Erin Mouré 1955–
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.
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.
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 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.