Erin Mouré (a.k.a. Erín Moure, Eirin Moure, and Elisa Sampedrín), poet, translator, essayist (born 17 April 1955 in Calgary, AB). Erin Mouré is one of Canada’s most prolific and influential experimental poets. She is also an active translator of Galician, French, Spanish, and Portuguese poetry into English. She has won two Governor General’s Literary Awards — one for poetry and one for translation — and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. She has also been shortlisted three times for the Griffin Poetry Prize.
Erin Mouré attended both the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia, although she did not complete degrees. She was later awarded an honorary doctorate (D Litt) from Brandon University.
Her early work is relatively conventional compared to her later work, for which she is better known; but it nevertheless advances a radical politics through a feminist approach that often foregrounds lesbian desire. Her early work often focuses thematically on labour, drawing from her experiences working in factories, on trains, and other jobs. Her development as a poet is neatly summarized by her book jackets; for example, the back cover of her first book, Empire, York Street (1979), lauds Mouré’s “vivid, accessible style.” But as Mouré’s writing developed she became known for an abstruse, complex style; the jacket copy of Search Procedures (1996) quotes critic Lianne Moyes’s observation that Mouré's poems seem “impervious to explication.”
As an example of this early style, in the poem “Thirteen Years” from Furious (1988), Mouré writes “I am in a daydream of my uncle, / his shirt out at his daughter’s wedding, / white scoop of the shirt-tail bobbing / on the dance floor & him in it, no, / his drunk friend pawing me, it was his shirt dangling, / I forgot this.” While Mouré’s imagery is complicated, the shirt-tail bobbing and the drunken pawing are both relayed by Mouré in a fairly straightforward manner. The imagery also displays some interest in the instability of memory and the seeming treachery of language.
As Mouré’s formal experiments became more varied and frequent, they became more heavily informed by post-structuralist theory. They also more extensively involved language play and issues of identity politics. Despite such generalizations, close attention to Mouré’s later work reveals many poems that either in whole or in part return to the clear, vivid style that typifies her earlier efforts.
In comparison to the previous example, in the poem “Medicamina Faciei Feminae” from The Unmemntioable (2012), Mouré writes: “Body (the illegible dis-guesture) enfronts all / language. a Body not / even accounted for—or constrained—by / this word ‘body’ which wills or bodes…” Although some similar themes are present, such as the failure of language to embody lived experience, the stylistic emphasis is on making the language itself express this failure. Not only does Mouré combine the words disgust, guest, and gesture with the prefix dis, but also the imagery tends towards abstraction as a word (body) becomes the actual image that Mouré presents.
Mouré also works as a translator. She is best known for a radical approach to translation typified by her book Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person (2001), a translation of O Guardador de Rebanhos by Alberto Caeiro (one of the heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa — a heteronym, unlike a pseudonym, has a different, imaginary biography). While translators conventionally make it their goal to recede so that the author of the original text can speak in a new language, Mouré instead often chooses to foreground her personality in her work as a translator; in this case using her own heteronym (Eirin Moure) as the speaker of the translated poems. For example, at one point she transforms Pessoa/Caeiro's image of someone smiling foolishly like someone who doesn't know what somebody else might be talking about, but tries to pretend that they do, into "smiling half-goofy like my friend Phil" (the Canadian poet Phil Hall, one of Mouré's contemporaries). In addition to translating Pessoa/Caeiro from Portuguese, Mouré has translated French writers Nicole Brossard and Louise Dupré, Galician writer Chus Pato and Spanish writer Andrés Ajens.
Mouré has undertaken many collaborations as a poet and translator, usually with other translator-poets. Most notably, Mouré has co-translated (with Robert Majzels) four books of poetry by Nicole Brossard. In 2007, Mouré and Majzels were shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for their translation of Brossard’s Notebook of Roses and Civilization (2006). In 2008, Mouré and Majzels were shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize alongside Brossard for the same book. Mouré and Majzels were also finalists for the QWF Prize for Translation in 2007. Other notable collaborators (whom Mouré has either translated, or with whom Mouré has co-authored works) include Chus Pato and Oana Avasilichioaei.
