Tan Raptures

Taking its title from the brown envelopes that strike fear into benefit-claimants and the biblical ‘Rapture’, Alan Morrison’s eighth collection imagines these letters as passports to a twisted Tory notion of salvation through benefit sanction. Tan Raptures is a series of verse-missives from the frontline of the war against the poor and its spirit-stripping weapons of food banks, poor doors and homeless spikes. It’s a people’s history, from Dale Farm and the firebombing of the Freedom Bookshop to Troika-shackled Athens, featuring the Bryant & May Matchgirls, the International Brigades, the Runnymede Diggers, Los Indignados, Gerrard Winstanley, Joe Hill, Wal Hannington, Conrad Noël and Christopher Caudwell. The title poem is a Catholic Socialist polemic in opposition to self-proclaimed ‘Roman Catholic’ Iain Duncan Smith’s despotic six year grip at the DWP.

Cover image: Alan Morrison
Author photo: Vanessa Sadri

Sample Poem

Olvido Verde – Olives Bleed Green

1
The Oxford Reds changed their suits and brogues
For olive berets and brown togs of corduroyed Brigades,
Or white tunics of ambulance men, scrambled up
The parapets of Spain as soon as the vacancy came up
For its Republic to be reoccupied before the pincer-
Movement of a prowling Fascist coup pounced in to fill it:
Carlists and Falangists, a new vanguard of Visigoths
And Vorticists – and so soon, only five years since
The Republic’s difficult birth, from an avalanching
Vote in the first democratic election since smouldering
Ember days of Don Miguel Primo de Rivera y
Orbaneja, 2nd Marquis of Estella, 22nd Count
Of Sobremonte, Knight of Calatrava – who seized power
As dictator in 1923, overthrown by King Alfonso
Seven years later (caricatured as Rivera’s ‘dancing
Partner’), who then went into chronic exile… But by
Summer ’36, the Falange (the Spanish Phalanx),
Formed by Rivera’s son Don Jose Antonio Primo de
Rivera y Saenz de Heredia – 1st Duke of Primo de
Rivera, 3rd Marquis of Estella, Grandee of Spain –
Marched against the people’s democratic government…


2
This impasse at the cusp of partisan confrontation,
A Visigoth Ragnarok of Gods and Giants,
An historic Hispanic clash of Titans Left and Right,
About to be played out in panoramic scope on tan
Spanish pastures, depicted as a new crusade by both
Sides of the armed dispute: not only Carlists and Falangists
Had waited in the wings for a chance to recapture Spain
From the ascendant peasant classes so that the aristocrats
And land-owners could put them back to the pitchfork
And plough by the whip-hand – but many young left-wing
European progressives longed for an honourable cause
For which to sacrifice unfocused, smoky, bookish lifestyles,
In the names of freedom, democracy and, for many,
Socialism – as Robin Skelton pinpointed in Poetry
Of the Thirties nearly thirty years later: ‘The Spanish Civil
War usefully combined both obsessions of the rootless
Left-wing thinkers of the time, ‘community’ and ‘war’ –
Skelton expanded on his anatomy of the pathology
Of the Thirties Generation in relation to this psychical
Spanish Wash: ‘…the rebellion of the generals could be
Seen as the attack of reactionary capitalism
Upon progressive socialism. The Spanish Civil War was
A symbol become reality’ (and more than just a metaphor
To Christopher Caudwell); ‘It embodied the class struggle,
And also the struggle of the artists against the philistines
(Did not the Fascists murder Lorca? Was not Picasso
On the side of the Government?)’ (though not so Dali
And Pound!)… ‘The Spanish War… caught the poets’ imaginations’
(Those ‘fire-eaters’, as seasonal correspondent Cyril
Connolly branded them); ‘Many joined the International
Brigade. It seemed de rigueur to visit Spain, and to lend
One’s name, if not always one’s armed presence, to the cause
Of the workers’; Auden and Spender both conducted tours,
‘The former as a stretcher bearer, the latter as head of English
Broadcasting in a radio station … found to be defunct’…
Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the Madrid sun…


