Second interview in a series of interviews with Montreal poet Stephen Morrissey

This is the second interview in a series of interviews with Montreal poet Stephen Morrissey. Please see April 22nd, 2013 before continuing on Morrissey's journey with poetry at Sir. George. The depictions and memories kept in his journal continue to offer an excellent illustration of the Sir.George reading series.

The interview was conducted on June 12th, 2013 at roughly 10am. The interview took place at Concordia University in the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.  The Centre is located in the History department on the 10th floor of the Library building. The principal interviewer and investigator was Jason Camlot, associate professor in the department of English at Concordia.  Ashley Clarkson, a graduate student in the department of History, handled the audio-visual technology.

Morrissey graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Honours in English with Distinction, from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) in 1973. During his time as an undergraduate at SGW he had the pleasure of attending numerous poetry readings. Luckily, due to his impeccably kept journal entries, Morrissey was able to recount specific details from the SGW's poetry series.  His interview offers a rare look into the audience's perspective of the series. For further reference, many of his papers, recordings and posters, although not presently the aforementioned journals, are housed in the archives of the McLennan Library of McGill University.

 

Stephen Morrissey Interview #2, June 12th, 2013

 

Jason Camlot

00:00:06.80

Ok it is June the 12th, Wednesday 2013 and this will be the second interview that we will be holding for the SpokenWeb project with Stephen Morrissey.

 

Jason Camlot

00:00:20.55

Videographer and second interviewer is Ashley Clarkson and I am Jason Camlot speaking. I will be conducting the interview with Stephen, we've already spent about one hour and a half as Stephen's experiences as an undergraduate when the Sir George Williams Poetry Series was talking place and we're just going to continue that discussion. We have paired some readings to talk about and some diary entries to look at.

 

Jason Camlot

00:00:49.10

But before we jump into that I just thought since we already had a conversation, I was wondering if there was any fallout any aftermath, what the impact of that first interview might have had upon you in terms of thinking back to that time. If there was anything you wanted to talk about in relation to that experience?

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:01:11.88

Um, that is a really interesting question because I was- I mean I haven't read these diaries since I wrote them. I never go back and re-read old diaries and I am kind of surprised at the kind of person that I was. I mean some of the language that I can't remember ever using, you know, hip, cool. We wet somewhere and we rapped (laughing) it was really bizarre. Then I was reading that I was at a party after one of the readings, I don't remember I think it was Mack Hammond, and I was drinking and talking loud till someone told me to talk less loud. You know I don't recognize, I hardly drink ever and I don't remember any of this...anything, being the person that I seem to have been. I remember most of the people that I mention, but there was one person who I did my first chapbook with, Ron Newton I went to high school with Ron and somehow-another friend of our Stratos Mamorides typeset the chapbook with this old, well old now, this old IBM typeset, you know you put the ball in it and they spin around and so he did that. Frankly, I have no memory at all of Ron Newton...I hope he doesn't hear this (laughing). Although I googled him and I can't find him so I don't know what's happened. Yet I have absolutely no memory of going around with him, taking the chapbooks to bookstores, of doing it with him or that he was even a student at Sir George. It makes me wonder about the validity of history in way, you know, of people's memories, because they are really pretty far removed from when you actually see things that are written down.

 

Jason Camlot

00:03:13.47

Well this interview is unique in that the interview that we conducted so far and I believe quite a lot of oral history interviews relies quite a lot on the memory of the interviewee. In this instance we are really forming almost a laboratory experiment where you are testing your memory against your written diary entries and documentation at that time.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:03:36.75

I don't remember having gone to as many readings as I went to, it seems to be my whole life. Also I am impressed at my commitment to poetry, that's all I ever wrote about it seems. You know I typed up this poem, I wrote this poem. I made a little booklet of poems, I have them to one of my professors, and I am really surprised and happily surprised about that. Just as an aside, when I was growing up my mother spoke all the time about, well quite often, see I don't remember (laughs) but about family history, about the family, they came from Blackburn Northern England and other relatives came. So then my brother and I looked into these things, she is ninety-seven now and dementia so she doesn't remember and you can't really have a conversation with her now. But he has looked up many things and go certificates from England that were just as she said, her memory was so exact that I was so impressed. So that is the other side you know? Someone who really does remember things? Those people are like part of oral history.

 

Jason Camlot

00:04:53.96

In retrospect, I mean you were talking about you recommitment to poetry at this time in your life and perhaps this was when you decided, "I am going to be a poet"

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:05:04.96

No, you know I don't think I ever really decided, I just was. It wasn't something that you think, "well I am going to be a poet." It is just something I...I-

 

Jason Camlot

00:05:11.93

Yeah well I was just going to ask what poetry has come to mean in your life? I mean obviously other concerns will begin to creep in and it will take its place alongside a whole bunch of other commitments.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:05:24.56

Well keeping the diary, which I have kept everyday since January 14th 1965 has been a big part of my life and poetry, has obviously been something that I always returned to. Just being creative and writing things down and I have always written, things made up. When I was a child I wrote stories, not very good ones from what I have seen, my mother kept some of them and they were kind of pathetic. I mean the handwriting, some of it was when I was ten years old, but it has always been a very big part of my life, a way of being, and a way of thinking about myself. I would write these books and even now I think, how many years do I have left you know? Like twenty-five years? But how many good years? If I work four hours a day I can get things accomplished, but I have also been thinking lately that when you get my age your best years are all behind you! I know that people don't want to believe that...but come on you aren't going to become a Nobel Prize winner or run for politics you know, when you're my sixty-three. So I think the best work-poets should realize the best work is done, but there is always the hope when you think of William Carlos Williams who published when he was about sixty you know? That I think is some of his best work, so there is always that hope. I will give it another twenty-five years and then I will wrap it up and have a nice neat little package of what I did while I was alive.

 

Jason Camlot

00:07:29.60

Yeah there are examples of-I mean just to be a little more hopeful, there are examples of artists who really find what it is they what to do expressively later in their lives. I mean it would seem that you have already found how you want to express yourself and what you want to do.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:07:46.86

Yeah

 

Jason Camlot

00:07:49.05

But I am thinking of the painter Betty Goodwin, who is another example of someone who really discovered her own technique that made her unique and stand out when she was in her sixties

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:07:58.63

Oh ok, yeah. That's very interesting because it is something I've been since last November, ah, the poet Lawrence Hutchmen gave me Dudek's Continuation I and of course this was his life's work from about 1961 until he died and he knew it, this was it, and I had read Continuation II or read part of it and I didn't really like it, I couldn't really figure it out. Then since last November that's what I read and I have written a few papers on it, on Continuation. Once of the things that he discovered when he was writing that-maybe it was in the late fifties, he was born in the late twenties so he was maybe thirty-five or thirty-seven was his authentic voice. It took him that long to find it, but I know that I found my authentic voice in April 1976 when I wrote a long poem called Divisions. I had written a few real poems before then, poems in The Trees of Unknowing and I still stand behind them now. They're real poems, I didn't write them and I didn't think a few days later that they weren't that great. I wrote them and then even a year later I though that they were pretty good I am happy with these.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:09:19.99

But I have always had a part of me that has been a confessional poet, although I don't like the phrase, about writing about my own life. I wrote a poem called Division, just around my birthdate, April 25-26-27 in about three days I wrote that long poem and I had found my authentic voice. That is something that I am putting a lot of thought into, recently is the poet's authentic voice, what is their "real" voice from their soul? What is it that they really that they really express themselves and um...that's what I found.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:10:02.33

It doesn't mean you're stuck writing poems in that authentic voice, that...for instance I found in 1976 it means you still change and develop, but you make that leap of finding-that this is a real poem, your genuine voice of what you want to say. Maybe in what you want to say also, you know what you're subject matter is, it doesn't mean that it is fixed that it is never going to change, but that is a big discovery. Dudek found that and his authentic voice he found was the way-was the voice in his mind when he was child and he somehow re-discovered that. So he made a big diversion in life and you have all these poems, Europe and Mexico, Atlantis, which is a pretty good book. Most people would think that Atlantis would be his best, but there is still something about Dudek that is still pseudo Pound, too intellectual and um...a bit stilted.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:11:16.02

When he writes Continuation, which most people probably don't like, because it is totally incomprehensible when you read it...it's just...but you just have to just push on an read and read. That is his genuine voice and it is a bizarre poem. I don't know how he wrote it, if he wrote little pieces and then randomly assembled them. That is how it reads he goes from one topic to the next with no logic between any of them until you get to the end and then it just all fits together.

