Geneviève Robichaud in Conversation with Erín Moure

In the spirit of the recently released Secession by Chus Pato with Insecession by Erín Moure (BookThug, 2014), this interview is in two parts. Part One, with Chus Pato, is here while the second part, with Erín Moure, is published below.

GR: On the BookThug blog, you ask Chus Pato: “If you could sum up Secession in a few words, what would you say?” I’d like to turn the question to you now. How would you describe not only Insecession but also the “in” of secession, the slash of Secession / Insecession, and the use of “with” in the title of the book?  

EM: I’ll answer this first question in the way I created each text of Insecession: using one less word than Pato did in her text.

The slash is a graphic way of presenting a bicephalous book: our titles appear as equals. Although Pato’s biopoetics Secession, in this edition, is interwoven with my own Insecession, it is in no way subordinate to my text, but is its very cause, its precursor and its most precious interlocutor. Insecession is my biopoetics nestled “in Secession.” They appear “with” each other because they are friend texts, reverberative.

GR: Reverberative. I like that. As a reader I often read for those reverberations – those ripples that are both extensions and departures. Can you talk a bit more about the process of being in dialogue with Pato’s text.

EM: I’ve been in dialogue with Pato’s work since I encountered her m-Talá in Galicia in 2000, an event about which I wrote in My Beloved Wager, so that information has been circulating since 2009 at least. The fact is, it is hard for a voice from outside Canada to be heard in Canada unless translated and published in America or the UK. We Canadians don’t have international habits, by and large, that stem from our own readings in other languages, and from readings of Canadian translators of other languages, published here, as the latter are so rare. So it’s a task, getting the information out that Pato’s work has entered Canadian cultural spaces (though some have tried: rob mclennan, for one)!

When Pato is visible in my community, our poetry is richer. Her influence on my thinking, and the evolution of that influence, are visible too for Canadian readers of my own poetry, which otherwise would seem to exist only in English, without references except perhaps to mixolingual Montreal. Pato is an European who grew up in Galicia in Spain in an era when the second language taught in schools was French (her own language, Galician, was repressed under Franco); her poetic heritage is not just Iberian, and not from the English language but from Mallarmé, Baudelaire, Lautréamont, and later on from thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Jacques Rancière and Gilles Deleuze, or from work widely available in French before English, like that of Giorgio Agamben. Like me, she is a person interested in philosophy and makes philosophical influences part of her work. Like me, she risks her language at the edge of genre boundaries but, in her case, her language is also at risk, whereas mine is hegemonic, as absorptive as Capital. So I have to tread carefully! Yet our work still has much in common in terms of history, for my own philosophical formation was largely one of an allergic person, self-taught, who read more in French than in English out of avidity rather than out of a course or plan.

For me, Pato’s poetry has been a rich influence in so many ways. I see different refractions and concerns there than those expressed in the various strains of American poetry (which being in English, can and does influence Canadian poets writing in English, and which pretends sometimes to be universal).

GR: Do you think that the reciprocity between you and Pato’s work – making her influence visible in your writing by allowing her writing to be accessible to those of us who cannot read Galician – is a model for a greater opening up of the literary spaces that shape us as readers and writers? What works have greatly impacted your conception of place, genre and the politics of form?

EM: Again, beautiful question. Our reciprocity (I love that word) is what it is: the rich conversation and challenge of poetry, never owned or conducted by one person, by one group of people, by one language, but yes it is a language engagement at the limit, and across.

If it is also a model — it has to be able to be emulated, and to grow anew in the hands of the emulators. I am not sure, have not been sure, that in Canada the conditions exist to encourage emulation. On the other hand, there is a new generation of writers taking up these concerns for languages and boundaries and mixity in their words and practices: Oana Avasilichioaei, Shannon Maguire, Liz Howard, Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy, among others, and they are being met with respect and space in the literary community, where they become a further circle of influence in reverberation with whatever Chus and I, and others, can provide. The process at work is less linear than “emulation,” perhaps!

As to works that have had an impact on my conceptions of place, genre and form: Judith Butler and Donna Haraway, in the 1980s, because to have a conception of place and form it is first necessary to have a conception of a body, which is to say of those movements between what we know as bodies, since bodies and cellular space are not as bounded as we once were brought to believe. Reading Jack Spicer was foundational for me in the 1970s, particularly his rewriting and address of Lorca. And Cesár Vallejo, for his stutters of language, whom I first read in 1983.

Apart from works, it’s also critical to push against the blindness that our own language (language-singular) enacts on our minds and bodies. Thus I, we, need more than one language — in my case, French, Galician — so we can look into English differentially. And look at our own culture from somewhere outside. In this respect, the advent in anglo-Canadian literary spaces of languages and their thought-forms that were, like Galician, always here but excluded from public space and repressed: Cree, Anishinaabe, Micmaq, to name just three, is an important movement in culture in Canada. I see many more openings on the horizon, and their carriers and translators and writers will not be emulating me and Chus, but I hope that Chus and Erín can be of service.

