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‘Shadows Waltz Haltingly and the Shadow of Huntington’s'

Disability Arts Online

Shadows Waltz Haltingly

Lapwing Publications (Belfast), 2015

81 pages perfect bound £10

978-1-909252-89-9

Order here

Shadows Waltz Haltingly is the author’s most personal collection to date, charting the course of his mother’s last years battling Huntington’s Disease (or Chorea). The author does not flinch from depicting in the full effects of this horrendous illness on his mother through a splintered sequence of poems. The title’s aural stiltedness and terpsichorean imagery allude to the original name for the pathology, ‘St. Vitus’s Dance’, which refers to the strange ‘halting’ or skipping steps and jerky movements typical of the motor disturbances it induces.

 

Other topics spark off from the central theme: the neurological effects of war (‘Guns of Anguish’); while “shell shock” is cited in an acrostic tribute to Ivor Gurney (‘Twigworth Yews’). There are some intimate portraits of past poets, writers and artists touched in by psychical afflictions: Thomas Chatterton (‘Chatterton’s Scraps’), Emily Dickinson (‘Marigolds to Distraction’), Walter Sickert (‘Memory’s Egg Tempera’), Isaac Rosenberg (‘Little Giant’), Jean Rhys (‘Good Midnight, Tigress’). An underlying anxiety charges all the poems in this collection, and angst, or ‘the dizziness of freedom’, is scrutinised in verse-studies of Robert Burton (‘The Churning’), and Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (‘Ragged Angel’).

 

Bookending the collection are poems metamorphosing antique objects –Staffordshire Flatbacks and stucco-moulded lions– as symbols of the human illusion of manufactured authenticity; a kind of ‘commodity-fetishism’ of the consciousness.  

 

Excerpts from Reviews

 

'Shadows Waltz Haltingly is a visually beautiful book on a tragic theme.

Alan Morrison's collection is centred on his mother's last years living with Huntington's Chorea. Although the collection is personal the opening poem has a detached clarity and purity of vocabulary reminiscent of the movement poets or Auden or Larkin. …Dylan Thomas wrote one of his most personal poems on the death of his father as a villanelle raging against the dying of the light. Morrison follows him but reinvents the form creating an extended villanelle. …Thomas's poem was more incantatory a spell, that was bound to fail, against the darkness. Morrison's villanelle painfully and brilliantly sketches the neurological effects of the illness …the poet has made his loss live for us. It is a gracious gesture from a rich and beautifully produced book.' Kalyna Review

'The poetry in this volume is haunted, not only by the evidence of death and its effects, but by positive influences. ...A distinctive voice,  a personal signature, is a necessity, although it is a challenge that looks easy, like so many difficult tasks. Morrison’s prolific output is testament to a passionate dedication manifested in the craftsman’s care invested in his poetry. ...there is an urgency of spirit that is very promising. Alan Morrison is unafraid to lay his soul bare, and therein lies the interest. He deserves to be read sympathetically:

 

No self-pity for her, never that, only prescriptions

For fillips, pills, pick-me-ups, sips, pitiless critiques

 

Morrison is writing of Jean Rhys, crushed by life, saved by writing. He writes verse-essays on her, and on Kierkegaard and Robert Burton, the great anatomist of melancholy, the nervous condition that withers the spirit. The philosophers of anxiety strengthen the faint-hearted. It is only natural to wish to share what your reading has found, even if speaking out breaks the rules of silence. The silence is no more than the space between the lines of articulate energy, the poetry...' 

Geoffrey Heptonstall, The London Magazine

'Alan Morrison is a prolific critic and a brave and original poet.

Shadows Waltz Haltingly is a record in verse of his mother’s 15-year fight against Huntington’s disease to her death in 2013: 'The chorea’s grotesque routines of circus tumbling; / Leaving her husband a pale washed-up clown, / Face-tugging, fuddled by juggling of diagnoses / And ever-switching prescriptions, trick-unicyclists / Passing on batons of appointments between them, / Until the last port of call hit upon the mutant gene / By a smudging margin: this degenerative germinal / Seed might be passed on… and on… far out across / The circular sands and seaweed links to distant tides…' 

 

Because Huntington’s chorea used to be called the St Vitus’s dance, Morrison uses dance-imagery to painfully describe her long physical and mental decline: “Hesitation, Change, Drag, Twitch, Hesitation, Drag, / Twitch, Fasciculation, Change, Drag, Twitch Again, / Judder, Halt, Akinetic-Rigid, Unsteady Gait, Rapid / Progression, Jerky Movements, Arms Flailing, Halt, / Posture Stooping, Drag Trunk Slanting, Halt, Jerk, / Wobble on the balls of the feet, repeat, repeat — / Thus goes the Hesitation Waltz of Huntington’s, / St. Vitus’ Dance, known by other bitter sobriquets — / The Terpsichorean Chorea, the Misfold Fandango, / The Westphal Shuffle, the Basal Ganglia Tango...' It is a hard book to read, but powerfully moving, a beautiful memorial to his mother, a record of the author’s own suffering as much as hers, and an extraordinary study in mortality and loss.'

Andy Croft, The Morning Star

SWH cover

'I have found Shadows Waltz Haltingly deeply moving. …this book deserves the space and time to dictate its own pace for reading and re-reading, sometimes aloud, to share Morrison’s exuberant joy radiating from the words and also at times the deep pain of loss that the poems convey.'

Thomas Orzág-Land

 

'I’ve been very impressed and moved by Shadows Waltz Haltingly. The literary/acrostic poems are all interesting and involve various favourite writers of mine –but it’s the ones about Morrison’s relatives and his mother which are rightly the base and centre of the book. I admire this book: Morrison has written very bravely and touchingly about what he knows.'

Alexis Lykiard

 

'Reading the collection I can feel the insistence and power of thought processes that refuse to be turned off. There is an anger coursing through this poetry. Shadows Waltz Haltingly is a work of genius. Don't know if I can do it justice but feel on an emotional wavelength with the book that is totally gripping.'

Colin Hambrook

…this collection embraces vast areas of thought and sensation.

Dave Russell

Poetry Express

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