The Canadian poet Erín Mouré’s new book is so brave, has so much truly lively wit, and is so completely fresh it makes a lot of contemporary American poetry look like dorm furniture from Target: instantly charming and easy to discard.Not just American poetry, Laura Mullen: poetry. So much of it built in a prêt a porter, add a glass of wine and a way you go, sort of way. One can add wine to O Cidadan, of course, but one cannot sit back and let the lazy 'ah', of closure and 'you're fine as you are' lap at one’s feet. This, the final volume in Erin Mouré’s three volume exploration of language, the body, politics and citizenship, is in fact a dense and complex undertaking, but I would argue it is instantly charming as well.
Like Search Procedures and The Frame of the Book, and all of Mouré’s poetry for that matter, O Cidadán is not easy to discard. Nor is it easy to digest—on the whole. But just listen to how she begins: "Georgette thou burstest my deafness/woe to the prosperities of the world". Burstest! Woe? Thrown a little? You American formalists out there, thinking of someone like Julie Sheehan are you? No, this is also Mouré territory. Like Lisa Robertson she casts her line as far back as she does wide. And I want to say that the sense of vertigo one experiences reading her is more intense because she’s doing it without a net, doing it so far on the knife-edge that one sees below oneself the cavernous abyss of mediocre thinking…of relying too heavily on convention. (I want to come back to this, to compare the experience of encountering history, time and theory in the work of Anne Carson, or Lisa Robertson, next to someone like Mouré …).
I want to think not only about Mouré's use of this heightened language, but the experience of it coupled by her decentered “I”. By the second stanza the center of gravity begins to loosen with the phrase "I am not yet full of thee". Full of thee? A familiar phrase, archaic usage, and yet here’s where the content begins to upend expectation; here’s where formal investigation takes a sharp turn. Suddenly outside--distanced but intimate, as we see in stanza three: " I tasted and did hunger, where/ thou hast touchedst me I did burn/ for peace", the canvas of the poem enlarges well beyond the borders of the lyric I. This poet, it seems, can be “full” of something outside, can burn, for something she might never see. Am I making too much of this?
Beyond this radical shifting of the self outside the poem’s radius, we begin to see the radical nature of Mouré’s line breaks—what they can accomplish beyond sound, and beyond the double-entendre of surface play. Here lyric’s assumptions are flexed; erotic longing morphs into a desire for a global intimacy if you will. By stanza four:
time's subject motional and "form"Here the subject seems to have spiraled open like a Lucy Orta installation, setting us up for the next line, hanging solo "there yet live in my memory the images of such things". Such things?
a code of vinyl
the hearse upon a stationHearse and hearth, stations of a cross? A corpse? The corpse of lanuage a cross to bear? A fear? I first read this as “a feat” which seemed to me an equally wondrous leap, but fear of course, the turn for hearse (or hears) or ear or hearth (or earth). Oh, Georgette... The final stanza's abrupt forewarning (not replicated with as much charm as the typeset version):
a cross upon a fear
an insigne upon a hearth
folioAnd the ground gives way...five letters rearranged the work, the adoration, the parallel, multiple? “After great pain a formal feeling comes”. Who knew that formal could be such a wild and unfamiliar thing? I offer no conclusions here. I have my work cut out for me today.