Winner of the Wheelbarrow Books Prize
published February 2022
by Wheelbarrow Books through Michigan State University Press
A compelling collection of poems, Late Self-Portraits conveys an intimate description of lives through a collage of portraits and affliction. Weaving history and the sacred, both intimate and worldly, one encounters a blind Borges with his mother, a glass confessional in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Frida Kahlo in Mexico, ghosts, a neurosurgeon’s prognosis, and Marie Laveau in New Orleans. Whether in a field with Joan of Arc, encountering the artist Basquiat, or having dinner with Hades, these are haunting poems of loss and unearthing, equally bold, personal, and tender.
Michigan State University Press interview March 2022.
in praise of Late Self-Portraits
“Is the body sanctuary or battle? Late Self-Portraits is a riveting look into the lives—and bodies—of those suffering from illness. The speaker shapeshifts, taking on the personas of various women throughout history—Joan of Arc, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie—as well as famous men (Francis Bacon, Dylan Thomas, Jorge Luis Borges). These poems voyage to vibrant, distant places in time and geography, melding past and present. A son wanders the historic streets of Paris at night, and by day enters a cathedral’s contemporary glass confessional. A dying mother is a Madonna lighting a cigarette and checking Facebook. A man with HIV bench presses in a 'Modern Colosseum' among men whose bodies are chiseled like stone. I am moved by the clarity of vision and the tenderness of touch in these poems. This is a speaker who looks closely and renders the seen and unseen masterfully, her gaze lingering on an image just long enough for us to see it, too. When the speaker turns her attention inward, what is revealed is a devastating portrait of illness, a body wracked by seizures. Sanctuary or battle, this body insists on being attended to—raucous with ghosts, horses, pain. These poems sizzle with energy and urgency. I could not look away.”
—Leila Chatti, judge for the Wheelbarrow Book Prize
“In Late Self-Portraits Mary Morris writes of bodily experiences that cannot ultimately be arrested. Celestial and earthly, peeling back ordinary conceptions of time and space, her poems reach from imagining the interior of the body to experiences of disembodiment. Here, the body is a directional signal pointing outward beyond itself. Her overarching visions, attuned to marvels, create an almost otherworldly sheen in these questing, exacting, deeply realized poems that are radiantly elegant and—in the best sense—unsettling.”
—Lee Upton, author of Visitations: Stories and
Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles”
“...There’s a surreal quality to these poems—a dream-logic that makes them haunting and hard to paraphrase. But I think that’s precisely the point. Life at times forces us beyond the point where things make sense...”
Read the full review in Motherhood Literature & Art (MER) here.
—Ruth Hoberman, professor emerita of English at Eastern Illinois University
“Late Self-Portraits is a ravishing memento mori by a poet in whose skilled hands death, lost love, even her own epileptic seizures become occasions for wonder and rhapsody. Mary Morris refuses a faith that sanctifies guilt and renunciation, conjuring instead a new religion where “bloody icons” are replaced by sunlit mountain temples. She is a poet who sings in the pyre. Like her beloved Joan of Arc, she is 'aflame for our world'.”
—Frank Paino, author of Obscura.
“In the spirit of the great feminist painter Artemisia Gentileschi, the poet Mary Morris, in her luminous Late Self-Portraits, takes on medicine and illness, aging and death, art and spirituality, releasing from the darkness a profound light of transcendence and revelation. She reconciles the body that always betrays us, with the wholeness of nature and our place in it, energy temporal in forms but eternal in belonging. Through masterfully crafted and emotionally complex poems, many of them portraits of herself through the lens of strong women in history, like Joan of Arc and Harriet Tubman, and the deconstruction of great men, like Rembrandt and Caravaggio, Morris brings together the soul and physical body into one great mural of the self in cohesion with others, the universe, and the divine.”
—Heathen (Heather Derr-Smith), author of Thrust
“Mary Morris’ Late Self-Portraits is an artist’s incisive look at her life as she navigates chronic illness, a type of self-portrait itself. Morris’ speaker is adept at navigating intimate and vulnerable moments of illness, high art and history, resulting in the cultivation of a poetry collection that interrogates death, change and art itself. Approaching these large topics with nuance is...” Read the full review in The Shore here.
—Tyler Truman Julian, author of Wyoming