Alan Morrison

Alan Morrison

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

Republican Lupi: Alan Morrison's Wolves Come Grovelling
Friday, 05 May 2023 20:01

Republican Lupi: Alan Morrison's Wolves Come Grovelling

Published in Poetry

Alan Morrison introduces his republican poetry collection published by Culture Matters in time for the Coronation.

[Note: This article was originally published on 5 May 2023].

One of the poems towards the end of Wolves Come Grovelling, ‘Grasp the Nettle’, attempts to do as its title suggests by grappling with the thorny issue of monarchy and democracy, subjecthood and citizenship, reminding us that England was once, albeit briefly (1650-1660), a republic without a king but instead a Commoner, Oliver Cromwell, as Lord Protector.

That decade in the middle of the 17th century seems to have been airbrushed out from our royalty-dominated history. But republicanism has remained, among a significant minority, as an enduring dream of generations who have dared to imagine a true democratic society with no hereditary head of state and whose sovereignty is properly represented by Parliament, and implicitly in the People.

‘Grasp the Nettle’ picks up on the mystical symbolisms currently being reasserted in the ritual, choreography and rhetoric surrounding the Coronation of Charles Windsor, some of which disturbingly echoes the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, once fatefully invoked by Charles Stuart and which in part triggered the English Civil War, or what Marxist historians term the English Revolution (which led inexorably to the trial and execution of that monarch):

Charles Stuart invoked Divine Right of Kings
To his detriment, & lost his kingdom—
Charles Windsor summons this shadow doctrine
Of anointment by God, or its symbolism:

For his Coronation: a consecration
With chrism oil made from olives pressed in
Jerusalem spiced with neroli, rose, jasmine,
Orange blossom, amber & benzoin.

We must perhaps pinch ourselves to remember that this is 2023, and not 1623 (or thereabouts: Charles I was coronated in 1625). The monarchic institution should demonstrate a little humility in the 21st century but instead seems to be doubling down on its hubris.

Days before the Coronation, many of us across the country have been flabbergasted at a royal request that we join in unison with a ‘Homage of the People’: a pledging of allegiance to the new monarch and his heirs and successors to be said out loud, or chorused (almost like a royalist travestying of the clapping and pot-banging we were encouraged to participate in during the early days of the pandemic). This has never been done before, and certainly should not be done now—such a crypto-feudal ‘request’ is utterly anachronistic, anti-democratic, and insulting to all of us.

It seems even before Charles is crowned king, his evident take on kingship seems about as privileged, entitled and absolute as is possible in a so-called ‘parliamentary monarchy’ (though with all its royalist sycophancy most of Parliament might well be perfectly happy with it), rather than the emphasis—as was constantly assured us during the long reign of his late mother—being on ‘public service’. For surely, in the spirit of ‘public service’, Charles should have instead invoked a ‘Homage to the People’: his swearing of allegiance to his ‘subjects’ who after all subsidise his supreme privilege (through the obscenely inflated Sovereign Grant) and are, absurdly, paying for his Coronation, through our taxes.

All this combined with last-minute missives sent to anti-monarchist groups to warn of severe prison sentences should any public protests—such as Republic’s planned ‘Not My King’ demonstration by the statue of Charles I—be seen to disrupt the pomp and ceremony of the Coronation and its Union Jack-draped pageantry.

It seems then that the mask of monarchy is slipping rapidly in spite of Charles Windsor having previously been anticipated as a more modernising and progressive sovereign. But is ever more deference and subservience for a hereditarily entitled, unelected head of state really a tenable settlement even for backward-looking post-Brexit Britain?

Wolves Come Grovelling, then, is my republican response in poetry to the Coronation. The collection also contains poems on other subjects, such as Brexit, the proroguing of Parliament, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and other vicissitudes of recent years. But the overarching theme is one of republican resilience and defiance at the start of our second Carolean Age.

The Wolves of the title are the wolves of poverty as paraphrased from a speech by David Lloyd George made in 1909 at the triumph of his hugely progressive People’s Budget:

'I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away, we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty… will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests.'

The Grovelling we Wolves are expected to do is, well, demonstrably, symbolised in that very ‘Homage’ of blind allegiance that we have been ‘requested’ to observe, and which makes my title poem something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since I composed it last year during the Jubilee when it appeared in the Morning Star, before any of us were expecting to hear the title ‘Charles III’. I have since updated it:


Wolves Come Grovelling (Again)

Out of the forests of towns & hovelling,
Wolves of poverty, howl out in worship,
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

Forget soaring bills & the cost of living
For one weekend, spaff on wolf-fellowship,
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling.

