Morrison’s political anger and vision find their true home in his superb poetry. The book is a delight – a challenging delight, it has to be said, but worth every furrow. Here is the poet introducing himself: ‘They sussed I scrubbed up from humble origins/ by how my second-hand clothes wore me out/ of pocket…’ From this point, there seems to be no aspect of society or art left unplumbed for truth-telling, in language that is rich, resonant, witty. The book’s title is also the title of one of its sections, the ‘Absent Sitters’ being heroes of the poet, their names stitched in clever acrostics into their memorial verses. The homage to Ralph Vaughan Williams starts like this:
Rapt in his green-sleeved valleys, cascading
Arcadias of choral walls – O Clap Your Hands!
Largos, galloping folk-songs, fantasias,
Pastorals khaki – Bonny Boy Albion regained;
His vistas of gavotting verdant strides.
‘The Ghosts of Haworth’ evokes the dark brilliance of the Bronte household – the sisters’ dialogue caught in dreamlike snatches (recalling T.S. Eliot or Beckett) interspersed with images of the craggy father ‘Goodnight my children – don’t stay up too late…’ and of bright, doomed Branwell:
Satanic chapel-goer, fox-haired
disciple of Byron, de Quincy,
opium-puffed, burnt out to cinders
in the hot squall of needling sweat
clumping his curls to knotted thorns…
This is definitive stuff – when Morrison tells what has to be told, one feels suddenly there is no other way of telling it, which is how we think of the great poets. Morrison may well be one of them.