If, as the racially, physically and sexually-diverse figurants (at once villagers, stagehands, chorus, missives, loose Ohrwurms) in Erìn Moure’s Kapusta claim, “[i]t’s monuments that let us forget the dead,” this poem/play/cabaret investigates the question, what lets us remember?
Reminiscent of Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn in the book’s premise to return and explore not just the atrocity of war, but also the silence surrounding it—in Moure’s case, the silence of her mother—Kapusta drops a mute sock monkey named Malenka Dotchka or “little daughter” between family and history to open up new possibilities for language. Yes, the sock monkey speaks, but through whom or what is what matters—posing: Where can the voice be placed? How can it be impactful?
Kapusta asks questions about how we remember, about why writing exists in the first place. For example, is modern-day tendency towards distraction a numbing “rescue from history?” Interestingly, Moure integrates distraction in Kapusta in the form of cleverly placed YouTube and SoundCloud links (often to 60s pop culture icons her mother obsessed over during Moure’s childhood) and a QR code. (Speaking of distraction, one link leads to the entire 1928 adaptation of The Man Who Laughs). The QR code leads us right back to the book however (see image), giving voice to Malenka Dotchka who consistently “does not strictly speaking speak,” but speaks nonetheless.
Unlike the book’s synopsis that claims Kapusta is a performance of silence, the book rather challenges the idea that silence could be possible at all. As the bones of the millions of massacred Jews rattle under the earth (and the corpses shift under the tarp on stage), Moure’s text shakes a stick at cultural deafness. The voice is turned back to the reader. “You are my VOICE!” the character E. cries, and asks us to stop playing dead, to transform ash to pollen.
Going back to the pun on Orph,eu, we’ve had the opportunities to look back, time and again. So why do we keep losing? Moure’s work is more than poetry. Or poetry is all there is. Kapusta prophesies the impending loss of the last survivors of WWII and interrogates what we haven’t learned from them. What darker silence comes after their voices are gone? “Yesterday the West, today the East” resonates ominously as Moure gestures towards what is missing—memory—by holding it up and slapping it against a clear surface, like a sock monkey held out the car window. Kapusta responds to its own claim that “[t]he ultimate victory of the murderers and tyrants would be that no one returns.” Here is Moure, bent on returning, at once grave and playful: “eternity is eternity is eternity,” she writes, amplifying Stein. “Real pictures are of nothing.”
Sarah Burgoyne teaches and writes in Montreal.
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