Planetary Noise: Selected Poetry of Erín Moure, edited and introduced by Shannon Maguire (Wesleyan U Press), marking forty years of poetry. In 2016, she published two translations, of François Turcot’s My Dinosaur (BookThug) and Chus Pato’s Flesh of Leviathan (Omnidawn). Two translations will appear in 2017, of Antón Lopo’s Distance of the Wolf: Biography of Uxío Novoneyra (Fondación Novoneyra, Galicia) and of Brazilian Wilson Bueno’s Paraguayan Sea (Nightboat Books, NY, fall). 2018 will see publication of her translation from Galician of Of Stubborn Dreams, by Uxío Novoneyra. Moure lives in Montreal.
Her poem “ferticule” appears in the twelfth issue of Touch the Donkey.
Q: Tell me about the poem “ferticule.”
Well, it’s a fertile molecule, a poem small and fertile. As such, it has something to do with little theatres. Its refrain is a chant in which (as in the medieval cantigas de amor) there is no concrete image. The refrain is a movement from the interior, from the cells. It is small rhythm. At first, it is each time followed by concrete images, then becomes less concrete as the poem proceeds. Finally, even the words become unwords that do not articulate a universe we know. At the end, the last three words are real again, and concrete, if disparate: a chewed cud, the Spanish for “to heat up,” and the name in Polish of the southern city of Krakow or Cracow or Cracovie, a city with a long history in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in the Habsburg monarchy, and, sadly, in the Second War, as the capital of the Nazi General Government for conquered territories in the East. Now it is a popular tourist city in Poland, and one of the most bustling cultural places in Europe.
“Ferticule” is a wondering about thinking or meaning, one that wonders by actually trying to think or mean, through chanting. The poem is thwarted, or indigestible, yes, but the chant remains. The thwarting could have to do with the poem being part of a work in progress called The Elements, which has to do with my Dad and is a book my Dad wanted to write with me about his own condition. I am trying not to write a sad story about dementia, where the metaphysics, and ontological base, of a “normal” person is set above those of someone whose brain is different. Rather, I am trying to receive that difference as equal, and let it enter the book on a more receptive footing, to see if this can help provide a ground, one ground, for hearing new epistemologies. My Dad died fairly suddenly, before he was able to work with me. But we spoke of it and he wanted me to do the work. He wanted lyric poetry, and there is plenty of that in the book. But there are also moments of destabilization, such as “ferticule”.
Q: As you say, this piece is part of a far larger work-in-progress. What is it about the larger project – whether book-length or multiple book-length – that appeals? One could ask how you moved to this from composing individual poems, but is there even such a thing as a poem that stands alone?
Actually, it might be said that I moved in The Elements from larger project to composing individual poems. One reason for the title of the work is that each poem is an element, is poem in and of itself. This includes the few longer poems in what I call linear sections, as well. The project is 104 pages, shorter than my other books.
Your last question resonates: I think all good poems refer and relate to poems that came before, and reach toward the poems of the future. But not only do poems not stand alone, I don’t think they “stand.” That’s an ableist word. Rather, I think they roll. They hold out words and sounds of the néant, and sometimes the real poem takes place between any one poem and another, in that space the poem/s open, forward and beside each other, and backward too. Translation makes time go backward by making poems in other languages contemporary to us; poetry can do that too.
Yet, to go back to the longer project: we read poems in books. In the end, I am always writing a “book,” I think. So. in that sense every poem or text has to contribute to the space of the book, to understanding what that space is and might be, and how it might change. The book is a wonderfully flexible mechanism! And it resonates, always, with other books, and with the books of the future.
Q: With over a dozen poetry titles going back some thirty-plus years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see yourself headed? I know you’ve a selected poems just published; was this an opportunity to look at more of an overview of your ongoing work, or is this something you already do? Or not at all?
