Articles & Reviews

Ken Norris, "Time and Place Slipping Past", review of Family Album, Poetry Canada Review, Winter 1992

This is a harrowing book; the poetry is open and honest and brutal. Written in a plain, unpretentious style, this book details the painful emotional impact of familial connectedness.

In an earlier time, Morrissey was one of Montreal's infamous Véhicule poets. Several of his former compatriots have recently published their "almost forty" books, as Morrissey puts it. Family Album is Morrissey's book of encroaching middle life; it testifies to the harsh process of fully becoming an adult, and documents the weight of failure that this process involves:

considering the past
would I have lived differently
or would I have endured it
to save face from admitting
or endured it
because I thought myself
unworthy of better?
("The Middle of a Life")

Northrop Frye has astutely observed that " Family Album explores a dark realm of isolated consciousness in which, dreamlike, times and places interpenetrate." In his poetry, Morrissey consistently (and insistently) presents us with a consciousness that is locked inside its own existence, even within the familial context, unable to transcend "a frequency/ conscious only/ of itself " Morrissey is testifying to a vast loneliness of soul, and, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit to the familiarity of that loneliness.

If Family Album reminds me of any other artistic work, it is John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band's Primal Scream album. The pain is immediate and the feeling of loss overwhelming. Where Lennon explored his feeling for his lost mother, Morrissey constantly circles the missing father. But, in the interpenetration of time and place noted by Frye, Morrissey also becomes the father. The past and present are constantly tugging at him. The part of him that continues to feel childhood emotion encounters emptiness and existential despair whenever he turns to confront his father's absence ; but, as an adult , he is father to a son whose presence is felt. The absence of the father creates feelings of unreality within the adult child, but the bond with his child serves as the bedrock of the poet's reality (I'm reminded here of Wordsworth's "abundant recompense").

The slippage of time and place in Morrissey's poetry is unnerving for the reader precisely because we recognize this prevalent psychological unreality that haunts our own lives. As Morrissey explains, "the child becomes a man/ but in hiding there is always/ the child that was." This statement may be bald, but it is also true.

Copyright © 2003 The author