Sunday, 20 June 2010

Alan Morrison's Keir Hardie Street*

Scruffy, unkempt as a street-scummed urchin,
Knelt on the ground to finger the pages
Of a moss-bound book, apparently blank,
Liberated from the clamping of print -
Something resembling a freak summer breeze
Ruffled the pages ...
(p34 Keir Hardie Street)

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, is the working class classic, from the pen of South African writer Robert Tressell, who sadly died before he could give us more; and it is more than an inkling of what Alan Morrison is all about.

Philanthropists is a searing searching conscience pricking truth that every corrupt, expenses fiddling politician, every war mongering general, every overpaid layabout living it up in his favourite sunny yacht harbour or favourite shady casino or favourite 5-star brothel, every carelessly gambling away your pension and the roof over your head billionaire banker and his friend the stock market speculator, every greenhorn president and every pretender to the throne of the prime minister, every black-gold at any price oil man, and many many others of that ilk would do well to read.

In reality and in truth only the poor and the exploited are the world's real philanthropists. And that's not only an unjust situation but it's also highly dangerous. The centre cannot hold in such a world. It is plainly out of balance. Something, or someone, will have to give. History tells us that this is so.

Give me some truth! John Lennon said. And perhaps, that's the moral here; it's also a starting and an ending point.

You might call Morrison a modern day ragged trousered poet; he'd probably be pleased if you did. Readers already familiar with Morrison's ouvre will be aware that the poet has a strong socialist conscience and more than a leftward leaning slant; he's more than a nod towards the political philosophy of writers like Tressell. I imagine him on his breezy way to his work as a Poet-in-Residence in an English south coast psychiatric institution, his warm scarf wrapped around his neck, a copy of the Morning Star under his oxter and a new poem idea for his patients to work on, it's part of their therapy, simmering on a gas jet in his head.

To think of Alan Morrison as some kind of Saturday morning town centre socialist tub-thumper, is to miss the point. Through his poetry and his website, he promulgates intelligently, it must be said, many subjects and situations that need to be addressed and attended to. And he invites others, from whatever part of the political or poetic spectrum, to join him if they have something intelligent and relevant to say. Many have. The Recusant, his 3-year old internet child, already boasts more than a quarter of a million visitors and a fine collection of eclectic poetry.

When our eyes are opened we see that the men and women, and in many countries the children, who work from dawn to dusk in poor conditions, often risking their already fragile mental and physical health, for a few paltry crumbs from the rich man's table are the real philanthropists in our unjust world. Morrison is their champion. And he's a very good one at that. Check out the website at The Recusant (via my A-Z LINKS) to see what makes him tick.

There are 3 long poems in the 96-page book. The title poem Keir Hardie Street is comprehensively annotated and every difficulty and nuance is explained. We see here the mind of the poet at work. His raw material sources are laid bare. There are no clever tricks up the sleeve. The character of the fictitious narrator Allan Jackdaw is based on Robert Tressell (and also the poet John Davidson). The method used is impasto; a thickly applied impressionist method used by painters. The result, like some of Morrison's previous work, is almost Dylanesque (after Dylan Thomas that is); it's a read aloud 908 line piece that you can perform at home for yourself, or even for a gathering of friends at your local pub. It's a kind of play for voice/s. And it begins, typically, thus:

Gash of grubby blood-brick buildings
Congealed under a bandaged sky
In every doily-curtained window heaves a life -
Motionless stout spectators crouch, watch the trains snail in ...

My notes on reading this include a short quote from Nelson Mandela, that came into my mind; it's a kind of raison d'etre for a man's work in his own field, and that said, it is also a motto I sense is followed by Alan Morrison in his struggle against injustice. There's no need for deep analysis. A man's first instincts, if he has a heart and a conscience, are always correct; as when Mandela said to the world This isn't right.

Keir Hardie Street is a book that demands to be read closely and slowly. It has a lot to offer; the sounds, the imagery, the articulations, the music; it is all there to be enjoyed; but now it is only right that I leave the last word here to Alan Morrison himself: It's from the poem Clocking-in for the Witching Hour:

You can keep your Kipling and his 'If',
there is no If about it;
put away your Plain Tales From The Hills
for the plainer truth of things ...

*author's note:
an earlier draft of 'Keir Hardie Street' was published in The Mansion Gardens (Paula Brown, 2006).

Keir Hardie Street by Alan Morrison publisher Smokestack books, price 7.95p, ISBN 978-0-9560341-6-8
official launch & date:
Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9DX
5:00pm Saturday 24th July 2010
Alan Morrison's poem 'Snapdragon' is on the Poet-in-Residence Poetry 2010 page.


  1. The Ragged trousered philanthropist was my father's bible Poet. Have not heard in mentioned for many years.

  2. Your father knew a good book when he read one.

  3. Thanks for this, PiR. I shall pursue.

  4. Thanks, Titus. A good place to start is at the Recusant website.


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