 

Jason Camlot

00:11:47.08

Yeah I have taught Continuation II in grad classes and, I mean, the thing that you see in his developments to the Continuation poem or project is that he becomes increasingly epigrammatic and also more inclusive as to what kind of thoughts can make it into his...you know...his, well the field of I guess perception that he is, chronicling in those poems, or it seems to me anyways. I hadn't heard what you said before about him discovering this childhood voice, as a kind of organizational force for that poem. You know and I wonder what features are detectable in that poem that are related to what he imagined was this childhood voice that he had discovered. It still seems very cerebral in a lot of ways, that poem, and like you say without many sign posts or cues on how to make sense of the observations that are being made. Unless you know you think, there are clusters of themes that you can imagine at least or oppose upon, but it is this sort of epigrammatic nature that seems to be different than a pounding of the ground, somehow. I mean he did publish that book Epigrams too, so he is clearly experimenting what the epigraph can be, maybe it is his version of the ideogram or something

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:13:16.31

Well that was one of the ideas that I thought of, although he says it isn't (laughs). His big discovery for himself is the epigram, and I remember I was in his class at McGill when he cam out with that book and I remember when he was writing it he would show me the pages that were written on the onion skin. Now I would like to go back to his archive and see if it was really written on an onion skin (laughs). Did he just make that up? Who knows what the truth, I don't know anymore. I thought some of the epigrams were sort of silly, some were sort of satirical and I don't really like satire. The thing is, he takes the epigram and he says the first sentences of the poem is like the hug and then you kind of riff off of the first sentences and that's really what the epigram is. An epigram is sort of like a little poem, and other people defined epigrams as like little poems, which I don't really believe. I think an epigram is jut a...you know, it is a good sentence. It is a good one liner, but that is what poets are looking for, they are looking for a sentence that suddenly ignites, well that's a little flashy, it gets the imagination going, it gets you writing. It would be like someone playing an instrument, improvising in Jazz and they have some kind of a tune or a melody and then they improvise on it and that's what- I don't know if Dudek actually does that, but that's his discovery. I remember he told me, what you need is a good first sentences and it is true, but you know- a poet knows when he finds that. I was reading the American poet Mary Oliver, I don't know if you know her, probably not she is-but um, she is pretty well-known in the States and she has her own epigrams which I was surprised since I haven't seen anyone else writing them. Looking through these papers, these old diaries, I read a note that, something that Ted Berrigan had said which was "Steal good lines from other poets" (laughs) which I always did, not often but if I saw a good line I would steal it. I remember I had a line from Henry David Thoreau and I can't remember what it is but it is in the Tree of Unknowing and you slip that it. Or that poem I wrote The Regard is Sacred the Disorder of my Mind, which was this sound poem, concrete poem that Dudek really likes, he was always talking at least to me about this poem, but I got it from Arthur Rambeaux, but I think most people would know that

 

Jason Camlot

00:16:07.13

Right, right

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:16:07.23

That's Dudek, um, that's something that I have been working on and it's a project. Now I am writing an essay about the authentic voice of Louis Dudek (laughs)

 

Jason Camlot

00:16:26.38

So thinking about authentic voice and that moment in 1976 that you mentioned, you had already attended these readings and you had already come to know um, your group of friends and poets who came to be known as the Vehicle poets by that poets. You know, you had already published a book by this point and you've already been involved in a lot of literary and art activities

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:16:50.64

Well the chapbook was '71 and the Tress of Unknowing with Vehicle was '78

 

Jason Camlot

00:16:58.76

Oh ok, so that was after. So you published the chapbook, but you'd already given readings and you were writing poetry

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:17:04.01

Yeah I gave a reading at Karma Coffeehouse, which is now called Newtown, over by Jilles Villeneuve

 

Jason Camlot

00:17:10.20

Yeah

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:17:11.23

Yeah over here, that was the student union building

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:17:15.26

I gave a really terrible reading, that was my first reading (laughs). But Artie Gold was here and Guy Bouchard, I got to know them long before I went to Vehicle art gallery where a lot of us were hanging out and organizing readings.

 

Jason Camlot

00:17:15.26

Ok

 

Jason Camlot

00:17:32.04

Were you, do you think and maybe you won't be able to answer this from memory, but maybe we'll think of it as you look at some of the diary entries. Do you think you were evaluating and assessing the poets you heard reading on those terms, like that was an authentic artists and that one wasn't as much? Evaluating them in terms of them having already tapped into their own authentic voices as you're calling it?

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:18:04.48

It is possible, I think if I liked them I thought they were authentic poets. If I thought they were too intellectual or not all that good as poets then I thought. Well they're not really that good (laughs). I didn't just sit there- well maybe I did sit there evaluating, I don't think consciously, I think you just know if you're sitting there and....um (laughs) there was something I was going to say. My test for poetry, that I discovered during those readings was that if you went to a poetry reading and it made you want to write poems then that was a good reading, that was a good poet. Yet, if it made you just sort of be bored, look out the window or maybe write a poem. I mean I spent a lot of time in school writing poems during a math class, something I couldn't understand at all and I would sit and write a poem, and even at readings I would sit and write if (laughs)

 

Jason Camlot

00:19:02.93

Right, if it was not capturing or captivating

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:19:04.19

If it's not, yeah, yeah

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:19:06.47

So that would be an authentic poetic experience if it made me wants to go home and write. Sometimes it would or if I read something and I would want to write something.

 

Jason Camlot

00:19:16.36

So lets take, lets move to some of the materials we were talking about, as a kind of test case, um there were a cluster of events that involved Frank Davey in Montreal. I will just list them based on the email that you sent me. The first is a lecture that Davey gave on poetic, a poetic of love on January 16th, 1970. Is that right?

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:19:45.01

Yeah

 

Jason Camlot

00:19:45.21

And I think...that same evening, is it possible that Irving Layton read?

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:19:51.68

That's right, yes

 

Jason Camlot

00:19:52.45

At McGill? Then Davey read on February 6th, 1970 at Sir George Williams

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:20:02.31

Oh ok, do you want me to look? I can do Davey's lecture

 

Jason Camlot

00:20:07.41

Yeah lets start with that

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:20:09.89

Ok this was January 16th 1970, at 2:15pm I went to hear a writing in resident at Sir-George Frank Davey give a special lecture on a poetic for love on which he spoke to about 50 of us for about half an hour. Davey seemed-um, no I don't really say much about the lecture. These are just the comments, and I guess I wasn't all that interested, but I say he seems like a nice guy, he is sort of shy and quiet and his voice kept cracking like he was nervous but his lecture was really boring. It's terrible, I think I should really watch out what I say, but I guess who cares at this point?

 

Jason Camlot

00:20:45.18

Well you were also a 19 year old or whatever

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:20:47.36

Yeah I was, I was still 19, yeah.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:20:55.32

Um, he really didn't say anything, most of it about the effect of Creeley poem. So he talked about Black Mountain on Canadian poets and how Louis Dudek doesn't like the effect of Black Mountain on Canadian poetry. So I suppose that was, I had heard of the black mountain poets before, but here was someone who was talking about Black Mountain and I think it began to enter my consciousness, sort of bit by bit. Things, you don't really know too much, you know Black Mountain it registers and then the next time it builds up more and more.

