"With this book I feel that I am confronted by a category-breaker – a work that bridges the gulf between the passion of poetry and outrage, and the analytical precision of a major historian and political theorist. ... Shabbigentile is no ‘easy read’: rightly so, because it embraces the tortured complexities of all the gigantic issues involved. It gives poetic tension to painful public issues. It radically challenges the boundaries between so-labelled ‘Literature’, ‘Poetry’, ‘Politics’ and ‘Economics’. It should be read, marked, and inwardly digested by all parties, in all those areas."
Culture Matters, Feb 2019
140pp, paperback with full colour illustrations
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Alan Morrison’s Shabbigentile is a counterpoint to his Forward-nominated Tan Raptures (Smokestack Books, 2017), many of its poems having been written during the same period and on complementary polemical themes. From the ominous economic storm clouds of the banking crash, through eight years of scarring austerity cuts, to the potentially catastrophic cross paths of ‘Brexit’, Trump and the insurgent European-wide right-wing populism of the present.
Shabbigentile is populated by assorted scapegoats and grotesques, memes and leitmotivs, distinctly native to the turbulent and polarised Noughteens: the sweatshop barista, the coffee bean Corbynista, the Dole Jude and Welfare Jew, the Five Giant Shadows and Five Evil Reverbs, and the homegrown ogre of the title. These part-organic, part-figurative amalgams inhabit the wastelands of asset-stripped Britain, where Tory and red top propaganda against the unemployed is a scapegoating pseudo-science (Scroungerology), and the DWP’s weapons of brown envelopes are transposed as Salted Caramels. From such hostile environments we jump to the dystopian atmospherics of a post-Brexit tinpot RU-RI-TANNIA which sees Easter Island heads sprouting from the white cliffs of Dover.
"THERE is a long poem in Alan Morrison’s fantastic new collection Shabbigentile (Culture Matters, £9) about the 1930s Left Book Club, invoking the idea of “red belles-lettres ringing red bells/Of rebellion... Now once more books need to be mobilised..." In many ways the whole collection is about mobilising books as “print-antidotes/To right-wing hegemonies.” And in a book thick with references to Jack London, Charles Dickens, Gyorgy Lukacs, Henri de Saint-Simon and John Davidson, Morrison knows that the best books are on our side. As always, his poetry is dense, eloquent and rich with information, ideas and arguments. There are some important long poems here, notably 'Another Five Giants', about Tory and New Labour attacks on the welfare state, 'Not Paternoster Square', on the Occupy movement and 'St. Jude and the Welfare Jew', which tackles racist tabloid newspapers accusing Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism. The title of the book is a play on “shabby genteel” and an attack on the ways that a nominally Christian society like Britain contains the forces of neoliberalism, austerity, racism and fascism within it: “red-top parrots of blue torch opinions/Igniting blue-touch tabloids, cropped topics,/Pre-packaged antagonisms, analgesic/Propagandas, austerity narratives... rabid Malthusians and poison pen Mendelists.” Andy Croft, The Morning Star
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The title poem of... Shabbigentile has a particularly recognisable voter bang to rights... Morrison often delivers interesting and quotable lines, such as his examination of “the tipple of the proletariat”, where “baristas and Corbynistas rub shoulders” … “Whoever would have thought that a bitter brown brew, / Arabic ambrosia, could come to undermine / Democracy, make us accommodate complacency?” If we do have to be out on the streets soon, book Morrison for a few readings. Greg Freeman, Write Out Loud
'The state of the nation we are in, with all its uncertainty, chaos... is covered in this collection of searing poems. They are poems that will make you burn with anger but also with hope'
the case against anti-Claimantism'
In Shabbigentile Morrison describes exactly the brutality being meted out to the poor and he does so with a fine grasp of social and political history. It's a bit like listening to a Maxim gun with the way the words just pour out. At times it reminds me of MacDiarmid's later poetry.... Brutality can breed brutal responses and with the subject matter of the collection how could it have been otherwise? Jim Aitken