Montreal poet and essayist Erin Mouré is an Albertan with roots in Galicia, Spain. “I think in three languages all at once and every day,” she said: Galician, her father’s language, French and English.
Mouré, also a professional translator, mastered Galician, a root language of Portuguese, “to preserve the richly poetic culture” of Spain’s mountainous northeast and “to bring those poets to our culture”.
Mouré’s O Cadoiro is poetry inspired by the cantiga style of medieval troubadours.
Similar to the way aboriginal languages were repressed, Galician, now spoken by three-million people, nearly became a dead dialect under Franco.
In reviving a broken language, “we do lose things,” Mouré said. But, where a language is revived and included in the mainstream, “even though it’s a bit of an artificial construct, some of the ethos, life values, still come through.
“The cadences and the way I exist in English are very influenced and affected by my ways of thinking and being in Galician and French.”
With a diverse heritage comes a diverse sense of place.
“Place, as I talk about in O Cidadán, can only exist when borders are porous. People have to be able to move about. But, even though there’s a lot of mobility, we are all of a place, of that moment, where we’ve been and our first place – where we started,” which links Mouré to the North.
Her father, a navigator with an aerial photography squadron, stationed in Watson Lake, gave Mouré “a great desire to see something of the Yukon”, a wish she fulfilled as a guest at the recent Whitehorse Poetry Festival.
What struck Mouré is the contrast in our technologies. A summer, 1950 photograph Mouré has had since childhood says it all. “Here’s this modern technology,” a DC-3 “beside a pile of cut wood,” she said.
“We are of our mother’s place, too,” she added, which contributed to the attention to environment evident in Mouré’s writing. “My mother used to say that the tree is the way the wind makes its language visible. It’s the Braille of the wind.
“There’s writing everywhere. Rain running down a blade of grass is writing,” as conveyed in the vivid language of the poem, The Grammar of the Dog: Do you see it / So worn down across the field / Nosing low in the bended grasses?
Mouré’s sense of place and her ability to push the confines of language has resulted in wide acclaim for her 13 books of poetry and seven translations. She’s been nominated six times for the Governor General’s Award, won it with the poem Furious, and also received the Griffin and the AJM Klein Prize.
She is contributing editor to The Capilano Review and a member of the Galician Review editorial board. Her next book, My Beloved Wager, essays about the power of poetry, will be released by NeWest Press, this fall, to be followed by O Resplandor, in April 2010.
“Poetry, and prose, too, at its best, offers us a way to capture the puzzlement of life.”