Erín Moure Says Why Lament, Get Working!


Erín Moure  answered our questions by email, from an airplane, in March 2012.

1) Is Canadian writing post-national, and what does that mean for the kind of fiction and poetry we produce?

I don’t think it’s “post-national;” it’s just not “national” in the same way it was in the 70s, when Canadian nationalism meant resistance to US culture and economy. I think that’s a past phase (our economies everywhere are far more integrated now, and US culture has largely obliterated much of the “Canadian culture” that was being defended… our culture is much more diverse now and has strong influences from many other cultures, not just the American… and Canadian writers are far more travelled than they were in the 1970s…. we still bear Canadian values of tolerance, mutual respect, diversity into the world, despite our contradictions (our “national” treatment of First Nations peoples’ health and education, etc., the surveys that keep showing it is harder for someone with a non-British name to get a job interview, etc.)… In poetry, anyhow, we are very diverse yet very tolerant of each other overall, and there is so much sharing of links abroad, technologies, ways of writing, so much collaboration, enjoyment, fun….

2) What difference does technology make, in all its forms, for literary culture in this country?

That’s an encylopedic question. I’ll just say here that technologies and social media make it possible for us, writers with writers, and writers and readers with each other, to keep in touch in ways that were impossible twenty years ago, or even ten… the sharing is great, also the non-hierachization of generations of writers is very refreshing, to me… and the sharing across national boundaries: like the time Chus Pato and I translated a Wallace Stevens poem into Galician, along with a few young Galician poets…. all on Facebook….

3) Stephen Henighan, in a 2002 essay titled “‘They Can’t Be About Things Here:’ The Reshaping of the Canadian Novel,” says that

“Canada… was a dreary colonial country until the 1960s, when it finally began to find its way out from under a stifling second-hand Englishness. Literary light flickered, at varying degrees of intensity, for three decades before being extinguished by our economic assimilation into the United States, which has made us once again a dreary, colonized country whose culture of second-hand trends stymies artistic originality.” –p. 210, When Words Deny the World: The Reshaping of Canadian Writing (Porcupine’s Quill)

Do you agree? Why or why not?

I have never ever ever found Canada dreary. I don’t see literary lights extinguished, nor are we assimmilated into the United States. I see lots of hubbub, lots of interest in Canadian work and Canadian difference, at least in the “avant-garde” poetry communities in the USA and abroad. I have seen prejudice and exclusion here in Canada in my life, but also many people trying to make this a better place, and trying to share literary excitements. Despite the obstacles and governments and administrations and all. That quote is just grumpy and I stay away from grumpy people as their solipsism prevents them from seeing the good all around them!

4) Some younger critics have drawn a sharp line between the nationalist writers of the 1970s and 80s and the more formalist, perhaps post-national writers of the 90s and oughts, especially in poetry where there is no commercial interest and hence people are occasionally honest in public. How would you apply this distinction to Canadian fiction? If not, how come?

Canadian fiction I can’t comment on…. I haven’t read those critics of poetry but have a hunch that I probably look at things differently. I am from Quebec and work in French, and translate from multiple languages and work with people from other cultures, who recognize me as Canadian and I recognize their difference as well. Perhaps because of this I don’t have the same view of “the national” as those critics….

5)  What do you think are three books of Canadian fiction or poetry that make a definitive statement about this country to the world? Please defend your choice.

I don’t think it is the job of poets to make Definitive Statements about their Country to the world. MANY books of Canadian poetry seek, investigate, question, puzzle, open up language and language’s possibilities, while rooted in what I consider to be Canadian values, not unique to us, but definitely Canadian: diversity, listening, tolerance of difference, civil decency. I think of works by Rita Wong, Larissa Lai, Oana Avasilichioaei, Angela Carr, Bryan Sentes, Lisa Robertson, derek beaulieu, Fred Wah, George Bowering, Angela Rawlings, Nicole Brossard, Sharon Thesen, Ken Babstock, Christian Bök, Rachel Zolf, Steve Savage, Daniel Canty, Dionne Brand, Margaret Christakos, Claire Harris, Phyllis Webb, Meredith Quartermain, Robin Blaser… gee I could go on! So many conversations, perked ears, grins, social and political and poetic considerations! Out of reading all these people, engaging with their work, their readings, their exchanges, a view of Canada arises, I am sure….

6) What is the impact of the death of the book review and the professional critic having on Canadian writing?

The space and means for commentary on books is morphing. Blogs and sites like goodreads provide space for readers to interact more directly with poets and poetry, and to express their own opinion of the work. Sound archives record poetry readings and conversations and conferences. Academic essays are more accessible too (on, etc.). The book review as it was in the newspaper, and the newspaper critic (who never was a professional critic, was usually another poet), seem less important as newspapers don’t publish many reviews of poetry books (though when they do, it’s great—the Winnipeg Free Press publishes more than most!); the last featured review on of a poetry book was August 11, 2011 (I am writing this on March 3, 2012). I think new possibilities open up, is all. I think Canadians need to encourage and invest energy and infrastructure in participating more actively in these changes. As it is, all too often it is American sites that are bringing Canadian poetry to peoples’ attention! We’re idling while opportunity passes us by, I say! Why lament, get working!

7) How does the large-scale disappearance of reading and writing in the public school system affect Canadian literature? Feel free to disagree with the premise here, but please deal with the fact that in the 80s the kids were reading a few Canadian novels.

If this is true (I’m remote from the public school system), I think that there really should be a big push to teach Canadian poetry and fiction in schools. There’s so much of it, and it’s so rich a literature, and lots of writers are willing to interact and help!

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Erin Moure

Erín Moure is one of Canada's preeminent poets. She lives in Montreal. Her latest book is The Unmemntioable, which she launched in Winnipeg.