Friday, March 31, 2023

The darkness, surrounding us


Photos taken at the Alexis Nihon Plaza, Christmas, 2016

Located on the corner of Atwater Street and Ste. Catherine Street West, the Alexis Nihon Plaza became a part of our consciousness, a part of our life, a place we took for granted. It was the first shopping plaza of its kind in downtown Montreal, the Atwater Metro station was here and above it were floors of stores and offices; many of us passed through here everyday after leaving the newly opened metro to go home on the 102 or 105 city bus. Later, Jung Society of Montreal lectures were held at Dawson College which was connected by an underground passage to the Plaza. We bought things at the many stores, we ate at the food court or at Nickels (owned by Celine Dion), it was a part of our life. It was a great life. 

But those days have ended. Life will not return to what it was before Covid. New stores have opened, Nickels is gone, and the food court is only half open, at least a half of the restaurants have closed and are boarded up. It's a new gang of kids that hang out here, students studying with open books are gone, replaced by a few young people who don't seem to be students, they recognize each other then continue to wherever they are going. Old people are still here in the food court, now it's old men playing backgammon, but the old couple who sat beside each other near the escalator are gone. Alexis Nihon Plaza has been maintained, renovations they did before Covid make it an attractive place, but the people aren't the same, they've been moved down a few notches, they seem poorer than just three years ago, rather drab, colourless, no money. And this is what Covid has done to us, the life that was is gone and will never return, the life ahead of us is different, it is now dark and forbidding. It is our dystopian future.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, in March 2010

 Some photographs of Christ Church Cathedral, downtown Montreal, 3 March 2010. 

Dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg

The Bay department store in the background, formerly Morgan`s

Photographs below dated 1930, 1957, and 1869


Christ Church Cathedral, 1869

Monday, March 27, 2023

The bedrock, the permanent, is love


Sidewalk drawing, May 2016

The stratified rock of time, layer on layer of experience, weddings and funerals, children and family, the bedrock, the permanent, was always love. The effort was for love and an expression of love, as mysterious as gravity, as electricity, as a flock of birds crossing the sky as one entity, mysterious and taken for granted; the foundation of existence was always love. Not birth or life or death or suffering, but love; we know this with age, with advancing years; the permanent is not money or possessions, it is not all the other stuff of life; it is one thing only, consistent and constant, the bedrock, the permanent, is love.

Friday, March 24, 2023

"Adam's Curse" by W.B. Yeats


Knights Hospitallers, Limerick, Ireland

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,   
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,   
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.   
Better go down upon your marrow-bones   
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones   
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;   
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet   
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen   
The martyrs call the world.’
                                          And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake   
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache   
On finding that her voice is sweet and low   
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing   
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be   
So much compounded of high courtesy   
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks   
Precedents out of beautiful old books;   
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;   
We saw the last embers of daylight die,   
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky   
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell   
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell   
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:   
That you were beautiful, and that I strove   
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown   
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Vincellli's Garden Centre, March 2023

I finally took some photographs of the old Vincelli's Garden Centre; they closed about two years ago. What you see below is about one quarter to one third of the size of the property, and public hearings on building a large condo building here are slated for this week. This is also one of the few unbuilt property lots in the City of Cote Saint-Luc (which is adjacent to where I live in Montreal); it is a mostly residential city but includes Cavendish Mall and Cote Saint-Luc Shopping Centre. Is this the best development of this property? Housing is needed, or seems to be needed, and a growing population means more tax dollars for Cote Saint-Luc. Of course, this might be considered a remote location in this area, but nothing is all that far from something else in CSL; and while there are some stores across the street from Vincelli's, out of five stores only two are still in business, so I am not sure if the commercial part of this development will succeed. I am also not sure other services are available for the future inhabitants of this condo; I expect they will be mostly elderly people moving from single family residences to condos. The development (one tower will have 8 to 12 storeys) will bring a lot of people and their cars into the neighbourhood; stores, bus service, EMS, infrastructure, and so on will have to be improved, or will have to be provided. Would it be better to make this a park instead of more condos? That won't happen because the desire for increased tax revenue is strong and there is no need to promote the area for future residents, many people want to live in CSL and residents are happy to live there. Personally, I don't like what I see slated for this site; if I lived in the area I would oppose it, oppose two years of construction, trucks, noise, pollution, and an influx of people to the area. But it is a prestige condo development as long as no one cares about the noise from the adjacent CPR rail yards. Consider a modified version a done deal. 