His crowned head, minted on our pound sterling
& postage stamps, shadows our hardship—
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

Grab the bank holiday, string out the bunting,
You’re Subjects of strung-along citizenship—
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling;

It’s all just so much Cat-Rat-&-Lovelling
Of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha & kingship—
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

Mark the Coronation by volunteering
Community penance/unpaid stewardship—
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling,
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

 

Video by Ness Sadri

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Wolves Come Grovelling can be ordered here

White Phosphorus
Thursday, 07 December 2023 00:00

White Phosphorus

Published in Poetry

White Phosphorus

A Ghazal for Gaza written on 5th November 2023

All Hallows’ Eve 2023, tenth anniversary
Of my mother’s passing from Huntington’s Disease;

Outside the half-curtained living room window
Excited laughter of children doing trick or treat—

Over 2,000 miles away, screams in the dark
Of Gazan night, pitch black but for sparkly

Blossoms of white phosphorus tinselling down,
Fluorescent flowers of destruction—deadly

Firework display pre-empting this fifth
Of November 2023… Gaza will be

A burial ground of rubble, its grey-limbed children
Pulled out from under it, ashen ghosts grown in debris…

This Nakba broadcast live to traumatised Westerners,
Nerves numbed by jump scares. Gaza under siege.

Gaza under rubble. Gaza an open grave, an open wound.
But from that rubble blooms indomitable solidarity—

Protests & marches swell in numbers each weekend,
Hundreds of thousands chanting “ceasefire now”, “free, free

Palestine”, “in our thousands, in our millions, we
Are all Palestinians”—in our iPhone open prisons

That pretend to protect us, but only contain us,
Doomscrolling in apocalypse dependency

Unputdownable attempts at coming to terms
With a graphically unacceptable telepathy,

& gruesomely gaslighting hegemonies—
But our suffering is nothing on Gazan agonies

That slow burn through to the bone, scald the soul,
Scar lives forever with obliterating bouquets,

Silver tentacles of giant jellyfish streaking in the sky
Streaming down stinging tendrils lethally, illegally…

Remember, remember, this fifth of November
White phosphorus fireworks stream down on Gaza.

“Salty Terms” to Deter Asylum Seekers
Sunday, 22 October 2023 14:56

“Salty Terms” to Deter Asylum Seekers

Published in Poetry

“Salty Terms” to Deter Asylum Seekers

(An extended villanelle or 'villanelle-vague')

“If they don’t like barges then they should f*** off back to France”
                     —Lee Anderson MP, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party

“Lee Anderson expresses the righteous indignation of the British people. Yes, he does it in salty terms”
                    —Alex Chalk MP, Justice secretary

Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes,
Divide & rule the waves over coercible
Tabloid-fed electors, booming STOP THE BOATS.

Few tears for refugees who can’t stay afloat
Or who are deported as undesirables—
Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes;

But tributes brim over when the Titan implodes
As billionaire hubris turns a submersible
Into a timebomb—there are sobs for certain boats.

Jenrick gives ‘reception centres’ a few thick coats
To cover up too-welcoming cartoon murals—
Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes;

Traumatised children tasked to take bitter note
That Britain’s the place to re-burst their bubbles
Buoyed by tabloids booming STOP THE BOATS.

They fled war & torture but now must cope
With mouthfuls of red rags dripped on by Whitehall—
Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes.

Unaccompanied minors going missing in smoke;
‘Gammon’ vigilantes storming “migrant hotels”
Buoyed by tabloids booming STOP THE BOATS.

“Fuck off back to France” or board Bibby Stockholm’s
Bacterial lab of xenophobic microbials—
Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes;

Language as “salty” as seawater that chokes
Refugees’ lungs—toxic rhetoric makes coral
& skeletons for Davy Jones’ Locker. STOP. BOATS.

Crossing the Rubicon of bloodred tropes,
English-channelling Nigel Farage & Enoch Powell—
Slavering Braverman craves wavering votes;

“Luxury beliefs” like compassion & hope
Spouted from “ivory towers” by liberals,
Blown out of the water of thought.  STOP THE BOATS.

Bash “lefty lawyers” as unpatriotic Woke,
Spike public discourse & puncture inflatables—
Conservatives ride crests of wavering votes;
They TOOK BACK CONTROL
just to shout STOP THE BOATS.

