Alan Morrison’s ‘Tan Raptures’: writing from the ‘WRAG’


Alan Morrison’s next poetry collection on the theme of the welfare and disability cuts and the stigmatisation of the unemployed, Tan Raptures, is published by Smokestack Books this April. The poet tells DAO about his motivation to produce the collection and shares some excerpts from the work.

Image of a brown envelope with several images symbolic of Victorian work ethic

Cover of Alan Morrison’s poetry collection ‘Tan Raptures’

After seven years of what might be termed the ‘welfare hate’, with well over 92,000 deaths and suicides among sick and disabled claimants within six weeks of the DWP and Atos fraudulently declaring them ‘fit for work’, (looking at the mortality statistics released by the DWP in August 2015 under the Freedom of Information Act, the figure now must be much higher) it is only very recently that the British pathology of what I term ‘Scroungerology’ has shown vague signs of a pausing for thought.

Undoubtedly some factors contributing to this latter cultural hiatus are the United Nations report condemning the Coalition and Tory Governments’ abuses of disability rights through disability-targeted benefit cuts, and veteran social-realist director Ken Loach’s Palm d’Or and BAFTA-winning film intervention, I, Daniel Blake (in some ways a polemical update on Jim Allen and Roland Joffé’s superlative The Spongers, broadcast 1978, which juxtaposed the story of a single mother and her children targeted by punitive disability benefit cuts against the backdrop of the taxpayer-funded Queen’s Silver Jubilee).

These have come as timely reinforcements to several veteran campaigns including Disabled People Against the Cuts, the Black Triangle Campaign, Calum’s List et al. These campaigns have fought valiantly over the past seven years to put the catastrophic impact of the disability cuts –and escalating crimes against disabled people resulting from the cynical rhetoric used to justify them– in the public domain, in spite of a broadly complicit mainstream media’s best efforts to ‘bury’ such issues.

We have a long way to go politically and attitudinally as a society until we can wrestle back some semblance of a compassionate and tolerant welfare state that looks after the poor, unemployed, disabled and mentally distressed, and without recourse to stigmatisation and rhetorical persecution.

In spite of a faint sense of relief felt across the unemployed and incapacitated communities at new Work and Pensions Secretary Damien Green’s announcement that there will be no more welfare cuts beyond those already legislated, there is still cause for trepidation when said legislated cuts, of £30 per week to new Employment and Support Allowance claims, kick in this April – certainly, then, ‘the cruellest month’ this year. These cuts will, of course, specifically affect the physically and mentally incapacitated.

By something of a coincidence Tan Raptures follows these themes gathering together poems composed during the past six years of remorseless benefits cuts and welfare stigmatisation. Much of it is from an empirical perspective, my having been for much of this period in the unenviable no-man’s-land that is the ‘Work-Related Activity Group’ (abbreviated disparagingly to ‘WRAG’) sub-group of Employment and Support Allowance, where those who are deemed ‘unfit for work’ for the time being, but not necessarily permanently so, are placed (I am a lifelong sufferer of pure obsessional disorder, an unpredictable and greatly debilitating form of OCD).

Tan Raptures includes polemical paeans to many victims of the Tory benefits cuts and sanctions, such as the late Glaswegian playwright and depression sufferer Paul Reekie (suicide), ex-soldier David Clapson (death from diabetic complications/malnutrition), and Coventry couple, the Mullins, who were driven to suicide due to having been forced into food bank and soup kitchen dependency through unjust benefit sanctions.

The title poem is about the social catastrophe of the benefits caps, pernicious red-top ‘scrounger’ propaganda, and Iain Duncan Smith’s despotic six year grip at the DWP. It is also a verse-intervention of Social Catholicism, as epitomised by Pope Francis, in oppositional response to the ‘appalling policies’ (Jeremy Corbyn) of self-proclaimed ‘Roman Catholic’ Duncan Smith.

The title Tan Raptures plays on the biblical notion of ‘The Rapture’ –the ‘raising up’ of living and dead believers to meet their maker in the sky– satirising the ubiquitous ‘tan envelopes’ that strike fear into claimants on a daily basis as passports to a twisted Tory notion of ‘moral salvation’ through benefit sanction.