3
An unprecedented splash of poets and assorted men
Of letters put aside their pens for weapons in defence
Of Spanish democracy: Communist poets conscripted
By their consciences, red verse volunteers: Auden, Spender,
Wintringham, Orwell (in a fetching chocolate balaclava);
Anglo-Hungarian journalist, Arthur Koestler, captured by
The Francoists, denounced as a Communist agent provocateur,
And put under sentence of death, but, exchanged for
A high profile Nationalist prisoner – so survived
To write his Dialogue with Death, and Spanish Testament
(A Left Book Club Choice from Victor Gollancz with
An ermined Introduction from the Duchess of Atholl) –
Koestler would exit strictly at a time of his own choosing,
After a prolific book list, and first marks of leukaemia
And Parkinsonism – his departing note recapturing
That ‘oceanic feeling’ that had crept peacefully over him
At times of greatest peril, and found him anticipating
‘A de-personalised after-life beyond due confines of space,
Time and matter and beyond the limits of our comprehension…’;
And those ripe green promises whose posterities were
Already inscribed in Spanish lead, philosopher-soldiers
But of a very different stripe to the blond Wagnerians
Their fathers had aimed at from Belgium’s muddier dugouts;
Julian Bell’s blood spilt to bruise the Bloomsbury set;
Irish Left Republican, Charles Donnelly, sliced by
Gunfire as he broke cover from behind an olive tree,
Last sighted squeezing olives in his hands while muttering
‘Even the olives are bleeding’ – O olives bleed green,
So too those bleeding green olives of khaki plucked ripe
From the branches to which they transplanted themselves
From foggy English groves and misty Irish shires:
Rupert John Cornford, a perfect target standing up
In the suntrap of his head-bandage, picked off by snipers
The day after his 21st birthday; Christopher St. John
Sprigg (aka Caudwell), Marxist polemicist-cum-poet,
Difficult cousin of Audenic dialectic, taken out
Somewhere between illusion and reality, still wet behind
The ears, Spanish with tears, eucalyptus tears; scents
Of saffron, cinnamon and oranges wafting in the thick
Moroccan balm of the dusty gardened square in Granada
Under the vertiginous Moorish glare of the Al Hambra’s
Camouflaged Islamic damask interior (its’ dizzying
Indoor decorations spiked with hyperkulturemia);
Near the sign pointing to the Manuel de Falla Auditorium;
And outdoor cafes where light-fingered gypsies throng
With boot brushes, lift foreign ankles onto foot-boxes
Without permissions, tourists at first thinking the coffee
Is taking the weight off their feet: unsponsored shoe
Polishing for the price of pan y vino; where tomb-bruised
Tobacconists tout sun-scorched chiaroscuro postcards
Of folkloric Lorca, homosexual, Communist and poet –
A triple-target for la fascista, sacrificial Faun trampled
Under stampedes of cloven-hoofed Centaurs’ encierro…


4
Spain is so heavy, wine-heavy, vividly liverish,
Particularly in long-enslaved Andalusia
Under yokes of lictors, melting pot of extremes
Its peasant farmers had no means to repel – crushed
And consumed by Franco’s coup as easily as a roasted
Canary’s skull; since the fascists’ victory, struck dumb by
The aftershock of Francoism, the long pounding hangover
Of the Censorship when opposing opinions and poetries
Had to seep out silently through pores of sweatshop
Populaces oppressed by polished booted populism,
Policed by the Guardia Civil, Spanish Gendarmerie,
Originally deployed to suppress revolutionary
Predilections in rural quarters, retard the spread of anti-
Monarchism – uniformed bullies mobilised on behalf
Of the Bourbons to intimidate the mobs, sharply attired
In moss-coloured tunics, scalps cropped by quadrangular
Back-to-front tricornio of shiny patent leather, angular
Liquorice hats like crumpled umbrellas, so feared and
Respected, rumours spread these gleaming black symmetrical
Beetles invested violence in the wearers, as if by sorcery,
Hexes, bewitching enchantments, as in ‘El Amor Brujo’
From de Falla’s ree-Cornered Hat – taut violin-strings
Reverberating buzzing bees, droning angry stings…