In solidarity with journalist and Just Stop Oil protestor, Jan Goodey
Sunday, 15 January 2023 22:49

In solidarity with journalist and Just Stop Oil protestor, Jan Goodey

Published in Cultural Commentary

I’ve known journalist and lecturer Jan Goodey for many years and was shocked and saddened to learn he had been sentenced last November to a six-month jail term for taking part in one of the Just Stop Oil protests. Jan is a decent man, unassuming and thoughtful, but he is—demonstrably—passionate about environmental issues and the damage that's being done to our planet, as are many of us. It tells us everything about the moral bankruptcy of Tory Britain where idealistic activists are criminalised and temporarily removed from society when they are no threat to anyone.

The judge said that Jan’s conduct—climbing up onto a gantry over a motorway to hang a banner—was "not acceptable in a peaceful and democratic society". But isn’t protest supposed to be a core component of a “democratic society”?

The huge irony here is that our “democratic society” only ever came about precisely because of protest. Our very universal suffrage was achieved through the protests and sacrifices of radicals such as the Levellers, Diggers, Chartists and Suffragettes—all were persecuted and criminalised in their times, but all have long since been historically vindicated as democratic pioneers. I believe in time Jan will also be vindicated, and, I suspect, a lot sooner than his precursors.

Jan undertook a radical act of protest, it was inescapably disruptive, that’s part of the point of protest, but it was peaceful, and did no actual harm to anyone. With our prisons overspilling and in appalling condition, how can it be justified either morally or practically to sentence peaceful protestors to serve jail terms? A key sign of a society that has lost its way morally is when compassionate idealists are criminalised by its legal system.

Below is a poem composed in support of Jan—it is based on the villanelle verse form which repeats the first and third lines of the first verse alternately for each third line of the subsequent four verses and the closing two lines of the four-lined final sixth verse, but here I’ve varied the third lines throughout, so this is a semi-villanelle, or what I will term a ‘villanelle-vague’.

Jan on a Gantry

In solidarity with Jan Goodey, first protestor to be convicted for
'causing a public nuisance' under the draconian 
Police, Crime,
Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act – sentenced to six months in
HMP Belmarsh for climbing a gantry over the M24 to hang a
JUST STOP OIL banner


No place in a peaceful democracy
For peaceful protest, disruptive dissent
& Jan hanging a banner on a gantry.

Radical demurring, recusancy,
Outspokenness, complaint, argument:
No place in a peaceful democracy,

Certainly not a busy motorway—
Where cars career in daily sacrament—
Brought to a standstill by a bannered gantry;

Just as, historically, Winstanley,
John Lilburne, Robin Hood, Samuel Bamford,
Had no place in peaceful democracy,

Nor Levellers, Diggers, Chartists, tree-
Hugging green men, Suffragettes, rent-
Strikers, Unions, & Jan on a gantry

(Just who scooped the protest from Protestant?)—

Heroes of our hard-won rights & liberties
Without whom we’d have no enfranchisement
Nor, in fact, meaningful democracy,
But banners urging OBEY from gantries.

Alan Morrison

A Blakean Radical: R.I.P. Niall McDevitt, poet  22 February 1967-29 September 2022
Tuesday, 11 October 2022 21:44

A Blakean Radical: R.I.P. Niall McDevitt, poet 22 February 1967-29 September 2022

Published in Poetry

Almost incomprehensibly, radical poet, psychogeographer, poetry historian, activist, visionary and devout Blakean, Niall McDevitt, passed away on Thursday 29 September 2022 at just 55 years of age.

I had the privilege to have met Niall on several occasions over the years, I always invited him to read at any book launches or readings I did in London, a city whose rich literary and artistic history he came to be an expert on and something of a psychical curator through his legendary literary walks. Niall was also an indefatigable campaigner for the preservation of literary sites, including the Rimbaud/Verlaine House at 8 Royal College Street, and the Bunhill Fields graves of Blake and Daniel Defoe.

A self-described flaneur, anarchist, and republican, Niall was unafraid of ruffling feathered nests and throwing down gauntlets before establishments of all kinds. His poetry was richly figurative, deeply polemical; it had Symbolist aspects, and often incorporated pidgin, portmanteaus (‘luxembourgeois’, one of my favourites) and linguistic experimentation reminiscent of such diverse poets as Arthur Rimbaud, DH Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, ee cummings, and Allen Ginsberg.