So common has become this phenomenon that the phrase ‘fear of the brown envelope’ now denotes a recognised phobic condition, and was even used as the first part of a title for an academic paper on ‘exploring welfare reform with long-term sickness benefits recipients’ (Garthwaite, K., 2014).

It is my hope that Tan Raptures will play its part in keeping up the momentum of the belated counter-cultural welfare narrative as championed by the likes of Ken Loach, and, of course, Labour’s first authentic leader in many decades, Jeremy Corbyn, who put it firmly on record that he opposes any open discrimination against the poor, unemployed, sick and disabled in such reprehensible and hateful terms as ‘scrounger’, ‘skiver’ and ‘shirker’.

Alan Morrison’s Tan Raptures (Smokestack Books) will be published on 1 April 2017. It is available to pre-order by clicking on this link to the Waterstones website. You can also find about readings from the anthology on the Tan Raptures FB page

Some excerpts from Tan Raptures:

Auld Reekie’s Black Spot
i.m. Paul Reekie, 1962-2010

The suicide notes –there were two– were formal curios:
One said, in stuttering Courier New: ‘We write to inform you
That you have been found fit for work, so will no longer be
In receipt of incapacity benefit as of…’ the numbers shook
His drowsy head awake, the dates might well have been
Engraved on his own headstone; the other note, again,
In Courier New, or possibly Arial, he couldn’t be sure –
And felt too broken to bother checking on his dying
Computer (and certainly no point consulting his obsolete
Cobwebbed typewriter crouched like a mummified
Arachnid husk in the corner of the room) –it said
The same as the first letter, only this time in relation
To his Local Housing Allowance, partly as a knock-on
Effect of passport and non-passport domino shibboleths…

So that was pretty much it. He dusted himself off for last
Orders at The Artisan, a pint or two of Dutch, a tipping
Yellow froth like pissed-on snow, and slowly-emptying
Saloon bar for his mundane, damp-elbow-on-soggy-beer-towel
Gethsemane… Days on –this was some time in June,
Quite when, we can’t be sure– he bowed out in a boozy slumber,
The two typed letters from the DWP (Department for
Waifs & Poets…?), two black spots for his Black Dog
(But bounties for Atos for having wrung him out to dry
From the WRAG, keelhauled his soul) left by his bedside,
Playwright pirate R.I.P.; no more Furies of buff envelopes
To terrorise his impecunious obscurity, no, no
More of those suicide seeds pouched in tan or ecru
To hound his hardy reputation, his almost-forgotten
Glaswegian “genius”, lost now to underground edible
Printing inks, damp-blue depressions, used-up nibs…

A fugitive campaign’s Black Triangle was raised from
The bruising shadow of his memory, a pitch-black prism
In his name now blotting, blotting, clotting on the Xeroxed
Grain of corpse-white bone-bleached Departmental paper…

Every punishing day the Department for War on the Poor –
Circuitously, through the bones of Atos bounties–
Pays tribute to his forty-eight years by trampling
The beneficent path of Nineteen Forty-Eight, in capping
And cutting, guillotining the post-War consensus, dragging
Back the Welfare State to before the Attlee Settlement,
Before it even settled, reducing numberless
Others through remorseless rounds of brown Robins
To random numbers, as it reduced Paul Reekie to

