Erín Moure’s The Unmemntioable is a modern artifact. Recalling an age when a volume might comprise poems, stories, illustrations, translations, and philosophy, The Unmemntioable is a book containing, among other things, “poems, a filched Moleskine, a correspondence… a dog with a headache, and sundry philosophic remarks,” as its cover advertises. Not to be confused with a miscellany, however, this medley has a story to tell. Moure (or “E.M.”) arrives in Bucharest, Romania, having spread her mother’s ashes at the site of a Ukrainian village effaced by World War II. Elsewhere in Bucharest is Elisa Sampedrín (or “E.S.”), the heteronymous poet of Moure’s previous collections, O Resplandor and Little Theatres, who witnessed E.M. “burying the ashes of her mother, in the grove where once a latin church stood” (section “1/1”). Unable to cope with the psychic burden of her mother’s experiences (“At night the children were harvested with flames. / The buildings spontaneously combusted” [“1/1”]), Moure relinquishes the task of writing The Unmemntioable to E.S.: “Perhaps it is better if Elisa Sampedrín writes of these things” (“1/1”). E.S., in turn, takes E.M. “for my experimental subject” (“1/5”) in order to conduct research into the nature of experience. Alas, were it not for a back cover summary, it would be impossible to seize this narrative thread, which stitches together the poems, filched Moleskine, aching dog, etc., and elevates The Unmemntioable to the status of “book” rather than “collection.” While Moure clearly locates her power in obliqueness—in her self-styled biography, she claims her work “has been honoured with awards almost as often as it has been received with puzzlement”—the fact that most readers will require the package’s exegesis to obtain her book’s most basic platform seems unnecessary, not ingenious. The summary provided is the key to a door that might have been left open a crack. This wouldn’t be a valid complaint of a book of interest only to a rarefied readership, but The Unmemntioable has much of value to share on family, history, memory, and above all, experience. Read the back cover, and The Unmemntioable reveals its true nature: a generous book with an unfriendly face. The book becomes especially active on the subject of experience, reading at times with Heidegerrean rigour (“experience itself has its core in the impossibility of experience––a proximity to death” [“1/5”]), at other times with otherworldly awareness (“Experience does not come out of the mind or imagination but from a deep and irrecusable need. It rents the entire person” [“1/6”]). The core of experience, teetering as it does on the verge of annihilation, is the title’s unmentionable, a word Moure collapses (or “collpase”s, in a favourite construction of hers) as she “sew[s] the alphabet shut” (“the unmemntioable”) and points toward where “language ceases,” the “beyond of experience,” “beyond of borders” (“1/5”). Moure’s mission calls to mind that of Polish Holocaust survivor Tadeusz Borowski, who in an introduction to This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (trans. B. Vedder) termed his stories of Auschwitz “a voyage to the limit of a particular experience.” For two of her own governing influences, Moure selects Paul Celan and Ovid, poets who witnessed “what [they] cannot speak of” (“jocurile de noroc”). Naturally, Moure has been spared a glimpse into the darkness of these poets’ experiences. But in a heroic effort of multilingual erudition, lyrical intensity, and unwavering humanism, she voyages toward the limit. Pushing language against its point of endurance, Moure makes each reader a witness to the unspeakable.
Michael LaPointe is a writer and literary journalist in Vancouver.