GR: In Incessession you write: “This is a dialogue with Chus Pato, this is not a dialogue with Chus Pato, this is a corner of a textile…The literary word, must someone think? Must someone haunt or bear this haunting?” From André Breton to Gail Scott, Catherine Mavrikakis to Carla Harryman, the question “whom does one haunt” seems urgently contemporary. How do you treat this question vis à vis your own writing? I am thinking of another passage from the “Litany from Cassandra: Poultice (couchgrass) for Christa Wolf” where you write: “I believe in a responsibility to the unknown in the other who faces me or faces away from me.” Do you address this responsibility through multiple forms of collaboration?

EM: The haunting question has been contemporary to us for awhile. It touched me in O Cadoiro a decade ago with the language of the “spectre” from Derrida’s Mal d’archive. There’s Derrida’s 1993 book Spectres de Marx, too, which resurrects the line of Marx in California. Haunting, in Western European literature, is part of the Gothic, of course and if, as Chus Pato says, the Gothic has been with us not just since the 18th century but since the onset of that theological tradition by which words create the world, then it has been with us in the West since the publication of Genesis. I think any writing is haunted, by its predecessors, by the dead writers, by contemporary interlocutors and readers, by the dream of a reader, of a future reader. The Gothic is that realm of the pleasant fear, the safe fear. It lies this side of the unsafe fear, the unpleasant fear, which is the sublime.

We are haunted, as well, by our own conceptual apparatus, which turns to feed on us and will wring us dry if we don’t see it and step away or out of it, even if only to be immersed anew.

Your last question answers itself! A beautiful question. Through collaboration, but also through other acts of encouraging those who work in ways unlike mine; through translation, which is a kind of collaboration but also quite simply a gift that does not operate in the gift economy. It loses itself (and here I do not talk about that worn paradigm of translation in which there are losses and gains); it demands nothing in return, not even an acknowledgement of its condition as gift.

GR: If you could collaborate with any author – dead or alive – who would it be?

EM: To collaborate as a listener is one of the most powerful forms of collaboration. As such, I would like to listen to the voice of Federico García Lorca, unrecorded in his lifetime. I’d like to stand in Fuente Vaqueros, his natal village in Granada, and hear his voice in September 1931, as he inaugurated the first village library:

No sólo de pan vive el hombre. Yo, si tuviera hambre y estuviera desvalido en la calle no pediría un pan; sino que pediría medio pan y un libro. Y yo ataco desde aquí violentamente a los que solamente hablan de reivindicaciones económicas sin nombrar jamás las reivindicaciones culturales que es lo que los pueblos piden a gritos. Bien está que todos los hombres coman, pero que todos los hombres sepan. Que gocen todos los frutos del espíritu humano porque lo contrario es convertirlos en máquinas al servicio de Estado, es convertirlos en esclavos de una terrible organización social.

GR: What would you say is relevant writing today? How much does the present moment infiltrate your writing?

EM: My body inhabits the present moment, so my writing can’t help but be infiltrated by the present, and of the present. Even to describe a memory is to inhabit the present as the description itself is representation. Relevant writing for me, well, let me refer back to the words of García Lorca above: relevant writing is that which does not assist in the conversion of human beings into machines in the service of the State, into slaves of a terrible social organization. For me, relevant writing is writing that would not be able to exist under fascism. It puts itself somehow at risk. All other writing is entertainment or sentiment.

GR: This is a non-hierarchal text in that the reader can read from any point of entry, making it very rhyzomatic. It has something of a nomadic nature too. Beyond the structure of the book, I am thinking of a specific passage where you write: “for years, I considered myself the author of my texts, then the texts mutated and the territory became open, like snow.” What changed?

EM: Your observation is exact, and surprising to me, as I didn’t intend that openness of the texts: it happened. What changed is that I started translating the poetry of others! Norma Cole got me started in 1995 by inviting me to co-translate some poems with her. Then I started being invaded, infected, invested, infested in performative ways by the movements in language of the work of others, primarily Chus Pato, but also Nicole Brossard where Robert Majzels was part of the tissue of thought. The process of writing became a process of listening and humility before words. I do not write alone, or read a prefigured and fixed text, nor is language mine; I read you and them through my body and its perceptual and conceptual and cultural apparatus, and translation helped me be more present to this process. A work of the cells, of a history of cells, and of sharing.

GR: Why, in each of your texts in Insecesssion, did you choose to use one less word than Pato’s corresponding text in her Secession, or in your translation, rather? If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it might have something to do with the intranslatable, or a kind of poetics of l’inachevé, but I’d just be guessing.

EM: It was simply to give primacy and respect to Pato’s text. Her text is always ever bigger than mine. It precedes mine and feeds mine. It is due a certain respect, and might not easily find that when it appears in my culture, where my work is better known than hers.

The book Insecession is, even so, a bit longer than her Secession (in my translation, yes… for the funny thing is who knows its relation in word count to Pato’s original text, the only text Pato actually wrote) because I added a scrap text at the end, a poem of scraps, containing all the missing words, plus one more. This is not to devalue the poem of scraps, for perhaps such a poem is the poem that best represents us, is the most mimetic poem possible.

