Alan Morrison

Alan Morrison

Alan Morrison is a Brighton-based poet and editor of The Recusant, and Militant Thistles.

Baked Alaska
Saturday, 09 January 2021 09:08

Baked Alaska

Published in Poetry

Baked Alaska

by Alan Morrison

Emperor Trump's mob took him at his word,
Stormed the Capitol, seat of American democracy,
Vandals sacking Rome, Spartans spilling into Athens,
Barbarians at the gates in red baseball caps branded
With the legend: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
Barbarians from within, chanting empty mantras
And chauvinistic rhetoric - "Stop the Steal!"
Amongst the gold-braided Vikings and buffalo-horned
Visigoths, one key agitator known by the moniker
Of 'Baked Alaska', an Alt Right conspiracy theorist,
Real name Anthime "Tim" Gionet, who set about
Trying to prove how fragile American democracy
Actually is when push comes to shove and there's
A lot of shoving, punching, shooting - that the Capitol
Could be, at least symbolically, crushed like meringue,
Shattered glass and debris litter the east steps
It was simply too good an opportunity to miss
For White Supremacists and shadowy Far Right groups
To gather together in broad Washington daylight
And march on that impertinent neoclassical building
Whose wedding-cake dome overpowered its own
Porticos, as it did their rust-belt hopes - how dare
That building pay host to the temerity of representative
Democracy when it didn't represent them,
The Sunburnt White Privileged, Rednecks, Confederates -
A president coaxing his supporters into insurrection,
We're going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave - I love
Pennsylvania Avenue - and we're going to the Capitol -
Only no we're about it: the perma-tanned rabble-rouser
Would be safely tucked behind his Oval Office desk,
Orange thumb poised on Twitter - it would be They,
His underlings, Myrmidons, remote-controlled thugs
Who in one brief afternoon would storm the Capitol,
Overpower the seemingly powerless police, and attempt
To smash up American democracy as easily
As crushing a meringue, too tempting an opportunity
To pass up, too much of a coup, a scoop - that Capitol
Dome sat there impertinently like a Baked Alaska
Seemed in need of some caramelising,
Just long enough to tan and tarnish its exterior
Without completely melting its ice-cream insides...

Callout for The Brown Envelope Book
Wednesday, 02 December 2020 10:19

Callout for The Brown Envelope Book

Published in Poetry

Alan Morrison calls for poems for The Brown Envelope Book: Poetry and prose on experiences of unemployment, the benefits system, and disability

Call for Submissions

Caparison Books in collaboration with Don't Go Breaking Our Arts (formerly Nothing4Something) Facebook group, and Culture Matters, is currently putting together an anthology of poetry and prose on experiences of disability, unemployment and navigating the tortuous benefits system and work capability regimen of the past decade. Submissions are welcomed from those who are writing about their personal experiences and also from those empathising with the experiences of others.

The anthology, to be titled The Brown Envelope Book, will initially be produced as an ebook (The Brown E-Book, if you like), and then will progress to a print entity in due course. We anticipate print publication around March/April 2021, though the ebook will appear around Feb/March 2021. Provisional deadline for submissions: 31 Jan 2021.

The anthology will be the de facto third (and final) Caparison anti-austerity anthology, following on from The Robin Hood Book: Verse Versus Austerity (2012), and Emergency Verse: Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State (2010/11).

Guidelines for submissions:

- There is no specific word count limit for contributions but editors reserve the right to suggest edits or cuts depending on space.
- The editors may suggest edits or changes to some submissions where it's felt these might improve them.
- Ideally no more than three poems or one prose piece per submitter.
- Submissions can be sent either as Word or Word-compatible email attachments, or, ideally, in the body of the email.
- Please include with submission a biog with place and date of birth, any previous publications, journal and magazine credits and/or occupational details.
- Please email your submission to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In the collective spirit of the previous two Caparison anthologies, The Brown Envelope Book will be compiled alphabetically by surname.

