Chuang Tse's Caterpillar: Dave Morgan, Flapjack
Dave Morgan was, with Julian Jordon, co-founder of Write Out Loud in its Bolton beginnings. In more recent years as a north-west community arts organiser he has been one of the driving forces behind the Live in Worktown festivals in the town. Chuang Tse’s Caterpillar is his first published volume of poetry.
The poems reveal a writer with a sharp eye and a self-mocking awareness, whose boundaries extend to the US and China, and whose heroes include Jack Kerouac and John Coltrane.
Morgan is tough on himself, and on others, too. The first poem in the collection, ‘Guru’, which is reminiscent of John Lennon’s satirical depiction of the Mahararishi Mahesh Yogi, concludes: “He is truly both sage and onion. / Anyone for stuffing?” But Morgan is no out-and-out cynic. For instance, he senses a transcendental moment when he finds a hedgehog floating in his new garden pond; he cremates it, at the same time quoting Kerouac (‘All Change’).
There are poems about idleness, a mixture of celebration and guilt, (‘Wine Bar in Worktown’ and ‘Voices Off’) and others that look outwards, such as ‘Ten Years After: 1979’, recording the plight of the Vietnamese boat people “drifting towards freedom”. Morgan looks back a decade, to the US moon landing, in tracing the root causes of their eventual flight:
I remember ’69, the world was different then,
We learned to ask for KFC washed down with Bud,
We stared at flickering TVs to salute those grainy heroes
As they destroyed our myths.
Sometimes Morgan’s anger at public events strips away all pretence at poetry, as in ‘The Newsreader Stumbles on his Autocue’. Form is contained within a series of repeated sentences, such as “the facts were opinion, justice was debased”.
‘Crazy Guys’ is a proper, rhyming, performance poem, a tribute both to a lost 60s paradise and the characters who can’t quite come to terms with life beyond those years: “Whatever happens to the crazy guys, / The scorned, the feared, the scarred, the weird, / Who pay their penance daily while alive, / Those holy angel saintly crazy guys?”
‘Goldfinches’ is an unexpected nature poem, albeit from a hard-edged, urban perspective: “ ‘Look o’er theer, look at t’fuckin’ parrots.’ “ ‘Remembrance Day’ is a journey south to visit his brother’s grave; he cannot locate the stone, the old haunts are now unfamiliar, and Morgan finds he is now only there for the beer: “The crystal clear and hoppy Bass was bright and cold. / Just as I remembered.”
‘Resting at Beaumont Hamel, 1998’ juxtaposes first world war battlefields in France with an England World Cup match against Falklands and football foe Argentina, and works, somehow: “We had swept south, escaping bitter fighting, / The atmosphere in Lens was tangible and tense.”
The title poem is the final one in the collection, and is just three lines: “One of these days I’ll just cocoon myself in silk / and sleep, sleep, sleep / Dream, dream, dream.” (In Taoism a butterfly is an ancient symbol for the soul, which having been confined to life as a caterpillar, is transformed and able to fly). Morgan mocks his own Sinophile pretensions in ‘Li Po and Little Lu’, where, on a visit to China, he sees the moon, thinks of the ancient poet Li Po, and feels a poem coming on. His young guide asks him: “ ‘Don’t you have full moons in England?’ “ He is equally tough on himself on a visit to America, where he corrects a fellow drinker for misquoting Thoreau, quotes Kerouac for good measure, and then berates himself for doing so. (‘Over Several Drinks’).
But the poem that captures the essence of this collection, represents its beating heart, is undoubtedly ‘Go Jack Go!’, in which Morgan sings of his hero and inspiration, Beat writer Kerouac: “Poor misunderstood Ti Jean … Catholic Bible-quoting Buddhist … Ogling short-skirted schoolgirls … Gulliver trapped in Lilliput … St Francis of the Lonely Wankers”. This is a collection of poetry that parades its passions and wears its heart on its sleeve. The flame of Beat poetry still flickers brightly in Bolton. Go Dave go!