5
Spain has never known plain-sailing, has ever been thrown
Off course into choppier waters by its sun-struck sons
And daughters, but its intensity is infectious, driven
With an avid vitalism that charges the blood – ‘You will
Feel you are alive out there’ waxed a young David Gascoyne
When contrasting war-struck Spain with Thirties British
Retailed acedia, commodity-fetishism in the midst
Of economic Depression: ‘Here everything is so unreal’…;
John Boulting’s correspondence with Marjorie Battcock
From Hampstead Peace Council decried the Eliotic
Landscape of London as ‘dirty, disorder and terrifying din…
A fitting accompaniment’; stone-faced workers from
Abertillery standing to attention by their placards
In support of the shrapnel-splintered Spanish Republic, captured
In a photograph with steel-spirited Dolores Ibarruri,
‘La Pasionaria’, champion of the poor and oppressed,
Who paraphrased Zapata: ‘Better to die on your feet, than live
On your knees’; and was the first person to shout ‘!No Pasaran!’
(‘They shall not pass’) at the approaching fascist war-machine…
‘Spain Days’ splashed colour in British cities, foggy fiestas
Sporting kiosks selling Republican flags of red, purple
And yellow, brochures, pamphlets and ephemera in support
Of the Popular Front – some composed by Catholic Socialists,
Such as Monica Whately, who refused to be acquiescent
To the Francoists simply because some rogue Loyalists
Had shot a few priests: because Democracy’s crusaders
Were their comrades of a truer Sacred Heart; and Spanish
Shops popped up all over the place – one in Southwark –
Promoting Spain’s Republican cause; four thousand British
Volunteers to the International Brigades and POUM
(Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista), comprising,
Among others, the Garibaldi Brigade, the Abraham Lincoln
Brigade (summoning to mind platoons in black stovepipes
And chin curtains), the Major Attlee Battalion, the Dimitrov
Battalion, et al, to face the hordes of Franco’s Spanish
Foreign Legion and formidable turbaned Moors – Davids, all,
Against Goliaths of tanks and Messerschmitts – ‘!No
Pasaran!...’ But the fascists passed into future history…


6
Fascism was –and always is – the ultimately volcanic
Build-up of malcontents’ catarrh in the rasping
Capitalist trachea, the bile churned up by the friction
Between poverty and competition, abrasive
Vibrations harvested by divisions of Haves, Have-Nots,
Will-Haves and Grabs-By-Any-Means, resentments
Against conspicuous consumption amidst pecuniary
Amputation, penury in propinquity to plenty,
Elastic as hatred, strung from chronic insecurity,
Neurosis, fear, anger, unhinged greed, rampant grasping,
Animal spirits, dog-eat-dog, throwing out dead wood,
Law of the jungle and survival of the fittest –
The common roods – augmented by material
Brutality and acquisitive behaviours; fascism was
‘…according to the dialectical analysis of Marxism…
 The expression of capitalism in its death throes. Faced
 With the growth of labour organizations and… working-
 Class demands for social reform, capitalism was preparing
 To abandon even the forms of liberal democracy
 Which had served it well enough hitherto, and was falling
 Back upon open reaction and violence to oppress
 The proletariat’ – so argued historian David Thomson
In Europe Since Napoleon; ‘It sought to divert popular
Attention toward national aggrandizement rather than
Improvement of social conditions. The slog-arm bands
Of fascism, the hirelings of the capitalist class, the latest
Instrument of that war …inherent in bourgeois society…’


7
In response to the rise of the Far Right back then, Fabian
Pacifists and graduates of gradualism – G.D.H. Cole
Among them – campaigned for a ‘British People’s Front’ against
Fascism, but even the Labour Party wouldn’t take up
This campaign; so tensions boiled over on the Continent,
‘Communism and fascism tended… to be twin barometers
Rising and falling together’, and when both barometers
Matched in momentum, all chaos broke out, and the first
Nation to be tipped into chronic confrontation, Civil
War, was Spain, the first example of the reality-rupture
Wrought by opposite wings: Spain: proleptic amphitheatre
Of war, of a stand staged against the armoured march
Of fascism… The Daily Worker was more prescient than
Its press competitors (as it still is today under the banner
Of the Morning Star – or, by subscribers’ sobriquet, ‘the Daily
Miracle’): in ’33 its’ first-ever women’s page scooped some
Choicest items, ostensibly on high fashion with a dose
Of sardonic comparisons (only the Daily Worker could
Politicise the sartorial), one piece on the expulsion
Of a Communist from the Co-op Women’s Guild which
Contrasted diamonds and gowns adorning that season’s
Debutantes with items on miners’ wives and women
Factory workers, while also reporting on a female
Spanish militant who’d been imprisoned for a ‘monstrous’
Twenty-five years; struggles of senoras and senoritas
Were being depicted in that socialist paper a whole three years
Before Franco’s coup ripped apart the People’s ripe Republic…