Both texts, mine and Pato’s, respond to the questions: how does the poem think? who thinks it? is it proper for the writer of the poem to have a biography? what happens if a writer assumes (takes on) a biography? Which is to say, a history and a nation? A mother tongue? One necessarily assumes a politics too, that involves the readers of the language, and of the poem.

The questions addressed, additionally, in Insecession involve translation, and are pretty much the same questions; you can just replace “poem” with “translation.”

Obliging myself to use one less word in each text also allowed me to produce prose or fiction (since all writing is fiction). I’d never thought of myself as capable of writing prose or fiction (except essays), and this constriction let me ignore my incapacities and enjoy a crazily intense revision process with each piece, similar to my process of concentration in writing poems. Yet the texts that emerge look like prose. Are prose. Or are poems. Chus herself does call these texts poems, after all.

GR: This makes me wonder about two things: 1) What was that revision process like? 2) Is the thinking and writing process different for you when you are writing prose?

EM: I could only write Insecession by not being aware of writing it. I was just lost or found in images, in the movement and sounds of words, in the relations between words and world, in emerging with a soundscape or rhythm, and in imitating Chus’s sentence structure and rhythm.

GR: When you translated Chus Pato’s text did you start writing its echo at the same time or did Insecession come after?

EM: Insecession was written almost three years after I’d translated Chus’s Secession. I was thinking of finding a publisher for Secession, and dreamed of publishing it in Canada. I thought, gee, I could write my own memoir and poetics that would be prompted by Chus’s and could exist with hers, for I am her age, and if mine were a bit longer, then the book would count as Canadian and my publisher could then afford to publish the book. Plus it was important that the book be Canadian. I want Chus to be visible in Canada. After all, this is the fourth book of hers I have published in English translation! So I told Chus my idea, to ask her for permission (because it interferes with her work, otherwise) and she was excited and said “do it.”

GR: What individuates this work from the rest of your work? What made it exciting for you?

EM: I think it follows on and with my other work. I don’t know that it is differentiated for me. It doesn’t fall neatly into a genre category, but neither has any recent work (O Resplandor, The Unmemntioable). What makes it exciting was entering new ground, and believing that the resulting text could make clear the influence on my own poetry from translating Chus Pato.

GR: I love the passage in Insecession where you are a year old and your arms are held out to the blooms that bear your name: “Erin! Erin!…My mother squatted and her height went small beside me and she told me in her language: you are Erin; those are Irises.” Do you remember when you began to write? I know you touch on this in the book, but I couldn’t recall the specific passage.

EM: When I began to read the ants. I’d thought alphabetic letters were renditions of ants. I thought people told stories using pictures. My pop explained the ants below the pictures were writing. And so I decided to read, and became a writer. I don’t think I’m special in this regard! I just remember the moment. I think everyone is a writer once their eyes or fingers can caress the figures of words on page or screen and sense the tensions between them, and how they weigh and move, and produce these tensions anew in our own bodies. When we read, writing emerges.

GR: Are there moments when you’re not working on anything?

EM: Ha! I wish there were. Working on writing helps keep me in touch with my life purpose, so it is hard to stop, or to want to.

GR: What is your life purpose?

EM: To be kind. 

GR: What are you working on now?

EM: Just finished a bilingual play-poem, Kapusta, for Anansi in 2015, and am stuck in the midst of translating Wilson Bueno’s Mar Paraguayo (will unstick). Will soon be translating François Turcot’s Mon dinosaure for BookThug, and have a project to do work alongside my Pop’s papers and memories. Also to help with poetry translations by Edmontonians — Odile Cisneros, Roman Ivashkiv and Alex Kandathil — as interlocutor and listener. This fall will revise my translation of Pato’s Flesh of Leviathan, the closing volume of her pentalogy Tilth or Arable, due out in 2016 from Omnidawn in the U.S., a great supporter of translation. And there are many books I want to read! And reread: Jack Spicer, for example, and Jacques Rancière’s Aisthesis.

GR: Erín, thank you so much for being so generous with your answers! I am not at all surprised that your list of projects is a paragraph long, and I am so grateful for the time you set aside and for this thoughtful exchange. And grazas again for translating the interview with Chus Pato. It has been such a pleasure!


Erín Moure_by Karis ShearerErín Moure has published 16 books of poetry in English and Galician/English plus a book of essays, and has translated 13 volumes of poetry into English from French, Spanish, Galician and Portuguese, by poets such as Nicole Brossard, Andrés Ajens, Louise Dupré, Rosalía de Castro, Chus Pato and Fernando Pessoa. Her work has received the GG, Pat Lowther Memorial Award, A.M. Klein Prize, and has been a three-time finalist for the Griffin Prize. Her latest work is Insecession, published with Chus Pato’s biopoetics Secession in a dual volume by BookThug.


DSCN1021Geneviève Robichaud composes between deux langues: English and Chiac. She holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from Concordia University and is a PhD candidate at l’Université de Montréal. She is an editor for Lemon Hound.