Erin Moure's Little Theatres
In little theatres, there are but faces. Boots are faces, a table is a face,
the grass stem has an expression that is facial. When Lévinas said
"the face is not of the order of the seen" he was making the right
connection, but backward. All of what is seen are faces.
-- Elisa Sampendrín, 1991
I'm sure there's a whole slew of book-enthusiasts across the country that think that any title by Erin Mouré (or Eirin Moure or Erín Moure) should be on the shortlist for any award going, so it is good to see her (as Erín Moure) up for the Governor Generals Award shortlist for her thirteenth (call it lucky thirteen) poetry collection Little Theatres (teatrinos) (Anansi, 2005). Built as a collaboration of sorts with Elisa Sampendrín (a likely story, says the reviewer; who is this Sampendrín?), the collection works through words from Galacian as well as her own reinventions of English, working through as many questions as she does answers. Mouré's writing has been more and more active in Galacian the past few years (where her family name originated, apparently), even moving from translating from French to English or the other way, into translating whole books of fiction and poetry from Galacian into English and French. Mouré has worked poetry as translation, as the transelation, before, in her version of Alberto Caeiro / Fernando Pessoa's O Guardador de Rebanhos in the collection Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person (Anansi, 2001, as Eirin Moure). It seems interesting that Moure wouldn't take credit as author for her Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person, instead insisting as overwriting her own poem over Pessoa as a translation, whereas George Bowering, for example, is very much the author of Kerrisdale Elegies (Coach House Press, 1986), which transelated Bowering's Vancouver neighbourhood over Rilke's Duino Elegies. Where does the author end and the author begin? What exactly does it mean, this translation (transelation)?
When I translate an experience into a poem or a short story, am I no longer the author of that text?
What else is a little theatre but a little stage to stand on?
As she writes in Little Theatres: "Some have said little theatres is minimalist. But this is not / strictly so. Whatever else is stripped away in minimalism, and / so much, I guess, is indeed 'stripped away,' a rhetorical / convention remains. But rhetoric takes time, and it is time that / has been stripped away from little theatres, as it has been / from life." (p 41).
XX The Humber is pretty fabulous, really
The Humber is more fabulous than the creek under my avenue.
And the Humber is no more fab than the creek under my avenue.
You can't mix up the two when on my avenue;
For that matter neither of them are very big…
The Humber is too small for ships
Yet on its waters they still ply
For those who see the "not there" in all things:
The memory of canoes.
The Humber descends from up north
And the Humber enters Lake Ontario.
You always hear people say this on buses in the afternoon.
But few know the creek that races under Winnett
And where it heads
And where it came from.
And, as such, because fewer people claim it,
The creek of my avenue is more grand and free.
You can take the Humber out almost to Niagara Falls;
Beyond the Humber is America
Where fortunes are made.
No one ever thinks about what's beyond
the creek under Winnett Avenue.
The creek under my avenue makes no one think of anything.
Whoever goes to the edge of it has only reached the curb.
-- Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person
Her Galacian interest has continued, translating the work of Galacian writer Manuel Rivas (her piece "The Year the Animals Were Speaking," produced after the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal, April 2002, celebrated the work of Rivas, was published in Brick 70, Winter 2002), and, according to the poet Phil Hall, she is even sitting on a translation she has done of a collection of poetry by a Galacian author. It's easy enough to see how this fits into her other works, translating Nicole Brossard from French with Robert Majzels (Installations, Muses' Company, 2000 and Museum of bone and Water, Anansi, 2003), Andrés Ajens from Spanish (Quasi Flanders, Quasi Extremadura, CCCP, Cambridge, UK, 2001, chapbook), or selections from Chus Pato from Galacian (from m-Talá, Nomados, 2003, chapbook), but where does her translation from Kat into French fit in, from the unpublished work of Emma M. (À Adan: poèmes d'Emma M., housepress, 2002, chapbook)?
The question of language, says Rivas, is always an ecological question. "Biodiversity is not a problem. The problem is the destruction of biodiversity. This is an ecological question because every day we have the problem of pollution, of contamination, of toxic waste, that also affects the language, the words. They lose their meaning, their sensuality, their sense. Becoming so void that someone like Bush can say 'Enough is enough' without realizing meaning has left him. (Brick 70, p 65)
Working sections where the Galacian sits beside the English translation, transelation, Mouré's Little Theatres works through territories of stage, language, dogs, sleep, Latin and water. Who was it that said, the history of water recedes?* Who was it that said that sleep and the theatre can be like drowning?
All my life I've had a tough time
I get scared and feel alone,
me and the earth.
Which me is it talking in the first person?
Should I get up? But I want to lie down.
all I have is water gulped with air
and cut into every membrane.
I try not to let it make me sad. I just say
(which me is it talking in the first person?)
that as long as a carrot can be orange,
I'm going to be orange too.
I'm not going to live with sadnesses.
But free myself, céibome das tristuras da vida mesma,
and touch my face to the soil,
and breathe with the breathing of the earth.
-- Little Theatres
Given that some of her more recent collections have been larger, have her projects become smaller, or is this something larger, and ongoing? Is this a smaller project before the next big thing comes along? Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person, for example, was written while she was living a year in Toronto, as a writer-in-residence, before she went back home to Montreal. The Frame of a Book (or A Frame of the Book) (Anansi, 1999; Sun & Moon, 1999) was part of something much larger. Where do Little Theatres fit in? Ongoing, perhaps, in her explorations of what identity means, through the language itself, and through not just multiple readings/meanings of a single language, but through the mechanics of other speech (French, Spanish, Kat, Galacian). What do all the meanings mean when they are put together?
This isn't the first time a book of Mouré's has been up for the Governor General's Award for Poetry; her fourth trade collection, Furious (Anansi, 1988) even won the award, and she has been up for it at least two other times since. Given that she's already won the award, I can imagine that there wouldn't be the same kinds of frustration in waiting (or perhaps the level of frustration is heightened). Both David W. McFadden and Christopher Dewdney were up for the award three times, and somehow didn't manage to win; they shouldn't have bothered putting Robin Blaser's collection poems A Holy Forest (1995) on the shortlist if they weren't going to give it to him (I mean, really). Still, a poem in Furious borrowed a line from John Newlove's collection Lies (McClelland & Stewart, 1972), which also won the award that year. Is that the secret? I have a collection coming out next year that includes a poem that borrows a line from that poem in Furious, that borrowed the line from Lies. I mean, it worked for her, didn't it? Am I somehow missing the entire thing?
Theatre of the Hope of a Cebola (Santiso)
On the hill there is no hay
no hay for a hayrick but
small rivulets singing the grass down
An onion has toppled off a high cart
the chest of the high cart has gone on past the hill
if pressed with a shoe an onion toppled
may take root
Will a shoe ever find it
how can we know
will the onion find a mouth to eat it
how can we ever know
In the channels of water :
small blue rivulets of blue
-- Little Theatres
* It was Jennifer Arcuni, from “A Short History of Water” published in Xantippe. Don't you remember anything?