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The Light Beyond the Cave:
Erín Moure's The Elem:ents (Nam:loz)

Erín Moure's The Elem:ents (Nam:loz)
Erín Moure, The Elem:ents (Nam:loz)
Toronto: House of Anansi, 2019.

Style and tradition are fostered in Erín Moure’s newest book, whose full cover title, The Elem:ents (Nam:loz), instantly engages my Derridean sensibilities. It is a book that substantially dredges up the subjective experience and objective facts of her genealogy into a compelling synthesis of her self-identity, with a poignant focus on her father’s dementia through the lens of Derrida.

She elicits Derrida’s lecture, Comment ne pas parler, “how to avoid speaking,” in yet another lyrical treatise of her trademark mixture of language, identity, and plurality. In Moure, intertextuality usurps literary allusion, and often verses appear as if in conversation with literature more so than superficially alluding to it. Moure’s favourites make an appearance here, too: Camilo José Cela and Paul Celan, Giorgio Agamben, Aristotle and Heidegger. You could stop reading this review now and know Erín Moure is not simply a poet’s poet, she’s a reader’s reader.

Her poem “Purpose” in this collection addresses her poetics in a word. She writes of drawing text as one would draw water from “beneath the house.” The imagery of the house remains prevalent in my reading of Celan and feels similar here. Then, she is conversing with her work through her monologue: “To articulate all the texts of life, as they arise. / Not separating them into poems and essays.”

True, her work has frequently striven to meld the two forms together: essays that are poems that are a chapbook that are an art object. She seeks unconventional coincidences by exploiting the conventional processes, such as making sure the typesetting results in a poem with its ultimate line on an otherwise blank page, pairing translations side-by-side, only to reveal the deception of translation through footnotes, and a malicious compliance to source text wordplay, even when the pun doesn’t translate.

Her word is not le mot juste of Flaubert, but le mot fruste, worn by the aging (and not the act) of translation, which has lost its sense, nearly erased by time. Aptly, then, “Purpose” concludes: “Sun on the wall. Just / sun.”

Her father’s dementia is what she explores on the next page over, intimating in the poem “Free Speech”: “now that the simultaneous translator is assigned to me to hear my English and make Spanish (Castilian) for you, I can’t empezar de falar en galego, et je ne peux parler en français non plus.”

She empowers her voice by versifying her vulnerability, her inability to speak his language. The nameless pain we share, of losing touch with a dying parent, foregoes mother tongue and fatherland; it survives in the exile of grief. In this light, I find Moure’s latest work bolder and more enduring than her last. In the search for our own meanings, we are nothing more than just sun on the wall.


Jay Miller is a poet and translator. He lives in Montreal.