Niall managed in his poetry to merge the historical and contemporary in an almost mystical, shamanic alchemy. This mystical aspect was Niall's own particular Blakean spark, his having been a lifelong admirer, champion and, one might almost say, poet-apostle of Blake, grasping the immanence and sempiternal qualities of his timeless poetry.

There was something mediumistic about how Niall spoke and wrote about Blake, almost as if he actually, somehow, knew him personally, or at least on a spiritual plane. When I mentioned to him in an email of my move from Brighton to Bognor Regis in 2016, he wrote 'you'll be nearer to Blake now', referring to Blake’s Cottage in nearby Felpham. That was the setting of my penultimate encounter with Niall for his talk and reading during the 2018 Blakefest.

Where I felt a commonality was in our serendipitous dovetailing on themes such as the impecuniousness of poetic occupation and unemployment—his poems ‘Ode to the Dole’ and ‘George Orwell Is Following Me’ (which he performed to the accompaniment of his drum) were staples of his repertoire. Our approaches were very different, but our sentiments chimed. There were sometimes vocabular crossovers in our verses—terms like ‘thaumaturge’, ‘colportage’, ‘grimoire’, ‘tetragrammaton’, ‘euergetism'—almost like poetic telepathies.

Niall’s self-described ‘anti-Tory poetry collection’ and testament to the early austerity years, Porterloo (International Times, 2012), was a satirical masterwork, which I reviewed in detail in 2014 in a three-part monograph on The Recusant titled ‘Illusion & Austerity’. I made sure to include Niall in all three Caparison anti-austerity anthologies: Emergency Verse (2011), The Robin Hood Book (2012) and The Brown Envelope Book (2021). I recall, too, after wrapping up the launch of Emergency Verse at the National Poetry Library in early 2011, Niall spontaneously presenting me with a Blake print in recognition for having put the anthology together.

The last time I saw Niall was at Bognor Blakefest in 2019—it was fairly fleeting, as on most other occasions, an affectionate half-hug or light part on one another's shoulders, and polite exchange of words. A softly spoken Irishman, there was something unassuming about him when one spoke to him up close, which seemed in contrast to his always impressive performance persona.

Niall was a poet who really did live poetry, not only through his prolific readings and performances, but also through the posthumous poetries of those he most admired and championed: Blake, Swedenborg, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Swinburne, W.B. Yeats, David Gascoyne, John Ashbery. Niall was also a champion of close poet-compatriots Heathcote Williams, Michael Horovitz, and Jeremy Reed.

It’s heartening to reflect on the wide and diverse dissemination of Niall’s poetry through numerous imprints and auspices: Waterloo Press (for his debut collection b/w), the aforementioned International Times, the avant garde New River Press (Firing Slits: Jerusalem Colportage) and Ragged Lion Press (Free Poetry Series #1. Albion), the prestigious Blackwell’s Poetry series (No. 1), articles and poems in the Morning Star, The London Magazine, and many other journals, even History Today (a fascinating scholarly piece on Blake and Thomas Paine), and his engrossing blogsite Poetopography. In many ways dissemination via pamphlet was fitting for Niall’s spirit of colportage, as well as suiting his innate anti-establishment and anarchist sensibilities.

Niall had a prodigious track record of radio appearances, video documentaries (a significant archive on Youtube), and street theatre—having performed alongside such luminaries as Ken Campbell, Michael Horovitz, Iain Sinclair and Yoko Ono. Had the Free and Independent Republic of Frestonia (1977-80)—of which his late associate Heathcote Williams had been Ambassador—retained its sovereignty into Niall’s time in London, he would undoubtedly have been its poet laureate.

There were aspects of the poète maudit to Niall but his gregarious Muse kept him at the centre of a community of poets, writers and artists. Niall's trademark chalk-striped suits always seemed a sartorially ironic anti-complement to his demonstrable bohemianism but then they were often combined with gold-coloured trainers.

An irreplaceable presence in contemporary literary culture, Niall’s spirit will live on through his exceptional poetry, his prodigious contribution to a countercultural poetry narrative, and in the certainty that there will be many of us who will wish to ensure his legacy is kept alive just as he helped keep alive the posthumous reputations of so many past poets and writers.

Niall is survived by his mother Frances, his brother Roddy, his sister Yvonne, his partner Julie, and her son Heathcote.

Alan Morrison

Niall McDevitt’s new and final collection, London Nation, is now available from New River Press (www.thenewriverpress.com).