from Tan Raptures

Fourth Rapture: Something for Nothing

Iain ‘Damascus’ Smith’s accidental dialectic, had he
The cut to articulate it, is that old puritanical calling-card,
That Calvinistic chestnut, the double-sided coin
Of psychological egoism, mint of the following argument:
That altruism is its own reward, geared more towards
The moral gratification of the giver through the granting
Of alms to the open-palmed poor, benefits for the “feckless”,
The “something for nothing” rigmarole, thus a reward
Which is in itself a ‘benefit’ in a piece of pity circuitously
Bequeathed via the receiver back to the giver –though hardly
What Auguste Comte meant by it– thus, as well as being
An act of moral self-indulgence for the giver, serves
To morally rob the recipient of their right to dignified
Indigence by short-changing their spiritual appetites
With mere material bribes which might keep body, but not
Soul, together, and be detrimental to their already
Fraying moral fibres (not to mention mortal souls) –
“There’s more to poverty than simply lack of money!” so minted
Tories tell us: that might be so, but surely the solution
Isn’t to dole out even less? ‘Man cannot live by bread alone’ –
No, but he still needs some bread, else he cannot live at all…
According to Damascus Smith’s Humpty-Dumpty argument,
It’s far better, nobler and moral to deny the needy what
They need, and so save their souls even if not their bodies
(Which is a better long-term investment promising greater
Returns, and nudging rapider rehabilitations); how
Ingenious, this flipping of the moral coin, what a truly
Altruistic Scripture scrolls out from Caxton House –
Comte would be proud?– in Courier New correspondences
Enclosed in tan paper raptures, so profound, paradoxical,
Sublime, ahead of its time –Lo! Behold! We live in the midst
Of prophet-politicians, forget your chiliasm, this is
As chilling as it gets: do we not now walk hand-in-hand
With our God, our wounding Woden, God of the Back-to-Work
Wicca, bow down to the cult of the Work God (for the old God,
The woolly-headed one with cloudy beard and bottle-top
Glasses, that old gradualist God of bygone Fabian days,
Is now well and truly dead, deaded, deadest, while
The pinstriped mint-ruminating demiurge of the DWP
Thinks he knows best, better, bested, and is having all
The Lazarus skivers raised from the dead, has sub-contracted
Atos to kick away their crutches while they’re tipped out
Of their wheelchairs into Capita’s soapy spas for “spongers”
(Lourdes lidos buried deep in Brutalist office blocks)? Cleansed
Through Maximus’s miracle cures of Work Capability
Assessments that make the unfit “fit for work” –for today’s
Sick chits are now transformative “fit notes”! And Pontius Pilate
GPs compromise their Hippocratic Oaths, and ten-a-penny
Occupational Therapists tie up their prescriptive consciences
And let descriptors do the dirty for them –the incapacitated
Are stressed, tested, sentenced: sentenced to non-existent ‘work’ –
Work, our Tetragrammaton; so much for Gospel aphorisms:
Now not even Primrose progressives consider the ravens
Who’ve ever enjoyed Nature’s unconditional basic income…

Tenth Rapture: Brown Ominous

All hail the ragged glad, the angry glad, the rag-tag with black
Gangrened feet tied in tan paper bags, tramps, vagrants,
Beggars, gypsies, travellers, ‘Wrags’ all raked out and scattered
With the Caxton tans, the flagellating tans –the little tan
Savage gods: small paper packets of black-inked seeds
Which gradually germinate stigmas and memes, mind-tendrils
Of strange detergent urges to rinse out the oesophagus, or
Sprout into nooses, even among claimants of sounder minds,
Since all are cursed with Sisyphus prescriptions, rumours
Of black spots to top up brown studies to brownouts,
Origami thought-forms sprouting from poisonous printing inks,
Paper folded sharp as guillotines or portcullises,
Correspondences of purposeful crossed-purposes cropped
To prickle phobic consciences popped off by proxy
To cap unemployment figures; ominous brown windows
Of howling shibboleths (even more ominous when they
Come in beige or isabelline: those are the Atos albatrosses
Beating their wings of bounty incentives) which, once spoken,
Open up impecunious sesames and cans of worms
While simultaneously shutting curtains on claimants
After defenestration without witnesses –the final
Triangulation for slow strangulation– and this is part
Of the sport for tan harpies, tan snatchers, tan accusers,
Kangaroo judges and juries, snatching tans that snatch away
Securities then grab the giro-souls of those driven
To suddenly ending their claims prematurely, signing off
From life for terror of ‘error’, at threat of interrogations,
Sanctions, prosecutions, dispossessions, denied burial
On consecrated grounds of “hardworking taxpayers”;
Surreptitiously depleted from DWP spreadsheets;
Or those who ‘disappear’, simply shrink away for visceral fear
Of brown envelopes –now recognised as a psychological
Disorder in its’ own right to be slipped in the onion-skinned
DSM, ripe opportunity for pharmaceutical pill-
Cutters to profit from by coming up with another new
Wonder drug; ‘Brown Envelope Syndrome’ (BES), sometimes
Nicknamed “Brown Terrors”, “Beige Ague”, or “Antsy Tans”,
Can display symptoms normally associated with delirium
Tremens: shaky hands, clammy palms and hallucinations
Of tans on the doormat even on those days when they are
Absent (“tan hallucinations”); while otherwise “Brown Terror”
Has all the classic hallmarks of anxiety –hence its’ other
Sobriquets: “Tan Angst”, “Tan Panic”, “Tan Anxiety”, “Tan
Terror” –O those ENV 27s that traverse the convoluted
Veins and tortuous arteries of the mollusc-slow postal
System, twenty-four-seven; Byzantian tans that sliver round
The houses circuitously before arriving and visiting
Their plagues on shivering receivers, so many innocent
Orestes nonetheless in the throes of hot pursuit by vicious
Missives of sulphur-hissing prose sent hurtling like flaming
Arrows from bows of fulminating buff Furies –ominous
Browns, scourge of lumpen unemployed papyrophobes…

