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Little Theatres

by Erin Mouré

Avant-garde icon Erin Mouré’s 13th collection is an uneven book. The finest work by far in the collection is in the bilingual (Galician and English) series “Homages to Water.” These poems are elegantly simple and have the cadence and structure (refrains, repetitions, and syntactic parallelism) of prayers or psalms. There is more pure melody in the Galician versions (at least as far as my Spanish 101-trained ear can tell), but there is a persuasive music in the English poems as well. Some poems in other sections are a macaronic mix of Galician and English, the comprehension of which is aided by an appended “Little Dictionary.”

Of less interest to this reader was the titular section, a series of prose excerpts presenting a self-reflexive fragmentary theory of composition. Mouré seems to want to stem charges of self-indulgence here by coyly attributing these scraps of supposedly excerpted text to a literary heteronym, Elisa Sampedrin (a heteronym has a distinct biography different from the author’s, whereas a pseudonym is merely a different name for the same person). One wishes, especially after reading the fine earlier poems disburdened of Mouré’s big brain, that she would check her poetics at the door when publishing her poetry.

A long terminal section is similarly inf(l)ected by theorizing and the occasional prosy burst of didactic politicking (“those jets and armament defending/‘us’ for petroleum”). It’s a shock to see such hamhanded execution from the same poet who can give us a description (of passing cows) as visually and aurally vivid as “red boned backs sway and step slow upward.”

At her best, Mouré writes musical and philosophical meditations that appeal to both intellect and emotion. This Mouré seems to be at war with a more theoretical version of herself, bent on hobbling poems with political philosophy and breaking rhythm into bits and prose. There is plenty of both Mourés on the stage in Little Theatres.