Beak Doctors
Friday, 01 May 2020 09:10

Beak Doctors

Published in Poetry

Beak Doctors

by Alan Morrison

We're wandering about by day
Keeping each other at bay
Some of us wearing face masks
Carrying out our daily tasks
Of getting some shopping in
Without touching anything -
Wiping down the supermarket baskets
With disinfectant
Like over-scrupulous neurotics
Or priests polishing communion cups

(One wonders if those orange tops
Will ever be back in the shops)

Meanwhile pinstripes in Whitehall
Are beginning to doubt all
Their weird science, Sage guidance,
"Herd immunity", nudge units -

27,000 souls departed and counting -
It's a strange kind of social engineering
Wearing down the generations' engines -

Is it the underequipped nurses
And sacrificial carers
Or the newly departed we're supposed to be clapping?

Is this virus really a leveller
Or simply a revealer?

Our enemy is invisible,
But then it always is, as is evil,
As is the longest serving visitation
That ever descended on this nation:
The Conservative virus -
For which there's never been a vaccination -

Ironic socialism
Of Keynesian economics
Tories can only countenance
If they don't have to see the consequence

We are all anchorites now

We must keep apart to keep together

(Apart from the unemployed
Who are encouraged to be fruit pickers)

And in this strange transparent plague
The shape of our salvation's vague
But a shadow proctor
The grotesque shape of a beak doctor
Pecking at the buttercups
Pecking at the buttercups

The buttercups in meadows

Knight of the Gutter
Monday, 20 January 2020 19:34

Knight of the Gutter

Published in Poetry

Knight of the Gutter

(aka Iain Duncan Smith's Got a Knighthood)

by Alan Morrison

The media smeared Jeremy Corbyn for good,
Ensured a catastrophic election result,
A thumping majority for Boris's cult,
And Iain Duncan Smith's got a knighthood.

The real change we needed exchanged for gnarled wood
Of Parliament's ingrained gig-hegemony,
Members be branded the blue mob's enemy,
And Iain Duncan Smith's got a knighthood.

The unemployed doomed to eat more humble pud,
The disabled damned to more brutal assessments,
Food bank queues lengthening, parks filled with tents,
But Iain Duncan Smith's got a knighthood.

Schoolchildren fainting in classrooms who should
Be hungering for knowledge not scavenging bins
To nibble at apple cores like waifs from Dickens,
Whilst Iain Duncan Smith's got a knighthood.

Working poor parcels of processed tinned food,
Parents on fasts so their kids get the gruel,
Universal Credit's architecture's still cruel,
But Iain Duncan Smith's got a knighthood.

 

The election: Statement by 117 poets in support of the Labour Party
Monday, 02 December 2019 09:57

The election: Statement by 117 poets in support of the Labour Party

Published in Cultural Commentary

Statement By 115 Poets in Support of the Labour Party

We, the undersigned, representing a section of the poetry community, pledge our support to the Labour Party in the upcoming general election because we want to see its radically transformative and compassionate manifesto come into effect. The manifesto shows a commitment to social justice and equality not only in its comprehensive policies of state support for consumers and producers of the arts and culture generally, but also in its social and economic policies to support working people, including:

An end to austerity and the ideological attack on our welfare state
An end to the malicious work capability assessments of the sick and disabled and PIP
An end to the political scapegoating of the unemployed
An end to the two child benefit cap
An end to discriminatory rhetoric at the dispatch box
An end to the "hostile environment" for immigrants and refugees
An end to rough sleeping
An end to zero-hour contracts
An end to unpaid internships
An end to tuition fees
An end to creeping privatisation of the NHS

We want to see these Labour policies implemented:

A National Education Service
A National Care Service
A Universal Basic Income Pilot
A reintroduction of private rent controls and greater rights for renters
A restitution of Legal Aid
Free prescriptions in line with Scotland and Wales
A green industrial revolution
A culturally transformative Charter for the Arts
A Race and Faith manifesto

Signatories:

Keith Armstrong
Anne Babson
Bruce Barnes
Christopher Barnes
Amy Evans Bauer
Bob Beagrie
Brian Beamish
Peter Branson
Jane Burn
Gale Burns
Lesley Burt
David Cain
Ushiku Crisafulli
Andy Croft
Alan Dent
Matt Duggan
Steve Ely
Dr Naomi Foyle
Harry Gallagher
Owen Gallagher
Raine Geoghegan
Harry Gilonis
Prof John Goodby
Maria Gornell
Chris Gutkind
John G. Hall
Colin Hambrook
Chip Hamer
Emma Hammond
Robert Hampson
Oz Hardwick
Bruce Harris
Martyn Hayes
Kevin Higgins
Clare Hill
Luke Hoggarth
Bernadette Horton
Keith Howden
Zekria Ibrahimi
Andy Jackson
Kevin N. Jelf
Nicholas Johnson
Fred Johnston
Strider Marcus Jones
Tom Kelly
David Kessel
Mark Kirkbride
S.J. Litherland
Fran Lock
Marilyn Longstaff
Hannah Lowe
Rupert Loydell
Chris McCabe
Niall McDevitt
Rachel McGladdery
John McKeown
James Mainland
Caroline Maldonado
Char March
Dez Mendoza
Rob Miles
Christopher Moncrieff
Stephen Mooney
Alan Morrison
Graham Mort
John Muckle
Pete Mullineaux
Mark Murphy
Nicholas Murray
Chris Nash
Christopher Norris
Dr John O'Donoghue
Clive Oseman
Antony Owen
Ben Parker-Jones
Ian Parks
Tom Pickard
Steph Pike
Mair De-Gare Pitt
Winston Plowes
Dr David Pollard
Steve Pottinger
Alan Price
Prof John Quicke
Mike Quille
Frank Rafferty
Peter Raynard
Sally Richards
Karl Riordan
Lisa Rossetti
Anne Rouse
Dave Russell
Bernard Saint
Stephen Sawyer
John Scott
John Seed
John Short
Ken W. Simpson
Fiona Sinclair
Richard Skinner
Linus Slug
Barry Smith
Geoff Smith
Theresa Sowerby
Steve Spence
David Stoker
Peter Street
Paul Summers
Dr Andrew Taylor FRSA
Laura Taylor
Angela Topping
Ruth Valentine
Jo Walton
Rob Walton
Stephen Watts
Merryn Williams
Gareth Writer-Davies
Wendy Young

Co-ordinated by Alan Morrison (The Recusant) and Mike Quille (Culture Matters Co-operative Ltd), December 2019.

The election: England in 2019
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 22:34

The election: England in 2019

Published in Poetry

England in 2019
After Shelley

By Alan Morrison

A nonagenarian white-gloved Queen
Grimaces assent to her sixth cousin twice
Removed, now prime minister number fifteen
Of her longest reign resigned (but no
Signs of resigning) and only the second
To whom she's related: a recently seen
Trend entrenching, another silver-spooned
Sprout of nepotism in our ermined
Democracy undermined, spliced
Together in unlikely embrace,
A pattern's setting in: Eton-Oxford-Westminster -
Unspoken hereditary principle whispers
In our wood-panelled parliamentary politics -
The Remembrancer marks the shaking mace;
Of course, we're reminded Her Majesty
Is constitutionally bound to take advice,
For her royal prerogative is purely symbolic;
But who'd have thought in the bicentennial
Year of Peterloo's protest for suffrage,
Parliamentarians would crowd around
The Speaker's Chair in protest against
The clamping of their representative voices
By a government gone rogue to prorogue
On the flimsiest of pretexts, shut
The portcullis at a point when it's most
Required to speak, be outspoken as spikes
(MPs are more than just delegates);
Just as in 1629 King Charles
The First claimed divine right, and, in turn,
Gleaned regicide... (or is this all a strange
Phantasmagoria projected by
Nostalgic Jacob Rees-Mogg languishing
Along green benches, upper-class puss
Of the Commons in human form, hands
Clasped across the broad lapels of his
1940s-style bespoke suit jacket,
His pudding-crop propped up on the carved
Wooden edge, feigning forty winks
Of contempt for the House of which he is
Leader and Dreamhead...?)... Now another
Entitled Etonian, an oratorical Nero
Bloated on hubris, braggadocio,
Rodomontade (vocabulary Bercow),
Has his premiership imposed upon us by
90,000 blue-rinsed Tory members,
Little Englanders, Daily Mail and Express-
Thumping xenophobes, a prime minister-
Cum-tin pot despot specially licensed
To clamp our democracy, have it silenced,
Because sovereignty is not something
To take lightly, it's a double-edged thing...

