Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love

by Erin Moure,
136 pages,
ISBN: 1550650289

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Maps of Our Knowing
by Charlene Diehl-Jones

ERIN MOURE opens her new book, Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love, with a poem that in certain ways sets up her whole project:

What is "transubstantial" in the word,

the hallucination of

this & that, the words not containers

of meaning but

multipliers, three tongues in one mouth,


without denotation

or connotation, this,

that, referential.


The beauty of

this & that, as if even memories are


& they are, alive in maps of neurons

in the cortex

beside the maps for presence, for place in

the universe,

for hearing, for sexual feeling, hereafter

known as love

the unmentionable

("Corrections to the Saints: Transubstantial")

Once words are not containers but multipliers, the whole poetic universe blows open: you aren't telling but discovering. Then even the unmentionable can bespoken.

Moure's intelligence, it seems to me, is to assume always the proximity of those maps of neurons. Language bumps up against memory, vision, dream, thought. Which gives many of the poems in the book a kind of dreamlike sheen:

When they lie side by side, the wanton

horse (love)

A book slammed shut, the echo

Stood up sudden then resumed their

duties "cutting hair"

The third form of possession or

madness, of which

Poe try

When they lie side by side,


("Photon scanner [blue spruce]")

I like the stubborn illogic of this writing, the evocative power of these Ashbery-like shifts. Still, Moure doesn't confine herself to this styling; many passages are closer to prose, and range from narrative to self-reflexive commentary to theoretical inquiry. "Hope Stories," for instance, threads its way through dream narratives, dream theory, and poetic fragments. Throughout the book, modes imagistic, political, elegiac, interpretive, playful, erotic -- coincide, proximate maps of our knowing.

In a way, Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love teaches you how to read. The you approaching the text is invited (sometimes ordered) to participate in the gradual accretion of significance; images, like words, are not containers but multipliers in this writer's hands. Birds, blue, hay, city, shoulders: all recur conspicuously, wind themselves into a net to catch you up.

Moure will occasionally provide a kind of playful critique of what has preceded, answering her detractors before they can speak. In some cases, these pieces are brilliantly funny -- "The poem lacks simple narration. Simple narration is absent and / it doesn't work to make a mystical image out of celery, even as a/ joke." ("Corrections: Executive Suite") -- but it's a posture that, for me, wearies quickly. On the other hand, a previous reviewer (quoted midpoem) has relieved me of having to comment on the flurry of intrusive exclamation marks.

In an epigraph to one of the poems, Moure invokes Gertrude Stein: "Considering how dangerous everything is, nothing is really frightening." Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love is an unflinching and delicate exploration of the absolute dangerousness of any world one might inhabit, the knots and losses and confusions and revelations that accompany our attempts to speak and love ourselves to life.


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