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Its Own Amazing Order
by Beverley Daurio

TWO YEARS AGO, Erin Moure was asked by the TVOntario literary program "Imprint" to make a poetry video. In the video, a computer printer chugs and chugs. Moure sits on a chair, and the poem comes out of the machine. She leans forward and reads three or four pages glancing up now and then at the camera. The room is plain, with cream walls; perhaps it is her writing room, perhaps not. The writing is beautiful, but neither her voice - caramel, steel, and somehow indefatigably optimistic - nor her demeanour are seduced by that beauty. The camera does not move; there are no concessions to the illusions of television. Moure is working, that much is clear; what is clearer is that she is entirely skeptical about the business of being on screen.

My impression of Moure as sceptical about how information is presented in the media is supported by her own poetry and essays. It is also clear in interviews with her - she once affectionately suggested that an interviewer question a pancake instead of her. With this scepticism in mind, I hesitantly compiled some "facts" about her:

Erin Claire Moure was born in 1955, in Calgary, Alberta. She is the author of seven books of poetry. The first of these books, Empire, York Street, published when Moure was 24 years old, was short-listed for the 1979 Governor General's Award.

Moure lives in Montreal, not far from McGill University, the Main (rue St. Laurent), and cafe-dotted rue St. Denis. She does not smoke. Employed as the senior officer of customer relations and employee communications at VIA Rail, Moure lifts weights on regular basis, rises weekdays at five a.m., and retires at nine p.m. She prefers to write first thing in the morning.

Erin Moure won the Governor General's Award for Poetry for Furious in 1988, and the QSPELL Award in 1990, for WSW (West South West).

Erin Moure has been prescient. These are the final lines from Empire, York Street:

In my country, the politicians talk

of referenda. They do not believe, & while they are not believing

the bones will break loose

triumphant, singing like birds.

Baldly presented, my "facts" about Erin Moure display their inadequacy as a way of revealing her to the reader. As Moure said in WSW, "The speech is the writer's speech and each word of the writer robs the witnessed of their own voice, muting them." Nor is Moure's admonishment about voice part of a lecture; about her own work, she wrote: "only my assumptions, only the arrogance of Erin Moure made into the poem...."

Moure is not sympathetic to the idea that exposing bits of her life might help to sell books: "[Personal details] focus on the person, not the work. I am more complicated than the details. And more irrelevant than the work ... too many personal details are just clutter. It's all a construct anyhow, out of context. I would like the focus to be on writing, the act I love. Where I am just one small working voice. That's enough."

Moure's poetry is at the same time deeply personal though not in the confessional sense - and epic in scope. Her poetry is her public expression, not a representation of her self. Her self, she insists, is material: a person who gets up early and goes to work at VIA Rail on Monday mornings, who laughs and cooks for friends. Her being, like anyone's, cannot be represented by the haphazard connect-the -dots approach of written biography.

There are writers whose resistance to celebrity J. D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon come to mind - seems an idiosyncratic aspect of character, a struggle for privacy that is untheoretical and basically self-protective. Moure's resistance is different, inspired by her rigorous questioning of and responsibility toward speech. But:

"'Responsible' not to the civic order and its maintenance, but to the 'polis, 'which is people as a civic organism/unity. When the civic order is a) killing us, and b) excluding many of us, and c) constructing all Of LIS, responsibility to the 'polis' means defying that. Maintenance of the civic order is the political subtext to naming some work 'difficult.' I prefer 'poses difficult questions.' "

Moure is open and forthcoming about herself, often funny and ironic, and generous with her time. But her consciousness of the "constructed" nature of any representation of the real throws a sentence like "in person, Moure is lively and tall, with chin-length brown hair and a quick, intelligent gaze" back on itself. I can't "represent" Erin Moure here; I can only construct an unreal image of her, quote her answer to, for instance, a question about the current state of Canadian culture:

"Artists finance/subsidize with our lives the production of art, and have had some considerable help with the presentation of it. Now the help is a lot less, and when this happens, the artists are left to subsidize the presentation of art as well. It's like having a kid, when the father is too tired, ecoeure fed up, the mother still must summon the energy and attentiveness to raise the child. The presentation is essential; it provides a ground, a meeting place, a way for ideas to be exchanged, heard. With it, art develops, people find it. Without that presentation, art can become hidden, clandestine, growth slows. The polis shrivels. This is happening, will happen. It will be more difficult for society as a whole to resist the trans-national Americanization and commodification of culture, when they are less able to hear us, know about those of us whose lives are a resistance to that."

