Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Erín Moure, my beloved wager: Essays from a Writing Practice

Can my Alberta be a context for talking about relationality and the formation of sexual identity? What might that entail of place, be that place Alberta or anywhere? In fact, I think that place is probably more exactly situated in plants beside a river than in units that exist for administration. Though even there, wet-legged in the new-grown sedge, we are part of, and subject to, the administration of those grasses.

When I first read the two words “geography” and “sexuality” together, my thought was the body itself is a geography. Yet if we are geographies, we are not fixed ones: our internal velocities, and affects or relationships with other bodies, mean the boundaries of selfhood are always in process. One example of this is the geography of grief. When part of the body goes missing, the cortial map that held that part still endures, until other touches replace it. The phantom limb syndrome is explained by this. Also grief at the loss of a partner or a close friend to death or sudden separation. The process, the physical dis-orientation, the “un-Easting,” of grief, has even been observed in geese. (“A New Bird Flicker, or The Floor of a Great Sea, Or Stooking”)
After years of rumours comes the much-anticipated collection of essays by Montreal poet and translator (and current spring-term writer-in-residence at the University of Ottawa) Erín Moure, her my beloved wager: Essays from a Writing Practice (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2009). Next in their magnificent “writer-as-critic” series, this collection sits alongside previous titles by George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt, Fred Wah, Di Brandt and Stan Dragland as well as forthcoming others by P.K. Page and Andrew Suknaski. What is compelling about this collection, in part, is how wide it moves through all of Moure’s practices, and how wide that practice is; writing poetry as critical thought on subjects such her own immediate work, translation, Chus Pato, feminism, lesbianism, Bronwen Wallace, threads of poems, reworking Pessoa and the idea of the citizen. Writing as practice, practice as an author constantly working to learn, and re-learn her craft from the ground.


And then I realized
any word written down could be biography
the next word would betray or would it


for there is always “perhaps not”
which makes – you must admit –
“perhaps” beautiful

that there could be a “not” and it
could enter

A grey sky in morning holds up
an indication yet of “some” harbours

she agrees
to harbour

Complex fractions can commit
or sway
reason’s septicemia

these membranes separate
along a mesial plane
are “in fact” micronic gestures

There is not much else. (A sentence at
the end of a letter from Guatemala,

“We too are affected every moment by oil’s
plunge.” (“Mornings on Winnett: Trust Meditations”)

It has been interesting to watch the shifts and flows, the ebbs of Moure’s writing and concerns over the years since her early poetry that came out of Vancouver’s “work poetry” of the 1980s alongside such as Phil Hall [see my essay referencing such here], Kate Braid and Tom Wayman, and a current practice that doesn’t seem as far away from the spirit of those earlier concerns of the individual (“work poetry” versus the “citizen”) as some might consider, despite any theoretical and structural divides. Moure is one of those rare poets that seems to have created her own school out of disperate, desperate and seemingly unrelated strands of other writing, other histories and other lines of thinking, becoming something entirely her own, and able to slip in and through comfortably, it seems, such divergent streams as Vancouver’s Kootenay School of Writing, the Toronto avant-garde and Vehicule Press’ Signal Editions. Moure’s poetry has always managed to ride those difficult lines balancing and exploring heart, thought, body, language, culture, geography and sex, questioning every sense of what writing is, can do and can even become, hidden under itself. As she writes, for example, in “Speaking the Unspeakable: Responding to Censorship”:
It is true that sex has imbued much of what I write. I don’t direct myself toward expression of sex, but it always risks coming out and often does, though mostly entwined with other concerns. I do write from a sexual and sexualized body, and it is from this body that I receive the world.

The view of the body most akin to mine is Spinoza’s, which I first encountered via Gilles Deleuze. Spinoza defines a body in two ways, which work in simultaneity: first, as composed of particles, an infinite number of particles in motion or at rest, thus defined not by forms but by velocities; second, as a capacity for affecting or being affected by other bodies, so that part of a body’s it-ness is its relationality. To me, there’s a clear marker here for community – broadly speaking, all other beings we are in contact with – as an indispensable part of our definition of who we are as individuals.

Divided into five sections built both thematically and somewhat chronologically, it ends with “stakes,” and title piece of the same, a piece originally written for a conference celebrating the work and careers (and retirements) of Fred Wah and Pauline Butling. What are the stakes? It almost doesn’t matter what the answer is, but for the fact that Moure continues to question it, as high sometimes as they are low, writing:
The stakes outside poetry, of course, are language, or rather, languages, for poetry can only take place in languages. (Not just in one language.) It occurs in what we have heard. It is (of) a multiplicity of hearings, not tautologies, but heterologies, and heterodoxies.

Its stakes inside itself are poetry wrestling with its own history, in its own idiom, and with the possible located there (which possible is, generally or as a rule, not available to us); they are the hinge (pli, seam) wrested from that wrestling, that history, and that idiom.

Moure’s is a practice that continually questions itself, aware at an extremely high, it seems, and capable level, and one that evolves as the author’s skills and thinking does, constantly working to rearrange and reassert, writing always its own alternate stance, and helping to make her one of our major authors.

Writing is always and forever a social practice. The varying discourses in a society either shore it up or challenge it. And discourse isn’t something we walk away from when we set down our pen. (“Breaking Boundaries: Writing as Social Practice, or Attentiveness”)

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