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Erín Moure: Poetry as Planetary Noise
This is intertextuality where we are a very small part of the intertext in the planetary and inter-planetary ecology ... Relativity, probability, chance — we are their subjects and they are ours. PHYLLIS WEBB
Erín Moure is one of English North America's most prolific and daring contemporary poets. Her work in and among languages has altered the conditions of possibility for poets of several generations — myself included. With her ear tilted close to the noise floor, Moure listens for patterns arising from contemporary Englishes and from "minor" languages such as Galician, and shifts language structures away from commerce so as to hear other possibilities, other tensions. In so doing, subjectivity, justice, and politics can be considered anew. Moure's work is transnational in scope; her lines transit from one articulated locality to arrive at or include another. Her poems attend, in various registers, to bodily capacities and fragilities as much as to the operations of power. Moure's poetry travels joyously through noise, and sometimes even as noise, via various channels and contexts, refusing absorption. For Moure, "Poetry is a limit case of language; it's language brought to its limits (which are usually in our own heads) where its workings are strained and its sinews are visible, and where its relationship with bodies and time and space can crack open" (Montreal Review of Books). Facing a Moure poem as a reader, I appreciate the disquieting rhythms, sudden symmetries, outlandish puns, and general pleasure caused by roiling syntax and audacious neologisms. Even without knowing the majority of the languages that Moure draws on, I am compelled by the sounds and echoes that her poems amplify, and the patterns of letters and words that they make visible on the page.
Moure's work is critically acclaimed, and her fourth book, Furious (1988), won the Governor General's Award for Poetry — Canada's most prestigious national poetry award at that time, an equivalent of an American Pulitzer Prize. As of 2016, Moure's oeuvre includes seventeen collections of poetry (one collaborative), several chapbooks, a collection of essays, My Beloved Wager: Essays from a Writing Practice (2009), and a biopoetics, Insecession, that sonically relocates Chus Pato's Secession. In addition, Moure has translated works of poetry, theatre, literary criticism, and creative non-fiction from four languages — French, Galician, Spanish, and Portuguese — into English. As with her own work, her translations and essays are trailblazing and often push the boundaries of form and test the ideological limits of these discursive practices. Her other accolades include the Pat Lowther Memorial Award for Domestic Fuel (1985), and the A.M. Klein Award for Poetry for WSW (West South West) (1989) and for Little Theatres (2005). Her poetry has been translated into several languages, and two of her books are translated in full, Little Theatres into Galician and French, and O Cadoiro into German.
Moure most often engineers book-length networks of poems. Since Search Procedures (1996), which initiated her first trilogy, her work has been organized into groupings of books that probe a series of inquiries from different angles. Moure's interest in seriality is evinced as early as "Riel: In the Season of his Birth" from her first collection, Empire York Street (1979). Her early work shows her familiarity with Charles Olson's 1950 essay "Projective Verse," and as Heather Fitzgerald points out, "asthma is a defining ... feature of her writing practice" (Fitzgerald, "Finesse into Mess" 115). The lung is one site that figures textural difference in Moure's oeuvre, and the ear is another site where differential textures — of several languages, of environmental "noise," and of heterogeneous voices — meet and mix. But the hands: "those organs of power and insistence, organs of tactility, le toucher ... [o]rgans that write" (Moure, My Beloved Wager 92) are just as important and integrated into a poetics that refuses to erase difference, no matter the scale. For Moure, "the hand is also a sex organ" (My Beloved Wager 92) and the mouth is an organ of desire, of translation: a chamber of libidinous exchange between lungs and ears. Moure's poetic inquiries into bodily capacities and connections internalize as well as extend the field of composition. In Moure's work, the lines and trajectories in language emerge from a body in contact with its environment and cultural location(s). Moure herself points out:
It is critical to consider the body not as self-enclosed and complete but as a coding practice; to understand, as Donna Haraway does, that what constitutes an organism or a machine is in fact indeterminate. They are coded by culture, oh yes, but there are ways to have agency and code back ... I call the reader's attention in my work to missing words, repetitions, misspellings, and jarring representations — or not representations but designations: machine struggles and coalescences that construct selves that collide, molecularize, pine, adopt, enjoy and confront a wide range of emotions and desires. I have no easy answers; I don't even look for ease. (My Beloved Wager 94–95)
Out of the disturbance of breath, of voice, Moure re(con)figures what counts as noise and what counts as signal. And she does this over and over again, calling fixed locations and sedimented identities and relations constantly into question, "coding back."