Yet, the roots of this poet's thoughtful iconoclasm are eminently interesting. I suggested to Moure that details about her early life might be helpful to a young woman, for example, struggling to define herself, especially in view of Moure's statement that when she was young "there just weren't enough images or role models," and she answered several questions about her youthful experiences with public and social institutions.

On public school:

"I liked: learning amazing things, reading, arithmetic. Disliked: being cowed by the arbitrary exercise of power, and the very narrow order that was drilled into us. Sit down, don't took out the window, stay on the same page. These were the real lessons. Of course I couldn't put it in those words at the age of five or six. It was just confusing. Blows could come from anywhere."

Briefly, on family:

"My name is Spanish, Galician. I'm 'Heinz 57' but mostly descended from people whose land was always run by someone else.

"My father read to us; we didn't have much at home but we were always at the library. Reading was valued. Education was valued; if you could get it, maybe you wouldn't have to work at some awful jobs. Material goods were not valued ... there weren't any, but they weren't coveted, either."

On becoming a feminist:

"My father sent my brothers outside to cut the lawn and work in the yard, and I had to stay in and wash the dishes. Did I cry! My brothers didn't defend me one little bit (the alternative for them was the dishes, you see). I had to stir up all the shit, solo. I had two adults arguing with me. The division of duties didn't stick, though. No one could give me a reason that held up. My mother understood, but her heart wasn't in the argument."

On high school:

Moure did not like high school. "Too much 'norming,' and the ache of not fitting in and absolutely not knowing why, or what alternative there might be. There were teachers who encouraged reading .... Earlier than high school, junior high, there was [the poet] Claire Harris, who really made me think about language, how it is put together, its flexibility and sinew, the way it works as a body, structures thought. She made us read Shakespeare, and write compositions, write, write, write. The act itself was of value. I still have the report card where she told me I wasn't working hard enough, wasn't working to expand the limits of my capability, I guess."

Moure left the two universities she attended, each for about a year: "I was restless; there wasn't enough range. Undergraduates were fodder." And then she went to work, in factories, on the trains: "I had to find some way to support myself. I did what I felt was possible."

Asked how she came to understand herself as a lesbian, Moure responds: "The idea of 'understanding myself' makes me howl. It's oxymoronic. But to answer: what a long ache I went through. No one wants to be castigated, or to be faced with the homophobia of others. Or, for that matter, to face one's own homophobia ... it took me years even to find a name for what I felt."

Only a few years after Moure left Calgary, her first book was published. "I just wrote ... early on I had this idea that I would try to keep three submissions in the mail at all Limes. That was the goat. When something came back, I'd examine it critically to see if it still looked neat, then ship it out again. Jim Polk at Anansi asked for my first book. I don't think I've learned the business of publishing, though. I think books are too claustrophobic for poetry, anyhow."

Moure's resistance to iconography - "I don't want to be some big poet" - raises numerous issues, including the question of reportage as a mediation of and distraction from actual experience. To what degree do we lose the depth and capacity of our own senses when we are constantly bombarded with surface constructs of people we have not met as simple and knowable? Ought the subject of reportage to be willing, for example, to scatter quick answers to questions that otherwise required years of concentration, perhaps, simply to formulate, never mind answer, when the poetry, the result of those years of work, is available for consultation? Many years ago now, Moure worked on the trains for VIA. Could a request to describe her experience of the trains elicit a more evocative response than this?:

That this is what i chose. To watch years step from the station into light: always to the tracks, steady as a dream. Or that shaken. The rest leaving or returning, &me stopped by the waiting steel. Or transfers, to other stations, over shaken rail others always on vacation & me on the job.

Not to regret, even a little.

No. I came to this, & agreed, & it took me

Holds me yet.