 

Jason Camlot

00:21:36.78

This is really interesting to me, because one of the ways I have begun to look at the series is that it's a locus of encounter between local poetry concepts, philosophies and poetics and the various poetics that are being brought in through different connections with individuals in the city, etc. Obvious Black Mountain and the Black Mountain influence on Canadian poetry through Tish is highlighted heavily in the series, especially when Bowering enters the picture and become involved. Certainly Dudek did go on the record of evaluating the impact of certain kind of American poetics on Canadian poetry and on Tish. It seemed to be, although it was as cosmopolitan a person as you could imagine and wasn't at all, you know, anti-American per-se, it seemed to be as you said, protective of certain poetic ideals that may be, or were his turf or associated with Montreal poetry. I am wondering if there is a story to unfold there? Just from your own personal experience as to what you learn about these positions being taken on these different kinds of poetics?

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:23:04.31

Well Louis, um, on paper he'd write bad reviews about things or negative reviews. He didn't like Black Mountain, he didn't like Olson, and he didn't like Creely. There was a lot of things he didn't like, but then a few years, well twenty years later, Frank Davey published in Open Letter, which is his magazine, all on Louis and Robin Blaser wrote the introduction to Louis's selective poems that came out in the later nineties I guess, no the late eighties. SO these are people who are associated with Black Mountain in some ways, but recognized in Louis a kindred spirit. When Louis was asked questions in that Open Letter issue, he was asked questions by B.P. Nichol and Steven McHefrey and Frank Davey....well then he starts to hesitate. He said "Well maybe I was wrong" he sees that maybe these are his real allies, because they were and it is too bad, well Louis was a bit of a stick in the mud, he stayed at McGill and he stayed with a- I mean there just wasn't much experimentation with poetry in Montreal. I suppose F.R.Scott and you know helping to bring modernism to Canada was experimental as compared to what was going on, but that generation of Olson and the Black Mountain poets wasn't really here it was in Vancouver and um, maybe Louis should have gone and lived in, or taught at UBC for a few semesters and do something more than stay stuck in Montreal. Cause Montreal you had that, (cough) that conflict between Louis and Irving Layton and it was all a bit silly in a way. It didn't make for a nice environment when they're, cause I think I mentioned last time when I was growing up I would hear about-well my brother went to high school, West Hill High School with Max Layton, and you know we'd drive along and I guess it was Summerlead and we'd say "Oh that apartment building, that's Irving's property, that's Irving's apartment building." I remember being at a League of Canadian Poets meeting and I remember Garry Getty saying "Why is Irving Layton getting money when he owns an apartment building?" Well I don't know if he ever did own an apartment building, I kind of doubt that he did because he was always hard up for money as far as I could tell.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:26:10.19

So there was always that conflict, y'know with Layton. But Layton was always a big presence, and maybe I am getting a bit redundant, but I remember walking across the campus at McGill with my brother in the mid sixties or later on, maybe '68, and saying "Oh there is Irving Layton" and saying "Oh Irving Layton this is great!" (laughs). When I began working or when I got my job at Champlain college in Saint-Lambert I knew Bill Goodwin, who was like Irving's brother but he was I think a nephew or one of those age things where Irving's mother has a sister who is twenty years younger or something like that. I got to know Bill Goodwin pretty well and his wife and then I also knew Irving a little bit through that. He'd have Irving come in and read at Champlain, Irving was always a very, very nice person, very mentoring, very...I don't know Irving could focus on the other person which a lot of people can't, they just think of themselves. Yet, so did Louis, all those poets that I met could focus on other people.

 

Jason Camlot

00:27:33.47

So you were attending this lecture of Frank Davey, which represented in one sense a school poetry that wasn't having a great as impact on Montreal as it might have had and then that evening you went to hear Irving Layton at McGill.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:27:51.38

Well the other thing about Frank Davey, um, was that when I did a book, I did a book with Coach House in '83 and Davey was the editor of the book, well sort of, it was really B.P.Nichol but B.P had reached his quota of poets so he gave me over to Frank Davey and I remember visiting Frank and going to Coach where they printed the books where the editorial work was done. So that was like thirteen years later, (Reads from Journal) in the evening I went with my friend Erik Mass who I knew in high school and I seemed to have known in university to hear Irving Layton read at McGill. It was originally at Loyola but was cancelled due to demonstrations.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:28:30.10

I don't know what that would be, the demonstrations

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:28:31.70

Layton began in room 26 of Leacock building at 8:15pm, ending at- (laugh) I give you more about the time then about anything else!

 

Jason Camlot

00:28:39.35

But we can see how long the reading lasted though

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:28:41.47

Yeah (laughs) at 9:30pm, my favorite was Executioner probably because it was the only one I remember (laughs). Layton who is just a little guy has a really nice voice and seemed to be enjoying his work, smiling and laughing.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:28:57.80

So I guess that was the first reading I went to by Irving Layton

 

Jason Camlot

00:29:03.47

Wow

 

Ashley Clarkson

00:29:11.48

You can tell from the diary that just his voice had a big effect on you and his body language

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:29:11.68

Yeah he was, was- but if you read the biographies that have come out about Irving Layton...he was a horrible person. Really terrible to his family, see I am saying things that I should probably keep my trap shut! (laughs) If you read the biography by his son and his daughter Harriet has writing a biography about growing up and how her mother wouldn't let her see her father. But the son's biography of Layton is really pretty bad in the way he sees him. Um, but if you met Layton, he lived on Monkland and when he was living. I would drive by his home and you'd see Layton sitting at his dining room table smoking his pipe and writing or doing something and I remember visiting him there and he was so nice. By then his Alzheimer has- this was before they had moved him, but nevertheless I guess that's the story of many people that they're good with other people but their own children...

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:30:25.88

Moony Howard was a friend of Layton when she was- she died just a few months ago, she was a poet who lived in San Francisco, she grew up in Sherbrooke and went to Bishops where she met Gustafson that's really- well, not very nice. Um, but she got to know Layton and she had an affair with Layton that went on for a while. He had affairs with a lot of people, this is sort of the unpleasant part of Layton that, you know you wouldn't want to live with someone who you come home and he has slept with someone. Y'know it's disgusting, and um, but she had this ongoing relationship and she used to come and visit us in Montreal and we would go and see Layton with her. I have some pictures of that, visiting Irving Layton. I sort of forget what I was talking about (laughter)

 

Jason Camlot

00:31:27.37

No, no we were just sort of talking about how that was the first Layton reading you went to

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:31:30.40

The thing was Layton was a really big deal and poets were, you know in English Montreal there was a real literary tradition of people like Layton, of poets and they were respected and they were somebody. If you wanted to become a poet you weren't going to make your living that way, but being a poet wasn't that unusual, that was English Montreal back then when they'd get 200 people out for a reading for Layton.

 

Jason Camlot

00:32:02.11

And he also represented a certain kind of poetry, which was a lyric, you know, um what West-Coast writers call more eco base writing then prospective poetry

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:32:18.26

yeah that's right

 

Jason Camlot

00:32:18.66

So the Montreal tradition to some extent was associated to a poetics that was resistant to Black Mountain and maybe what Frank Davey was trying to bring to Montreal?

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:32:29.71

Well except that Creeley published one of Layton's first books and they were-and there is a big book of correspondence between the two of them and um, I think that Olson...I think that Layton was going to go down to the States to teach but they stopped him at the border because he some sort of anti-American things he had done. Compared to what he became later one, which was pretty right wing, he supported the war in Vietnam, things that really shocked people who were his audience. But yeah, I guess he...there seems to be that big separation between the two communities. If you look back years later on things people wrote I don't know that it was as big as, y'know, Layton comes across as-I find some of his poems very dated and really kind of old fashioned and he has some kind of crowd pleasers that are meant to get a laugh. They are sort of throwaway poems, but he'd read them.