 

National Poetry Day: Phineus and the Quest for Personal Independence Payment
Thursday, 03 October 2019 08:37

National Poetry Day: Phineus and the Quest for Personal Independence Payment

Published in Poetry

Phineus and the Quest for Personal Independence Payment

by Alan Morrison

Episode One: Phineus Among the Harpies

The appeal was refused by the tribunal, the tribunal numbered
Three: an insouciant judge, a glacial lawyer, and a GP
Who wilfully misinterpreted him, pinned him at cross-purposes,
Kept making a point of his insight and articulacy -
Qualities going against his case, as if to imply the mentally
Afflicted must be stupid, when it's almost always the opposite case,
Her assumption that intelligence bestows prolific phrenic
Equipment to cope with any symptom of mind, even
The ego-dystonic, a term he'd picked up from some foxed
Blue-spined Pelican (pain makes its own experts), attempting
To explain the impetus of Pure Obsessional Disorder:
That it matters not one whit whether he would act on his
Intrusive thoughts, present risk, this bore no relevance
To the intensity of distress, the inexorable anxiety
Rooted in uncertainty, ever-mutating symptomatology,
A mind besieged by obsessions*; something about him caused
Them umbrage, the three 'impartial' panel members, apparently
'Independent' from Independent Assessment Services
(Atos formerly), and the DWP; pernickety Harpies
Handpicked for nitpicking pedantry, pecking at the scraps of his
Incapacity - he, hapless Phineus, half-crippled by phobias;
Supposed experts deciding his entitlement, or not,
To Personal Independence Payment (PIP (excuse the parentheses));
They even used his avoidance behaviours to argue that he was
High-functioning in spite of therapists' emphases that these
Repetitious rituals are symptoms not coping mechanisms
That retard healing of psychical scars; he might have quoted
Kierkegaard, something along the lines that all the torments
Of the damned pale in comparison to anxiety: excoriating
Guilt of the innocent, gut-aching angst** in the absence of an act
(Hamletic hesitation), spent nerves of no event, but that
Would have also gone against him - as it did that he went
To university, and, more intrusively, that creative writing
Was his 'hobby' (how suburban that sounded!) which makes him
Probably a bit bohemian, thus unreliable, rebellious, anti-
Establishment, and while he might convince as an idiot savant,
He'd obviously been embroidering the truth to a more threadbare brocade
When claiming he was number-blind, they pointed out he'd
Have had to tackle statistics while studying Sociology -
Not as far as he could recall, but in any case he'd later changed
To Ancient History... At school it took until he was fourteen
To see what the clock face had so long been trying to tell him,
A lightning-struck Damascene of horology! Now Old Chronos
Could no longer cock a snook - a little death erupted in him then,
A peripheral epiphany, still trapped in fight or flight of tick -
Tock neuroticism permanently ruminating on past and future,
Never mentally in the present, temporally absent, but at last
Able to tell the time without having to guess, now everything
Pressed more urgently, reassurance at least in grasping
That suffering was time-limited as contribution-based benefits.

* This is a tautology: the Latin root obsessus means besieged.
** From the Latin: angere: to choke.

 

Kipling Buildings
Monday, 10 September 2018 08:18

Kipling Buildings

Published in Poetry

Kipling Buildings

With some debt to Rudyard Kipling's 'If'

by Alan Morrison

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are spy cameras, a deliberate delay
Of the appointment time in an attempt
To break your spirit, a protracted wait
In a claustrophobic, clinical-looking room,
A neutrally decorated purgatory
Silent except for the rumbling water cooler,
Being observed by unseen deciders
Prolonging your agony in a pot-plant garden...