Fourteenth Rapture: Two Types of Brown Envelopes

In theosophy, tan auras are purported to indicate
Analytical thinkers, the conscientious and thrifty,
While, oppositely, brown auras are associated with
Unethical business, unscrupulousness, cupidity,
Particularly if of a muddy tincture with a smudge of grey,
Like a brown cloud thoughtform (That’s Capitalism!) –
And the lobbying boys pass round brown paper envelopes
Snapped up by our ‘incorruptible’ politicians,
Cash for questions, no questions asked, and certainly none
Answered (cue tap of the nose), and when MPs are found
Out they express much shock at their pure stupidity,
Apologise in third person as if on behalf of someone else,
Couch their white-collar crimes as “mistakes” no matter
How calculated and transparently perpetrated,
They feign forgetfulness, confusion or aberration,
Grasping at straws for there’s no other grain of justification,
Since they have no hardship to blame for succumbing
To temptation –unlike those dole-“scroungers” they routinely
Pillory– of making claims for fictitious expenses, flipping
Homes for pecuniary gains, they emphatically go against
The grain of the lion’s share of “honest and hardworking
MPs”, but it’s a grain gone against time and time again
And one after another the grafters are caught out one
And the same for unscrupulous opportunism, contempt
For democracy, abuses of privilege, pissing on
The taxpayers they so often invoke by name, and not least,
The voters, who put them in place to represent them,
A sense of unfettered entitlement, embezzlement in all
But name, parliamentary peccadilloes, professional fraud
There for all to see in the disinfecting sunlight but for
Lack of transparency –then they shuffle through the lobbies
To put crosses by Yeas which push the latest Bill through
Parliament to post tan raptures through letterboxes
Of ‘Long-Term Benefits’ (LTBs), or, in Jobcentreplus-ese,
‘Lying Thieving Bastards’, those Not in Education Employment
Or Training (NEETs), or those souls stuck on the sick,
Most dosed so high on Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
In their reclusion, that they are, in any case, sunlight-sensitive
(Which might in part explain those “curtains shut during the day”,
Apart from those who work night shifts); yes, they send those
Round robins, brown robins round until the brown owls
Are all browned out or flown away once and for all,
And it’d take a very quick brown fox to jump over the lazy dog,
The lazy scrounging dog that gnaws on its bone idleness
And sucks out the marrow of “soft-touch” English kindness
In this beneficent welfare state that is “too generous”, yea,
They’ve never had it so good nor will ever have it good again,
Not by a long chalk –black on racking tans can snatch us up
Unawares at any time, but until such times, the snatching tans
Keep rustling to the protracted clapping of taxpayers’ hands…

It’s a special opportunity unemployment captures:
To be morally redeemed and snatched up in tan raptures…