8
1937 – bouleversement – the Left Review (founded by
Tom Wintringham, Commander of the Major Attlee Battalion,
International Brigade), conducted a survey under Nancy
Cunard’s signature, asking all thinkers, conscientious
Projectors, vintage cognoscenti of the age, to tick whether
They supported Republican Spain, or the fascist uprising –
Titled ‘The Question’, the census pitched itself firmly in
Nordic-green ‘Auden Country’ with a spirited call to arms:
‘The equivocal attitude, the Ivory Tower, the paradoxical,
 The ironic detachment, will no longer do’ (O who is there
To say this TODAY? Who?); prune-faced Samuel Beckett sent
In his answer on a postcard in one schizophasic splurge
With appropriately Hispanic punctuation: ‘!UPTHEREPUBLIC!’
O that totemic upside-down Spanish exclamation mark!
Vital though it was not to romanticise the more progressive
Side in this upcoming conflict, it was paramount to support
The apparatus of a compassionate Republic – true,
There were atrocities committed in both wind directions:
‘The moderate Republican Government of the consumptive
Casares Quiroga was weak and harassed from both sides.
The tactics of the Falangists and extreme Left alike were
Those of terrorism and violence’, but it was the Right
That was the most brutal, particularly the Falangists,
Who even attacked their cousin activists ‘with rotten eggs,
Insults, and broken windows’, as well as socialists and
Communists ‘with personal terrorism and murder’, and
‘Judges who condemned Falangists to prison, or journalists
Who attacked them in the press, were assassinated’, they gave
No inch to anyone who outflanked them and their comrades-
In-arms: ‘In Madrid cars of escuadristas went round the streets,
Armed with machine guns, shooting down …political enemies’ –
Like some marauding limousine-and-magazined Mafia;
While some extremists of the Left were rumoured to
Have hunted down men of the cloth, many of whom
Were suspected as agents provocateurs in surplices,
Collaborators with Carlists and Falangists; ‘The anarchists
And communists resorted to lightning strikes and shooting affrays’…


9
All in all, ‘economic depression and poor harvests wove
A backcloth of unemployment and hunger, completing all
The conditions favourable to civil war’ – which finally
Ruptured and avalanched after the assassination
Of the pre-Republic dictatorship’s former Minister
Of Finance, Calvo Sotelo, on 13July 1936, thereafter
‘The military junta headed by General Sanjurjo, led an army
 Revolt in the Spanish zone of Morocco and on 16th July
 Occupied Ceuta and Melilla… The next day the officers
 Of the garrisons rose in almost every city in Spain. Sanjurjo
 Was killed in a plane accident and his place taken up by
 General Francisco Franco’ who rallied his Moorish hordes
From the Canaries on 17and 18 July – thus was
The Falangist flag raised, galloping in the choppy island
Breeze, marking the outbreak of civil hostilities: ‘It was,
In essence, a revolt of the army and the Falangists against
The programme of the Popular Front’, the opposite barometer
To fascism, which rose in contradistinction wherever
That brutal, slant-palmed Roman-style salute was raised…
The fascists stomped to triumph, pitched in for the long-
Run and the Censorship – and, today, the kleptocratic
Fist of the Falange-like Troika claws at parched Spain
Laid waste by capitalist austerity – yet again: the screaming
Tears of Los Indignados (The Outraged Multitude),
In Madrid and all across the scorched country of dust
And blood and clattering tumbrels of asset-stripped industry,
Lost to the white night of fiscal retrenchment, columns
Of Indignants marching in hats, sticks in hands, all the way
From the Basque Country and the wine-skin pastures
Of Andalusia, striking miners firing makeshift bazookas
At blacklegged police – industrial impasse conflagrates fast
In the incendiary heat of this nation of heavy memories,
Now weighing heavier than ever, catching winds of change…


