by Erín Moure
reviewed by Broc Rossell
Erín Moure (who also publishes under the Galician name Eirin Mouré) is only recently entering into the collective consciousness of American poets, despite the fact she has been writing poetry for almost forty years. She’s been nominated for Canada’s Governor General’s Award five times, and was awarded the prize in 1988 for Furious. Perhaps our new awareness stems from her having being twice shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize—whose two hundred thousand-dollar purse does seem to get our attention. More likely, though, it is because her poetry, suffused as it is by theories of translation and performance, has become representative of contemporary experimental poetics. Her most recent collection, O Resplandor, on the other hand, hails from a different galaxy than her earlier work. Indeed, it bears faint resemblance to any poetry on the contemporary landscape—or even, some would say, to “poetry” at all.
Moure is fluent in at least a half-dozen languages and highly regarded as a translator, a practice that informs her work both theoretically and textually. In O Resplandor she writes in mostly English, but many phrases, lines, and footnotes—signaled by sudden featherings of diacritics and digressions in italics or gray ink—are written in several languages (Romanian, Portuguese, the Galician dialect of Bruno Schulz’s Ukraine, some kanji or hanzi) that I lamentably cannot read.
Significantly, Moure offers an idiosyncratic translation of work by Fernando Pessoa’s heteronym Alberto Caeiro entitled Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person. In Sheep’s Vigil Moure not only translates Pessoa/Caeiro’s lines from Portuguese into English, but his images into cultural and personal equivalents borrowed from her own life. Moure has since adopted her own heteronym, Elisa Sampedrín, who both writes and is written of in O Resplandor. Moure’s adoption of Pessoa’s modernist personae is an apt metaphor for her deep identification with the act of translation, which in O Resplandor is almost equivalent to a poetics unto itself.
O Resplandor is divided into three parts, written by a bewildering array of authors, real and imagined. The two main sections, titled “The Nichita Stănescu Translations by Elisa Sampedrín” and “The Paul Celan Translations by Erín Moure,” are subdivided into cronicas (“chronicles”), and the book concludes with a very brief part three titled “Documents for Further Inquiry.” Moure presents translations of Romanian poet Nichita Stănescu by Elisa Sampedrín; some of Celan’s Romanian poems translated into English by Oana Avasilichioaei, a Romanian-Canadian poet and translator who has previously collaborated with Moure, who has further “tampered into English from the English”; correspondence between Moure and Avasilichioaei, and Moure and Sampedrín; excerpts from Avasilichioaei’s notebooks (often regarding Sampedrín with commentary by Moure), and plentiful and lengthy quotations of Derrida—all as her own poetry.
This neatly collects the various theoretical concerns that poetry (and literature generally) has labored under the past forty years: problems of authorship, identity, and authenticity; the at best petty regionalism (and at worst imperialist or colonizing effect) of any given language in a global context; the problem of rendering a speech-act into the materiality of language. From the reader’s point of view, the aggregation of these effects makes O Resplandor look like a translator’s notebook (Moure even employs visual diagrams and geometric shapes to indicate connections between images and ideas) filled with correspondence, versions of a Celan or Stănescu translation, and the occasional discrete poem. It sometimes makes for rather pedestrian prose; after quoting Derrida at length, she writes:
I realize I’ve altered the quote in reading it. “Painting” to “notebook” and “art” to “translation.”
It was three times exposed to me. O.’s triplicity of language.
I no longer know if I’ve come to seek out Stănescu’s poetry or to wait for O.
But it also allows for moving, lyrical, even ravishing meditations on the nature of the word.
I’ll go out and follow the creek or path tomorrow. If I can’t find O., I can at last walk where she has, whether on earth or in water. The yellow stink of the air doesn’t matter; a field is a field. My throat is on fire, my tongue. I’ll go where my mouth insists I go, regardless of the time it takes. For the mouth itself invents time.
Translation combines the acts of reading, of identification with the other (and so, of love itself), and of writing or speech. Moure’’s polyphony is the product of a poetic performance that strives to knit reading, writing, speaking, and loving into the pages of a book. Her relationships to the various figures in O Resplandor are rendered transparently, as characters on a stage called “Poetry,” even while the act and idea of translation is attenuating and deconstructing the poetry as it is being written.
O Resplandor is nothing less than an attempt at epistemology, the assemblage of a book out of the desire to build one. Moure’s ambition is to transform the performance of poetry into poetry itself: to forge the body from speech, such as when we say I do. It makes for a remarkable reading experience: the utterance of a ghost, voiced by the phantasmagoria of language itself.
The hand penetrates until it is uncertain
if it is still a limb,
a real limb of flesh,
so imbricated in the void
that it leaps, coveting
a third stanza, coveting dark-bright eyes
apart from mine, hungering.
Published on March 18, 2013