If you can keep your head during a gruelling
Interrogation at Independent Assessment
Services (formerly Atos Solutions),
Being asked trick questions, being observed,
Recorded, monitored, not being listened to,
Only heard, not being respected or
Empathised with, but being judged
In an unacknowledged kangaroo court
Of icy stares and sporadic mouse-clicks
For each of the ticks in the boxes on
The assessor's screen turned away from you
So you can't see – while being observed
Just as a troubled adolescent by
A cryptic psychiatrist's invisible observers
Behind two-way glass; these desk-perched
Harpies who prey on the sick and disabled
For sport, will pick off your weak points
And press all your buttons to get the most
Pool-muddying responses to cloud your claim...

If you can keep your PIP when all about you
Are losing theirs, it'll only be a pyrrhic
Victory, a temporary reprieve, just putting off
The inevitable sting of a future trap-sprung
Reassessment, opportunity for symptom-
Tampering and a spot of goalpost-changing
To ensure next time you're lower scoring...

If you can keep your nerve at Atos
Assessment Services nestled deep
In the grey, mauve and periwinkle plush
Of Kipling Buildings poorly disguised
As a clinic but whose commercial shape
And façade indicate that a bank once operated
There, on the corner of a nondescript street
In an unexplored part of Portsmouth,
Then you will be damned, my son,
Damned with a disability, but worse,
An invisible one, and the points you'll score
Will be in binary numbers – the price
For their bounties, their thirty pieces...

 This poem was one of the winning entries in the 2018 Bread and Roses Poetry Award, sponsored by Unite.

Grenfell Engulfed
Friday, 23 June 2017 11:41

Grenfell Engulfed

Published in Poetry

Grenfell Engulfed

In memory of those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire

by Alan Morrison

In spite of recent refurbishments – fireproofed? –
Grenfell Tower was engulfed in flames the full length
Of its eyesore height ringed by brown-brick mansion blocks
(Much better Thirties relics of curvaceous art deco);
Now Grenfell Tower is a blackened jagged tooth
On the smoking skyline – but still, by night, a whole day after
The main blaze, orange flames flickered from inside
Like the glows from pumpkin lamps lit up at Halloween parties –
And those broken charred windows now glare
Like the zigzagged grimaces of pumpkins' carved mouths,
Once the candles have been snuffed out in their hollowed pulps.

This gutted, lugubrious building burnished black is now
Nothing more than a charnel house, those still missing
Among its tenants now presumed consumed in smoke,
Burnt out of their tenancies, cremated in their flats, no
Spontaneous combustion of a faulty fridge alone
Could have caused such rapid conflagration – no, those
Refurbishments last year had not been properly fireproofed,
In fact, were done more for external aesthetics
Than for the benefit of the residents' wellbeing or safety,
Simply to prettify the outside of the towerblock
To blend better in with its salubrious surroundings
Of the rich part of Kensington – well now the tower
Has been prettified by fire, Kensington's well-rinsed
Can survey, instead, a fuming burnt offering, a black
Smouldering monument in Brutalist anthracite,
A colossal sooty cactus scorched in the hottest June
Since '76 (when millions of ladybirds coated Brighton beach).

Landlords, maintenance agents, Tory councillors and Tory
MPs had unknowingly conspired to lay in place
The components for a catastrophe predicted by the Tenants’
Association, their complaints and warnings ignored by
The men in grey suits at Westminster, and at Kensington
And Chelsea Council – why would any authority listen to the concerns
Of social housing tenants with no stakes in anything,
Not even the right to justice, courtesy of legal aid cuts,
600 impoverished people cooped up in high-piled compartments,
Many trapped on benefits through no faults of their own,
Or caught in the Russian roulette of zero-hours contracts,
Reliant on food banks, many Arabs, Muslims, immigrants,
Asylum-seekers and refugees among their numbers,
Those whose lives are deemed verboten by tabloids,
Now their homes more than metaphorically put to the Tory
Torch – hindsight haunts Kensington: outside sprinklers
Could have been retrofitted, should have been, in fact.