Digital literary innovator Michael Joyce was the first to read Moure's poetry as theoretically relevant to hypertextuality. In Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics (1996), Joyce uses passages from poems in Moure's Furious and WSW (West South West) to clarify what hypertextuality is (180–181, 207). In other words, he treats her poetry as theoretical text — a very fruitful approach to Moure's oeuvre, and one that begs to be taken up more often (and not just on the subject of hypertextuality). For Joyce, a hypertext means "reading and writing in an order you choose, where the choices you make change the nature of what you read or write" (Othermindedness 38). This is an ethos embraced by Moure from Furious (1988) onward. Moure's use of noise — the part of communication that is deemed unwanted and unwelcome and yet is unavoidable — as both medium and ethical threshold in her poetry is very much related to the sorts of choices that frame Joyce's description of hypertext. Moure is a philosopher of cognition and the politics of reading, and her poetic works are the mode of her interdisciplinary inquiries. For the critics who have dismissed her work as "difficult" and "unintelligible" — and there have been several of those over the years, both in the popular press and in academic circles — critic and poet Jamie Dopp has useful advice:
In reading Moure, then, it is important to be as receptive as possible to discomfort, to instability, to "the edge of confusion" that the poems invite the reader to inhabit. It is not always easy to be receptive. There is a tremendous disruptive energy in Moure's later work; it has the in-your-face celebratory quality of Hélène Cixous's Medusa laughing. (Dopp 269)
The "edge of confusion" is a threshold of particular importance in Moure's poetry. Many readers recognize and celebrate that as a thinker and worker in language, Moure is tireless, and her practice deeply engages with reading and listening as ethical modes of encounter. Moure's theories of citizenship and subjectivity have met with intense critical attention (Carrière, Dowling, Fitzpatrick, MacDonald, Moyes, Rudy, Skibsrud), and recent articles have also drawn connections between Moure's poetics and queer affect theory (Moore, Williams and Marinkova).
Moure often responds to the work of other poets and philosophers as well as visual and theatre artists within her own texts, and it is not unusual to find suggestions for reading at the end of her own books. Some of her companions in letters include contemporary American poets C.D. Wright, Susan Howe, Myung Mi Kim, Lyn Hejinian, Rae Armantrout, Barbara Guest, Norma Cole; philosophers as diverse as Baruch Spinoza, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Luce Irigaray, and Judith Butler; as well as edgy modernists such as Gertrude Stein, Fernando Pessoa, Federico García Lorca, Paul Celan, Samuel Beckett, Ingeborg Bachmann, Miklós Radnóti, Daniil Kharms, Heinrich Müller, and Jean-Luc Lagarce. Galician poet Chus Pato has been one of Moure's most important interlocutors in the twenty-first century.
Moure was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1955. At the age of twenty-four, she published her first full-length book, Empire York Street (1979), which was a finalist for the Governor General's Award for Poetry. Earlier, she attended the University of British Columbia in Vancouver as a Philosophy student, where the consequences of inhabiting a woman's body as one from which to write became painfully clear during her second year, in 1975. As she explains:
I spent [time] in the mid-seventies living in a small room on York Avenue, attending UBC, supporting myself by working as a cook. "hazard of the occupation" was workshopped in Pat Lowther's class, which I attended until her murder, at which point I quit school and turned to cooking. What isolation and unease I felt in those days before ... I started to explore my relationship to language itself! (Svendsen 263)
Pat Lowther was a working-class poet just gaining national acclaim in Canada, a rare achievement for a woman then. Moure enrolled in Pat Lowther's senior Creative Writing workshop (as a non-major) to have a woman mentor. But Lowther went missing a few weeks into the course, and was later found dead, murdered by her husband. This event reverberates subtly through Moure's oeuvre; in establishing her own practice, she had to confront "how a woman wanting to write can be a territorial impossibility" (O Cidadán 79). The university soon replaced Lowther with a male instructor, who in his first class wrote poetry on the blackboard in Latin, a language that Moure, raised Catholic, had felt barred from learning in school because of her gender. All of this, to Moure, augmented the gender violence of the situation.
