Poetries, languages and selves, the being of Erin Moure

Based in Montreal, Erin Mouré is one of Canada’s most eminent poets and translators. Of her work Laura Mullen says, “Erín Moure's new book is so brave, has so much truly lively wit, and is so completely fresh it makes a lot of contemporary....poetry look like dorm furniture from Target: instantly charming and easy to discard.”

Moure’s work dwells in the possible. In the changeable. It’s “being” in poetry. It’s also thinking in poetry. Even as I write this I can hear Erin Mouré interacting with my text: referring me to Deleuze, Char, Butler, joyfully expanding my thoughts on her work, correcting certain assumptions. In fact, every time I attempt to describe her work she shifts uncomfortably, albeit good naturedly, translating me into Galician, French even Mouré...the poem is never what you think it is, she says, “Human struggle is always sited in human bodies. Not in bodies as signifiers, but bodies as lived apparatuses” (O Cicadan 51).  The bodies of poems sit up and take notice. Each time they move they refresh themselves, “they recuperate but do not solve” (Frame of the Book 36) (Sarah Dowling on a poem from this text here).

Search Procedures is a favourite (I have several). It’s a confident book, despite its title its quite certain of its originary location and turning on the searchlight of its headlamp heads out to Lake This muttering “Sometimes I think I have a dumb dog of a cat” (SP 70) and “This poem is not/ a cute thing” (SP 103). The poem is living, it is searching, not explaining. Look, “Where I live an American can fly out a window on a line of poetry.” Wade in, she says, let the ideas carry you. The emphasis is on sensation. Words lap, they gather meaning over time. Abandon is hope.

Over the years Moure has offered very specific details about her poetics. From Furious: “Compression, inter-text, everyday event, physical body, what is poetic necessity.” Or, if that’s not clear enough:

I want to write these things like Unfurled & Dressy that
can't be torn apart by anybody, anywhere, or in the
university I want the overall sound to be one of making
sense, but I don't want the inside of the poem to make sense
of anything. People who are making sense are just making me
laugh, is all. (92)

So wanting the poems of Mouré to make sense is in a way that is not of Mouré’s text is not entering into her work, for unless one’s brain is experiencing more than a mild brain orgasm you are probably not fully experiencing Mouré who by now has become several poets, each more multifaceted than the last.

The ecstatic Eirin Moure of Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person, for example, following the nameless creeks under the city of Toronto:

What I’d give to be the creek under the road at No Frills

so that people could sense water on the way to the laundromat

and in her new book, Little Theatres, the “theatre critic” Elisa Sampedrin, who on the back of the book asks: Moure: Where have I heard that name before? I thought she’d left. What on earth is she up to now?

This is the part where poets appear with red markers, leaning over my text and drawing lines from this point to that, some argument about the organic and whole and the expectations of writing and discussing poetry (of which I have met none of the requirements) and for which I can’t quite apologize for.

However, faced with critical attack the poems themselves begin to calmly breathe. They let the angry poets come in and out of the text many times—which in Mouré time is actually only seconds—and fortunately the poetry is patient and stands up to many entries and exits and each time the angry poets enter and exit concrete structures of the brain dissolve and where the anger was, gaps appear. Air begins to circulate.

And by then Mouré has incorporated the anger into the text. Now they are all looking up at a birch tree in NJ, ringed with light.

Where does the body end?

Where is the human bearing which I seek?

The people who move in the surface of the poem, becoming signs. Are they form or content?

Break down logical connections/structure of meaning

We must refuse to restrain ourselves

From an email exchange:

SQ: As someone who translates commercially for a living as well as translating literary texts professionally (Nicole Brossard) and translating literary texts for fun and out of appreciation (Chus Pato) and someone who “transelates” more conceptually (Pessoa in Sheep's Vigil), there are many kinds of translations, and all seem a part of your practice, can you comment on how these various acts inform you?

EM: I translate commercial stuff to make a living, but I love translating poetry (Brossard, Ajens, Pato, do Cebreiro, Pessoa, Salgado, and other things too). Bringing work from another culture into mine is unendingly interesting and poses incredible challenges in terms of my own positioning and subjectivity, the lack of equivalences between languages, the different weights of words...

I am very much in and of a material practice and of more than one culture. Transelation was a strategy for me, erin of the e, approaching a specific text of Pessoa's, a text of multiplied subjectivities, and translating in a way that foregrounded the humour and diction in it... and respected the excess subjectivity...

All my translation is professional, by the way, and I have fun doing all of it!

SQ: As you know, your transelations of Pessoa are a favourite text of mine. The elation that one feels as one of the many notes struck in texts such as Search Procedures and Sheepish Beauty/Civilian Love which seem to be overtaken with joy, and there is a sense of your poetic melding and soaring with Pessoa's in your discovery of his Alberto Caeiro. It also seems to mark the beginning of your own sense of heteronymic play—this book followed by Little Theatres and the arrival of Elisa Sampedrín. Can you talk a little about this?

EM: I can nod agreement, definitely these excesses of subjectivity or excesses over semiosis are leading me to think and are operative in the work I am doing (which is the same as the thinking)....

SQ: And you learned Galician in order to translate Chus Pato did you not? You talk about this in your interview in Prismatic Publics, and also in your recent book of essays, My Beloved Wager.