Now after the flames, the blame games: whose gross
Negligence lit this tinder box, what cultural drift of anti-
Immigrant rhetoric ignited the match? The flammable
Padding in the new zinc cladding apparently helped the flames
Catch! The yellow helmets say they've never seen anything
Like this before... The tower protrudes as a combustible
Symbol of the vulnerability of the disadvantaged,
Never have so many people perished for a metaphor,
The surviving tenants are spitting tar, now homeless,
Will they be given permanent shelter? Some survivors
Voice fears that Kensington and Chelsea Council
Will take advantage of the tragedy to decant the tenants
Elsewhere and refurbish the tower block (and properly
Fireproof it this time, presumably) to house better-heeled
Private tenants – Grenfell gentrified by fire? The arms-
Length maintenance organisation might have a hand
In this, more profits for future, while tight-lipped ministers
Of an arms-length Government avoid the gazes
Of camera lenses, mute in suits; and a spineless
Prime Minister is photographed skulking awkwardly in black
Among the uniforms, looking like the rich distant
Relative at the funeral keeping apart from her mourning
Poor relations; while Jeremy Corbyn responds more promptly,
Goes among the families of the missing, comforting them,
Hugging those who are denied even the vent of grieving
For not yet knowing if their bereavement is temporary
Or permanent, surviving relatives who catch on the grapevine
Of drip-fed information that the bodies still inside
Might be so badly burnt they'll not be able to be identified –
Forced out by fire, is this how Grenfell's gentrified?

Poetry, Unemployment and the Welfare Hate
Sunday, 26 March 2017 17:38

Poetry, Unemployment and the Welfare Hate

Published in Poetry

Alan Morrison introduces his latest poetry collection, and calls for submissions for his latest anthology of political poetry.

After seven years of what might be termed the ‘welfare hate’, with over 80,000 deaths (and suicides) among sick and disabled claimants between 2011-14, approximately 2,380 within six weeks of the DWP and Atos declaring them “fit for work”, it is only in recent months that the British pathology of what I term ‘Scroungerology’ has shown vague signs of a pausing for thought.

Undoubtedly some factors contributing to this latter cultural hiatus are the United Nations report condemning the Coalition and Tory Governments’ abuses of disability rights through disability-targeted benefit cuts, and veteran social-realist director Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or and BAFTA-winning film intervention, I, Daniel Blake (in some ways a polemical update on Jim Allen and Roland Joffé’s superlative The Spongers, broadcast 1978, which juxtaposes the story of a single mother and her children targeted by punitive disability benefit cuts against the backdrop of the taxpayer-funded Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and which is more than ripe for repeat).

These have come as timely reinforcements to several veteran campaigns –Disabled People Against the Cuts, the Spartacus Report, the Black Triangle Campaign, Calum’s List et al – that have fought valiantly over the past seven years to put the catastrophic impact of the disability cuts in the public domain, in spite of the DWP and a complicit mainstream media’s best efforts to ‘bury’ such issues.

Nevertheless, we have a long way to go politically and attitudinally as a society until we can wrestle back some semblance of a compassionate and tolerant welfare state which looks after the poor, unemployed, disabled and mentally afflicted, and without recourse to stigmatisation and persecution. The front line of ‘scroungermongering’ is the thick red line of the right-wing red tops, most heinously the Daily Express, and, of course, every English person’s favourite hate rag, the Daily Mail – the ubiquitous negative drivers of most public opinion.

To be on benefits today, no matter what one’s personal circumstances or disadvantages, is almost a taboo, and one exploited ruthlessly by the makers of such televisual effluence as Benefits Street, Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, and the reprehensibly titled Saints and Scroungers (one campaigner, Sue Marsh, has tried to re-appropriate that dreadful term on her admirably defiant Diary of a Benefit Scrounger blog).

In spite of a faint sense of relief felt across the unemployed and incapacitated communities at new Work and Pensions Secretary Damien Green’s announcement that there will be no more welfare cuts beyond those already legislated, there is still cause for trepidation when said legislated cuts of £30 per week to new Employment and Support Allowance claims kick in this April – certainly, then, ‘the cruellest month’ this year.

By something of a coincidence, my next poetry collection, precisely on the theme of the welfare and disability cuts and the stigmatisation of the unemployed, Tan Raptures, is published by Smokestack Books on 1 April.