10
In Hornachuelos, casualised brigades of young
Unemployed Southern Spaniards organise themselves
Into an Andalusian Union of Workers, sequester
The estate of Palacio de Moratalla in the absence
Of its landlord, the Duke of Segorbe, and set to work
Growing crops on abandoned tan fields – the earth
Of their heritage – in order to sustain themselves with wheat
To make their own bread – for, in recession, Spanish children
No more come into the world armed with loaves, but empty-
Handed; these Andalusian Diggers, adumbrating
The anarcho-syndicalism piloted so perilously
In those same parched Southern agricultural heartlands
Back in the mid-thirties, civil confrontations on the rights
To land ownership, which culminated in the reactionary
Coup against the democratic Republic – but according
To one AUW Spokesman, Senore Canamero:
‘We’re not anarchists looking for conflict, but our claims are
 Similar to those of the 1930s… because the land is… under
 The control now of even fewer people than at that time’ – so
Too in England’s damper pastures where a new breed
Of young green English Diggers are digging in their heels
To till the common soil and ‘make the waste lands grow’…


11
But once this capitalist Falange slackens its grip, and this
Gutless, bloodless White Terror of monetarism shrinks
Back into relative quiet of olive alert, before it dissipates,
Will the Troika propose a second Pact of Forgetting
(‘El pacto de olvido’ – or olvido de olivo – oblivion of olives…)
As that passed after Franco’s death? Will the Spanish
Have to forget and forgive all over again? Be expected
To munch lotuses on their Feast of the Race (Fiesta de la
Raza)? Better at least than eating lead as many did
At the same celebration on 12 October ’37, in the midst
Of the civil war, lead and roses, bread and circuses –
Curious now cut-price English clothes shops and emporiums
Are selling cheap t-shirts of crimson with modernistic
Lettering reading No Propaganda/Solo la Victoria/
Tocarlas en su propio juego/Major de raza desde 1937
Streaking across the chest, Made in Singapore, possibly by
Exploited Hindu sweatshop labour in ruptured draperies
Buried under rubble, as the collapsed Rana Plaza,
Occupational hazard of the factory floor for absence
Of Health and Safety Law – (that old ‘red tape’…) –
Such vanishing treatment of history would be blatant
Trampling of the past, wiping the historical slate, smudged
Palimpsest of past repeats – Professor J.H. Plumb would be
Metaphorically up in arms, wielding lead-piping on
The retrospective Cluedo board: Plumb argued in Death
Of the Past, that the past, being the impartial factual account
Of events, was perennially rearranged into what we call
‘History’ – the clue being in ‘story’: a more mythological
Narrative superimposed over the bare bones embellished
Depending on allegiances of hegemonies of any given time:
‘History’ is forty per cent fact, eighty per cent propaganda…


12
Not only Spain but all of Europe will be made to forget
The days when democracy itself was up for grabs by
Carpetbaggers, floated for a song on the stock exchange;
When the parasitic markets dictated every nation state’s
Fiscal policy; when sovereignties were spilt like coins
Into pockets of plutocrats, while citizens’ lives were put
On timocratic tabs and kleptocratic slates – no, Spain
Is too rooted to its past to forget, in spite of best efforts
To construct a new olvido, throw back the old Republic’s
Rallying cry in the faces of its’ disinherited children:
The Past shall not pass! It will be rewritten in numerical
 Symbols, numbers, algebra, by deducting – the world is ruled by
Numbers punctuating a clock ticking like a time-bomb
For endangered demos: even now, in our so-called
Democracies, our privatised governments are joining up
The dots and realising which side their bread is buttered on –
Desk-service for vested shadow interests over the citizens
They’re supposed to represent; democracy can be circum-
-navigated if needs be, corners cut; no one will notice it
Being trimmed down bit by bit through nepotisms and
Peculiar handshakes; and hasty rewrites of recent-past
Statutes through ‘retrospective legislations’, not only can
History be rewritten (even if just to be repeated almost
Verbatim), but democracy can be readjusted to scratch
Despotic itches – it’s ever been thus, and there’s always
Some useful purpose certain modicums of fascism can
Be put to in the service of democratic freedom – it’s just
The difference between softly, softly and less genteel
Persuasion; and who’s to object, apart from unsolicited
Poets and protestors? Us? There is no Us…Not since they
Gambled it all away – now there’s just You versus Me…