At any given point, I am immersed in two or more writing projects, and two or three translation projects at different stages of completion; I read my contemporaries in Canada, the USA, and Galicia primarily; I’m immersed in the past—in 19th century Galicia, in 20th century Ukraine, in David Hume and Miguel de Cervantes to think about George Bowering, in Ionesco to think about stagings, in Rosalía de Castro to think about migration and precarity, etc. An overview of my own work? I am not sure if that is even a useful or possible thing for me; I just keep going. In the poems, Planetary Noise, it’s feisty poet, editor, and literary scholar Shannon Maguire who writes the introduction and provides the perspective, and who read all my books and proposed selections; she welcomed my thoughts and opinions, but it was her efforts made the book possible. I’m grateful for that, grateful that she turned her bright mind to the 40 years of my own work in poetry, and grateful too for her consultative process in deciding the contents and for her work with Wesleyan University Press, who have been tremendous.
As for where I see myself headed... same place as all of us: the ground, more or less. I’ll try to get a few more things done before then, writing included, translation included, and love and laugh too, and be there for my friends in times tough or glad, as they are there for me. Life is amazing and I want it to go on, of course. I’ve been very privileged to live in a peaceful part of the world, and to have basic health care, and to have had decent access to education, food, shelter all my life, and have neighbours of all origins and nations. I want to listen, too, and live long enough to see writing and possibility and future changed by younger writers, particularly Indigenous writers, as their thinking via their languages and traditional knowledge is going to be essential to all of us to make a future earth in which we and our children can thrive.
Q: Given you work on multiple projects concurrently, I’m curious as to the ways in which projects relate to each other. Do your multiple projects feed into each other, or are each deliberately constructed as an entirely separate thread? Are all of your projects – akin to bpNichol, for example, or even Robert Kroetsch and Dennis Cooley – individual elements of a single, ever-expanding canvas?
I don’t work as do bpNichol or Rachel Blau Duplessis, for example, with a single ongoing life project, as in The Martyrology or Drafts. In Shannon Maguire’s introduction to the Selected, she classifies my more recent production in terms of trilogies, which makes sense to me. So there are definite links. I did conceive of the first such trilogy as one: Search Procedures (the investigation of what it is to be a person and not just a human being), The Frame of a Book (or A Frame of the Book) (the investigation of what it is to relate as person to another person, a relation we call love), and O Cidadán (the investigation of what it is to relate as person to other multiple people we don’t even know, which is the citizen relation). Maybe what I am working on now, The Elements, forms a trilogy with Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots and The Rooming House, one of which will appear from New Star Books later this year, and one of which is still to be written. In working on any given project, avenues open up that can’t be explored as part of the project, either open up in the work at hand and get tangled with my life, or in the life at hand and get tangled with the work. I’d say the latter is the case for all three projects in my head at this moment. I also see translation of poetry as part of my work, as a contribution to the shared conversation that is poetry. Much of that sphere of my work is scarcely visible in Canada, as I translate poets who are from other nations, and there is no institutional support for that translation here. So my conversations tend to move into the USA and Europe, which is exciting, of course. It also has a great influence on my own poetry, though I do mourn the inability to converse more with my fellow Canadians on the challenges to poetic thinking that arise from working across languages and welcoming poetic voices from across our borders. I miss the chance to share that, so particularly welcome VerseFest’s invitation to Chus Pato in 2017.
Q: I’ve always preferred the idea that writing, generally, is a conversation. Over the course of your work, who do you feel you’ve been in conversation with? What writers are you speaking, or even responding to?