Tan Raptures gathers together poems composed during the past six years of remorseless benefits cuts and welfare stigmatisation. Some of it is from an empirical perspective, my having been for much of this period in the ‘Work-Related Activity Group’ (or ‘WRAG’ as it’s disparagingly abbreviated) of Employment and Support Allowance, where those who are deemed unfit for work for the time being but not necessarily permanently are placed (I am a lifelong sufferer of pure obsessional disorder, an unpredictable and debilitating form of OCD). This has been punctuated by sporadic paid opportunities (termed ‘permitted work’ or ‘therapeutic earnings’ by the DWP) in poetry mentoring, tutoring and commissions.

Poetry and unemployment often go hand-in-hand, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, since writing poetry is a form of occupation (alongside editing it, publishing it, teaching it, mentoring it, workshopping it etc.), even if an often impecunious one as paid opportunities are few and far between. Indeed, the fact that poetry has very little ‘market value’, and employment or occupation in capitalist society is almost entirely defined in terms of earning money, almost all full-time poets are, paradoxically, ‘unemployed’; at least, in purely superficial material terms. Through the sadly seldom-consulted prism of humanistic occupational theory, poetry is certainly an ‘occupation’ in the authentic sense of the term.

Many poets have been unemployed at points in their careers albeit ‘poetically employed’ at the same time. Indeed, unemployment is often an ‘occupational hazard’ of being a poet, and many either still are, or certainly have been in the past, intermittent benefit claimants. Capitalism has no time for poets since it deems them unprofitable and economically unproductive (in any case, it has their occupational replacements: advertising copywriters).

This is in stark contrast to the stipends paid by the state in the old Soviet Union specifically to keep poets in their poetry (a similar scheme would be most welcome here today). The sometimes inescapable relationship between poetry and unemployment – bards on the dole – is almost never spoken let alone written about by poets. Poetry and unemployment are unspoken companions. But many poets will stifle a bitter laugh at the notion of a Department for Waifs and Poets (DWP).

In Tan Raptures I refer to the DWP as the ‘Department for War on the Poor’, since that is undoubtedly its primary purpose today. The collection includes polemical paeans to many victims of the Tory benefits cuts and sanctions, such as Glaswegian playwright Paul Reekie (suicide), ex-soldier David Clapson (death from diabetic complications/malnutrition), and the Coventry soup-kitchen-dependent couple, the Mullins (suicide).

The eponymous polemical poem is an Audenic dialectic in 14 cantos on the social catastrophe of the benefits caps, pernicious red-top “scrounger” propaganda, and Iain Duncan Smith’s despotic six year grip at the DWP. It is also a verse-intervention of Social Catholicism, as epitomised by Pope Francis, in oppositional response to the “appalling policies” (Jeremy Corbyn) of self-proclaimed ‘Roman Catholic’ Duncan Smith.

The title Tan Raptures plays on the biblical notion of ‘The Rapture’ – the ‘raising up’ of living and dead believers to meet their maker in the sky – satirising the ubiquitous ‘tan envelopes’ that strike fear into claimants on a daily basis as passports to a twisted Tory notion of ‘moral salvation’ through benefit sanction.

So common has this phenomenon become that the phrase ‘fear of the brown envelope’ now denotes a recognised phobic condition, and was even used as the first part of a title for an academic paper on exploring welfare reform with long-term sickness benefits recipients’ (Garthwaite, K., 2014).

It is my hope that Tan Raptures will play its part in keeping up the momentum of the belatedly emerging counter-cultural welfare narrative as championed by the likes of Ken Loach, and, of course, Labour’s first socialist leader in decades, Jeremy Corbyn, who put it firmly on record that he opposes any open discrimination against the poor, unemployed, sick and disabled in such reprehensible and hateful terms as “scrounger”, “skiver” and “shirker”.

Our culture of ‘Scroungerology’ has been something I have been writing polemic on for a number of years now at The Recusant and through the two anti-austerity anthologies under its e-imprint Caparison: Emergency Verse – Poets in Defence of the Welfare State (2010/11) and The Robin Hood Book – Verse Versus Austerity (2012/13).

