Articles & Reviews

Preface to Mapping the Soul: Selected Poems, 1978-1998. The Muses' Company, Winnipeg, Canada, 1998.

By Stephen Morrissey

When I was growing up, I had two dreams that profoundly affected the shape of my life. I was six years old when my father died; the first of these dreams occurred three years after his death. I dreamed two men from an orphanage came to take me away. They were waiting for me at the back door; they were going to put me in a wooden cage. This dream made a deep and lasting impression on me, not only as a reminder of the insecurity and transience of life, but also as an encounter with the powerful depths of the unconscious. In retrospect, this dream began my awareness of the imagination, vision, and what psychologist C.G. Jung calls "the shadow". It also informed me of my own separateness from the world in which I lived.

The second dream came when I was around thirteen years old, and it is responsible for my embarking on a lifetime of being a poet and diarist. In this dream I was imprisoned in a room where the windows were covered with mud. Once I could see outside, but now I was enclosed and cut off from the world. However one may interpret this dream, my own interpretation as an adolescent was that I had to write down the truth as I knew it-what people had done and what I had done. Only by writing could I see things clearly. I knew intuitively that writing could clarify, order, and give perspective to experience. My concern was with saving my inner being, which I was afraid would be lost if I were unable to remember events. My conviction, even then, was that there is a heroism and bravery to the average person's life and I was responsible for recording as much of what I perceived of this as possible. I awoke from this dream knowing I had to write and ever since this dream I have written poems as well as kept a diary.

In addition to these two dreams there was a third influence to the kind of poet I became. In 1967, when I was still in high school, I read an article in a newspaper; in it the American poet, Allen Ginsberg, gave advice for poets. He said, "Scribble down your nakedness. Be prepared to stand naked..." This statement made a lasting impression on me. It validated what I was already trying to do in my own poetry. For the first time I realized that the kind of subject matter I was grappling with as a teenager-content that was personal and confessional-belonged to a literary tradition and had meaning to other people. Even if I hadn't read Ginsberg's statement I would not have been deterred from continuing the writing I was doing-writing that attempted to understand deeply felt experiences. However, to discover that there was a public context for this kind of writing was enormously empowering, and allowed me to identify myself as a poet. My first chapbook, Poems of a Period (1971), published when I was in my second year of university, contains poems that have a thematic continuity extending from those early poems up to the work I am writing now. This present collection, Mapping the Soul: Selected Poems 1978-1998 , presents a selection of twenty years from my body of writing. This selection is chronological, beginning with my first published book, The Trees of Unknowing (1978) up to the present selection from new, unpublished poems.

For years I struggled in my writing to express early experiences of grief and failure. I wrote many poems on these subjects, but none articulated exactly how I felt, or dealt adequately with what I needed to say, until I wrote the long poem "Divisions". This poem is central to my early work-in it I was able to deal aesthetically and personally with the experiences it discusses. Everything came together in the writing of "Divisions": content, form, and the insight necessary for its writing. This was a breakthrough poem for me, written over a three day period in April 1977. I was finally able to express in poetry what I was attempting to do since I was fifteen years old. I photocopied "Divisions" and mailed it out to other poets and critics, including Northrop Frye and Louis Dudek, both of whom responded generously: Frye with a letter, and Dudek with an offer to publish the poem. In 1983 bp Nichol published the poem in my book Divisions , with Coach House Press.

There are two more factors that I believe have contributed to my writing. The first is the fact of being born in Montreal of a large, but dwindling, family of Irish descent. This Irish background is rich in experience and family history; names such as Callaghan, Flanagan, and Sweeney are all a part of the family that has been in Montreal since around 1840. They were not wealthy people, although a few made names for themselves, but they were hardworking and improved conditions for the lives of their descendants. Their values, religious faith, and large families made them what they were. I am grateful for being a part of this ancestry.

A final factor that has helped shape my poetry is the tradition of writing poetry in English-speaking Montreal. Growing up in Montreal in the 1950s, I always took for granted that poets lived and worked in the community in which I lived. Poets were never "someplace else"-they were right here. So the idea of becoming a poet was never unusual. Just as I appreciate my Irish heritage, I also benefited from the poetry community into which I was born. In the 1970s I was involved with Vehicule Art Gallery where I attended and organized readings while a graduate student at McGill University. I associated with other poets, and my first full-length collection of poems was published.

I have always aimed at a directness of statement and emotion in my poems, to communicate an image and a strong emotion; to merge the personal self with the archetypal self. Poetry is the voice of the psyche speaking though the poet. These poems, selected from twenty years of published work, map the convolutions, terrain, and geography of the soul.

My poetic journey, from the early dreams and writing to the publication of this Selected Poems, has been a reaching out to other people. From the initial isolation as an adolescent poet until now, I have been blessed with meeting certain individuals who have encouraged and inspired me. My association with poet and editor Carolyn Zonailo began in 1989 with the publication, by Caitlin Press, of my book Family Album . CZ has edited my poetry and helped to prepare manuscripts for publication. We have shared a collaboration in writing and in life, living most of the year in Montreal, but spending as much time as possible in her native Vancouver, British Columbia. I would like to thank CZ for selecting the poems in this collection, urging me to write this Preface, and for editing.

I would also like to thank Louis Dudek for being my teacher and friend from McGill University days to the present. George and Jeanne Johnston extended to me friendship and the joy of discussing poetry and literature. Ken Norris, a colleague since the early 1970s, has offered on-going encouragement. Jake Morrissey has often listened with appreciation to my work. Sonja Skarstedt and Geof Isherwood began Empyreal Press in Montreal in the early 1990s; with bravado and a belief in the importance of poetry they published each volume of The Shadow Trilogy. I would like to thank Endre Farkas and Gordon Shillingford for offering their support through the Muses' Company. Finally, I would also like to thank the Canada Council for writing time during two grants, and for project grants in support of individual books.

Stephen Morrissey
Vancouver, British Columbia
August 7, 1998

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