The back cover of Marianne Morris’s The On All Things Said Moratorium, instead of the usual editorial blurb, presents a statement. The poet refers to how language shapes the way we think and the manners in which we structure our lives, culture and society, adding: “the specific, intentional, and pointed use of language may also constitute an attempt to change certain ideas – political or otherwise – that depend on language for their perpetuation.”
From this vantage point, it should not come as a surprise that such concerns are manifest throughout her new collection, particularly in her careful experimentation with poetic form and the performativity of language. Hers in not a poetry of pure concepts and abstract ideas expressed in a transparent vessel, even when she refers to “an attempt to change certain ideas.” Instead, concepts are thought anew, shuffled and explored by thoughtful and precise interventions into the clichéd daily use of language.
Canadian-British Morris has been writing, performing and publishing poetry for over ten years in various journals, pamphlets and chapbooks. The On All Things Said Moratorium is her first book collection; half of the poems are new, and half taken from her extensive back catalogue.
Her poems address riots in Trafalgar Square, love affairs and erotic events, everyday misgivings and literary apprehensions, all marked by a performative dynamic where words rush, one after another, with an acute awareness of their own materiality. Her poetry might roll from the tongue with brilliance and dexterity, but look equally enticing on the page. Some poems, however, seem to hurry themselves past the reader, often leaving little in their wake for the mind to hold. Take, for instance, these lines from “Cocteau Turquoise Turning”:
Awkward faces corral each other someone’s
got to, blemish on the magic we try to tell
ourselves lies in glossy red finished box, as in
death so it goes in the life as well. Stuck to a
different sort of sticking place courage depends.
In the collection as a whole, such a writerly stampede is balanced by numerous instances of clear, essay-like discourse and thought-provoking verse. Morris takes us by turns through the beau-monde of compelling ideas, and the demi-monde of foisted sexual urges and existential impotency. Many of her poems contain sudden shifts from the elegant or portentous to the base and banal, and back again. This characteristic twist and twirl is often made manifest after several lines, but at times a single word suffices to undermine a high-minded train of thought:
Culture is the general sphere of
knowledge, and of representations of lived experience, such as horses, within
a historical society divided into economic segments.
Similarly, the prose poem “I All Have Is The Body To Go On” is a thoughtful tirade on how desires overlay our everyday actions. Yet the elaborate ideas are suddenly (though perhaps not unexpectedly) interrupted by the seemingly mundane image of an insect dying in the shower, leading the poet to exclaim, almost as a maxim: “it does not have anything to do with anything.” The mood here, as elsewhere, is of existential helplessness and often ironic apathy that perhaps is a sign of the complacent conformity the poems themselves seek to denounce. Such prevalent mood in the collection, however, is counteracted by the fresh energy of its exposition. By turns, bombastic and dispassionate, the timbre in her poetic voice remains constant throughout, full of joyful energy in her linguistic play and protean lexicon, with copious yet precise references to popular and high culture, and an the ease with compact one-liners. With over sixty poems brimming with freshness and inner tensions, this mature and compelling collection has plenty to offer to even the most demanding readers.