After leaving university, Moure worked as a cook for CN Rail (later VIA Rail, the Canadian passenger train service) on trains between Vancouver and Winnipeg. Two decades later, she left VIA as Senior Officer of Customer Relations and Employee Communications, based in Montreal. She then worked as a freelance translator, editor, and communications specialist. Both her lower middle class roots and her expertise in communications are of great and ongoing importance to her poetics. In communications theory, noise is an interference in a communications channel, or involves those signals that are peripheral to the communication goal. Moure's poetic intervention takes noise as an object of attention, even desire: noise acts as a threshold of relationality. In O Cidadán, Moure clearly articulates this question as central to her poetic inquiry: "What if we listen to the noise and not the signal?" (102). From another poem in that collection, I draw the title for this volume:
When "my language" fails, only then can we detect signals that harken to a porosity of borders or lability of zones ... (across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, not just the visual. as in planetary noise) ... (O Cidadán 79)
Moure adds that "reading (bodies or others) is itself always a kind of weak signal communication, a process of tapping signals that scarcely rise off the natural noise floor" (79). Poetry may be hard to hear in the din of globalized commerce, but in directing our attention towards what is deemed "planetary noise," to the "little theatres," Moure suggests we are better able to assume our civic responsibility.
Planetary Noise: Selected Poetry of Erín Moure is organized chronologically in seven sections that trace her poetic trajectories and shifting use of noise as a poetic medium and a tool of perception. The editing process has been collaborative: I proposed the theme and title and then we negotiated the contents, and our conversations affected decisions about inclusions. Moure curated "Polyresonances (Transborder Noise)" herself and contributed a postface on translation. Although this volume is organized with readers of poetry in mind, it will open productive ways of viewing Moure's oeuvre for readers from any field, expert and novice alike.
EARLY SIGNALS (First Cycle)
While living in Vancouver, Canada, from 1975 to 1985, Moure published Empire, York Street (1979), Wanted Alive (1983), and Domestic Fuel (1985), as well as a chapbook, The Whisky Vigil (1981), which included her line drawings. In search of a community of writers, Moure joined the Vancouver Industrial Writers' Union and did her early reading and writing in the restaurants and bars of Mount Pleasant and the Downtown Eastside — "Canada's poorest postal code" — alongside Tom Wayman, Phil Hall, Zoë Landale, Kate Braid, Calvin Wharton, and other members.
Erín Moure: [I] read with those writers and we talked about that interface between poetry and the street a lot; I was always in favor of a more radical approach to poetry. Wayman's claim was that working people needed to see themselves in poetry, though I found my own railway coworkers were interested in far more than that. Also, the emphasis on working class in that writing excluded gay or lesbian consciousness, which was something that I at some point around 1980 could no longer deny as part of my work.
Moure published her second full-length collection in 1983; the following year, she left for Montreal and began a new phase of her writing that would soon include transnational collaborations, polylingual explorations, and a commitment to queer feminist analysis within her poetry.
The feminist literary awakening in North America was made possible by the groundwork done in women's collectives that, starting in the 1960s and '70s, founded and ran women's presses, bookstores, magazines and newsletters, as well as health clinics, women's shelters, campaigns for women's control over their own bodies, and anti-rape initiatives. This supporting network enabled inventiveness in the literary arena as well. Moure attended the Women and Words, Les femmes et les mots conference, held in Vancouver in 1983, one of the first feminist literary conferences in Canada. It was "a watershed event, [as] it represented the culmination of more than a decade of feminist activism on many fronts. It also inspired many more ongoing activities" (Butling and Rudy 2005, 24). For Moure, the event was as crucial for supplying key reading material as it was for sparking discussions with other women writers — Nicole Brossard, Claire Harris, France Théoret, Gail Scott, and many others — whose work demonstrated the poetic felicity of nonmimetic language.
Shortly after arriving in the city, Moure met translator Lucille Nelson at the Montreal branch of Les femmes et les mots, and they formed a two-person reading group to discuss Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology. Gradually, Moure began to devour philosophy and gender theory on her own: along with the philosophers mentioned earlier, works by Gayatri Spivak, Jean-François Lyotard, Rosi Braidotti, Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva, and Elizabeth Grosz were prominent in her reading at that time. Notably as well, Cixous brought the fiction of Clarice Lispector to Moure's attention, which caused Moure to puzzle about its translation before she could read Portuguese.