 

Jason Camlot

00:33:43.77

Yeah I think it's true despite the correspondence and the actual friendship that Creeley and Layton had, you know, and the similarities to some extend between the kinds of problems they were both writing about early on, Creeley moves more towards serial modes of poetry writing that Layton never did. So in that sense I can understand what you were saying about Dudek in that issue of Open Letter sort of discovering that "Hey, maybe all along I had much more in common with these folks then the poet I always paired with which happened to be Irving Layton"

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:34:19.92

Yeah, these people respected him, these people thought he was great. Um, while here, you know, Layton and well, he was sort of arguing with Layton in his way, which was sort of passive, aggressive on Dudek's side. One of the things that Layton said about Louis was that Louis didn't know how to think (laughs) which is the worst thing you could say to an intellectual because all he did was think. Louis was teaching himself Greek, he told me in the few years before he died that he was learning Greek and you could take these letters and read a sentence sin a book. So being an intellectual was really important to him and along comes Layton and (laughs) but in a way he didn't know how to think. Um, maybe he lacked that, not the thinking...but, but I don't know...almost the poetic talent unfortunately. Except for Continuation, which is a bizarre long poem that people will one day see it, it isn’t something, you read to enjoy it is something you read because it is interesting.

 

Jason Camlot

00:35:41.19

So did you want to talk about the other Davey event?

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:35:44.81

Yeah lets do the other Frank Davey

 

Jason Camlot

00:35:45.54

Yeah

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:35:46.39

Um (flips through pages)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:35:49.77

Ok so then Frank Davey, this is March 16, 1970

 

Jason Camlot

00:35:53.58

Oh, but wasn't there one on February 6th as well?

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:35:56.78

Ummm

 

Jason Camlot

00:35:58.94

In the same year? Frank Davey, on February 6th, 1970 so he was a writer in residence this whole year at Sir George Williams’s right? March 16th was at Loyola right? I am just going on the email you had sent me,

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:36:21.05

Um, (flips through pages)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:36:43.34

February the 6th, Ok let's see if I missed that one.

 

Jason Camlot

00:36:50.72

Ok see if you have anything written down about it, maybe you just noted that he read but did not add anything more on it

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:36:59.66

Yeah you're right! (laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:37:02.18

Went to hear Frank Davey read his poetry at Sir George this evening, I went out with my friend Erik again (laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:37:08.95

This is a friend from high school

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:37:14.80

We were suppose to meet Statos, that's Mamorities, but he never showed up. Frank Davey is the writer in residence at Sir-George and his problem seems to be that he doesn't project his voice, which keeps breaking and does not carry. Well he seems to be a nice guy

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:37:26.88

This is the same stuff as I wrote before

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:37:28.94

rather shy and quiet, perhaps reserved but his poems (um I didn't like his poems) what he read was not very good. These are the poems he wrote about each Tarot cards, he seems so sincere but his poems are all (um, I don't know if I should read this laughs)

 

Jason Camlot

00:37:50.25

Well I am curious to hear it

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:37:51.68

Well, I found them superficial and they didn't speak to your soul

 

Jason Camlot

00:37:56.37

Well that's exactly what you were just talking about in terms of how you rated readers

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:37:58.45

Yeah, well the funny thing is that a few years-oh I don't know when it was maybe ten years ago or maybe fifteen. I wrote a poem that I said "I cannot live without God" and then I was reading an old diary that I had written something like forty years before and I had said the exact same words. So and I had never repeated it so when I said it ten or so years ago I though, "well that's an original idea for me" but it is bizarre the way things that you think or say comes back years and years later as though they are original.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:38:44.88

Well, they were not written from the bottom of his mind but the top. A yoga of poetry of which Kerouac was a master. Also he should be more superficial...(laughs) he should act like a real poet, fake it! I mean give the people what they want like in Hollywood. The public wants tinsel so the actors merely submerge their true and most likely bad characters, go before the cameras and become tinsel. Everything, everywhere is (man this is very cynical) all is superficial. Today people are objects as such and Davey should realize he has to fake it to survive (laughs). His poetry I didn't like it, all that was in fun because I have a lot of fun with Erik talking about how things aren't what they should be. Like Lenny Brew says, "The Truth Is What Is, Not What Should Be"

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:39:37.39

Well...there you go....(laughs)

 

Jason Camlot

00:39:41.81

You had a lot to say about Davey, um from that reading

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:39:43.52

Well yeah, um and I think that there is- something that I have never done, but some people- Irving Layton did it, he presented himself kind of the archetypical poet, he put on the 'show'. You know, the big medallion, the flowing lionesses hair as they said (laughs) and he'd live that life as being the 'poet' and um, I think that is what I was getting at there. Frank Davey was just a normal, kind of a nice guy

 

Jason Camlot

00:40:23.74

But he wasn't convincing you

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:40:23.74

But he wasn't convincing me and the poems because of that, like I mentioned that- I think I mentioned just a few minutes ago that Ted Berrigan said "to steal good lines" he also said to try and present yourself as a poet, not to.....I don't know....people want the, they want they archetype, they don't want the normal person. I think that's what I was trying to say about, and the poem- maybe it was a serial poem on Tarot cards and that was a big deal for Davey writing that, it was one of his big books but I wasn't a....maybe if I read it now I would like it, probably. I am trying to backtrack it (laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:41:16.87

I seemed to have had a lot to do with Frank Davey going to his readings, do you want the next one?

 

Jason Camlot

00:41:27.66

Yes please

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:41:27.86

Ok, March 16th 1970, at 4pm at the Vanier auditorium I met Frank Davey outside the auditorium. I called it the auditorium I remember that this was a little lecture room under the stairs in the Vanier library, I don't know if it's still there?

 

Jason Camlot

00:41:42.18

Oh yeah, yeah

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:41:42.28

Is it still there?

 

Jason Camlot

00:41:43.95

No

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:41:45.31

No? (laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:41:46.58

This is where I heard William Epson read, I think we did him last week? Or last few months ago and I re-read that like it's yesterday and William Epson was teaching at York university and it is amazing that someone of his stature, and I am not putting down York, but end up teaching in Canada. Maybe there was some story there.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:42:17.64

I met him outside the lecture room, which is the same place William Empson read and mentioned that I heard him at McGill, at McGill? he asked and I quickly corrected myself and said Sir-George and made a little joke about someone going around and impersonating his poetry ha ha ha. Then I complained to him about the terrible PA system and we walked in to the room. He noticed and commented on the impression that the wood had left on the cement floor, the grain of the wood was showing and I agreed, Oh Hum, about fifteen people but it was very enjoyable

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:43:07.58

Thank god! I am redeemed! (laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:43:08.43

I sat at the front and heard some new poems, one about the American Dream. His new stuff is great! As yet unpublished, he talked about a friend Sam Perry who shot himself in the head after taking acid. Talked about it in a poem how his ex-wife Helen's lover used to show up at the door and ask him if she was ready to go out, what gall! He was more composed in this small group, actually it was very enjoyable, I now like Davey, and he is ok! (laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:43:43.55

You couldn't invent this (laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:43:46.46

He was easy to talk to, no idiot intellectual fool, quiet like me and he seemed flattered that I had been to both of his poetry readings. I am as tall as he is (laughs) what an ego trip. It rained the whole day and I felt lousy but after that I felt great, thank you Frank Davey! (laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:44:11.89

Yes thank you Frank! (laughs)

 

Jason Camlot

00:44:16.61

That's very interesting. I mean partly it was, I wonder if his writing. I mean he probably attended quite a few readings while he was in Montreal too and if he started adapting his writing or writing some pieces that would perhaps do a little better at the readings he was required to give, you know.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:44:36.32

Well one of the things that I have learned is that for poets, is that and I forget who it is from but um, I think P.K.Page did this, is that you read your oldies, the ones the audiences what’s to hear. They don't want to hear your new obscure poem about your dream (laughs) you know? Or your experimentation they want the golden oldies. So maybe Frank was going through his work and finding the crowd pleasers because it is a performance and you want to read some thing to the audience that will make them happy for whatever reason. Not that you'll sell that many books, but for whatever reasons it is

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:45:30.48

So thank god I redeemed myself at the end of that (laughs)

 

Jason Camlot

00:45:33.95

So do you remember the writer in residence? Was that well advertised? Did you have a chance to go visit them in office hours and talk to them about your own writing? Was that...