This is what is planned at this location

People have begun dumping construction material and other garbage on the site

There is a cardinal on the left, the site is home to many birds and small animals

Friday, March 17, 2023

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Memories of both our Irish heritage and family on this St. Patrick's Day, 2023. In the following newspaper article, all of the references to Callaghans are to my great great uncles, Fr. Martin, Fr. James, and Fr. Luke Callaghan. The three priests were brothers of my great grandmother, Mary Callaghan; she was born on my mother's birthday in 1845 and died on my birthday in 1906. 

Chronological History of the Irish in Montreal,
from The Gazette, 23 May 1942
(click to enlarge)

And thinking of my grandmother Edith Sweeney Morrissey. I took these photographs at my grandmother's home, where she lived until her passing in 1965, located at 2226 Girouard Avenue. I was driving home one day in May 2009 and I saw that the place was for sale and they were having an open house; I rushed home, got my camera, and returned to take these last photographs of where she had lived from around 1925. Those of us who are still alive and knew her, we all loved her and still miss her. 

Front entrance to 2226 Girouard Avenue

Looking out living room window at
2226 Girouard Avenue

Living room, 2226 Girouard

May 2009, 2226 Girouard Avenue

From left, my mother, my Auntie Ivy, my grandmother;
outside Parliament, Ottawa, 1962

My grandmother at our home on Montclair
Avenue, 1963

My grandmother, back porch of Girouard Avenue 
flat, around April 1938, holding her grandson,
Herb Morrissey

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The foundation, the load bearing literature of Western society


Photo taken in 2010, Stephen Morrissey with a bust of Tagore,
on the UBC campus, Vancouver

If you've ever done home renovations then you're familiar with load bearing walls. Basically, a load bearing wall holds up the walls, floors, and roof above it. I live in a small Cape Cod house in Montreal, constructed just after World War Two, and the load bearing wall sits on a single beam that runs across the width of the house, in the basement there is a steel post giving added support to the beam, but it is the beam and the wall above it that is doing the load bearing. 

I think of literature and being a poet in the same way. There is foundational, load bearing literature, that supports both contemporary Western and international literature; for any poet it's a good idea to know something of this literature. That is why getting an education, either formal or self-taught, is important; it is important to have read Victorian and Romantic literature, or Restoration literature, or Whitman or Chaucer or Dante or Tagore, or other poets; it is important to have read Homer, the Holy Bible, and the earliest literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh; or T'ang Dynasty poetry, Du Fu, Li Bai, and Han Shan. Read Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, Coleridge and Wordsworth, Dryden and Milton and Shakespeare. Read Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and Allen Ginsberg. Read the bible, it is the load bearing foundation of Western literature. You don't need to be an authority on canonical writers or read everything by these writers, but at least know they exist and where they belong in literary history and one day read their work, or the work of a few of these writers. This reading is a poet's foundational knowledge, it is the load bearing literature that makes a poet's work possible. 

But we live in an age in which the attitude of some poets is that a literary foundation isn't necessary -- they find it oppressive, or the writers are oppressive, or what have you -- so just read the current writers they approve of, and cancel the work of dead white men and women. Of course, this is self-defeating but it is an attitude that even some school boards are following as they delete or censor books by foundational writers, the writers and thinkers who made contemporary literature possible. I mention this because we are living in a time of cancelling literature that doesn't support an ideological Woke world-view. School boards that delete or cancel literature in favour of only certain contemporary writers are not doing their students any favours, they are keeping them ignorant. 

And yet, all poets need the foundational work of previous generations. The older generations of writers are the load bearing writers that give contemporary literature substance and depth; without this load-bearing literature every new generation of writers is a dead end, writers reinventing literature, inventing the wheel. And what a waste of time this is when even just a good anthology will help introduce younger poets to literature that is necessary to be a real poet, not a poet manqué.

I know that real poets, young poets, will follow this advice because they want to learn and they have the enthusiasm to go beyond what is currently fashionable. I once wrote that "poetry will never die"; this was in response to the popularity of Tik-Tok, YouTube, social media, video games, and popular culture. And today's Woke people make things worse, they are intolerant of anyone who does not agree with them, cancel culture is their weapon. So, while poetry will never die it might have to go underground as long as the Woke era is still active; but even Wokeness will pass, it's just a matter of time, and the load bearing foundational literature of Western society (and by extension all great literature) will still be there waiting to be read.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