Mouré’s own poetry shows a developing interest in experimental translation. Her poems often incorporate other languages or move between languages; or otherwise displaying various and complicated interconnections between language, history and identity. These concerns are also reflected in Mouré's inconsistent spelling of her name and the use of heteronyms. For example, Sheep’s Vigil for a Fervent Person was published under the name Eirin Moure. Mouré has also moved the accent from the e in Mouré to the i in Erín for the publication of O Cidadán (2002). Mouré also adopts the heteronym Elisa Sampedrín as a personality and author-character within several books, beginning with Little Theatres (2005).
Mouré’s name-play often accompanies unconventional translations. It is meant to both draw attention to the slippery, unstable nature of language and meaning, and to symbolize her conception of identity as fluid and multiple. In The Unmemntioable, Elisa Sampedrín gives up writing poetry after reading the work of Chus Pato and observes Erin Mouré as "E.M." buries her mother's ashes in Ukraine and "E.S." observes Mouré to "research the nature of Experience." Mouré has playfully added the word "trout" to translated philosophy and has included barcodes in a book’s matrix that, when scanned by a smartphone or QR reader, open online links to poems. This sort of mixed-media play is also present in Mouré's earlier books; poems appear as if sewn onto the page, or unbound, floating pages are included to be moved around to various positions or are even taken entirely out of the book. Her book Pillage Laud (1999) was produced using computer-generated sentences combined to form lesbian sex poems.
Mouré has received many awards and accolades, for both poetry and translation. In addition to the awards for translation noted above, she was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry in 1979, 1996, 2002 and 2005, and won the award in 1988 for Furious. She also won a Governor General’s Award for her translation of Chantal Neveu’s La vie radieuse in 2021.
Mouré was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002 and 2006. She was also a finalist for the QSPELL Award for Poetry in 1994, 1996 and 1999, and won the award in 1990. She was a finalist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry in 2007 and 2010. She won in 2005. She was a finalist for the City of Toronto Book Awards in 2002. She also won a National Magazine Award for Poetry in 1982 and won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award in 1986.
- Pat Lowther Memorial Award (Domestic Fuel) (1985)
- Governor General’s Literary Award, Poetry (Furious), Canada Council for the Arts (1988)
- A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry (WSW) (1989)
- A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry (Little Theatres) (2005)
- Governor General’s Literary Award, Translation (This Radiant Life), Canada Council for the Arts (2021)
- Empire, York Street (1979)
- The Whisky Vigil (1981)
- Wanted Alive (1983)
- Domestic Fuel (1985)
- Furious (1988)
- WSW (1989)
- Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love (1992)
- The Green Word: Selected Poems, 1973–1992 (1994)
- Search Procedures (1996)
- A Frame of the Book (1999)
- Pillage Laud (1999, reissued 2011)
- O Cidadán (2002)
- Little Theatres (2005)
- O Cadoiro (2007)
- Expeditions of a Chimæra (collaboration with Oana Avasilichioaei) (2009)
- O Resplandor (2010)
- The Unmemntioable (2012)
- Insecession (2014)
- Kapusta (2015)
- Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue (2017)
- The Elements (2019)
- Installations (2000)
- Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person (2001)
- Museum of Bone and Water (2003)
- Notebook of Roses and Civilization (2006)
- Charenton (2007)
- Quase Flanders, Quase Extremadura (2008)
- m-Talá (2009)
- Hordes of Writing (2011)
- Just Like Her (2011)
- White Piano (2013)
- Galician Songs (2013)
- My Dinosaur (2013)
- Secession (2014)
- Flesh of Leviathan (2016)
- New Leaves (2016)
- Paraguayan Sea (2017)
- Camouflage (2017)
- This Radiant Life (2020)
- Two Women Talking: Correspondence 1985–1987 (1994, with Bronwen Wallace)
- My Beloved Wager essays (2009)