By Oksana Cueva
Published in The Link, Concordia University, January 19, 2010.
Stephen Morrissey takes us through a personal journey of childhood memories that evolve into deep reflections about life, death, love, the experience of Irish immigrants and a guided visit to Montreal in the early 1900s in his poetry collection Girouard Avenue from Coracle Press.
Morrissey, a sixth-generation Irish-Montrealer, recalls fond memories of times spent at his grandmother’s flat on the titular street. You sense his deep attachment to his grandmother in his rhymes. It is possibly her who Morrissey refers to when he writes, “the centre...the woman who makes the family whole.”
Girouard Avenue comes across as a deeply nostalgic tome. The author’s realization that death is the finality of all things is devastating and absurd.
Morrissey calls poetry “the voice of the soul,” but his work sounds more like a scream asking for the memories to dwell, to remain against the passing of time. Morrissey writes, “keeping an accurate record against time [...] I became an archivist of memory, an archaeologist of the soul.”
The poems “Hoolahan’s Flat, Oxford Avenue” and “November” ooze grief; the regret of his father’s death, the confusion of fitting into his stepfather’s wealthy social class and the melancholy of people drifting apart as they grow older. Towards the end of the book, Morrissey takes a different turn, expressing his awe for creation and his love of God, which came to be as in childhood, without questioning. Familiar places like Old Montreal, St. Patrick’s church, Victoria Bridge and the Black Stone—raised for the 5,000 Irish immigrants that died of typhus or “Ship Fever” while attempting to reach Montreal—add insightful historical nuances.
I was apprehensive as to how much detail the reader needed about Morrissey’s sick uncle, or about his deaf aunt and great-aunt. But generally this short poetic anthology conveyed its message strongly. Girouard Avenue uses beautiful and descriptive language, taking us to familiar places but in different times. It evokes a finitude of life’s moments that yearn to be preserved.