Erin Mouré Essay - Critical Essays

Mouré, Erin


Erin Mouré 1955–

Canadian poet.

The following entry presents an overview of Mouré's writings and career through 1992.

Mouré is best known for striking yet frequently abstruse poetry that attempts to express a uniquely female perspective. Her early work is characterized by a free-verse style and uses images of industrial and urban landscapes to condemn social injustice. In her more recent work, Mouré specifically addresses many of the concerns of contemporary feminist critical theory, employing experimental poetic forms to examine and undermine the patriarchal social relations and linguistic structures that, according to many feminists, prevent women from fully expressing themselves.

Biographical Information

Mouré was born in Calgary, Alberta. Following high school, she studied at the University of British Columbia and travelled throughout Europe before taking up residence in Montreal, Quebec, where she continues to write poetry and work for VIA Rail Canada.

Major Works

Mouré's poetry examines the impact of contemporary society on the spiritual and psychological welfare of the individual. In her first collection, Empire, York Street (1979), Mouré depicts life in Canada as alienated by urban industrial culture. She examines the many "empires" of technology which have failed to help people "transcend the sorrows of existence." Her next work, The Whisky Vigil (1981), presents the dissolution of a marriage between two alcoholics and examines the destructive effects of power and desire on modern relationships. Wanted Alive (1983) examines the lives of ordinary people caught up in a rapidly moving society. The "train poems" in this collection, in particular, examine the ever-changing modern landscape as an ironic metaphor for stasis and emotional stagnation. With Domestic Fuel (1985), Mouré made her ideological concerns explicit in poems that address Western society's "patriarchal"—that is, male-dominated, male-privileging—language and its inability to convey women's voices truthfully. Domestic Fuel addresses such themes as the spiritual dimension of life, the abuse of political power, the deterioration of meaning in contemporary life, and feminism. Furious (1988), which won the Governor General's Award for Poetry in 1988, is a collection of poems which excoriate patriarchal Western culture for its sexual harassment and oppression of women, comparing the treatment of women with that of laboratory animals.

Some of the themes in Furious were inspired by the works of French psychoanalyst and feminist Luce Irigaray, whose writings are devoted to examining the ways in which Western thought and discourse have excluded female subjectivity. In WSW (West South West) (1991), Mouré uses experimental poetic forms in her continuing project to undermine and overcome the limitations she perceives in Western linguistics. Among the poetic elements employed is parataxis, which is the sequential listing of clauses and phrases without connective or coordinating words. In Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love (1992), Mouré's poems reflect the contemporary philosophical view of language as a "multiplier" of meaning and ideas rather than a "container" or limiter of meaning. As Andrew Parkin says of her works, "Mouré's abiding concern as a poet is to preserve a living speech that clearly expresses common humanity."

Critical Reception

Critical reception of Mouré's poetry has generally been favorable. Most critics have lauded the free-verse style of her early works, but have noted that her more recent poetry—in which she "pushes against the limitations of language" in her use of syntax, punctuation, fragmented verse, and the repetition of words and phrases (which Mouré characterizes as poetic "stuttering")—is more difficult to read. A few critics have pointed out similarities between Mouré's poetic style and that of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Gertrude Stein. Others have suggested that the experimental elements of her style detract from the meaning and accessibility of her themes. Furthermore, while some critics explore the political elements of her poetry, others find a specifically Christian viewpoint in the spiritual themes and feminist issues presented in such works as Furious. Finally, most critics agree that the original style, pungent language, and contemporary focus of Mouré's poems make them particularly thought-provoking and an important contribution to contemporary Canadian poetry.

Principal Works

Empire, York Street (poetry) 1979
The Whisky Vigil (poetry) 1981
Wanted Alive (poetry) 1983
Domestic Fuel (poetry) 1985
Furious (poetry) 1988
WSW (West South West) (poetry) 1991
Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love (poetry) 1992


A. F. Moritz (review date March 1979)

SOURCE: "Lines from the Junction," in Books in Canada, Vol. 8, No. 3, March, 1979, pp. 16-17.