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:45:45.31

Well I never would have done that, no I never heard anything, I just knew they were the writer in residence, other than that nothing. I would have been too shy to go and, believe it or not after reading this, to go and...although maybe if I felt he was really sympathetic. Like Richard Sommer, I took a creative writing course with and became friends with Richard, he was very good.

 

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:46:23.51

I chad my disagreements with him more than some others but, um he was someone who was very good at brining in experimental poetry in Montreal. I wouldn’t have unless it was someone who I felt I had some sort of connect with and I didn't have it with Frank Davey.

 

Jason Camlot

00:46:48.21

So that was the cluster of Davey readings and events

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:46:50.44

Yeah

 

Jason Camlot

00:46:54.48

Another cluster of readings I had identified from the list you sent me was, as you know, some of the readings paired off authors together. Three of the readings at least that you went to include or had pairings of writers, Tom Rayworth and David Ball on March 4th 1970 would be one example.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:47:21.15

Yeah and Ron Lowenson adn Robert Hogg. I wonder if that's Robert Hogg from Ottawa?

 

Jason Camlot

00:47:32.46

I don't know, let me check. Then there was also Gerry Gilbert and David McFadden

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:47:35.62

Yeah and the best on the three would have been McFadden. On Artie Gold's birthday on January 15th 1971. I heard, for some reason I wrote and essay and thought that Gerry Gilbert read with Jackson Maclow

 

Jason Camlot

00:48:05.14

No Hogg was born in Edmonton, and he came from UBC. He published a book on Duncan. It was basically an interview on Duncan that he conducted with George Bowering. It was published by coach house. He then went to SUNY, as many of those poets did, to study

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:48:05.14

Yeah for some reason I put the two of them together

 

Jason Camlot

00:48:05.14

Yeah but MacLow was alone

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:48:41.74

Oh is that right?

 

Jason Camlot

00:48:43.39

And then he began teaching Carleton University in Ottawa

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:48:47.28

Aw ok, I thought he was in Ottawa.

 

Jason Camlot

00:48:49.39

Yeah, and then he stayed there the rest of the career so you're quite right

 

Jason Camlot

00:49:03.02

Well eventually when he got a job and..

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:49:03.02

Yeah I had thought he was from Ottawa

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:49:03.22

Yeah eventually

 

Jason Camlot

00:49:04.31

Um, do you want to go in the order we just said?

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:49:12.13

Yeah, I got Lowenson and Hogg Feb 20th, 1970. I don't think there is much here but.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:49:18.93

Went to hear two young poets today at 9pm by myself. First Ron Lowenson, "meet air" I guess was one of his poems, he was very good and I enjoyed him most probably because he was the most human

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:49:34.10

So I guess I am always looking for that human element. You know that someone can connect with me as a human being and not just trying to be an intellectual or show off.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:49:47.61

I felt that I could sit down for hours with him. He is a short guy (haha I am always describing the

 

Jason Camlot

00:49:51.49

Yeah you're always describing the heights it is interesting

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:49:51.87

He is a short guy wearing a dark green tartan shirt with a yellow tie and typical tweed jacket with elbow patches. Second were the young Robert Hogg read, each read for about one hour, he writes poetry type poems that sound dressed up like so-called "real" poems. At least Lowenson sounded like everyday speech language used by you and this guy, but me was rather too piety if you get what I mean. One poem by Lowenson, while I sat there listening and it was all about people called chipmunk evil kites and bamboo poles, but it was very funny yet nobody else was laughing so I sat there trying to subdue my laughter. Actually I go to these readings to see what these poets look like, Hogg was a short guy with a wispy black beard and longish hair, and he had a very nice voice. One of his poems was about sitting, well it was about anal sex, but he used all the technical terms and I doubt anybody was getting it because it was so technical you had to keep your pretensions...

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:51:14.86

I don't know what I am complaining about here, I think I am complaining about the audience not relating to it, but trying to be overly intellectual.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:51:26.53

So I go to see the poets and to hear the poems, but even I get bored and drift off to some of them. (oh this is terrible) Such as poor old nice guy Frank Davey

 

Unknown

00:51:36.14

Laughter

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:51:37.16

This is the end of me, well I am too old.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:51:46.95

(begins reading again) I saw Mimi there last night again with the same before, she kept looking at me

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:51:57.11

This was a girl who loved down the street who I knew in grade school (laughs) I was always interested in her. So I saw her there with this boyfriend I guess I didn’t approve of

 

Jason Camlot

00:52:13.25

So this is a San Francisco poet and I guess a Canadian poet?

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:52:13.90

Yeah

 

Jason Camlot

00:52:16.96

I guess one of the points was to have an American and a Canadian read together, yet listening to your reading

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:52:22.85

I don't think it worked (laughs)

 

Jason Camlot

00:52:22.85

No, no it didn't seem too

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:52:27.45

I didn't get that one. I think Bowering was present, I didn't write it, but he would go to a lot of these readings

 

Jason Camlot

00:52:39.00

He was on the organizing committee so he would have, it is very possible Davey was there because of Bowering.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:52:52.42

Aw, I really regret having said some of these things (laughs)

 

Jason Camlot

00:52:52.82

I think it is really interesting though that somehow nice guy and poet were terms in your mind and it might have been the effect of Layton and the character of the poet

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:53:09.95

Yeah I think it was, the poet living out this archetype of the poet influenced me. I wouldn't have thought of that at the time, but perhaps that's there.

 

Jason Camlot

00:53:24.33

No, I think it's really interesting. It's interesting because obviously these readings are performances

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:53:33.24

Yeah they are performances and you have to present yourself as a performer and, although the audience shouldn't perceive you as a performer. Yet that's what they are, it's a performance, it's not really you. Like any performance if you're self-conscious and the audience is aware you're putting on a performance then they'll be ill at ease. So poems that aren't really all that great are going to make the audience bored. I guess I have been to a lot of readings where I wasn't too impressed.

 

Jason Camlot

00:54:25.17

You're also sort of sizing them up by appearance and how they're dressed

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:54:26.36

I know it's bizarre isn't it?

 

Jason Camlot

00:54:26.56

Well not really for a person who is just beginning to think of himself in these terms. You're a young kid seeing all these people coming to town and you're trying to

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:54:49.73

Well what's interesting is when I give a reading I am fairly conservative, I never try to wearing a medallion or putting on any kind of show. Yet, yeah I was always sizing them up or it was an eye for detail. Like I told you that Dudek showed me the manuscript for his book of epigrams and it was on brown onion paper. I don't know if that was made up, who knows, but that's another detail that I would have noticed.

 

Jason Camlot

00:55:30.46

You know I appreciate the detail on how the poets looked like and how tall they were

 

Ashley Clarkson

00:55:33.36

even when you talk about the audience

 

Jason Camlot

00:55:33.56

Yeah

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:55:33.66

As my wife always says, when you're writing something it is the detail that will bring it to life and the personal anecdote that will bring it to life. Sometimes if you write a poem you want to add more detail to it and to flesh it out more and make it better.

