive study in working-class Toryism, Angels in Marble, are excerpted throughout this vast verse-essay on transformative times that demand to be revisited.



‘Alan Morrison’s epic essay in free verse tells the story of the unravelling of the post-war settlement in Britain, with its promise of creating a participatory, educated democracy. It was not to be. Yet Anxious Corporals’ pessimism is belied by Morrison’s protean linguistic energy, and where there is such imaginative energy, as there is in all of Morrison’s work, there is hope for renewal’ Ken Worpole


‘What happened to the autodidact impulse of a generation of workers from the 1930s through to the late 1970s? Anxious Corporals is a polemical journey charged with anger for people hungry for culture but denied authentic change. It’s a lament and a paean of praise for cultural betterment as an end in itself. A work of Byronic swagger and Brechtian bitterness’ Alan Price


'I don’t quite know what to say about this book. It’s astonishing... Morrison’s tract – for it is such – is a mix of polemic, rant and quotation tied together in a sprawling mishmash of argument, information, and astonishingly suggestive social history which defies convention... Anxious Corporals is a book filled with intriguing cultural reference, juxtaposed in ways which make you think again about what you thought you knew... I suggest you get hold of a copy and form your own relationship with this singular tome' 

Steve Spence, Litter Magazine


'the poem is very much like an essay, developing a coherent argument, whilst retaining a freewheeling feel, punctuated by delightful anti-capitalist riffing: impassioned, and unapologetically partisan, it often reminded me of Ed Sanders’ exuberant, multi-volume, America: A History in Verse... I’d encourage people to supplement their blue spine education with a few red spines along the way: Anxious Corporals is an excellent place to start' 

Paul McDonald, London Grip

;...a work of notable scholarship, mental energy, and lyric reach, exploring, elegising and performing a lost working-class autodidactism' Fran Lock, Culture Matters

'...there’s at least one area of commonality for the dissertation-poem, an infrequent fusion whose Western origins nonetheless stretch back at least to Aratus and Nicander… Considered as poetry, the book starts with a great Howl-ish impetus, bewailing the ‘death throes of a culture’ replaced by ‘vast flatscreens as altarpieces of faith’:

        O this period of ectopic proletariat, common people
         Misplaced in multiples of patchwork overlaps from cash-
         Strapped and poverty-trapped working poor to tip-of-
         The-slagheap grasping aspiration […]

Subsequently it modulates to a mélange of quotation, opinion, skilful précis and generalising description, all spiced with the constantly arresting phrasing (‘stepladders of pipedreams’, &c.) that’s one of the book’s principal pleasures. The layout mimics the didactic epics of its genre’s origins: twenty-five stanza-less Roman-numeralled ‘books’. …the importance and interest of its topic alone should recommend it. might inspire you towards the OU, the WEA, FutureLearn, a New Pelican, or other good small-press stuff from the brilliantly radical Smokestack' Guy Russell, Tears in the Fence

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