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
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…
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘probably the most eloquent ranter on the scent today.’
‘passionate, wide-ranging, unashamedly fighting for the disenfranchised, in a time when the fight could hardly be more urgent’