"I Shall be Released" by Bob Dylan


On Atwater Street, under the overpass

They say everything can be replacedThey say every distance is not nearSo I remember every faceOf every man who put me here
I see my light come shiningFrom the west down to the eastAny day now, any day nowI shall be released
They say every man needs protectionThey say that every man must fallYet I swear I see my reflectionSomewhere so high above this wall
I see my light come shiningFrom the west down to the eastAny day now, any day nowI shall be released
Now, yonder stands a man in this lonely crowdA man who swears he's not to blameAll day long I hear him shouting so loudJust crying out that he was framed
I see my light come shiningFrom the west down to the eastAny day now, any day nowI shall be released

Friday, March 10, 2023

My grandfather's shovel


A month ago, when a shovel that had belonged to my grandfather broke, I was shoveling snow on our front walk with it, it led me to remember and write about my grandfather. My grandfather had been captain at Fire Station/Caserne 46 when he retired in the early 1940s and, years later, my mother gave me a shovel that had belonged to him. When the shovel broke I thought I would throw it out. I used to have two of these heavy iron shovels, one had already been lost when our barn burned down around 1985. I wasn't careful with the remaining shovel; I left it outside all year, behind our garden shed, it was only an old shovel; still, it had been special to my mother mainly because they don't make shovels like this anymore, it was a shovel made to last, and it had belonged to her father; "hang on to that shovel" she said. 

But now, when the shovel was broken, I remembered Robert Johnson's Balancing Heaven and Earth (1998), a book I had reviewed, and in which Johnson remembers something he thought was junk and had discarded, it was a clock that had woken him for important events in his life. In the review I wrote,

As one would expect, there are many anecdotes in this memoir, always with the effect of returning us to the importance of the inner world. The resolution of life's contradictions lies in becoming more conscious, and this sometimes requires the ritualization of the mundane; Johnson describes how a broken clock that was unceremoniously discarded was later retrieved from the garbage. Alone, he made a ceremony of burying the clock, a ritual during which he remembered with fondness the many events the lock awoke him for, including leaving for Europe, visiting Dr. Jung at his home, and so on.

Thinking of this I retrieved the two parts of the broken shovel and glued them together, it was as though the shovel had never broken, it had been restored and I had the shovel as a souvenir of my grandfather. It was a memento and mementos are limited in number; sixty years after his death I have been revisited by him and reminded of the importance of one of the few things that I have that belonged to my grandfather. 

I have a few mementos from my mother and I have this old shovel. But what to do with the shovel? Put it on display? Hang it on the wall? Prop it against the wall? Maybe. But this shovel will be a nuisance if I don't do something with it. And when I am gone the shovel will mean nothing to other people, it will just be an old shovel and one that will break again, if used, and then be discarded. I know why things from the past don't last, why they end up discarded even though they have a personal importance; antiques have some monetary value but most mementos have no value except to the person who values them. There is no reason why anyone will keep this old shovel after I am gone.

Being a literary person and a poet, and a teacher, I see the symbolic value of things. It is that a shovel like this was once used to clean up after a fire, or shovel snow, but while a shovel is used to dig in to the ground, to clean up things, it also has an archetypal value, a psychological value; and this is what we do, we who are archivists of memory, we see the symbolic and meaningful aspect of things pertaining to the psyche; it is one of the things that gives depth to life. The broken shovel reminded me of my grandfather and my relationship with him, it reminded me that he is important to me; his story is unique in our family's history. 

As a last resort, maybe I could bury the shovel in my garden, but I am reluctant to do this, for some reason I think it is rather ghoulish; a shovel is not a corpse. It is a shovel that will live on in memory; but always knowing that these mundane things can break, be thrown out, be discarded, and even memories have a certain limited longevity, based on how long we remember. And, one day, everything is forgotten unless it is written down and, even then, everything is temporary. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

The perennial garden in winter

There isn't a lot to do in the garden in winter, maybe there is nothing to do but walk through two feet deep of snow and the snow over the top of your boots. Or look out the dining room window at the snow and cold and be glad you're inside and not out there. These bright sunny March days can be quite warm in the sun, you might even get a sun tan sitting outside in the garden if there isn't a cloud cover. In the shade it's cold, it's -2 C. I had forgotten that March is my least favourite month.

A perennial garden doesn't require work in winter, no skimming this years seed catalogues, no buying seeds, no germinating seeds in-doors, there is none of that. All it requires is patience and try to get through our overly long winter.  So, just get on with your in-door life, go for a walk, make supper, vacuum the carpets, and soon a mostly white and empty garden will be transformed into something so different from the garden in winter that it is one of the wonders of our northern life. Nevertheless, by late February and the three weeks of winter in March one is fed up with winter, the cold, snow, and we just want it to end.