This obituary has previously appeared on The Recusant, and in the Morning Star 11 Oct 2022.

 

 

 

The Proletarianization Of The Bourgeoisie

By Niall McDevitt


Regularly, in the newspeak of the class-ridden state,
we’re informed of an all-encompassing sociological theory:
‘The Bourgeoisification of the Proletariat’
i.e. how the galley-slaves these days are happy as Larry,
weighed down with swag, Marx-free, nay, at long last
‘indistinguishable’ from their middle-class betters
and how all we have to worry about’s the underclass
of crims, sluts, schizos, beggars, junkies, poets etc.

Yet all I see’s the proletarianization of the bourgeois,
media-brainwashed and work-programmed boot-licks
into computer games, suntans, tracksuits, soap operas,
office parties with strippergrams, cakes like chocolate dicks.
Codes of etiquette are those of the ‘tough’ not the ‘toff’
and stats show they increasingly resort to violence:
headbutting, glassing, biting people’s earlobes off.
They too are being successfully schooled in the new science.

 

George Orwell Is Following Me


By Niall McDevitt

in the moon under water 
he’s slumped at my table with a bargain bitter
heavily disguised as a member of the proletariat

george orwell is invigilating my existence
in the bleak streets and bombsites
I feel the force of his eyes
from where he stands tall thin intent as a surveillance camera

george orwell is insidious and ubiquitous
in one of the bookshops of obfuscation
he was stocktaking on a metallic ladder
false moustache (over his own tory anarchist moustache)

orwell is always busy on the next bowl
of the public urinals
sniffing his piss-steam with scientific disgust
and debating the merits of the henry millers

the most remarkable people turn out to be orwells
I threw a couple of twopenny coins
to an old etonian in a cardboard box
who said: ‘what do you do in this shithole with five pence?’

at night when I’ve made it to my safehouse
again the whirring of lenses
and he’s standing over my bed with a birch
keeping me awake (i.e. protecting me from sleep)

george orwell is following me 
in the wetherspoons boozer
he’s slumped at my table with a bargain bitter
heavily disguised as a member of the underclass
 
 
 
Both poems are from Niall's debut poetry collection b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010). 
'Borrowed Rainbows' and 'Tobacco Wrappers': two new poems by Alan Morrison
Monday, 10 October 2022 19:34

'Borrowed Rainbows' and 'Tobacco Wrappers': two new poems by Alan Morrison

Published in Poetry

Borrowed Rainbows

For Niall McDevitt (above), poet and republican
22/02/1967 - 29/09/2022

The day Elizabeth Windsor passed
A double rainbow was visible
Arcing over Buckingham Palace—
Supposedly a benevolent omen
Of transformation, fresh beginnings,
Good things—Royal mourners
Gasped at such celestial symbolism
For the late Queen's heavenly ascent
To flights of angels singing her to her rest,
& down here, a smooth succession
Of a new King & a third Carolean
Age—but it all depends on points
Of view, personal hopes & opinions,
As to how the double rainbow
Could be symbolic: to a growing
Number it symbolised more the budding
Promise of monarchy's enduring end
& the sleepy hope of a ripe republic...

But now is not the time to speak
Of republics—to do so is tantamount
To traitorousness, sedition, & other
Unspeakable transgressions; one
Republican protestor is one too
Many—a placard reading ABOLISH
THE MONARCHY elicits arrest;
Another protestor cornered & warned
By bobbies not to write anything on
His blank placard, hardly a placard,
Just one square empty space of card
But in propinquity to Buckingham
Palace, enough proof of treason in
The book of Babian of the Yard,
Sufficient grounds for a bruising,
Swift prosecution & sentencing—so
Christopher Robin goes down with Alice...

A double rainbow bruising over
Buckingham Palace minutes before
Elizabeth Windsor passed
Was miraculously symbolic
& enough to mint a new taboo...

May flights of angels sing her to...

Rainbow O Rainborowe O borrowed
Rainbows O borrowed tomorrows O

Now is not the time to be a republican,
Now is not the time to speak of a republic,
Now is only time to join the queue...