EM: Basically, yes. I was already wanting to learn the language, but it was after picking up m-Talá in Vigo in the spring of 2001 that I found my engine. I had to translate that book so that I could read it myself, and share it.

SQ: When you are translating Nicole Brossard, you work with Robert Majzels, and your latest translation, Notebook of Roses and Civilization, was nominated for the Griffin Prize for Poetry. Can you tell me a little about that way of working? Are you planning another?

EM: We translated 3 Brossard books of poetry together... creating a voice for Brossard that reflected not just what we read in her texts but also what we read in and of her actual physical presence with her own work, as Brossard is alive and we knew she’d be reading from it to audiences. Discovering the stakes and workings of her texts as two people was pretty exciting... Robert and I collaborate very well together; there is no resistance or ego to cope with, just an opening to text and to the languages...

SQ: And your translations of Stănescu?

EM: I don't translate Nikita Stănescu at all... tis the heteronym working thru the sounds and repetitions of the text, the non semantic elements which are strongly contributory to the poem's "meaning" or "sense", and creating new poems that nonetheless, as the real Stănescu translator Oana Avasilichioaei (who encouraged Elisa Sampedrín) has noted, do echo and carry something of the Stănescu original.... strangely...

SQ: Your text with Oana Avasilichioaei is created in a different way entirely, is there a name for this approach? Collaboratranslation?

EM: I don’t know there's a name for it... we realized it was a collaboration after the fact... we were just having fun dethroning the author, the original, etc. And working with both of our voices, which have different registers and can be heard even when we are both talking. And which affect composition itself.

SQ: Are you familiar with Steve McCaffery's homolinguistic translations of Gertrude Stein? I adore that work. But I'm wondering what the difference between translation and retelling is in that context...particularly when, as with McCaffery, there is no movement from one language to another?

EM: Both Oana and I would insist there can be translation within the same language... Every reading being a translation, and every text being open to infinite folding and refolding...

SQ: But you live “in translation,” quite literally in a bilingual world. I’m going to push this a little since you are multi-lingual yourself. Can a uni-lingual poet “get” translation?

EM: Actually, a trilingual world, with snatches of other destabilizing moments, such as my most true expression of doubt at the moment: Я не знаю. I guess I can best answer your question by quoting my small essay from Translating Translating Montreal (Pressdust, 2007): “Funnily, the ones most likely to accept a notion of transparent transference between languages are those who are monolingual. And who thus must translate everything under very difficult circumstances: without any language of origin. To have a language of origin you need a language of arrival: without at least two languages, neither exists. There is just, ever, language. In such case, there is just, ever, one culture so absorbed in its structures that any one individual speaker cannot question and challenge many of its assumptions.”

SQ: Can we end with a poem?

EM: How about this, from "The Nichita Stănescu Translations by Elisa Sampedrín" from my book O Resplandor just out from Anansi. Please note that Sampedrín does not understand Romanian but, even so, something comes through that is not English (as Charles Bernstein says) and some of Stănescu comes through, even though the lexical and semantic levels of the poem are altered (Oana Avasilichioaei, who should know)...


Die Welt ist fort, ich muss dich tragen. Paul Celan

This pietà

is a man

in the care of another man

as tomorrow begs them

into the most gentle

torsion of a foot in the back


this back, in turn, touches the foot

back, gently


!flesruoy fo erac ekaT

Originally Published: February 23rd, 2010

Sina Queyras grew up on the road in western Canada and she has since lived in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, and Calgary where she was Markin Flanagan Writer in Residence. She is the author most recently of the poetry collection MxT (2014) and Unleashed (2010), a selection of posts from...

  1. February 23, 2010
     Kent Johnson

    Erin Moure is fantastic, good to see this post. She and I did a reading together at the Poetry Center in San Francisco some years ago, and she is as warm a person as her work is singular in text. Her transliteration work with the Chilean poet Andres Ajens (a mutual close friend of ours--one of the Southern Cone's leading innovative poets) is groundbreaking stuff, conceptually speaking. Those interested in the experimental translation work of Brandon Downing and Eric Larsen, recently discussed here, should check this out, as Moure and Ajens began collaborating in this vein a good time back. \r

    I once asked C.D. Wright to quickly name the first exciting contemporary to come to mind: Erin Moure!, she said.

  2. February 23, 2010
     Brandon Shimoda

    Hey Kent ... you meant Brandon Brown and David Larsen, not Brandon Downing and Eric Larsen. Not to distract from the central concern of Erin Moure, but to mention ...

  3. February 23, 2010
     Sina Queyras

    Here, here. I have heard this from other poets too, ranging from Jorie Graham to Lisa Robertson.

  4. February 23, 2010
     Kent Johnson

    Argh! And Argh! again. \r

    Two big apologies.

  5. February 23, 2010
     Peter Greene

    "@SinaEmily: from your exchange: "Please note that Sampedrín does not understand Romanian but, even so, something comes through that is not English (as Charles Bernstein says) and some of Stănescu comes through, even though the lexical and semantic levels of the poem are altered (Oana Avasilichioaei, who should know)…"\r

    Collaboratranslamutandis splendorum mustache on the painting?\r


  6. February 24, 2010
     Sina Queyras

    Not sure who Emily is. Or mustached. But nice word.

  7. February 28, 2010

    i agree! David instead of Eric Larsen :)