Alan Morrison (British Working Class Poetry)

Alan Morrison is author of twelve poetry collections, most recently Anxious Corporals (Smokestack, 2021), Green Hauntings (Caparison, 2022), Wolves Come Grovelling (Culture Matters, 2023). A winner of the Bread & Roses Poetry Award 2018, and highly commended in the Shelley Memorial Poetry Prize 2022. Journal appearances include The Fortnightly Review, The London Magazine, Long Poem Magazine, Vsesvit. Editor of international webzine The Recusant.

 

 

The Fasters

 

Is this always to be the sound of home:

the interminable rumbling drone

of empty stomachs—a parent’s nightmare:

growing boys’ bellies but a larder bare.

 

The stopped clock governs a timeless room

where ghouls digest morsels in gloom—

Vincent’s Potato Eaters recaptured

a century later, on an uncarpeted

 

hearth, framed in the glow of a cathode ray—

a mute television views our chamber play;

Tausk’s Influencing Machine manifest

as a box of frights, a magic-charged cabinet

 

transmitting images, strange, transgressive,

advertisements of plenty, tempting, intrusive—

a trauma screen like the two-way mirror in

the special clinic mutely reflecting

 

the absentee son as he sits confessing

horrific thoughts that afflict his schooling—

Hardy’s Little Father Time pre-empted

by clinical intervention, suspended

 

in psychical aspic & left to ruminate

on the knotty nature of his obscure state,

like his parents’ lack, though a boilerplate

label abounds: the poor are profligate.

 

Blow the cobwebs from the crib for Chrimbo,

Christ in a stable, a bloom of fake snow. 

As Easter draws near, time to be abstinent:

our fasting at last given symbol by Lent.


 

Caught Alight!


Skidders’ sons brought up to aspirations

of thwarted parental stations, surrounded

by numinous mystique of musty tomes,

leather-bound grimoires of forgotten

knowledge, & an unpresuming heap

of chipped heirlooms taking up the cramped

spare room in our unremarkable

orange-bricked mid-terrace—lapsed

& cash-strapped lower middle class;

our ears attuned to Gustav Holst & Ralph

Vaughan Williams coming from father’s

scratchy record player, or the brass

& cymbals of the Royal Marine band—

orchestral, classical, call it what you will,

sonically distancing as our better-heeled

ancestors he traced at ashtrayed weekends.

 

One Sunday our ears caught alight from

a cassette tape: a crash of Rickenbacker

struck by a scowling working-class boy

from Woking, yobbish bolshie voice,

Cockneyish inflections infused with lyrical

invective: our lightning introduction

to The Jam (in their twilight) courtesy

of boy-Mod Brendan, second eldest of five

impoverished brothers, an undernourished

brood who’d grown from glooms of a cold

roomy council house, a pale tribe

who smelt of damp & talcum powder,

ghettoised on the dog-end fringes

of gentrified Worthing where they’d play

out Saturdays clambering about abandoned

building sites, brownfields & wastelands—

we gravitated to their unvarnished vim,

a vitality that overrode any lack of vitamin,

felt some unspoken bond with them,

almost like being related, distant

cousins in unconscious Catholicism.

 

Brendan, the most highly-strung & sullen

of them all, a brooder, temperamental,

evinced the vocals in devout tones:

Weller’s bark & woof, Foxton’s flustered howl,

call & response between blasting guitar

& thundering bass, & the clipped drum-tap

of unflappable Buckler; sharp-suited magpies

pinched in Sta Press, white socks, skinny ties

& black/white bowling shoes pointed sharp

as winklepickers, urchins in funeral suits,

pasty scallywags, hair fringed at the front

unflatteringly, puritanically cropped

from shoulder-length tatterdemalion styles

of the late Seventies—unreconstructed

Mods, the new retro Roundhead breed,

Secondary Modern Diggers, & we dug them!

This was working-class music, common music,

it packed gunpowder punch like saltpetre,

tapped something in us though we felt impostors,

not quite as poverty-carved as pale sculpted

faces on our posters, sons on the shivering

verge, something shivered our spines, shivered

our nerves, something almost regimented

in that aggressive reverb, primitive but tamed,

wild yet disciplined & drilled to rattling drum,

thumping bass & quick-cutting Rickenbacker—

& Weller spat expletives into the spittoon

of his gritted poetry & pockets of pastoral

wistfulness among the glum urban slang

of his language with scapegrace throat-scrapes

of embarrassed sentiment cigarette-singed,

brush of bashful masculinity, boy soldier

brash, fuelled on adrenalin, guttersnipe-

golden of tongue, honeyed hoodlum,

a slug of something strong, nothing on

Aunt Hazel, just silver papers dipped in

flat pints to speed things along, furious

of soul, furious song, & so soul-nourishing.