 

Tobacco wrappers

Sceptre
spectre
& spectacle
tradition's anointed mystique
none can fight its
spiritual fists
divine right's
unquestioning monarchists

could we replace it
with whispered republics
conspiracies
in tobacco wrappers

pot-&-pan-
handed clappers
cap-doffing
forelock-tugging
bowing & scraping
endlessly queueing
to bow & curtsy
& cross themselves
at the catafalque
as if at a holy
reliquary
or paying respects
to a departed saint
divine being

not citizens
but subjects
subservient
deferential

so we defer
& defer
& defer
the future
put the past first
history on catch up
perpetual repeat

time is ripe
for pipes & plots
conspiracies
& micro-republics
discreetly sealed
in tobacco wrappers

Chip Shop & Battlefield - An Obituary of Socialist Poet and Mental Health Activist David Kessel (10th April 1947 – 8th March 2022)
Sunday, 10 April 2022 15:06

Chip Shop & Battlefield - An Obituary of Socialist Poet and Mental Health Activist David Kessel (10th April 1947 – 8th March 2022)

Published in Poetry

It is with deep sadness that I write of the death of lifelong poet, mental health activist, and dear friend, David Kessel, who passed away on 8th March, aged 74. 

I feel privileged to have known David, a deeply compassionate man, and greatly gifted poet, whose sheer humility was an example to us all in the poetry community. David was much loved, as was evidenced in a 2012 anthology of poems, Ravaged Wonderful Earth – A Collection for David Kessel, produced by Outsider Poets and Friends of East End Loonies (F.E.E.L.), two groups of which David was a prominent and—up until this time—active member. Indeed, he had penned a number of radical and thought-provoking pocket polemics on mental health and psychiatry which he used to distribute as small leaflets, often inserted in the folds of his spidery handwritten letters. These often read like speculative manifestoes.

The paranoid schizophrenia from which David suffered all his adult life, and for which he was heavily medicated (his speech became increasingly slurred as a result), never dimmed his empathic humanitarianism nor his ruminative mind which often expressed itself in aphorism. One that springs to mind is ‘Schizophrenia could be a diabetes of the mind’. David also strongly identified with the poets of both world wars, because he was a poet pitted in his own psychical war; for these reasons, and in terms of his poetic style, David most closely recalled Ivor Gurney. For example, David’s ‘Listening to the soft rain on the leaves/ I hear the decency and realism/ of friends’ humour’ has a similar cadence and comradely sentiment as Gurney’s ‘Who for his hours of life had chattered through/ Infinite lovely chatter of Bucks accent’.

But David also had similarities with Isaac Rosenberg: while Rosenberg was the son of a Russian-Jewish immigrant who settled in London’s East End, David was the grandson of a tailor of German-Jewish ancestry (‘kessel’ is German for ‘kettle’) who emigrated from South Africa to North London. By bizarre contrast his distaff grandfather had been a ‘Blackshirt’ and poet. Indeed, David was open to the possibility that such a stark clash of ancestral qualities could have played some part in his schizophrenia. This poses an intriguing genetic theory on the illness, and David was ever the self-analyst (as in his essay The Utopianism of the Schizophrenic). His mother, an Irish Catholic and Communist, presumably had some influence on David’s politics and poetics.

I first met David when I was at Survivors’ Poetry in 2004 working as mentoring coordinator and editor of the Survivors’ imprint and magazine. He was sat outside the Diorama Arts Centre rolling a cigarette with liquorice papers, his gentle brown eyes gazing from under a beanie hat atop a stooped frame in crumpled wax jacket, immediately disarming. While sifting through books sent in for review, I’d come upon his hefty chapbook, The Ivy – Collected Poems 1970-1994 (Aldgate Press, 1989), with its inside quotes from Edith Södergran and Christopher Caudwell and introduction by Arthur Clegg with its emphasis on David as a ‘poet of compassion’. That he certainly was. I was immediately taken by his work—lyrical, elegiac, visionary, but also gritty, angry, visceral and sometimes shocking—and strongly identified with its themes of poverty, socialism and mental suffering, as well as its literary references (Lilburne, Winstanley, Emily Brontë, Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Robert ‘Tressel’ (sic), Keith Douglas, Drummond Allison) often cropping up in poem titles, and quotes (Wilfred Owen: ‘Poetry is a savage war’ – as well as Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim: ‘In the destructive element immerse’), so much of which chimed with my own sympathies. I felt I’d not only found a poet more than deserving of being published through the Survivors’ Press imprint, but also, on a personal level, a poet-soulmate. Suffice it to say, David’s poetry has had more influence on my own than any other poet I have known personally. Whenever, over the years, I’ve visited London to do poetry readings, I always invited David to read alongside me; I regarded him as a spiritual fixture to any events I was involved with. He’d also invited me to read on occasions, once, memorably, at Toynbee Hall for a celebration of the legacy of the International Brigades. But when I last launched a book in London, at Housmans Bookshop, Kings Cross, in 2017, David had sadly been too ill to get to it.

