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The Pirates of Circumstance
By Alan Morrison

ISBN: 978-1-84747-322-6
Published: 2008
Pages: 52
Key Themes: play script, homelessness, drug abuse, humour, poetry



“An extraordinary piece of writing. The only thing I know that I can compare it to is Gorky’s The Lower Depths. I love the richness of the phrasing, musical and rhythmical, mixing the vocabularies of piracy, drugs, crime and homelessness. This is real poetry. Amazing” – By Andy Croft, Smokestack

“…the use of poetic imagery and verse (which to some extent calls to mind Dylan Thomas) is very effective in creating mood” – By Paul Taylor, Samuel French Ltd.

“…an ambitious dream-like play” – By The Guardian, Review

“…a beautifully clever, druggist parody of ‘Under Milk Wood’” – By Colin Hambrook, Dada South


In 2000, Morrison first performed his play for voices, Picaresque, which was based on his – mainly bitter – experiences working in a Brighton night shelter that same year. The piece took its stylistic inspiration from Dylan Thomas’s play for voices, Under Milk Wood, as well as from TS Eliot’s modernist epic, The Wasteland. The play juxtaposed the residents of the homeless shelter with piratical alter egos whose names were based loosely on those of characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The original piece was written as an epic narrative with the ubiquitous Midshipman describing the various homeless inmates he worked for. But by its second public performance, the piece had evolved into a proper play for voices, the various characters being brought more to life through voicing their own stories in monologues and through dialogue.

Picaresque has gone on to endure through the years, having been performed a total of eight times to date, as well as an excerpt being broadcast on London’s Resonance fm. It has collected much critical acclaim along its course, and was also given notice in an article in the Guardian Review supplement in 2005.

This is a newly re-edited version of the piece, with some recently added sections and characters, as well as extensive footnotes on phrases and allusions, provided for the first time in print.

Morrison has previously published three chapbooks of poetry, and a recent acclaimed volume, The Mansion Gardens. Between 2004-06, he worked for mental health poetry charity Survivors’ Poetry as editor and designer of Poetry Express and the Survivors’ Press imprint from 2004-6. During this time he edited and designed four issues of PE, highly praised by Terrible Work and New Hope International and advertised in the London Review of Books. He also designed and edited a series of pamphlets and three volumes of poetry, including David Kessel’s O the Windows of the Bookshop Must Be Broken, which Morrison also prefaced.

Morrison’s poetry has appeared in the following journals: Aesthetica, Aireings, Autumn Leaves (Canada), Awen, Bard, Candelabrum, Carrillon, Decanto, Echoes of Gilgamesh, Eclipse, Exile, Fickle Muses (USA), First Time, Great Works, Illuminations (USA), London Magazine, Monkey Kettle, The Once Orange Badge Poetry Supplement, The Penniless Press, Pennine Platform, The People’s Poet, Poetic Hours, Poetry Monthly, Poetry Now, Poetry Salzburg Review, Poet Tree, Pulsar, The Seeker, The Select Six, Snakeskin, Softblow, South, The Strix Varia, The Yellow Crane and Voice & Verse and in the Sixties Press anthologies Real Survivors’ Anthology and Orphans of Albion (in association with Survivors’ Press) . His short stories have appeared in Beyond Stigma (Sixties Press), Headstorms, The Seeker, The Taj Mahal Review and the Writer’s Muse. His prose, criticism and mental health writings have appeared in Poetry Express and in the anthologies Beyond Stigma, The Real Survivors’ Anthology and The Overdose (Sixties Press).

Morrison is founder and editor of the new radical literary ezine, the Recusant, and is currently Poet in Residence at Aldrington Mental Health Day Hospital and Mill View Hospital, both in Hove. His epic poem on the theme of his Obsessive Disorder, O, is forthcoming from Chipmunkapublishing in 2008.

About the Author

Alan Morrison was born in Brighton 1974. He grew up in Sussex and then Cornwall, where he started writing stories, plays, and in particular, poetry, partly as a creative response to the harsh policies of the Thatcher period – which had indirectly kept his parents in the poverty trap for the entire late Eighties. During this difficult period in his life, Morrison developed nervous problems vaguely labelled as ‘intrusive thoughts’ by a child psychiatrist he was taken to for problems attending school. It was advised by the psychiatrist to keep him off school for several months due to the extreme stress it seemed to cause him which exacerbated his neuroses. Subsequently Morrison missed virtually his entire first year in secondary education, but was eventually forced back to attending through pressure from the school inspectorate. His attendance at school was never considered fully satisfactory thereafter, but was just enough to escape being sent to a special school away from his family.

Morrison’s education suffered naturally, passing only English Literature and Language at GCSE level, for which his teacher felt he had a natural gift. It was around this time that he was first exposed to poetry. But it would not be until his return to education at Plymouth CFE two years on that he would begin to express himself in poetry. Two years into writing with a regular and committed intensity, he suffered a minor nervous breakdown triggered by the suicide of a college peer. Having previously assumed his ‘nervous problems’ were due purely to pressures attending a school he was very unhappy at, Morrison’s illness returned with an even greater severity. This greatly hampered his academic progress at University in Reading, resulting in a disappointing Third – ironically once known by the euphemism of ‘a poet’s degree’ – in Ancient History. In 1997, Morrison was prescribed Xeroxat anti-depressants for his severe depression and ‘obsessive thoughts’. In 1999, he was first diagnosed officially with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the obvious cause behind the ‘intrusive thoughts’ which had plagued him since before puberty, and a diagnosis he had worked out himself beforehand through his own research into his symptoms. More recently, he has learnt his particular branch of this illness is actually known as ‘Pure-O’ or Pure Obsessive Disorder. It has severely affected him throughout his life so far, hampering him in work, relationships and day to day life.

Deciding writing, particularly poetry, was his most enduring passion in life, Morrison embarked on a series of unsuitable day jobs in order to survive in his re-adopted home of Brighton, while he pursued his creative work in his spare time. Around this time (1998), he was chosen as one of five poetry winners in the Asham Literary Trust’s First Edition competition, the prize of which was a week long stay at the Ty Newyd writing school in Wales and publication in an anthology, Don’t Think of Tigers (2001).

Book Extract

[Well-spoken, with feeling]
Picture a church hall full with lost souls
stacked like crates of empty milk bottles
waiting for collection – or salvation;
some have faces that scorch an impression
defying the pincers of description,
stitched with wrinkles digressing tales
on scum-bronzed skin up to black nails;
sun-blanched eyes, saffron-faded
as second-hand charity paperback pages,
drained of emotion, bleached of feeling,
appealing for help, in need of healing,
fixed on something uncomfortable inside:
the trait-betraying stain of trauma –
tar-black memories that can’t be effaced;
buried deep, ingrained as lines of exhaustion
on the weather-pitted face,
numbed to all but necessity and bitterness.

There isn’t much left for them down here now
save cluttered moments of inner-peace
that soak up the sweat, ease the brow,
numb the senses like a prescribed sleep.
There’s a sour, stale stagnancy in the air
smelling of the linger of nicotine-musk;
could be the thick fog of cigarette smoke
or the smog of broken skin and follicle dust –

whatever, it’s the stench of living death,
sweaty feet and ashtray breath…

[Drug-slurred, streetwise tone – Brighton accent]
Phew, what a pong! Where’s my bong?

[Broad Glaswegian accent]
You’re no allowed it in here – tha’s the rules.

Rules is there to be broken.

Like lives, smashed fast as glass;
Ground down to splinters deadly as sharps


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