Moritz, A(lbert) F(rank)
MORITZ, A(lbert) F(rank)
Also writes as Albert Moritz, Albert F. Moritz, or Al Moritz. Nationality: American (naturalized Canadian citizen since 1994). Born: Warren, Ohio, 15 April 1947. Education: Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1965–75, B.A. 1969, M.A. 1971, Ph.D. 1975. Family: Married Theresa Carrothers in 1969; one son. Career: Since 1975 professor of English. Awards: Canada Council grant, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1992, 1994, 1999; Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship, 1982; John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1990; literature award, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1991; Ontario Arts Council Works-in-Progress grant, 1999. Address: 14 Alpha Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4X 1J3, Canada.
Here. Portland, Maine, Contraband Press, 1975.
Black Orchid. Toronto, Dreadnaught Press, 1981.
Between the Root and the Flower. Vancouver, Blackfish Press, 1982.
The Visitation. Toronto, Aya Press, 1983.
Song of Fear. London, Ontario, Brick Books, 1992.
Ciudad Interior. Zacatecas, Mexico, Universidad Autonóma de Zacatecas, 1993.
The Ruined Cottage. Toronto, Wolsak and Wynn, 1993.
Phantoms in the Ark. Vancouver, Ronsdale Press, 1994.
Mahoning. London, Ontario, Brick Books, 1994.
A Houseboat on the Styx. Victoria, British Columbia, Ekstasis Editions, 1998.
Rest on the Flight into Egypt. London, Ontario, Brick Books, 1999.
The End of the Age. Toronto, Watershed Books, 2000.
Canada Illustrated. Toronto, Methuen Canada, 1982.
The Pocket Canada: A Complete Guide to the World's Second-Largest Country, with Theresa Moritz. Toronto, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1982.
America the Picturesque. New York, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1983.
Leacock: A Biography, with Theresa Moritz. Toronto, Stoddart, 1985.
The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to Canada, with Theresa Moritz. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1987.
Stephen Leacock: A Remarkable Life, with Theresa Moritz. Toronto, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2000.
The Most Dangerous Woman in the World: A New Biography of Emma Goldman, with Theresa Moritz. Toronto, Subway Books/ University of Toronto Press, 2000.
Translator, with Jane Barnard, Children of the Quadrilateral: Selected Poems of Benjamin Péret. Syracuse, New York, Bitter Oleander Press, 1976.
Translator, with others, Ludwig Zeller in the Country of the Antipodes: Poems 1964–79. Toronto, Mosaic Press, 1979.
Translator, with Theresa Moritz, Testament for Man, by Gilberto Meza. Toronto, Dreadnaught Press, 1982.
Translator, with Beatriz Zeller, The Marble Head, by Ludwig Zeller. Toronto, Mosaic Press, 1986.
Translator, with Beatriz Zeller, The Ghost's Tattoos, by Ludwig Zeller. Toronto, Mosaic Press, 1989.
Translator, with Theresa Moritz, Body of Insomnia, by Ludwig Zeller. Vancouver, Ekstasis Editions, 1996.
Translator, with Theresa Moritz, Rio Loa: Station of Dreams, by Ludwig Zeller. Toronto, Mosaic Press, 1999.*
Critical Studies: In Canadian Literature, 131, winter 1991; Commoneal (New York), CXIX (19), 6 November 1992.
A.F. Moritz comments:
For me poetry is a mode of knowledge and a mode of participation, uniting these two things that often seem at odds. Its knowledge and participation are often obscure, conflicted, grasped more in faith and hope or mute going on than in fulfillment, while it registers and sings our actual ignorance and the shortcomings of our experience of nature, self, and society. This struggle, inward and outward, makes it impossible for poetry to be complacent and complaisant, necessary for it to be dynamic and gracious. I do not forget though that talk of participation and knowledge can be a self-benediction of the poet on grounds of generosity. Poetry is generous, but it is also pure self-delighting play of the self with its powers, and it is also craft, skilled shaping that seems to stand outside words and meaning and handle them with wholly unintellectual absorption. The pursuit of knowledge and participation, the investigation of their forms in the troubling here and now, the encounter between passion and duty, the demand for a perfect and living form are always together in poetry. It leads toward the complete imagination in our own voice, where there are no gulfs between the world longed for, the world of longing, and this world. It led me to anarchist and metaphysical wantings, for justice and mercy. It led me to want above all to write a song like "'Twas on a Holy Thursday," "Michael," "Now sleeps the crimson petal," "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," or any of those of Trakl, Vallejo, Jiménez, Celan, Breton, Seferis, Quasimodo, Ungaretti, Montale, Artaud, Césaire, and many others, so many that it is wrong to name a few. I remember one summer Byron teaching me to scorn everything and William Carlos Williams teaching me to love everything with the same gust, and an earlier summer memorizing Hamlet and Virgil, and a still earlier summer, almost the earliest, gulping at what Isaiah had sung of the identity of failure and triumph. I would like to repeat, and solve, and remake that in my own way, as did Paz and Ritsos and Bonnefoy.* * *
A.F. Moritz is active as an occasional university lecturer, creative writing instructor, cultural journalist, literary translator, and dedicated poet. Common to these activities is a respect for the spoken and written word. It could be said that Moritz and language are inseparable and that for him and his readers the world of words has replaced the real or everyday world. In The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature Geoff Hancock states that Moritz is "in the tradition of the Romantics. His poems are often philosophically dense meditations on visionary states in a nature increasingly threatened by the mechanical world." That is as true as far as it goes. More likely, Moritz is not so much a nineteenth-century romantic as he is a pre-Socratic (or post-Sartrean) philosopher who postulates the principles of a whole new order of reality independent of the world as we know it.
