Michael Morrissey is known as an inventive writer of poetry, short stories and novellas. Since his first collection of poems was released in 1978, he has gone on to publish several volumes of poetry, receiving notable awards for his work. His first collection of short stories won the 1982 PEN Award for Best First Book of Fiction. He has also edited key anthologies, written novellas, and written for the stage, radio and film.
FROM THE OXFORD COMPANION TO NEW ZEALAND LITERATURE
Morrissey, Michael (1942 – ), is a versatile and often innovative poet and fiction writer. He was born in Auckland in 1942 and, apart from short periods in Sydney and Christchurch, has lived there for most of his life.
He attended Auckland University, received the Writer’s Bursary for 1977, and published his first book of poetry, Make Love in All the Rooms, the following year. He was writer-in-residence at the University of Canterbury in 1979, and in 1981 gained a Fulbright travel grant to visit America. In this same year he also published a further three volumes of poetry under his own Sword Press imprint: Closer to the Bone, She’s Not the Child of Sylvia Plath and Dreams. The poems range across free verse and metrical forms and tend to focus primarily on sexual relationships.
Observation gives way to a more uninhibited surrealism in Dreams, which is something of a transitional work. In 1981 he also published his first collection of short fiction, The Fat Lady & the Astronomer, which won the 1982 PEN Award for Best First Book of Fiction. This was an avowedly postmodernist and experimental collection but, as in his poetry, the stories range agilely across a variety of styles and forms. The use of ‘factions’—stories where historical figures interact with an obviously fictional world, thereby undercutting realist expectations—is prominent, as is the influence of Donald Barthelme.
In 1985 he edited and provided a 30 000-word introduction to The New Fiction, a collection of postmodern New Zealand fiction. Like many of his own poems, the stories (by writers including Jennifer Compton, Chris Else, Russell Haley and Keri Hulme) explore the disjunction between language and reality while challenging realist assumptions about writing. Morrissey also co-edited The Globe Tapes (1985), which combined recordings of live poetry performance with an accompanying printed version.
Taking In the View (1986), his fifth volume of poetry, appeared on his return from a period at the University of Iowa International Writing Programme. Accompanied by Gregory O’Brien’s illustrations, this was a more assured collection that assimilated his experiences in America. Poems such as ‘Comic Book Heroes’ anticipate his later volume, The American Hero Loosens His Tie (1989), which was dedicated to Charles Bukowski. In this period he published a further three volumes of poetry. New Zealand—What Went Wrong? (1988) is a quick-fire interrogation of the title country; Dr Strangelove’s Prescription (1988) is an elegiac treatment of nuclear extinction; and A Case of Briefs (1989) is a more playful collection that takes pleasure in the brevity of poetry. Similarly, his collection of stories, Octavio’s Last Invention (1991), is less sardonic and more playfully fantastical.
Stage, radio and film are among his other writing credits, and he teaches a number of creative writing classes in Auckland and publishes frequently as a reviewer and essayist. He compiled New Zealand’s Top 10 (1993), a book of lists. Morrissey has retained a place as a talented innovator, alert to developments overseas, especially in America. He is frequently anthologised, for instance in the Oxford Book of New Zealand Short Stories (1992). Two novellas under the title Paradise to Come were published in 1997.
Michael Morrissey was awarded the Lilian Ida Smith Award in 1986.
First published in 2000, The Flamingo Anthology of New Zealand Short Stories, edited by Michael Morrissey, is an updated collection of New Zealand short stories. It is an exciting and different anthology, which will be an invaluable resource for the student of New Zealand literature at both secondary and tertiary level. In some instances it offers two or three different stories from the same author, giving the reader a substantial sample of their work. The anthology will also interest the general reader who wants to be made aware of recent trends in New Zealand writing.
Heart of the Volcano, a short novel set in Guatemala, was also published in 2000.
His short story 'Existential Kissing' was included in Authors Choice edited by Owen Marshall.
Morrissey also writes a book review column for Investigate magazine and A.A.'s magazine Directions.
From the Swimming Pool Question was published by Zenith Publishing in 2006.
One of Morrissey's poems was included in Shards of Silver (Steele Roberts, 2006), a book investigating the interplay between photography and poetry.
In New Zealand's leading poetry magazine, Poetry New Zealand, Issue 37 edited by Owen Bullock, there is an essay on the poetry of Morrissey's work, an overall view by Dr John Horrocks.
Taming the Tiger: A Personal Encounter with Manic Depression was published by Polygraphia NZ in 2011.
Michael Morrissey is the University of Waikato's writer in residence for 2012.
MEDIA LINKS AND CLIPS
- Michael Morrissey’s bibliography in the Auckland University Library's New Zealand Literature File
- Michael Morrissey on the Poetry New Zealand site
Updated January 2017.