Three of Erin Mouré’s works in poetry and translation have been finalists for the Griffin Poetry Prize: Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person, her translation from the Portuguese of Fernando Pessoa (also a finalist for the Toronto Book Award) in 2001, Little Theatresin 2005, and Notebook for Roses and Civilization (a translation by Mouré and Robert Majzels from the French of Nicole Brossard, also nominated for a Governor General’s Award for Translation). Mouré’s work has won a Governor General’s Award for Poetry, The Pat Lowther Memorial Award, a QSPELL Award for Poetry, the AM Klein Poetry Prize, and National Magazine Awards for Poetry, and she was also a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Empire, York Street; Search Procedures; O Cidadán; Little Theatres. Her A Frame of the Book was also published in the USA in 1999 and the Galician translation of Little Theatres was published in Spain in 2007. Born in Calgary, Alberta, she holds a D.Litt. honoris causa from Brandon University.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
The moment I learned that printed words weren’t a line of bugs on the page but represented the words we speak. And a bit later, Mother Goose, with its tumble of gorgeous language that I couldn’t fully understand but that I loved.
“Ride a bay horse to Banbury Cross…” for example, the whole line rides a horse, bouncing, when you say it… but when I first heard it I had no idea what a bay horse was or banbury cross… but I knew what a horse was and I could ride that line anywhere.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
I don’t think “inspiration” is operative in writing poetry. Working in language, playing in languages, seeing where language takes me and where languages take me and how their structures operate and how any two words work next to each other on the page—this drives me.
I am compelled to work in language. I don’t have any inspiration. That idea comes from 19th century romanticism derived from an 18th century notion of “author” as the proprietor of the work, as the one who seemingly rescues some dark meaning out of the void. Meaning doesn’t need to be rescued though. It’s around us, and clamours, and is in the light, and lights us variously. We don’t need more writing that shuts meaning down on one track, that tells the reader what to be thinking or what to feel.
What is your writing process?
I have many, or many have me. I work with multiple languages, with sounds of words, with the page as instrument, with language’s physical appearance on the page (even languages my readers won’t understand, words still “mean” even if semantic value is not clearly marked…)
But basically, I have fun. Words give me delight, scare me, wake me up, thrill me. So I write.
What is your revision/editing process?
Multiple, multiple… in the wilderness of the words I’m playing with, I watch words cohere, watch for places where there are moments in language that no intention of mine could have produced, and I bring these together, generate more, generate further language, see where it goes, pare away. I work on multiple poems, usually long, at once, and don’t finish revising them for years.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
Yes I did, I wrote poetry in elementary school too. I just started writing, that’s all.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
Yes! Find buy and read the two volumes of Poems for the Millennium, edited by Jerome Rothenburg and Pierre Joris and published in the late 90s by University of California Press. These are works in English translation that situate English and American and Canadian poetry in with other poeties of the world, in order to elucidate the major poetic movements of the 20th century, so you can see what these were, what their crossovers were, how poetry in English was influenced by other poetries. And, you can read a few poems by many poets and thus discover who you want to explore further, and what languages you want to learn. They are the best anthology resource you could have access to, guaranteed.
And in general: read those anthologies and when you find someone who amazes you, Google their name and locate other resources—keep studying on your own. Teach yourself persistence, and to write against the grain.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
Read widely, and learn languages. And have fun when you write, first have fun with words, and let yourself go free. Don’t try to finish the poem before you give it room to grow, and grow messily if it wants to! Meanings always leak, shift, alter, so let them! Let them grow and form and delight in them, don’t wrestle them to the floor as if you wanted them to shut up!