 

Something in us changed that Sunday once

those sounds sparked us awake, charged us

up with jabbing vibes so we were buzzing

for hours afterwards, our former tastes for

anesthetising synthesisers & synthetic

chic of New Romantics now dismantled by

authentic music of reduced circumstances,

the un-suppressible pulse of up-against-it

optimism, thumping tempo of proletarian

hope—an unreconstructed sound we’d not

forget, which would influence us towards

new types of tunes & attitudes, socialism

of soul, communism of minds, & help us

face up to tougher feelings when in our

future of domestic scarcity we’d too be

sculpted by poverty, sleep on empty stomachs,

endure sporadic indignities of dole,

forced to sign on & promise to sacrifice

our educations if the job centre found us

work unsuited to our skills & talents—

O we’d soon become bitterly accustomed

to the soul-scouring source of common music.


 

from The Four Spoons of Phineus

 

Spoon Two: Phineus Suspected of Parasitism

 

The appeal panel was meant to be independent,

yet the scent of preconceived opinion

as to Phineus's suspected parasitism

overwhelmed the impersonal chamber, a courtroom

facilitated to scrutinise the incapacitated

(presumed guilty of malingering until proven

otherwise), impeach the poor, unemployed,

unemployable (though it had nothing on

the courtroom of his own accusatory thoughts

that never show him mercy & always arrive

at the most vindictive verdicts), consciously

misconstruing honest accounts & taking

offence at courtesy, as if attempted flattery,

choosing to perceive evasive evil in the most

ingenuous of gestures, an impertinence

imperceptible because it simply isn't there at all,

imagined sleights—as if being observed by

Victor Hugo's pathologically conformist

Inspector Javert whose morally forensic eye

sees evil everywhere, who abhors rebelliousness

& the bohemianism from which he himself

sprang (son of a gypsy fortune-teller), scourge

of escaped convict Valjean*Les Misérables (1862),

or Herman Melville's faintly satanic Master-at-

Arms Claggart, arch-antagonist to Billy Budd,

the young Adonic sailor & foretopman whose

innocence & uncorrupted beauty he simply

cannot countenance**Billy Budd (1891/1924);

a courtroom for scouring out the sick & unlucky

with pedantic pumice stones of 'I put it to you'-s,

rough pebbles of scruples*** cross-questioning

the unfit as if criminal suspects simply for

making claims of the State that makes examples

of them in pop-up judgement theatres,

treats them as if their afflictions are their fault,

behavioural foibles, ‘lifestyle choices’...

 

& so the appeal was refused, as Phineus felt

in his bones it would be—in spite of all the facts—

as he rose from the chair (without using its arms

for support as it was noted), staggering towards

the savage daylight of Havant gazing in against

the glass from outside the suitably Brutalist

tribunal building like an outraged vigilante

raging at a convicted child molester being

bundled into a van with a blanket over his face

that might as well be an inverted spit hood

(the kind of graphic imagery suggested in his

agitated head)—then there was a hailstorm,

traumatic, that clattered at the windows &

drummed on the grass verges as the darkening

sky bruised Navy blue & thundered, then halted

abruptly as it had started, like a panic attack,

sun blazed back, his mind pounded, thoughts

left tattered, melted for scrap (is this lapsing

into rap?) as he wound his way back across

the rough concrete rail bridge that combed the shabby

precinct with half its shops shuttered & graffitied...

 

They'd evidently decided he was a wolf-

crying chronic hypochondriac (metaphorically

lycanthropic perhaps?), a maladaptive

specimen of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy,

or some such psychosomatic ailment,

what used to be more evocatively termed

valetudinarian (back at school he'd always

haunted the sickbay), anything but actually

what he was: one of countless psychical casualties

of elliptical descriptors, psychological

refugees snagged on Kafkaesque paper

spikes, cast on a scrapheap, cash-strapped,

ripe pickings for Harpies as he had been

as a boy absentee (please excuse the ellipses)…

 

 

Note

*** etymological tautology: scruples is from Latin scrupus meaning 'rough pebble', which also figuratively means anxiety

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