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On Not Being Observed: Dave Morgan, Flapjack Press

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I began to read this collection from the end first. Don’t ask me why, it’s not something I usually do. Perhaps it’s because Dave Morgan and I are both of a certain age. The final poem, ‘Bravado’, starts off in the style of a villanelle, with Dylan Thomas very much in mind: “Do not presume to tell me how to age.” But halfway through it abandons all pretence at the form, in a poetic ‘Oh, sod it!’ moment, concluding in the affirmative: “Let me sparkle, let me burn; tomorrow is light years ahead.” The sentiments clearly owe something to the Welsh bard after all.

That mood is retained in ‘It’s a wanderful world’, with lines such as “harmless lazy walking / where my senses do the talking” while ‘Entwistle with Gary Snyder’ is a homage to that great outdoors Beat poet Gary Snyder. Entwistle is a village in Lancashire, Morgan’s line of country.  ‘Old track’ and ‘Round Barn Quarry’, with the latter’s concluding line about “fossils singing from within the stone” maintain this lyrical, natural tone.

There’s a different feeling to ‘The Taste of Greece’, a hunk of prose-poem where Morgan compares notes with local Greek caterers about the merits or otherwise of a Bolton summer, before he gives in and counts his blessings, while “watching orange-toned women tottering out of the side-door of The Swan to the strain of ‘Pretty Woman’ murdered by some would-be Roy Orbison, high-heel skidding on rain-soaked flagstones, handbags on heads”. Wonderful observational and lyrical clarity.   

A sequence of poems, ‘A Year on the Hill’, harks back to a recent film project with Rachel Appleton that Morgan wrote and produced about Winter Hill, on moorland near Bolton. It’s a satisfying example of the poetry of place: “Cotton grass and ferns hide skeletal walls, disused workings, / Cover farm foundations, abandoned pit-shafts, quarried stone.”

Another sequence, ‘The four seasons of Mr Nagata’, represents Morgan’s homage to Japanese culture. It takes a path of ageing, alcohol and memories to an ending that maybe I should have seen coming.

‘The Subterraneans’ is a prose-poem packed with rhythm and rhyme, a paean to Morgan’s Beat writer hero Jack Kerouac: “He may be a drunk and he may act the fool but he is respectful to the bodhisattvas of cool. The other Subterraneans may come and go; Kerouac remains their Caravaggio.”  The Subterraneans is also the title of a Kerouac novella, and derives from a description by Allen Ginsberg.

Morgan also has a good and caustic sense of humour: ‘The TV soap scriptwriter’s Bible’ is a list of cliches;  ‘Friends’ states ironically that the “only ones that can save us now / Are the City, the Hedge Funds …”; while ‘Garam masala’ records well-meant, cultural misunderstandings (“Johnson offers a cheery ‘garam masala ladies’ / Liptrot has told him this means ‘peace be with you’ in Urdu.”)

There is also a poignant snapshot of post-industrial working class lives in ‘Supermarket in Wigan’, while Morgan’s fondness for a once-controversial poem by Tony Harrison takes him on an unexpected tour of cemeteries (‘Choker’).   

To conclude, back at the beginning, I will quote the title poem in full. It is only a haiku, after all:     



        Just the moon for company

          He toasts the heavens


But it is a haiku that is at the heart of this collection.  

Dave Morgan, along with his friend, the late Paul Blackburn, has been a great contributor to and facilitator of the cultural life of Bolton for many years. He is also the co-founder of Write Out Loud. This second full collection reprises his literary enthusiasms, as well as emphasising that he is a wise and skilled wordsmith in his own write. It’s well worth a number of readings.     


Dave Morgan, On Not Being Observed, Flapjack Press, £8.99



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