What I most admired about David’s poetry was its aphorismic quality, its eye and ear for the striking line or phrase, too many to quote (though one of my favourites is: ‘I fear this mountain I must climb/ More than I fear fascism in a loved-one’s eyes’), and that’s from a fairly modest output of around 70 or so poems—but in these senses David’s oeuvre is an archetypal testament to quality over quantity: he wrote what he felt had to be written, no more, no less, though inescapably his illness and heavy medicating took their toll on his productivity (as they did on his physical health), as it had other schizophrenic poets before him, such as Nicholas Lafitte, and David’s friend Howard Mingham (1952-84), whom he’d first met at Ken Worpole’s Centreprise Hackney Writers’ Workshop in the late 1970s, and whose poems, devotedly kept for years by David, we published through my small imprint Caparison, which included Forewords from both David and Ken.

David was an indefatigable champion of Howard’s work, to an almost apostolic extent. (Howard had died at just 32 apparently after having fallen from the top of a tower block in the Cambridge Heath Road area of East London). David believed implicitly that Howard was one of the most important poets of the twentieth century and would often rank his name alongside the likes of Charles Sorley, Drummond Allison, Sidney Keyes and Keith Douglas. Regarding Douglas, I’ll never forget when David showed me a spine-cracked edition of his Collected Poems, replete with brittle mauve-and-nicotined dust-jacket, intricately inscribed with cramped notes framing each poem, when I visited him at his sheltered accommodation in Whitechapel. I also have enduring memories of David ruminating over vegetable curry in one of the many loud and bustling Bengali restaurants he habitually frequented. In his later years he was re-sheltered at Sue Starkey House in Stepney.

I wrote at length on David’s poetry in a critical piece, ‘Storming Heaven in a Book’, which served as Foreword to his Collected Poems – O the Windows of the Bookshop Must Be Broken, which I selected, edited and designed, and which became a Survivors’ Poetry bestseller; I can remember at its launch at The Poetry Café in 2006, following David’s recitations—which he howled from his soul and whole being—how almost everyone present queued up to buy their signed copies of the book. That striking title was my choice from a phrase in one of David’s poems but I recall it took me some time to convince him to go with it as he felt it sounded incendiary, though the concept was peaceful enough: to free the books and let them spill into the streets. A selection from this volume was later published in a bilingual German-English volume, Außenseitergedichte (Verlag Edition AV, 2007).

Most of the poems he wrote since publication of his Collected I have over the years published on The Recusant. I have kept all the correspondence he sent me over eighteen years. One of my most treasured possessions is a tattered white and teal first edition of George Thomson’s pamphlet Marxism and Poetry that David gave me some years ago (hugely generous in spirit, he had a tendency to give away books to friends). David’s bibliography stretches back to the late Seventies, some of his poems having previously appeared in some ground breaking anthologies of radical socialist poetry: Bricklight – Poems from the Labour Movement in East London (Pluto Press, 1980),Where There's Smoke (Hackney Writers’ Workshop, 1983), Outsider Poems, Under the Asylum Tree and Orphans of Albion (both Survivors’ Press). Some of David’s poems were also put to music by the EMFEB Symphony Orchestra in Owen Bourne’s score Hackney Chambers.

I have known very few people in my life who have truly deserved the epithets ‘poet’ and ‘socialist’: David was the embodiment, in all the best senses, of both those noble things.

Some poems by David Kessel

David lived in the East End of London his entire adult life, and many of his poems reference places in that district, such as the following:

New Cross
For John Van

We build our own slums. The wind
through the slums blows on the highest
hills. We are all slowly dying
of cold and loneliness, no fags,
no fruit juice, and neighbours with veg stew
and cups of tea. We live with uncertainty,
our giros and our dreams. Yet our aggression
is our frustrated love. In a billion painful
ways we make the little things of love;
a dustman’s sweat, a cleaner’s arthritis,
a streetlight’s mined electricity,
a carpet-layer’s emphysema,
a desperate clerk’s angina,
a mate’s slow moaned caresses.

