The Mansion Gardens

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Paula Brown Publishing, 2006
perfect bound 172pp
ISBN 1-905168-11-X
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Alan Morrison © 2006

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.

William Oxley

Alan Morrison is an out of the ordinary writer. His work abounds with strangely named characters like Short Shanks the Shopkeeper and The Turpentine Prophet. The poetry in here will appeal to many a reader’s socialist feelings and includes a selection of Morrison’s epigrams, or as he refers to them - obverbs. There are also lengthy pieces like Rats, Cats and Kings, a homage to Orwell in Catalonia and a number of poems written in a kind of Joycean verbalesque manner. If you think you’d enjoy a mulligatawny of poetry served up, not by a flyblown waiter, but by a creative and thoughtful poet seeking to enrich the language, both with and without pub beer wisdom, then this handsome 172-page volume could be just the thing for you.
Gwilym Williams, Pulsar

"...violence in the city centre ('Battle
of Trafalgar Street') through to Hardyesque meditations on raw nature ('Mist'). Captivating"
Rocks Magazine, Brighton

"...superb – 'Martin Goth' has me in tears every time - it is so powerful; 'Deaths Breathtaking View' - brilliant! 'The Luxury of Despair', ‘Five Minute Infinity’… so many that I can relate to, enjoy, appreciate - I just read it and nod to myself! I keep talking to everyone about The Mansion Gardens - it is by a mile the best poetry collection I have ever read"
Sally Richards, poet

"I had to stop going back over things, give myself a stern talking-to about savouring and turn out the light... so many fine things. I shall be coming back to it for a proper wallow at the first opportunity"
David Savoury, FRSL
 
"Outstanding! I really enjoy the depth and passion of this poetry. I love the anarchy and the well drawn characters. Excellent, excellent book"
Carolina de la Cruz, poet

"...the ideas are excellent...A darting and practical mind infuses life into a wide range of issues with poetic fervour, which should not be lost to any audience, and the reasonable book price makes it well worth obtaining" - Eric Ratcliffe, New Hope International

"From this book, and from his previous collections, I do become aware of Morrison's definite personal voice, his own unique verbal DNA. This seems true even when, in snatches, I am reminded of Dylan Thomas, especially of his Under Milk Wood. Morrison is on the whole, probably at his best in autobiographical vein. ...plenty of very good touches throughout the book (e.g., in 'Dole and Genealogy', 'A Summer Night's Travels' and stanza 8 in 'The House of Sadness Past') as well as in 'Forgive-Me-Not'; 'Nostalgia'; 'The China Kingfisher'; 'My Life in the Shade'; 'The House of Sadness Past'; 'The Guilty Building'; 'A Photo of Vaughan Williams'; 'Beatitudes'; 'At Least Tomorrow's Wednesday'; 'Rats, Cats and Kings'; 'A Mighty Absence'. I am tempted to add 'Keir Hardie Street' for its strong imaginative narrative and its venture into a world of Blakeian optimism, bringing his vision of Jerusalem into the present day. This poem reminds me of Blake's impressive watercolour Jacob's Dream (1805). But for me the best poem in the book is undoubtedly 'My Life in the Shade'. It presents, poignantly and without frills, the quintessential Alan Morrison. Its brilliant beginning is sustained throughout the whole. It makes telling and meaningful use of an excellent refrain, a success not often encountered these days. In this poem Morrison has come to sharply-focused grips with himself without any striving for effect, telling it like he truly feel it is. To my mind this poem deserves to be in every anthology of 21st Century verse in English. – Norman Buller, poet

"Keir Hardie Street really is something else... It's up there with the likes of Walcott. I do love its verbal cartooning... But I love above all else the voices and the vision of this modern masterpiece"
John O'Donoghue

Review of The Mansion Gardens

Other Poetry, Series II/No. 32, Autumn 2007

In effect, this is a series of mini-collections between two covers. As such, it offers a true showcase of Alan Morrison's range. His poetic eye is restless in the best sense: tone of voice, choice of subject, angle of approach – all are varied. The ambiguously titled 'Life's Brief', for example, makes the concept of life all the more vivid by presenting it in terms that recall biblical images of the hereafter. This sense of life as after-life (and, perhaps, purgatory) is taken further in 'Timétations', a sequence in which time often takes material (and distinctly unpleasing) form.
  Morrison can be equally interesting in character poems. 'Dark, Sun and Thunder' presents Miss Gayler, an archetypal landlady with stratagems galore to keep her lodgers just this side of uncomfortable...
  Here and elsewhere, Morrison employs a form somewhere between discursive lyric and ballad, giving the speaker leeway to warm to his theme (and sometimes boil over to striking effect, as the Orwell-inspired 'Rats, Cats and Kings' testifies). At the other end of the scale come tight, aphoristic poems such as 'The Sound of Eating'. in which the speaker recalls his Fabian [great-] grandfather's concern for 'best ways of feeding/ empty bellies of the down-at-heel' – only to reveal that [great-] grandad himself ate in private...
  The Mansion Gardens is indeed a worthwhile enterprise. To have so much Morrison in one volume is instructive and, very often, illuminating.

Michael W. Thomas