 

Jason Camlot

00:55:58.77

So we have a San Francisco poet and a Canadian poet that was too 'poetry' (laughs)

 

Jason Camlot

00:56:05.24

I mean it’s a comment on authentic diction in comparison to seemingly forced or inauthentic diction you gave us form that last reading. So the next pairing you wanted to give us

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:56:05.24

Laughs

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:56:22.00

Yeah is March 4th 1970, it is Tom Wrotworth and David Ball. Now these are readings from thirty, forty-three years ago (laughs) so these people if any of them are alive and here this they shouldn’t be offended.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:56:33.40

(reads) This evening I went to see two poets reads Tom Wrotworth and David Ball. First David Ball, no very good...poor guy comes all this way to read poems to such an unappreciative audience.

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:56:45.89

So I guess the audience didn't you know, might have been edgy or didn't show up

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:56:49.17

Then Tom Wrotworth, very funny black humour. He is a central figure in the emergence of the British avant-guard. He is a tall guy with cool clothes. (laughs) oh well. What a sad fiasco the whole evening was. I went down to Sir-George at 8pm stood around seeing and clapping hands at the Fine Arts student festival which was a lot of fun and then went upstairs to hear these two poets read and only twenty people showed up, half of them were the English staff in the English department, George Bowering was there. Then I walked to the metro very sad, lonely and alone it was snowing. I was not only sad for these two poets, but mostly for myself (laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:57:43.54

So that was not a successful reading or at least not for me! (laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:57:43.85

Then maybe McFadden?

 

Jason Camlot

00:57:47.64

Yeah the McFadden and Gerry Gilbert readings

 

Ashley Clarkson

00:57:52.68

Maybe after he reads this journal entry we can play this clip

 

Jason Camlot

00:57:59.91

Yeah I think we'll do that. I will play you a bit of the McFadden reading

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:58:13.78

Well McFadden became a friend and fortunately I didn't write anything bad about him. When Karen and I would go to the Toronto in the mid seventies, no nineties, we'd visit McFadden and you know I remember going to his, I remember thinking I was going to his home and it was drug store with mailboxes. So his suite was, you know apparently he was living in an office with no bathroom and he'd have to climb out the window to go into another place where there was a bathroom. Then he became a travel writer and he has those books about Ireland and he has the ones about the Great Lakes, I reviewed one of those, and the travel books about Ireland were very good, very funny person. They called him Mr. Synchonricized, because he had stories about meeting people and coincidences. That's the way poets think, they think in a synchronistic way, things have more meaning, or more meaning comes from things. You're looking up something?

 

Jason Camlot

00:59:52.32

Oh no, well yeah I am preparing something for afterwards

 

Stephen Morrissey

00:59:52.52

Well (begins reading) The reading was on January 15th, which was Artie Gold's birthday, David McFadden and Gerry Gilbert, short hair, red short and round jolly-faced McFadden read Al Purdy type poetry. Gerry Gilbert, long hair, west coast, showed slides of winter scenes with green lens and typical west coast Vancouver poetics.

 

Jason Camlot

01:00:23.52

Hm

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:00:23.52

Yeah and that's all I wrote about it. Actually both of those poets meant more to me later, um, as I mentioned I knew David, not well but we'd go out when we'd go to Toronto and have lunch. Gerry Gilbert was a friend of my wife in Vancouver and we'd see him riding his bicycle, he died a few years ago. He was very big on his bicycle and road it everywhere and um, we read on his radio, he had a coop radio show in Vancouver and he had a program: Radio Free Rainforest. I remember going there and reading a few poems on the air during that. I think during the time I didn't really understand what Gilbert was doing. McFadden actually became friends with Norris and maybe with Artie I don't know, maybe less with Artie. I always liked McFadden a lot, I liked his poems.

 

Jason Camlot

01:01:35.60

Um, why don't I play a little bit of that reading

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:01:42.92

Sure! These two poets are completely dissimilar, why they would put Gilbert and McFadden together doesn’t really make any sense

 

Jason Camlot

01:01:50.68

Well George Bowering told us a story about this reading, that they read in Ottawa the night before and one of the unique things about this pairing is that they alternated poems and went back and forth between each other rather than.

 

Jason Camlot

01:02:01.83

Rather than have one read for an hour and the other read for the hour they practiced that the night before

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:02:12.61

Oh ok! So maybe it was more successful than- I mean I haven't heard it, what you're about to play

 

Jason Camlot

01:02:22.36

Plays audio clip from Spokenweb archive

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:05:17.55

That was really good! (laughs) I will have to listen to all of this and it really shows how important it is to hear the poet read the work. If you just read Gerry Gilbert he isn't necessarily all that interesting just off the page. McFadden is, you know there is a narrative to his work and he has a very good sense of humour, but that was very good by Gerry Gilbert. It fit in perfectly with McFadden- seamless

 

Jason Camlot

01:05:49.27

Yeah it seemed that they tried to choose portions that were related to each other, even randomly so candy would have been the link

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:05:55.23

It also shows how poetry is a performance, I don't like that word performance too much, but a poet has to project to the audience, they have to make it interesting and both of them were doing that. Both were very good readings, a lot younger than

 

Jason Camlot

01:06:20.35

Absolutely, we had David come last October to give a reading, George as well. We had them read alongside these recordings, so we had them read now and it was really interesting to hear like you said the forty-five year difference. It was an interesting phenomenon to experience

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:06:52.19

The think is, ultimately the poet is on the page so you can be entertaining and project it or perform it, but it still has to survive. I mean Louis isn't here to read Continuation so nobody reads it unless some us try to bring it back to life. So it still has to be a good poem on the page.

 

Jason Camlot

01:07:24.52

That's the key though, having your advocates in the next generation keeping your work out there. Stuart Ross has been a big advocate of McFadden's and he edited first the selected and then the second selected and he has been publishing new McFadden books. So I think that it's the reason he has been getting the attention he has been getting recently, he has been nominated for the Griffin prize twice now. He may yet win it this time around, but if Stuart hadn't put together those new issues of his work and re-issued them none of that probably would have happened. If you're not around, all the more so.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:08:15.37

That is right, the poet dies and the work just disappears for a generation and possibly it will return, but not necessarily.

 

Jason Camlot

01:08:30.56

It is interesting to see who are the advocates for Layton and Dudek are these days, if any. There was just a conference held at University of Ottawa, three or four weeks ago on Layton and people, Canadianists don't write about Irving Layton anymore, he is just not the poet people are writing critical articles about. So they decided to do a conference and critical assessment to think about Layton again. Yet there do not seem to be many young people who are Layton advocated or even Dudek advocates for that matter.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:09:03.70

No, no

 

Jason Camlot

01:09:05.29

I know at the time you had a bunch of young poets who were sort of his heirs, like Cohen obviously, but Cohen sort of superseded him pretty quickly and Seymour Maine and other poets like that. They started out as Layton disciplines, but there doesn't seem to be that generation.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:09:31.96

Well Louis said, everyone knows this already, but the true test of poetry is time. So if the poet is still being read in fifty years then those poems must be pretty good. I don't know that Irving is going to disappear, I think give it ten years not five years or two years. In tens years a whole new crop of academics come along and they'll want to take on Layton. The person they seem to be promoting now is P.K.Page with the new biography by Sandra JUALOF. There was a conference I think it was in Peterborough a few years ago on P.K and um, she just seems more contemporary then Layton. Layton is just too problematic with his personality and it is a bit harder to read him now perhaps, I find him a bit old fashion now which isn't a good thing since he died just six years ago maybe.

 

Jason Camlot

01:10:50.18

Well the other

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:10:53.44

Oh yeah, we got um...

 

Jason Camlot

01:10:55.26

We were going to look at a few of the readings, I think those were the three pairs. We were going to look at a few readings were you had a chance to speak to the poets afterwards. Did you want to read those?