1984

Some of David’s poems, as with his short essays or leaflets, read a little like a series of slightly dislocated thoughts or images, or they can be a series of declamatory statements, or a manifesto:

Poetry and Poverty
A Declaration

Poetry as witness.
All poetry is a poetry of hunger for the particular rather than the general.
The purpose of poetry is to create hope in desperate circumstances.
The poetry of the common people has been driven underground since 1660.

Poetry and otherness; the otherness of the common people.
When we cease to share, our language becomes a cipher,
the language of the despatch box and the popular press.
Towards a new lyricism we need to rediscover a deciduous
language, that of Gerrard Winstanley and Emily Brontë.

Cockney poetry is underground poetry expressed in Rock music;
downbeat, dissonant, demotic; e.g. The Clash, The Jam, The Free.
Celebration of the ordinary.
Nature of the city.
Metaphysics of poverty.
There can be no cockney power without cockney poetry.

1999

Living his life in the East End of London, the ‘cockney’ identity was something David often referenced in his work. As a leitmotif (recurring phrase or theme), ‘cockney’ has other associations: the great Romantic poet John Keats was from a cockney background and, indeed, the term had been used as a snub of his largely self-taught poetry by a notoriously snooty critic in a Tory-supporting literary journal of his time.

In Memory of Jude

You could still marvel at the blackbird singing
above the dusk college square with sombre bells
ringing beneath May sycamores.
At bookshops bleeding with mankind and the firmament.
Fancy youths with death in their hearts
pass up and down the seductive streets
and behind thick walls make words deadly
with expectation and fear, drunk with themselves.
Only in the cold churches they struggle
to win some divine life.
The desperate vagrant is more solid:
he remembers, as yourself, the rich flinty earth,
cuckoo calling, smell of wheat in rain on a down.
Your death’s carved in stone in library windows.
Your tears angry, soulful music in a pub
by the bus-station. Beneath a bus
your sweetheart wrestles with uncertainty,
spanner in hand, her poems in her pocket.
You are the busman, bright-eyed, eager to know
your mother’s dark land. Your children’s children
may enter this city with nothing but strong
boots, good bread and hope to destroy
and create a strange people’s history.

Oxford, 1982

This poem addresses the eponymous working-class stonemason and amateur scholar of Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Jude moves to Oxford (called Christminster in the novel) in an attempt to get accepted at its university to study the Classics but is rejected purely because of his social station.

Mike Mosley

There is a conspiracy against the social democracy of the British common people

Grey, calloused, forgotten at fifty,
he has given his all; his wiry heart,
his skilled locked fingers, his
chipped backbone, his broken welding
language, for this choking fag,
this dark blinding pint,
this scouring Irish lament.

Scorned, down for a bundle in bird,
forsaken by wives and the DHSS,
shy of nothing ’cept himself,
to this bare room, phlegm and loneliness
between stubborn slums and useless sirens.

Driven by fury to this back ward,
wasted, ulcered, unforgiving.

I start from here to make anew
the happiness of children playing
beneath heeding enduring gulls
in a wooded tempered land.

February 1991

It’s not clear who Mike Mosley is but I assume it was someone David knew. Whoever he is, or was, this is a sharply descriptive poem-portrait, a detailed sketch in words, which renders its subject not simply visible but almost tangible.

 Kessel cover copy

O The Windows of the Bookshop Must Be Broken
David Kessel – Collected Poems 1970-2006
Survivors’ Press, 2006
Edited and introduced by Alan Morrison
Cover design by Alan Morrison

Other resources: 

http://studymore.org.uk/donkeyda.htm

http://studymore.org.uk/ravaged.htm

http://friends-of-east-end-loonies.blogspot.com/p/david-kessel.html

 David Kessel

David Kessel was born at Central Middlesex Hospital, Harlesden, London, on 10th April 1947. He suffered a breakdown at 17 prior to medical school where he spent the next six years untreated. With diplomas from the Royal Colleges of Surgeons and Physicians, he went on to practise as a GP in East London until his second breakdown put a halt to his medical career with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. David subsequently spent his entire adult life battling his debilitating and harrowing condition whilst simultaneously writing and publishing beautiful and sublime poetry, and intermittent essays. He became a much-loved and admired stalwart and active member of many London-based radical arts community organisations including Hackney Writers, Outsider Poets, the Jewish Socialist Group, News from Nowhere, F.E.E.L., and Survivors’ Poetry. He will be sorely missed and never forgotten by all who knew and loved him. David is survived by a son, a grandson, brother and nephew.

A shorter version of this obituary previously appeared in the Morning Star.

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.

 

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.

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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