This is a somewhat daunting task, never explicitly addressed in any one poem. Instead there is the evidence of the practice. "Loneliness," one of Moritz's earliest poems from the chapbook Water Follies (1978), includes lines like these: "The desertion of women composes / the black refrigerator without walls." The bland statement and the range of reference with no appeal to common sense suggest that the poet is really a surrealist. It is safe to say that surrealism is one of the motors of Moritz's writings. Image follows image in splendid array. Moritz has translated from the Spanish many volumes of the surreal poetry and prose of the Chilean-born writer and artist Ludwig Zeller.
If surrealism is one influence on the work of Moritz, philosophy is another. His poetry is an endeavor to express in words a different world order. The undertaking does not take the form of acts of charity, feelings of love, or delight in incident. It takes the form of disquisitions on metamorphoses. The collection Black Orchid (1981) includes an afterword in which the poet writes, "The word manifests our situation, to ourselves, and afterward to others, and in poetry the word most nearly approaches its own reality. A poem, once created, stands before us as an enigmatic being which reveals that expression is a phenomenon of presence: its nature is not so much informative as sacramental."
The esthetic approach to transfiguration finds expression in the title poem of the collection:
The fountain raises its head
and with water's passionate vengeance
to color the dry rock with these flowers.
Although Moritz seldom writes about himself directly (the first-person singular is largely absent), he does so in "Memories of a Small Town Childhood":
The horizon always seemed to you and me
too big a word to mean those dirty rooftops
pasted against a grey newspaper of sky
so wet the pain ran down all over us.
Here a world is evoked and right away revoked in "pain." More than most, Moritz's poems are rhetorical—hortatory and oratorical.
Moritz's most accessible collection is The Tradition (1986). The title poem has much to say about ancestors: "There is no way to know them, / unless to presume that they were much like us." Is there solipsism here? If there is, the poet is able to break or at least bend its confining bars in the moving poem "The Boy," which begins like this:
Sometimes a man feels a boy walk out of him
and close the door. Then, turning to a window,
the man can watch him, always growing smaller,
a long way down the path that gently drops
across the steep hill.
The boy of the man walks into the sea and fishes in its waters. The poem ends with
And it doesn't matter that he won't catch anything,
when the suns sets he goes home.
It is a fine set piece. "The Chinese Writing Academy" offers irony:
And we who are poets and bureaucrats
will not ask in poems why we write—
no question so inconsequential as that.
For we who know the sorrows of being out of power
know poetry is only part
of a larger question
which also we will ignore with all our art.
We will only wonder silently while we sing
why we do anything.
Moritz's later collections discuss the "larger question" with eloquence, though often as well with a hint of garrulousness. About the collection Song of Fear (1992) the poet P.K. Page has written, "Some of the poems are like fables; some like tableaux—motionless, full of portent, with the gravity and power of myth."
In The Ruined Cottage (1993) and Mahoning (1994) there are signs that Moritz has become more autobiographical. The latter title is a reference to the Mahoning River of the poet's childhood near Niles, Ohio. Although he has lived in Canada since 1975, he seems to be returning to his past, or perhaps transforming it into a new past is a better way of expressing it. Here is "The Five-Foot Shelf" from the 1993 collection:
A man in middle life
of self-regarding intellectual rigor
and a cold, analytical curiosity
that reduces the world and his own body
to objects, a man who took himself apart
and found nothing but the parts,
by a flower, a stone, a wooden stool,
a child doing something simple.
So if surrealism and philosophy are the motive power behind Moritz's earlier work, it is possible that to these can be added the disclosure of autobiography in an attempt to create a new order for the past as well as the present.
—John Robert Colombo