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:11:06.56

Yeah sure, we could do Al Purdy

 

Jason Camlot

01:11:12.72

So this was Al Purdy

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:11:16.96

This was March 13th 1970

 

Jason Camlot

01:11:22.75

Oh ok, I marked it, but you said Bowering, Layton and Davey were in attendance.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:11:28.51

Yeah, I think that is this one...I think this is the first time I heard Al Purdy read- all I have is

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:11:46.16

Al Purdy, Canadian poet unique and aligned to no schools, proletarian and all the kind of clichés they say about Al Purdy, vigor and humour. He is another one a bit like McFadden I guess would be in the Purdy School with the anecdotes. Although McFadden is different with the whole synchronistic thing and travel, although McFadden also wrote stuff about travel and the North, South-America.

 

Jason Camlot

01:12:17.58

So McFadden, or Stuart Ross would identify McFadden as more of a surrealist poet while Purdy is more of a narrative lyric poet in some ways without the William Blake side to things

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:12:38.75

Yeah that's right, that's true. I used to try and teach Purdy but nobody was very interested in his poems. Um, (begins reading)

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:12:49.27

I heard him reading this evening, very good, excellent and nonchalantly reading. Of course that was the personae he tried to project, leaning over the podium and smoking a cigar and his humorous poems had everyone laughing. He read a few serious poems and after he would always say "funny eh?" which broke everyone up. After another he said, "profound eh?". Irving Layton walking in and he sat twisted. This is the competition between poets, when one poet will go to another poets reading and try to steal the limelight and they do that. They'll go and they will do something offensive. Like Irving Layton sat in numerous contortions in his chair and I made comments to my friend Erik about that, a poem has to fake it up, the better the faking the better the poet. The question is does the faking come before the poetry or does the poetry come before the faking- about Layton here and remember that this is just a nineteen-year-old kid. (laughs) or does the poetry act so different that skeptics like myself think they're fake. Also Frank Davey and George Bowering were there.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:14:26.06

I think he saw Purdy as competition as competition and was probably unconsciously trying to- I mean he didn't just sit there quietly in the back. He sat there making a show and um, that would be something that Layton would do. There was another one lets see if I can find it (shifts through pages)

 

Jason Camlot

01:14:49.55

While you are trying to find it let me play you Purdy

 

Unknown

01:14:49.65

plays Al Purdy audio from SpokenWeb archive

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:17:50.61

See that's a bit disappointing you know? That second-guessing the value of his own work, um, the little disparaging comments. I can see that these are audience pleasers and I remember mentioning last time that I would listen to Anthology on CBC and I would tape them to listen to them over and over again. Yet I had a teacher who in high school, Mrs.Monton, who was a very excellent teacher and um, and we also studied Canadian poetry which was another thing about living in Montreal and growing up with poetry. You also studied poses that lived in your community and I remember Mrs.Monton saying she didn't like Al Purdy's poetry, the sort of hasten, joking and I see it in those. At the time it was original, maybe it is original not, but I think poetry is a lot more serious now and when I try to teach his poetry I didn't get anywhere. The students didn't know why he was so important, supposedly, but um I don't like that second-guessing and lack of commitment to what you're writing. You don't say "profound eh?" yeah it is profound, you say "wow that's profound" or you really don’t say anything

 

Jason Camlot

01:19:36.09

Yeah right, well Purdy was really being um, marketed at this point as the Canadian poet as so far as Can lit is being designed as a sort of commodity in and on itself. Part of the discomfort of Layton maybe with Purdy is that it's easier for Purdy to represent a grassroots, idiomatic Canadian because it is Ontario, whereas Layton is an immigrant Jew to Montreal living in Quebec, so there is a lot of things going against him to represent the Montreal Canadian poet

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:20:17.30

Right

 

Jason Camlot

01:20:17.30

Um, although he was as big a personality, if not bigger, than Purdy for a while there. if Purdy identify with Bliss Carmen and that tradition then Layton identified with Nietzsche or basically a cosmopolitan European tradition

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:20:40.21

Yeah, I was reading an interview and I should have brought it with me or found it before coming. It was an interview with Layton in a literary periodical and it was really excellent, he was talking as a great poet and he was talking about visionary poetry and not being a hayseed, he was really the better poet between the two of them. maybe Layton is the great Canadian poet, if you go by sales his books would sell tens of thousands, which is unheard of now. No book of poetry sells that much, it is like 500 maximum maybe more like 250 and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize if it means anything. He also PR'd himself relentlessly, on his envelope he'd have a picture of himself with a Nobel Prize candidate. Although he was nominated by Italy

 

Jason Camlot

01:22:05.93

Yes he was huge in Italy

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:22:06.13

Yeah they appreciated him because he came across as the archetype European poet. There was a story about him being very big on Italian cinema and he knew everything about Fellini and he want up and gave a lecture to Italians at whatever university that had a Canadian studies department, I don't know if it still exists. This lecture of Fellini and everyone was impressed and he could do that because he was very impressive in that way. His home life wasn't all that impressive, but such is life. Purdy is- you know, holding back he isn't the visionary poet or the great poet that Layton was. Even Dudek couldn't talk that way, the way that Layton could, so I have revised my thoughts on Layton.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:23:18.77

I think I have another one on Purdy

 

Jason Camlot

01:23:18.97

Yeah and you spoke to him afterwards?

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:23:19.20

Yeah that's right

 

Jason Camlot

01:23:21.91

So that'll be interesting to hear

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:23:22.16

I think Purdy was, I got to say that all these poets were very nice people and that meant a lot to me that they were all nice to some kid who just comes up to talk to them. (flips through pages)

 

Jason Camlot

01:23:47.91

So this is at Loyola on November the 13 1972

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:23:52.43

Yeah that's right and I just lived on Montclair so I would just obviously walk over.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:24:01.76

(reads) In the evening about 7pm over to Loyola to hear Al Purdy read his poems. About 8:30pm and (oh I start talking about people laughs)

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:24:12.96

I see this girl with two crooked teeth she had actually sat beside me at the R.D.Lang conference. R.D.Land was a big deal, people don't even known of R.D.Land anymore.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:24:25.06

Um, so I started speaking with her, I really liked the reading, but as usual the atmosphere wasn't good as usual at Loyola. Then over to the Faculty lounge with the girl, whatever he name is. She is tall maybe taller than me, maybe 5'10. She knew some of the teachers from Dawson and din all these groups are the hierarchies. There is the would be poet drinking, the fool laughing, the handsome boy and the students all licking their lips and eager to have a beer and establish themselves as intellects to be reckoned with. Secretly a manuscript is held beneath their coats (This is terrible laughing) Then things thin out to about a dozen of us by 11pm and I go over to say hello to Purdy, he is a big fellow, six feet maybe and big shoulders. He smokes a cigar and is drunk but talking soberly though to R.G.Everson. R.G.Everson was a Montreal poet, not many people even remember him now, but Louis promoted Ron Everson a lot.

 

Jason Camlot

01:25:54.55

I think he is one of the best poets in Montreal, I really like his work a lot.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:25:57.88

Really eh? Well maybe someone will champion his work.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:26:05.49

Umm, (begins reading) Then this person I think his name was Arthur, don't know, but he has a book of maps and an anthology Thumbprints out. He was the one who just talking through the poetry reading while Purdy read.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:26:31.76

Um and I looked up Thumbprints online and it was edited by Doug Featherline, so I don't know if this Arthur is actually Doug Featherline or I don't think so, but um anyhow he talked throughout Purdy's reading which wasn't very nice.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:26:43.58

(reads) Brian McCarthy, a poet in Montreal, a little shrimp with a red beard and drunk. (laughs) I talk to Purdy and said how Charles Bukowski had built him up and Purdy said how he doesn’t really know why Bukowksi would do this because he wrote only one favorable review about Bukowski. This guy Arthur is standing there and kept interrupting while Purdy is only tolerating this person. The I asked Purdy how much he makes per year off poetry

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:27:46.57

Yeah, he said eight to twelve thousand dollars and I asked how which he said, poetry readings, articles from McLean’s and poems etc. or radio plays. He said he'd soon have a story in McLean’s. He also said he was soon off to South Africa which was so ugly it'd force a few poems out of him. Then this Arthur guy tries to kiss the girl and I try to turn away cause maybe she thinks it is ok. I am not too impressed with Arthur, he is very full of himself. They all are except for Purdy and Everson. They're egocentric people and are really have nothing to gloat about and suddenly I was depressed about the whole thing.