This period of extensive reading led to the shift in Moure's own writing that began to surface in her Governor General's Award winning collection Furious (1988). The book opens with an epigraph from Kathy Acker's Great Expectations — a postmodern novel about gender, class, and narration — and ends with a section called "The Acts," in which Moure deconstructs the gender privilege operating in language structures, and its effect on poetry. Lesbian sexuality is figured as noise that disturbs even the structure of the line and the page: as "the howl" of grief and desire in "Rose" (37); as "the wings of the cicadas" (45); and as "the characteristic whelp or yelp / that says I've found something" in "Three Signs" (53). Twenty-six years later in Insecession, Moure suggests: "Poems activate more areas of the human cortex than do nonambiguous speech, they bring excedent light and hormonal energy into the dark matter of the frontal cortex; when we read literature we equip our brains to deal with 'ambiguous speech'" (150). Noise and eroticism are irrevocably joined in Moure's poetry.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Planetary Noise"
Copyright © 2017 Erín Moure.
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Table of Contents<P>POETRY AS PLANETARY NOISE, introduction by Shannon Maguire<BR>EARLY SIGNALS—First Cycle<BR>Empire, York Street (1979)<BR>february: turn towards spring<BR>translation # 1<BR>photosynthesis<BR>Wanted Alive (1983)<BR>Bird<BR>Subliminal Code<BR>Domestic Fuel (1985)<BR>Philosophy of Language<BR>Jump over the Gate<BR>Lunge<BR>Furious (1988)<BR>Snow Door<BR>A History of Vietnam…<BR>Pure Writing Is a Notion Beyond the Pen<BR>Unfurled & Dressy<BR>from The Acts<BR>CIVIC SIGNALS—A Noise Cycle<BR>WSW (West South West) (1989)<BR>Hello to a Dog<BR>The Jewel<BR>The Beauty of Furs<BR>The Beauty of Furs: A Site Glossary<BR>Seebe<BR>Excess<BR>Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love (1992)<BR>Song of a Murmur<BR>NOISE RISES—Citizen Trilogy + Pillage Laud<BR>Search Procedures (1996)<BR>from Search Procedures, or Lake This<BR>The Notification of Birches<BR>A Frame of The Book / The Frame of A Book (1999)<BR>The Splendour<BR>from Calor<BR>O Cidadán (2002)<BR>Georgette<BR>document15 (differential plane)<BR>document22 (wound throat)<BR>document32 (inviolable)<BR>Thirteenth Catalogue of the Maternity of Harms<BR>Georgette<BR>document37 (no tempo das fronteiras)<BR>sovereign body39 (vis-à-vis)<BR>document40 (vocais abertas)<BR>Sixteenth Catalogue of the Sorbas of Harms<BR>3.38%<BR>document46 (cara negra)<BR>Hazard Non<BR>Pillage Laud (1999, 2011)<BR>from Pillage8 ("Rachel-Julien") What had so meaningless a book sheltered?<BR>from Pillage9 ("Burnside") "The differing ward is my beginning"<BR>from To Exist "When to exist is reading"<BR>ATURUXOS CALADOS—Galician Cycle<BR>Little Theatres (2005)<BR>from Eight Little Theatres of the Cornices, by Elisa Sampedrín<BR>"Theatre needs hope" quote from Elisa Sampedrín<BR>from The First Story of Latin<BR>from Late Snow of May—poemas de auga<BR>O Cadoiro (2007)<BR>"I ll never master the art of poetry. I"<BR>"The world s not a home I can swear allegiance to"<BR>"Mother, keep me from going to San Seruando, because"<BR>"If I see the ocean, it flows"<BR>"I m not pleading any thread of love"<BR>"That day I lost your ring"<BR>devenue le sujet spectral : L´YRIC POETR'Y— <BR>"I m going to walk to the mountain. As if"<BR>RESONANT IMPOSTERS: Expeditions of a Chimæra (2009)<BR>Oana Avasilichioaei and Erín Moure from "Airways"<BR>AN ABSOLUTE CLAMOROUS DIN—Ukrainian Cycle<BR>O Resplandor (2010)<BR>Evocation<BR>Splay with a Stone<BR>from Crónica One<BR>Doubled Elegy, Ethical <BR>"break simply with grief's cane"<BR>The Unmemntioable (2012)<BR>"Doors screen wet…"<BR>Heroides<BR>"The Photographer of emigrants."<BR>"What is that Erín Moure writing…"<BR>"In her spires of ink…"<BR>"It occurs to me that I must write E.M.'s poems…"<BR>Ars Amatori<BR>Consolatio ad L'vivium<BR>"Experience appears in this world…"<BR>Kapusta (2015)<BR>from Act 2, Scenes 2 and 3 "Something is trying to crawl…"<BR>Surgery Lessñn<BR>POLYRESONANCES—Transborder Noise<BR>from Insecession (an echolation of Chus Pato's Secession, 2014)<BR>The House Which Is Not Extension but Dispositio Itself<BR>Works of Other Poets in Moure Translation<BR>Chus Pato (Galicia), "Like many of her compatriots"<BR>Andrés Ajens (Chile), "so lair storm, inti myi semblable."<BR>Wilson Bueno (Brazil), "one dusk après une autre"<BR>Nicole Brossard (Québec), "Suggestions Heavy-Hearted"<BR>Emma Villazón (Bolivia), "Wavering Before The Water"<BR>Chus Pato (Galicia), from "While I'm Writing"<BR>Rosalía de Castro (Galicia), "Today or tomorrow…" <BR>Fernando Pessoa (Portugal), "XI Some Woman Out There Has a Piano"<BR>EMIT, postface by Erín Moure<BR>ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND CREDITS<BR>Translations<BR>Collaborative Works<BR>BIBLIOGRAPHY<BR>Works Cited<BR>Further Reading</P>