13
In the end, democracy will be packed up in a carpet bag
Along with all those other thoroughly good-egg ideas –
Christianity, republicanism, Communism, Socialism,
And so on – sadly all of which withered away in the end
Like potted aspidistras in damp gloom-plunged avocado-
Coloured hallways of mildewed English terraces,
In spite of the best efforts of spinsters to water them –
And in some nondescript, un-opinionated, white-chrome
Future, we’ll look back, but won’t remember, only see
Behind us the same thing we see ahead: a vague mist,
Unfathomable fog of forgetting, our own Common Pact
Of Oblivion, our Very British Olvido, and austerity
Will be a distant myth (as all the premature deaths and
Suicides that footnoted it), a faint ancestral rumour,
Festering memory-tumour, a Ruritanian fantasy,
Something only dreamt as happening once upon another place
And time in a dystopian Uchronia of uninterrupted sleep…


14
As for austerity-spattered Spain, She will be given Her
Second El pacto de Olvido in the space of thirty-nine years,
And so soon after Socialist Prime Minister Zapatero
Officially relinquished the long-remembered first
With his Historical Memory Law, which made it no
Taboo anymore for the nation to remember
The countless casualties on both sides of the Civil War,
And those accrued during Franco’s thirty-six year
Censorship, and for recriminations and post mortems
So long postponed to be taken up if any parties
Suspected historical crimes against humanity, atrocities,
Holocausts in those Locust Thirties, with particular
Emphasis on a formal denouncement of the Franco
Regime – Will they now be made to forget all this as well?
Be made to remember to forget all over again? Forget
Perhaps but never forgive: vast swathes of Spaniards
Today are calling for a new Republic, for getting rid
Of the Bourbons altogether, now that King Juan Carlos
Has abdicated, once seen as the saviour of Spanish
Democracy for granting free suffrage to the people
Again, on the death of diminutive, liquorish-moustached
Dictator, Franco – but whose conspicuous consumption
In the midst of his subjects’ abject bankruptcy sickened
The famished Spanish – so many of whom reject his
Spit of a son, the Prince of Asturias’ succession…


15
The Spanish never forget – in spite of patching Pacts,
Their past weighs heavy like red wine in the head,
Gleams in eyes like melted chocolate, remains ever-present,
Immanent, and sometimes they can smell it, taste it, touch it,
Hear it – a dry-throated hoarseness in flamenco singers’
Arabic cries, Rioja-coated rhotic of longing, the thump
Of gypsy-thrummed guitars, and in the slow drip-drip
Of bleeding green olives – and olives bleed green, ripe
Green juices let from veins of poverty’s verboten young
Who’ve made their own private pacts of forgetting,
Opting for oblivion in the wake of democracy’s
Rusty gauntlet slung down on the bull-ring dust
Like Don Quixote’s glove, or Rupert John Cornford’s
One slim posthumous volume – for now is not a time
For dreamers, romantics and idealists, but a time
For pragmatists and Sancho Panzas who mistakenly
See windmills instead of tilting Troika giants, who are
Deaf to the drip-drip of bleeding olives; for though
Those old rag-tag brigades are long disbanded in time,
And the Republic still trapped in retrospective aspic,
The isinglass of nostalgia’s olive-brine, new red and green
Allegiances are seeding, and soon new olive branches
Will be thrusting from the Union General de Trabajadores,
Los Indignados and Podemos (We Can), the Left victors
In Europe – together they give Spain one more hope of severing
The yoke that ties them to the Troika, for a reign of healing
Those olives old Donnelly once noticed were bleeding…

Reviews

‘Alan Morrison is rare among his generation on the current British poetry scene; he’s a provocative poet whose commitment to socialism is passionate. Yet Morrison is not simply a “political” poet in the narrow sense, he can be lyrical, humorous and inventive. I hope he will be as widely and appreciatively read as he deserves.’

Alexis Lykiard

‘In the poetry of Alan Morrison we are witnessing the development not just of a storyteller but of a history-teller. British realpolitik and the resistance to it are weighed on the scales. History is both dream and nightmare, and Morrison’s long-lined mini-epics cultivate the dream and pummel the nightmare, channelling the class war with real commitment and artistry.’

Niall McDevitt

‘probably the most eloquent ranter on the scent today.’

Steve Spence

‘passionate, wide-ranging, unashamedly fighting for the disenfranchised, in a time when the fight could hardly be more urgent’

London Grip