 

Jason Camlot

01:27:46.57

Did he answer you?

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:28:52.64

You know I remember sitting in the faculty room at Loyola and I thought I was talking to Earle Bernie, but I would have to look that up. I thought it was Earle Bernie, but I guess it was Al Purdy (laughs). Something I have discovered reading these is that when I go to a party I am always the last one to lave (laughs) not very nice, I only get going by about eleven o'clock

 

Jason Camlot

01:29:21.54

It's true though that you were sort of observing everything and waiting for your moment

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:29:25.93

Yeah cause I am not egocentric enough to go and push myself in, I would always wait for the crowd to thin a bit.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:29:46.88

One time I heard that um, Farley Mowett was signing books in downtown Montreal. There just to be Classics in downtown on Saint-Catherine’s street and across there used to be another Classics over a little bit past Crescent. I went all the way down and there was Farley Mowet with a big crowd and his wife and I was really excited, “wow Farley Mowet!". Pierre Burton, I used to watch his interview show on television and I was really impressed by these interviews and his friend was Farley Mowett. I went all the way down and then I left because I was too shy to go and you know, I also don't know what I would have said

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:30:27.87

The was also Mac Hammond, who was also I am pretty sure Mac Hammond taught at SUNY Buffalo and knew Charles Olson. I am pretty sure there are some correspondences between them

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:30:57.45

No?

 

Jason Camlot

01:30:57.45

And I am not sure if we have a recording of Mac Hammond

 

Jason Camlot

01:30:58.46

No

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:30:59.63

Well then, lets just find that

 

Jason Camlot

01:31:05.36

That's be interesting to hear about because there are a few readings we don't have documented with audio. Was this 72?

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:31:12.56

Yeah this was 72 um, I was talking a course with Clarke Lays and I really like Clarke Lays a lot I went to all his classes and wrote down everything he said. When his first book came out a North American Education I went out and I bought it. You know I was really- and the nephew of my stepfather wrote from Time Magazine and one of the first reviews for the book. When I taught at Champlain I invited Clarke in to do a reading. I remember him in my office and he phoned home to talk to his son, the names I had read in his short stories (laughs). I was really impressed with Clary and he'd say the most interesting thing sin class, one was about Victorians who were obsessive compulsives who'd look at their watch and have to rub their finger on the dial before they could do certain things (laughs).

 

Jason Camlot

01:32:23.55

So this was in his class

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:32:27.45

Yes it was in his class

 

Jason Camlot

01:32:27.45

So it may not have been part of the series then

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:32:28.10

Yeah, I don't know. I have the reading though

 

Jason Camlot

01:32:34.76

Yeah

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:32:34.86

(reads) December 1st 1972, I didn't go in the morning but in for Clarke's class and then at 3pm Mac Hammond the US poet he showed up a big fellow with a beard and his face was low so his chin was to his chest like he was overweight. He talked about a method of criticism that really I can't relate to its too complicated and long. Only two of us showed up with Richard Sommer. SO when I said to Mac, (you know this familiarity is so "to Mac" Laughs I never even met this guy) I am a student, very witty and he said so am I and he was pleasant. Yet he proceeded with this criticism thing for about one and a half hours, plus a half-hour more on trivia so we all split until 8pm when I returned downtown to meet the girl now called Moka, of all things. We talk about Mac and the something of them show up and Mac sees me and says hi and they all look like we're pals among the group (laughs). It is funny that people think a familiarity with people can actually mean something when it doesn't mean anything. Mac was surprised to see me there after this afternoon and then he read his poems from Cold Turkey, which I really liked because he is very funny and witty. There is depth to what he is reading if you have a critical eye for the poems, there is almost a borderline between manic and sane and when you listen to the record (there must have been a record of him reading, I think maybe there was a record at the back of one of his books). He speaks to them the depths are expanded to a multi-dimension meaning.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:35:24.90

Then I got a drive to the party at Richard Sommers home on Draper, it was an old place that smelled like a barn. It was cozy and warm with photos of Dick (I never called him Dick in my life) With his wife and son Jonathan. His wife was a dancer and photos of her permanently captured in poetic poses. So I talked to Moka and there was a girl there named Ellie and she said that there is a group that gathers her every Friday night to hear a tape by some Tibetan Llama who lives in Vermont. The simple life of Vermont, not quite the Himalayas. So those two girls, who drove us over the party are all buddies and everyone knows everyone else, very deep heavy stuff. They're all laughing and talking because they're so close. Hammond after reading struts and stands there head held high and says something about a robot abusing mankind for his sexual perversions. Almost feeling like it was Mac saying that he hated us all you dirty bunch of perverts as he slipped over into madness three times, he is psychotic.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:37:16.87

Although that's the thing about Mac Hammond, he did a lot about mental illness and whenever he gave out a poem, which is probably in my papers at McGill but um-

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:37:34.10

So I am standing in the kitchen with a beer and talking to Mac (laughs) this pumpkin in this here poem, see it's your head, your head and y our brain see and you're scooping out the eyes they're the first to go see? This here pumpkin is your head see?

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:37:53.64

So I am they’re trying to analyze his poem, this nineteen-year-old kid and he's saying "No! No!" It is only a poem about a pumpkin it was a literary exercise and I say "oh yeah?". Then in comes Richard Sommer who give him a mulberry leaf joint rolled and package in pure nicotine so they say. He says, I noticed you were distance when I spoke of dope and Mac was very distance, hearing from Sommer is only making him more distant. Dick is so eager to be a holy boy sitting at Macs feet looking up humbly. This trivia goes on and on...

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:38:36.02

Finally sitting in the living room all cramped in with bad vibrations Dick is telling me I outta go to this meditation at his place and I say "No thanks I am too full of all that crap". He seems distant and Mac seems distant, and I got to go before people start to dislike me (laughs). I feel this from Mac, more useless talk from a girl who should know bad form and bad taste in her sickening introspection, she was drunk and what crap I have to listen to....that's about it. I know escape to make my spiritual energy and so Moka and I left it was one o'clock in the morning.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:39:51.11

So I said by to Mac and we shook hands and he said again that I had been around a lot (laughs). I had been shadowing him in a way and I told him it was a day of Mac Hammond (laughs)

 

Ashley Clarkson

01:40:06.25

So sorry, just wanted to stop for a second because there is someone who is doing an interview in here at 1 o'clock.

 

Jason Camlot

01:40:20.27

It's ok I think maybe we could stop

 

Jason Camlot

01:40:22.87

Yeah we have been at it for two hours

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:40:22.87

Wow that long? Yeah we can stop

 

Jason Camlot

01:40:24.38

Yeah just about. So we can stop there and schedule another one to get through more material this was a great discussion.

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:40:39.28

Well I don't know I was beginning to think I was a bit of an idiot in these (laughs)

 

Jason Camlot

01:40:40.49

I think there is a lot of interesting insight into what a young student would have been seeking in attending these readings and parties

 

Stephen Morrissey

01:40:59.93

Well it was very nice to be included and be invited to a party at Richard Sommers who three years later we became friends and it was a wonderful place Sir George it was very nice and the reading series was an incredible experience.

 

Jason Camlot

01:41:15.28

Alright so we will stop there.

 

Interview: Stephen Morrissey, Part 2 – June 12, 2013

Interview
SpeakersJason Camlot, Stephen Morrissey & Ashley Clarkson
VenueOral History Interview Room, LB-10th Floor-History Department
Date2013-07-12
Recording
Duration1:38:42
Sound qualityGood