Probably more responding to than speaking to! Definitely in conversation with. Even with the dead for their whispers persist and converse with us still, being as we can only read all things as contemporaries, and with or against (warp or weft) our contemporaries. Diogenes Laertius, Lorca, Butler and Derrida on mourning and hospitality, Chus Pato, Eugen Ionescu, Francisco Cortegoso, Méndez Ferrín, Rosalía de Castro, Heinrich Böll in The Clown and Billiards at Half-Past Nine, Timothy Snyder on Eastern Europe, Aristotle, Cristina de Perreti on Derrida, Myung Mi Kim, Foucault on discourse and its structures, Lisa Robertson on the cinema and weather and the moment and the sentence we need, Christine Stewart’s upcoming project, Treaty 6 Diexis, Rachel Blau Duplessis, Oana Avasilichioaei, Phil Hall, Pam Dick, Uljana Wolf, Christian Hawkey, Gerald Edelman in the 1990s, CD Wright, Andrés Ajens, Guillermo Daghero, Jake Kennedy, Geneviève Robichaud, Chantal Neveu, François Turcot, Nicole Brossard, Robert Majzels, Norma Cole, Gertrude Stein, bpNichol, Caroline Bergvall, Nicole Markotic, Louis Cabri, Alice Notley, Barbara Guest, Fred Wah, the Quartermains, Margaret Christakos, Liz Howard, Louky Bersianik, France Théoret, Laura Mullen, Dom Denis, Calum Neill, Jordan Abel, Aisha Sasha John, Jacques Roubaud, Joan Didion, Winnie the Pooh, Gonzalo Hermo, Daphne Marlatt, Serhiy Zhadan, Yuri Izdryk, Roman Ivashkiv, St. Augustine, Allison Clay, Colin Browne, Yasemin Yildiz, Peter Kulchynski, Jean-François Lyotard, Robin Blaser, Albert Camus, Thomas Merton, Mendinho, Luz Pozo García, Belén Martín Lucas, John Cage, Christa Wolf, Randall Jarrell, Mother Goose, Elisa Sampedrín, Carole Maso, Rachel Zolf, Renee Gladman, Claudia Rankine, Anthony Burnham, Immanuel Kant, Descartes, AM Klein, Ben Lerner, Luce Irigaray, Antón Lopo, Oriana Méndez, Harryette Mullen, Georges Perec, Lorine Niedecker, George Oppen, Paul Celan, César Vallejo, Jerome Rothenberg, John Millington Synge, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Rancière, Colette St-Hilaire, Angela Carr, Claudia Roden, Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki, Svetlana Alexievich, Al Purdy, Rosalía de Castro, Primo Levi, Phyllis Webb, George Bowering, Rilke, Philip Levine, Alice Notley, James Wright, Frank O’Hara, Vida Simon’s art, Pavel Yurov’s documentary theatre, and Bernard-Marie Koltès too, and Heiner Müller of course. And there’s not just writers! There’s art curators and commentators like Emeren García and Kim Fullerton, artists like Lani Maestro, Clive Holden, Vida Simon, translators like Lou Nelson, poet-translators. Plus my brothers, one of whom is a historian and the other an engineer.
Actually, I hate questions like this. I can’t answer them. My own work is a bit of blown pollen in a groundscape and seascape teeming and rich with the work of all these people and more... and older, Gilgamesh, and the dances in the streets of eastern villages at the beginning of village time... dances made to dispel death.
Q: One might suggest that your work has been an exploration of how the individual interacts with the group, from your work through the ‘citizen’ to the staged performances in and within Little Theatres. I also see a variety of other threads throughout your work, such as the poetry of both “witness” and “resistance.” Where do you see your work situated between these ideas? A blend of the two, or does that even miss the point?
I’d say the position of witness insofar as it interests me is always in a position of resistance. I’m a quiet person by nature and raise my own voice as witness when something troubles me to which I can’t assent. My work, I’d say, thinking here of the trilogy of Search Procedures, Frame of a/the Book, and O Cidadán, has tried to explore, despite censure or ego or other pressures, what it is to be a person and not just a human being, and this necessarily involves others. Not “the group,” I’d say, but others, the community of persons-not-ourselves with whom we share space and time but whom we do not know. Without this link of community and responsibility toward the other — which includes above all the responsiblity to resist genocides — we cannot fully be persons. We are humans, perhaps, but are slaves or self-colonized, I might say, by authorities and privileges that distort us to ourselves, and that in fact do not have our shared interests at heart.