What People are Saying About This
“Erín Moure is unafraid. Luminously intelligent, polylingual, often hilarious, sensually precise, and unfailingly generous, her poems are forms of life. She uses her entire being as an ear that continuously translates the material particularities of language to energetic vibration. In these pages the reader will resonate to the gauze of light and sound unrolling in irregular bursts, the lived history of female embodiment, the euphoric transformations of desire, an ethics of language as chosen empathy.”
“Across more than three decades Erín Moure’s writing has stunned readers with its singular originality. Planetary Noise, with its through-line of cinematic 'takes' and joyful metabolic force, constructs an illuminating Selected of Moure’s work that above all addresses the poem, its body and spirit, its heteronyms, idioms, and beats. In matchless diction of multiple languages, in startling dissonant yet concordant harmonies, this volume offers exemplary experience of how Moure’s poetry invents audio and visual gestures that question the normative, the legible. With passion and tenderness, Moure frames and reframes context and text, the ‘scratch, planet’ sounds you hear, see, and feel. This poetry’s emotional intelligence is all in the encounter. Superbly edited and with an introduction by Shannon Maguire.”
“Erín Moure is one of the most important Canadian poets in English today. Through her politically engaged exploration of language/subjectivity/nation she has made an essential contribution to contemporary North American poetry. This crucial, border-crossing, genre-bending, poly-vocal volume presents a wonderful sampling of her work, bringing it across the border, and making her substantial accomplishment available in a form that confirms both the variations and continuities of her oeuvre.”
"Across more than three decades Erín Moure's writing has stunned readers with its singular originality. Planetary Noise, with its through-line of cinematic 'takes' and joyful metabolic force, constructs an illuminating Selected of Moure's work that above all addresses the poem, its body and spirit, its heteronyms, idioms, and beats. In matchless diction of multiple languages, in startling dissonant yet concordant harmonies, this volume offers exemplary experience of how Moure's poetry invents audio and visual gestures that question the normative, the legible. With passion and tenderness, Moure frames and reframes context and text, the 'scratch, planet' sounds you hear, see, and feel. This poetry's emotional intelligence is all in the encounter. Superbly edited and with an introduction by Shannon Maguire." Norma Cole, author of Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988-2008
"Erín Moure is one of the most important Canadian poets in English today. Through her politically engaged exploration of language/subjectivity/nation she has made an essential contribution to contemporary North American poetry. This crucial, border-crossing, genre-bending, poly-vocal volume presents a wonderful sampling of her work, bringing it across the border, and making her substantial accomplishment available in a form that confirms both the variations and continuities of her oeuvre." Lisa Sewell, author of Impossible Object
"Erín Moure is unafraid. Luminously intelligent, polylingual, often hilarious, sensually precise, and unfailingly generous, her poems are forms of life. She uses her entire being as an ear that continuously translates the material particularities of language to energetic vibration. In these pages the reader will resonate to the gauze of light and sound unrolling in irregular bursts, the lived history of female embodiment, the euphoric transformations of desire, an ethics of language as chosen empathy." Lisa Robertson, Cinema of the Present