[Moritz is a Canadian author, translator, film critic, and editor. Below, he favorably assesses Mouré's "sharply observed images of urban and industrial life" in Empire, York Street.]

Erin Mouré's first book gives us a poet in struggle with "the god of this world seen / in a green ditch beside / a railway siding." These poems set out to acknowledge the full dehumanizing weight of the world and still win affirmation. And affirmation does occur—infrequent, frail, threatened as perhaps it must be, yet powerful, because poetic strength assures us that it is real and achieved, not merely asserted.

A nervous energy of language, fresh and gripping phrases, sharply observed images of urban and industrial life—these are the most immediately striking features of Empire, York Street. Mouré is capable of nature imagery and simple lyrics, but her poetic eye more often lights on garage roofs of corrugated iron; 40-watt bulbs in the halls of cheap apartment buildings; a shipment of tungsten; electrical wiring; railway switchyards; "a certain amount of equipment / assembled on the floor."

Although our civilization is filled with junk, Mouré sees it as an attempt to transcend the sorrows of existence. Of an airplane landing, she says: "A sopped earth rises to enclose / this...

(The entire section is 501 words.)

Tom Marshall (review date August-September 1983)

SOURCE: "Distances," in Canadian Forum, Vol. LXIII, No. 731, August-September, 1983, p. 43.

[Marshall is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, and professor whose writings include the poetry collection Playing with Fire (1984) and the novel Changelings (1991). In the following mixed review of Wanted Alive, he examines Mouré's use of language and her compassion for the human condition.]

Erin Mouré's first book of poems, Empire, York Street, was highly praised and was nominated for the Governor-General's Award in 1979. Her second, Wanted Alive, is a substantial collection at 112 pages, and is also impressive in its way. If I am...

(The entire section is 617 words.)

Peter O'Brien (essay date Winter 1984)

SOURCE: "Memory and Desire: The Poems of Erin Mouré," in Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 30, Winter, 1984, pp. 339-43.

[In the following essay, O'Brien discusses Wanted Alive, contending that it is Mouré's attempt at understanding and exploring the human heart.]

Throughout her poems Erin Mouré mixes memory and desire—a tenacious memory which sometimes rearranges the present, and a desire to see into the ephemeral future. She has spoken of the past as constantly metamorphosing, and of the future as nothing more than the "present falling forward." In her most recent collection of poems, Wanted Alive, she speaks of the crumbling boundaries which...

(The entire section is 1497 words.)

Erin Mouré with Robert Billings (interview date 2 March 1986)

SOURCE: An interview in Waves, Vol. 14, No. 4, Spring, 1986, pp. 36-44.

[In the following interview, Mouré discusses the Canadian content of her works, the images she employs, her love for language, and the influence of contemporary literary theory on her work.]

[Billings]: Let's start way back. You're from the west, from Calgary, lived in Vancouver for several years, and now you're in Montreal. You're not a prairie poet in the mode of, say Leona Gom, Glen Sorestad, Andrew Suknaski, or Lorna Crozier. Why not?

[Mouré]: I don't know (laughs). I think that the prairie as a place is very present in my mind, but I don't live there. So those aren't...

(The entire section is 4335 words.)

Barbara Carey (review date April 1988)

SOURCE: "Hothead," in Books in Canada, Vol. 17, No. 3, April, 1988, pp. 27-8.

[In the following generally favorable review of Furious, Carey states that Mouré's didacticism and feminist outrage occasionally detract from her evocation of the "inarticulateness of experience."]

I have to confess that the moment I heard this book was slated for release, I began haunting the poetry section of my local bookstore, convinced that a dose of new work by Erin Mouré would chase away the winter doldrums. Chase is putting it mildly, and mild is something this book is not. Furious is Mouré's fourth full-length collection, and true to form (and content),...

(The entire section is 996 words.)

Ross Labrie (review date Autumn-Winter 1989)

SOURCE: "Music in Words," in Canadian Literature, Nos. 122-23, Autumn-Winter, 1989, pp. 143-48.