As Bernard-Marie Koltès demonstrates in La Solitude dans les champs de coton, which I saw again last fall in Montreal at Théâtre Prospero, the situation in which we often find ourselves vis-à-vis others is that of commerce and not of exchange, and we are damaged by this. In the language of Koltès’s monologues (an influence, to be sure, when I was writing Kapusta), which is often compared to that of 18th century discourse, we see the origins and development of commerce and its entry into our bodies long before what we like to call late capitalism. That 18th century period coincides, as Foucault wrote, with the time when the modern notion of the “author” emerged (a restrictive notion, intended to shut down possible meanings, and a notion also based on commerce, not exchange).
But back to those three books from the 1990s and early 2000s. They triangulate the space of an Elgnairt Adumreb, the opposite of a Bermuda Triangle, in which our ships do not disappear but can float. It is inside that space where other flotation devices arose, like Little Theatres and O Cadoiro, my translations of Chus Pato and Rosalía de Castro, of Andrés Ajens and François Turcot, and then O Resplandor and into The Unmemntioable and Kapusta. Inside that space is the work of many other writers as well, and many thinkers and doers. I did not invent that space! I just mapped it provisionally, half stumbling into it, having already swallowed a lot of seawater, so I too could create there and breathe.
I don’t trust necessarily what is called the “poetry of witness” where the poet speaks for another (and, yes, since the 70s, this concept has been problematized and rewritten by many others). But I do believe the act of witness i.e. listening to the other and recognizing their right to space (I had written at first “giving them space” here, as if space were mine to give! yikes! the formations of our own neurons that prevent us from thinking!) by attempting the act of hospitality à la Lévinas —which is not to judge or to make the speaker conform to what we believe— is critical for poetry and thus for our future as thinking beings, as persons.
Q: I think you may have already answered a variation on this, but, finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?
So many people, as I said before. In sixty-two years, it couldn’t be otherwise! And works I can’t help returning to are likewise many, and depend on what it is at the moment that I can’t help. But today, were I losing my faith in poetry? There is so much clamour in poetry, and sometimes there is joy in the variety, and sometimes there are too many words of poets and poetry seems a vulgarity I could part with. If this happened right now, I’d read touch and smell: Barbara Guest’s Fair Realism, César Vallejo’s Complete Poetry (tr. Clayton Eschleman). Late Paul Celan, in the Joris translations. Emily Dickinson’s The Gorgeous Nothings. Norma Cole’s My Bird Book. The Collected Books of Jack Spicer. Caroline Bergvall’s Drift, George Bowering’s rocky mountain foot, Lisa Robertson’s 3 Summers. Phyllis Webb’s Water and Light, Giorgio Agamben’s “Notes sur le geste.” Lorca’s Divan del Tamarit, Clarice Lispector’s Água viva. Lani Maestro’s Tulalá, Susan Howe’s That This. Andrés Ajens’s Æ. Michael Palmer’s “Série Baudelaire” (tr. Emmanuel Hocquard et Philippe Mikriammos). Chus Pato’s Carne de Leviatán and Secesión. Ingeborg Bachmann’s No sé de ningún mundo mejor (tr. Jan Pohl). Heiner Müller’s Hamlet Machine. Christa Wolf’s No Place on Earth. Miklós Radnóti’s Tajtékos ég in all the translations. Between “cloudy” and “frothy”, how to choose! Neal McLeod’s current Facebook posts on the Cree language, which are poems. Gilgamesh, in the Gardiner translation from the Sîn-leqi-unninnī version. Os Eidos by Uxío Novoneyra. New poetry in Room Magazine by Marilyn Dumont. And those medieval Galician troubadours. Martín Codax! “Ondas domar de vigo.” I’ll let him have the last word...