HAVE TO CONFESS that the moment I heard this book was slated for release, I began haunting the poetry section of my local bookstore, convinced that a dose of new work by Erin Moure would chase away the winter doldrums. Chase is putting it mildly, and mild is something this book is not. Furious is Moure's fourth full length collection, and true to form (and content), her new work sparks with passion, inventiveness, and more conceptual leaps than quantum physics.
Politically and aesthetically it's more focused than previous work; it also explicitly presents a theoretical framework ("The Acts") that is at times illuminating, at times troubling in its dogmatism. And there's a fierce anger true to the title of the collection running like a brushfire through these pages, anger at a patriarchal system that the poet regards as not only marginalizing women but also silencing them.
"It's the way people use language makes me furious," Moure declares in "The Acts." Part literary manifesto, part series of footnotes to specific poems, this final section of the book raises issues that will be familiar to anyone following feminist literary theory. Put simply, Moure sees language, with its rules of grammar and concentration on linear narrative, as reflecting male values and consequently excluding women's experience. She argues that women must break from conventional forms of discourse in order to truly speak. Her strategy in Furious itself involves the dis/composure of language and of meaning "I want to write these things ... that can't be torn apart by anybody, anywhere, or in the university ... I don't want the inside of the poem to make sense of anything." As a result, her poetry is demanding sometimes astonishing in the relations it sets up and sometimes, frankly, just obscure.
Furious opens with a deceptively calm poem ("In whose garden I am sleeping/In whose garden I am sleeping perfectly") but moves quickly towards the poet's awakening to a garden/ world that is far from idyllic. "Snow Door" touches on a theme that Moure will return to again and again throughout this collection women's inability to genuinely express themselves within the confines of conventional (read male dominated) language. It's a physical loss, since Moure associates memory/ experience with the body ("If the liver were soft enough to hold up/ in my mouth without hurting,/I could call my Memory out of it.") In "Snow Door," this loss is compared with the numbness of flies trapped between window panes during the winter: ... can't remember flight exactly, not exact enough, they topple on their backs & spin & buzz. Having forgotten everything except that they used to fly, why can't they do it now. Too stupid to know why they can't do it now.
Us too, who don't know we've been frozen, or if we have, & if we know, don't ask questions.
These poems have gone beyond asking questions they're accusing. Accusing a system in which the bodies of laboratory animals and of women have been assigned the same value by coldblooded science; technology is harnessed for destructive purposes; sexual harassment and violence are implicitly condoned; and language is an instrument of distortion. In both the first and third sections of Furious, the tone is angry and combative ("Women in the earth are not so powerless"). Moure also links the psychic damage inflicted by patriarchal culture upon women's consciousness ("the mouth, hurt/trying to dream") with other forms of oppression that of apartheid, for instance. And liberation is as much a matter of breaking language's control ("The government is trying to restore calm, the voice says; . . . The word calm means suppressed anger./The word calm means implode") as it is of defying an oppressive regime.
In the second section, Moure gives voice to that "hurt mouth" of women's experience in a series of poems that are as charged with tenderness as the rest of the book is with rage. "Visible Affection" begins with a remarkable love poem, "rolling motion," that does, indeed, roll sensually; it also fits perfectly with Moure's declaration in "Ile Acts" that she wants "to move the force in language from the noun/verb centre ... to the preposition":
Your face in my neck & arms dwelling upward face in my soft leg open lifted upward airborne soft face into under into rolling over every upward motion rolling open over..
The poems in "Visible Affection" seem to suggest that on a personal level, women's consciousness can only be manifested outside the realm of heterosexual relations: "Finally there are no men between us./ Finally none of us are passing or failing according to/Miss Chatelaine./. . . Finally I can see us meeting, and our true tenderness, emerge." I'm convinced of the beauty of poems such as "Speaking of Which" and "Betty," which deal with similar issues, but I must admit that I'm not wholly convinced by what they actually say. As I'm sometimes left unswayed by the proddings of theory, which can offer insightful new ways of examining the world, but can also narrow vision. What I've always found exciting about Moure's work is her ability to be a poet of both ideas and of feelings, with equal intensity. Many of the poems in Furious, with their unexpected leaps and phrasings (what the poet herself calls "stuttering"), impress for exactly this reason. But there are others, such as "Ocean Poem," that seems little more than abstract exercises, without the force and emotional urgency that ignite her other work.
I still think that Furious goes far in pushing against the limitations of language to express the inarticulateness of experience. Though I sometimes wanted to argue with this hotheaded book, I always found myself stimulated by its strong social consciousness, its disruptiveness, its living fire of words.