It also seems an apt time then to pitch Caparison’s belated third poetry anthology, The Brown Envelope Book, or The Brown E-Book for short, since it will be, at least initially, an electronic publication, as was, originally, Emergency Verse.

The main theme of this third anthology is, as the title suggests, benefits cuts and welfare stigmatisation, but it will also be addressing the housing crisis by petitioning for the reintroduction of private rent controls and also raising greater awareness of the prevalence of letting agent-and-landlord negative vetting of prospective tenants on the basis that they claim benefits or Local House Allowance (even if they’re in work!).

Poets of all stripes are invited to submit their poems on the themes of unemployment and welfare; the empathic but, more especially, the empirical, welcome.

Alan Morrison’s Tan Raptures is published by Smokestack Books. It is available now to order at: https://www.waterstones.com/book/tan-raptures/alan-morrison/9780995563506To submit work for consideration in The Brown E-Book, please email up to six poems along with a brief biog in the body of the email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please put ‘Brown E-Book’ in the subject header.

Sixth Rapture: Shut Curtains during the Day

Unlike riches, policies do have a trickledown effect,
And the dictates of Damascus Smith –hairshirt Thomas Malthus
Of Caxton House/or Gregor Mendel of the DWP–
Would germinate into a pearl-white species of cropped
Correspondences in Kafkaesque script bespeaking strange augurs,
Barbed inferences, grim omens, pointed portents –vatic tans
Vibrating with cryptic stings: ‘A query has arisen regarding
Your claim…’, or, ‘We are letting you know what might happen to you’,
But without actually doing so, only adumbrating through
Deliberate ambiguity and mystique of omission (the old
Hemingway tip-of-the-iceberg effect), lacings of uncertainty,
Leaving the door wedged open to auto-suggestion, taxing
Anxious imaginations prone to catastrophic projections –
The implicatures captured uniquely in tan paper raptures;
While elliptic and ecliptic occupational purposes, strange
Occulting ranks and titles, Customer Compliance Officers,
Brought thoughts of Thought Police or plain-clothed
Gestapo in tan macs with glacial stares behind impenetrable
Spectacles turning up on doorsteps clutching rolled umbrellas
And black leather briefcases stuffed full with thumbscrews,
Coat-hangers, piano wires, tape-recorders and lie-detectors –
While Government encouragement of neighbourly petit-
Espionage on unemployed suspects (more the ‘Big Brother
Society’) upped the tan ante for vigilante attitudes
And raised the temperature spiking the thunderous atmosphere
To puncture-point as Ministers instructed conscientious
Citizens to take note of those windows with “shut curtains
During the day” –or, in Baronet Osborne’s vocabulary:
“Closed shutters”– as they left for work each morning: dawn
Patrols of resentful workers directed to mark front doors
Of suspected Dole-Judes, like so many beady-eyed jackdaws –
It’s a peculiarly English kind of malice that criminalises
Innocents and victimises victims of circumstances thrust
On them by others’ “tough choices” and “difficult decisions”…
How appropriate that the Department for War on the Poor
Should send out such vindictive missives in envelopes
Of various browns, parcelling captured sunlight
To disinfect the disaffected, frightened, forgotten, pilloried,
Persecuted, tarred-and-feathered benefit spendthrifts
And profligates, scapegoats and targets for the ran-tan tanning
Of stigmatising tans –what strange types of benefits that grant
No benefits, neither to wallet nor wellbeing, but only
Deplete peace of mind and suppress appetites of “useless eaters”,
“Asocial” and “arbeitsscheu”–is that part of the point, to soften
The blow of swallowed-up cash-flow by shrinking stomachs
So there’s less need for food but more room for souls to grow
Like tapeworms of purely spiritual appetites distending
Themselves on the carroty acid reflux of phantom
Mastication, swishing round in rapturous backwashes from
Half-digested papers…? Some recipients experience
Epiphanies: eat the tan envelopes, as if they were unleavened
Victuals, bellies booming out with brown Holy Ghosts…

from 'Tan Raptures' (Tan Raptures, Smokestack Books 1 April 2017)

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