Alexander St Laurent on Blaise Morritz’s Zeppelin

cropped-zeppelin-coverno_textZeppelin, Blaise Morritz. Nightwood Editions, 2013.
By Alexander St Laurent

Blaise Morritz’s second collection, Zeppelin, is an intelligent and clever musing on the modern condition, or rather, the millennial condition. The poems explore the pitfalls of pop culture and materialism and how both of these elements might contribute to a sense of everlasting childhood. As such, many of the pieces are balanced between childlike observations of the world and metaphysical interrogations. Morritz’s observations and insights are smart, playful, and analytical without being overly dry or academic. Moreover, Zeppelin is concerned with whether the experiences of childhood extend into adulthood or if all that remains from such experiences as one ages is a sense of estrangement and loss:

If the child could be a child always
it would not allow a junk heap
to pass for material culture.
It would remember a Lego city,
boldly coloured, blocky, bright,
undiluted by toy soldiers or Matchbox cars,
but eventually clashing with the carpet
and the chrome tubing of a sofa leg.
It would be inclined toward the austere
visions of great builders. (45)

Morritz’s poetry is strongest in moments when it explores the restlessness of an adult looking back on his childhood, and while part of this preoccupation stems from the aforementioned pitfalls of the constructed environment of pop culture, there are also sweeter, less cynical moments that reveal the hopes and concerns of a father, such as in poems like “Summer Fading And The Fair,” or “On Your First Visit To The Zoo.” With “The Saturday Penny,” however, Moritz complicates the equation.

[…] How are we to make
our own world? Today, I’ll keep you here with me, lay out
Calabrese salami for lunch, and have you listen
to the best old tracks and read the most thrilling tales. (53)

What is of particular interest about this poem is that the speaker is caught between lamenting the memories of his own childhood and forming those of his children by imposing “the best old tracks” and “most thrilling tales” onto them rather than letting them ride the streetcars and explore the city as he once did. This idea is revisited in “Restoration” where the speaker once again shifts from his childhood desires, represented in his recollection of toys and playgrounds, to the delight a child discovers in an old box of old toys. The exchange between the speaker and the child is one of rejuvenation rather than the nostalgia of “Saturday Penny.” Rather than impose his memories on the children, the joy they find in the toys invites the speaker to revisit a sense of innocence, so to speak:

[…] these places are gone, but I see us revisit them,
outposts of unconquerable genius, of a world
where you live freely and to which I’ve been
repatriated by your grace. (57)

In a recent interview with the Toronto Quarterly, Morritz describes his book as “beautiful, […] a worthy object of two hours of your leisure.” While there is certainly nothing wrong with being proud of one’s work, and in fact there is much to admire in such a display of confidence, Morritz’s assessment here in part points to the collection’s weakness. Too often, the language and execution of these poems feels forced; this is not to say that Zeppelin is a bad book, or that the poems are poor, but only that it often feels weighed down by overly ornate language and prettiness. While in the same interview Morritz proclaims his enchantment with the prose poetry of Baudelaire or Henri Michaux, this reader of Zeppelin could not help but notice how, unlike the poets cited above, Morritz’s lines go on in a kind of breathless stream, full of sound and fury, yet leaving the reader, or this reader, at least, scratching his head at the end of each stanza. Take, for instance, this section from “Am Nocturne,” the longest piece of the collection; totalling thirteen pages, it appears to be the centrepiece of the collection:

Multiply beyond all understanding
the quantity of these discreet compartments
for diversion and perhaps a system might result
with the charm of the maze – that trifle,
the fundamental despair of which is hid
by the apparent richness of its design. (59)

Like several of the other pieces, the poem flaunts an overarching sense of satisfaction, and not the satisfaction of a job well done, though in many ways it is, but a self-satisfaction that negates, indeed contradicts, the overlaying and opposing themes of apocalyptic doom and childlike innocence of its other poems. Here again, the difficulty, for this reader, is that there is something to be said about the effect of the collection’s tone, or attitude. It either tries to do too much, or seems to struggle with what it wants to be. The challenging aspect of this collection, then, is not that the pieces are formally complex and require the close reading of a trained and practiced eye, but that there are several echoes between the poems that demand more than the readers participation. Morritz expects his readers to read and engage with his work in a very specific way and, as such, tries to dictate the reader’s experience with his poems. Simply put, like the children whose father imposed “the best old tracks” and “most thrilling tales” instead of allowing them to have their own experiences, their own discoveries, this reader of Zeppelincould not help but notice the author’s hand reaching onto the page and manipulating the words and lines with great satisfaction (essentially having all the fun), even at the expense of stifling the reader’s experience.

The poet fancies this collection as his Songs of Myself, yet such a designation would suggest that the poet has reached his apex, which this reader is positive is not the case. Again, there is much to admire in Morritz’s writing, but I would venture to guess that his subsequent releases will only be stronger, smarter, and self-assured rather than self-satisfied, making him, in my estimation, a poet worth remembering.

 

Alexander St Laurent is a playwright by trade but practices essay writing and fiction as well. He currently resides in Montreal with his two dogs, Gogo and Didi.

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