(from "what the station agent never says,"

Empire, York Street)



This is a life in which a case of whisky is one drink. In it, a dog goes totally blind & no one knows if it remembers its young doghood, the smell of wild mountains carried in storm from the high passes

I feel I am in the world & there is no god in it with me. These days my husband gets up & sits on the edge of our bed & says a case of whisky is one drink. He says there are glasses as big as women filled with rye & he wants to marry one. This is what I listen to, no wonder I can't sleep.

(from "Tricks," Wanted Alive)




Don't be afraid of thinking otherwise. All poems have their own amazing order, by which we decode ,,the author's intention." Millions of people get sick of this in Grade 10 & never read poetry again.

(from "Order, or Red Ends: Order 4,"


Out-of-context snippets from Moure's substantial body of work cannot do that work justice: her vision ranges over vast, previously uncharted, mysterious ground, plundering philosophy, Derridian theory, current events - among thousands of other things - and echoing (not replicating) many voices:

"As if all voice came out of the self! The big 'me!' I think women -who are, both historically and currently, in a deauthorized position vis-a-vis speech (in the social context, where we still lack authority unless we assume it in the same way as men) - absorb, conflate, hear the speech of others mixed in with our own words, hear more of a community of voices, voices echoing other bits of voices that we retain as synaptic triggers in the head. No one voice being 'self-present' or indicating self-presence."

The appearance of Moure's poetry on the page has changed little over the years, and she has been involved in the typesetting of several of her books. Moure says: "It's important to me. You're dealing with the alphabet, and with the visual representation of the lungs, of breath. I myself have drawn the alphabet over and over. Out of respect."

What has changed is the method of construction of her books. Her early works (Empire, York Street; Wanted Alive; Domestic Fuel) are collections - if internally interrelated and coherently organized collections - of discrete poems. In them, Moure's lasting preoccupations are present - war, her own concrete experience, politics, justice, women, metaphysics, the sacred - as well as the precursors to her later work, long poems like "Riel: In the Season of His Birth," and suites and sequences. The language is energetic, exploratory, disciplined, and wild, the images strikingly true and hammeringly memorable. With Furious, however, comes both a statement of aesthetic intention, "The Acts," and a different approach: "I guess with Furious I started to see the 'book' (the illusory book, not the published object) as the unit of production, as it were. The illusory book is the one I am writing into, am honouring. It is a state of presence, a state of belief, even."

The complex aesthetic revealed in Furious, which reads in part - "It isn't that to change the weight and force of English will necessarily make women's speaking possible. But to move the force in any language, create a slippage even for a moment ... to decentre the 'thing,' unmask the relation" - is fulfilled in the novel-like works WSW and Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love, which are daring, uncompromising maps of thought in words:

"Some want poetry to comfort and nourish their assumptions, not abrade them. I have to listen, and respect the Ian, guage, the words; I can't be responsible for making things easy on the reader .... You can't read all poetry like you read the Globe and Mail ... some of it is so rich that one line is enough for a century. [Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love is based on one line from Garcia Lorca, "0, how the wheat is tender."] Too much gets crammed into books; you have to adjust and read a bit at a time. Then get up and wash your face in cold water. And feet your way along the edge you have come to."

Asked directly for her opinion of author profiles, Moure says: "They're only good if they help people to see themselves. The author is an invention, a woman bearing a glass plate who crashes in the doorway. If an author falls in the forest, does she make a sound? What is important is that people can be truly present to themselves. For this you need others, a web of others, of impulses, touches, glances, words, emotions, pulls, telluric forces, symptoms, atoms, fuel explosions, inferences, motions, and laughter."

A reader searching for Erin Moure in these pages is bound to be as frustrated as I am here, trying to convey the allure and power of the metaphysical landscape of her books -especially Furious, WSW, and Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love -without being reductive. As Janet Malcolm said in her recent New Yorker examination of the Sylvia Plath biographies, "We must always take ... the poet's word, just as we are almost always free to doubt the ... journalist's." Simply, Erin Moure is at home in Montreal. And her word is in her magical, questioning, intensely liberating poetry. Any reader can find her there.


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