Review of The Mansion Gardens
London Magazine, April/May 2007
It would seem from the three forewords to Alan Morrison's book that he is an unreconstructed socialist - 'a convinced and historically aware Socialist in the 21st century'; ...and, most unusual of all, one greatly influenced by that doyen of the Poetry Bookshop and apologist for the Georgian poets, Harold Monro. To a slightly lesser degree, Morrison's other great mentor is another Edwardian, the poet John Davidson who committed suicide in Cornwall. His three introducers also emphasise Morrison's possession of an individual voice in his verse. And verse he does write: varied and regular.
I stare up at the blanched Van Gogh
by the toothpaste-spattered sink;
the ticking of the crippled clock
decides it isn't time to think;
I haven't read Davidson's poetry for many years, but from memory of his Collected Poems those lines do have the flavour of 'Thirty Bob a Week', a sad but great poem about a man's struggle against poverty to look after wife and child. Morrison, too, it would seem ('A Day at the Council Estates') grew up in poverty; this fact, coupled with a compassionate nature, destined him to struggle in his poetry against the Furies of Feeling. But like Davidson, he wisely has opted to hammer out controlling forms for his poetry; the 'form' is often well-disguised as in this stanza from 'Tales from the Empty Larder':
I can't stand scant catechisms
of tremors in an empty stomach;
the stench of hunger-scented breath
where a full belly's the only tonic;
the famished itch in-between the teeth
where only food can feed relief.
Morrison has a useful ear for formal verse....
...A sequence like, for instance, 'The Gospels of Gordon Road', where the urge is to memorialise, or 'The House of Sadness Past' where the poet returns
...through the ghostly photo
of hollow windows' gormless glare
an emptied relative's frozen stare;
grope up the slanting path into
its blossom-grey, cabbage-white
wintry circumstance, now time's
passed trace of us there...
there is an impulse at work subordinating form to the expression's greater purpose....
Morrison's central preoccupation is time and mortality, and the wrestle with loss of faith. He is a young and talented poet and one who can move our sense of pity and sorrow in the manner of Hardy:
I remember I was barely fed,
Eleven or twelve in a freezing bed
Damp with doubts, wanting outs,
Drift off and dream forever...
Thought I wanted to be dead...
'Go to sleep', dad said...
It would not be right, nor accurate, to conclude this perusal of The Mansion Gardens without mentioning some of the longer poems towards the back of the volume: poems which are informed by the poet's other great preoccupation: Socialism. In particular, the discursive pieces like 'Keir Hardie Street', with its London setting, or his poem 'Rats, Cats and Kings', which is Morrison's kind of homage to Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. These add an interesting dimension to the book and give promise of, maybe, an important long poem for the future.