[In the excerpt below, Labrie dismisses many of the poems in Furious as overburdened by Mouré's theoretical considerations, but suggests that a few "certainly repay attention."]

Appended to Erin Mouré's Furious are a series of critical observations designed to explain the poetry that precedes them. Displaying an interest, evident among some recent poets, in applying experimental alterations in the structure of language to the writing of poetry and showing some similarity to Gertrude Stein in her use of repetition and incremental variation, Mouré demonstrates...

(The entire section is 399 words.)

Di Brandt (review date January-February 1990)

SOURCE: "Dead Reckoning," in Books in Canada, January-February, 1990, pp. 42-3.

[In the following positive review, Brandt discusses the language, syntax, and poetic structure of Mouré's WSW (West South West).]

Erin Mouré's virtuosity dazzles. WSW (West South West), her newest collection of poems, is filled with the kind of energy, the quick movement from hand or eye to sudden landscape, dream, or memory that we have come to expect in her writing. There is also the continuation of her preoccupation with language, the precise and eloquent questioning of structure and syntax and surface, elaborated as a series of questions at the end of Furious (which won...

(The entire section is 638 words.)

Bruce Whiteman (review date Winter 1991)

SOURCE: "Miniatures and Mandrakes," in Canadian Literature, No. 131, Winter, 1991, pp. 224-26.

[Whiteman is a Canadian bibliographer and poet whose writings include Leonard Cohen: An Annotated Bibliography (1980) and En avoir fini avec le corps seul (1987). In the following unfavorable review, Whiteman contends that WSW (West South West) fails to include the lyrical qualities and the "public concerns of Mouré's earlier writings."]

Erin Mouré's WSW (West South West) is a difficult book, full of a kind of writing that is patently informed by theory and yet so close to the body as sometimes barely to articulate any subject. Subject, story and...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Susan Glickman (essay date Spring 1991)

SOURCE: "Speaking in Tongues: The Poetry of Erin Mouré," in Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 43, Spring, 1991, pp. 133-43.

[Glickman is a Canadian poet, educator, and critic whose works include Henry Moore's Sheep, and Other Poems (1990). In the following essay, she provides an overview of Moure's work.]

To get back to that purity. My friend, hand, voice a stutter at
the edge of. What is. Real trees with real birds in the branches,
wet tamarack, the birds' feathers glossed up & beaks singing.
The throats birds have, throats of thrushes, oh soft spotted brown

(The entire section is 3744 words.)

Lorraine M. York (review date Fall 1991)

SOURCE: "Poetic Emergenc(i)es," in Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 44, Fall, 1991, pp. 133-41.

[York is a Canadian educator and author of The Other Side of Dailiness: Photography in the Works of Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, Michael Ondaatje, and Margaret Laurence (1988). In the following favorable review, York discusses WSW (West South West), focusing on Mouré's use of language and innovative poetic structures.]

"Once again I begin a long praise of the accidental." The line is Erin Mouré's, from her new collection WSW (West South West) but it could just as easily stand as an epigraph to the works of many contemporary Canadian women poets. Poets...

(The entire section is 1210 words.)

Charlene Diehl-Jones (review date December 1992)

SOURCE: "Maps of Our Knowing," in Books in Canada, Vol. XXI, No. 9, December, 1992, pp. 44-5.

[In the generally favorable review below, Diehl-Jones examines the strengths and weaknesses of Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love.]

Erin Mouré opens her new book, Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love, with a poem that in certain ways sets up her whole project:

What is "transubstantial" in the word, the hallucination of
this & that, the words not containers of meaning but

multipliers, three tongues in one mouth, distinction
without denotation or connotation, this,...

(The entire section is 523 words.)

Further Reading


Helwig, David. "From Ondaatje to Lee: Words That Live as Poetry." Saturday Night 94, No. 9 (November 1979): 58-61.

Brief review of Empire, York Street.

O'Brien, Peter. "Interview with Erin Mouré." Rubicon, No. 3 (Summer 1984): 24-49.

Discusses Mouré's literary style and themes.

(The entire section is 67 words.)