canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

A Frame of the Book
by Erin Mouré
House of Anansi Press, 1999

Review by Ibolya Kaslik

To read Erin Mouré's poetry, one must decide on one's position of deconstruction. Mouré's A Frame of the Book deals with, among other things, deconstruction of self, identity and language. Poems are written and then re-written, de-written and finally, unwritten in this process.

To name and describe things, the poet's task, is Mouré's main pre-occupation as she notes in her 14 Description of Trees, the third poem in the book:

Description demands its transformation to the letters,
the world did not conform to description
with immediacy.

Mouré foregrounds the theoretical in order to establish the intellectual and literary tradition within which she works in. Mouré locates her constant dislocation and disassociation by quoting thinkers like Lyotard, Wittgenstein and Bacon. While the cerebral and theoretical quandaries may be compelling from a literary standpoint, much of Mouré's writing remains inaccessible to a wider audience due to the references and lack of concrete narrative. Obviously aware of the audience she hopes to target, Mouré seems to eschew "immediacy", the gut instincts that attract readers to poetry:

Trying to forge an upset frame of reference
Pulling the window thru the door.

Meanwhile, the reader, in an attempt to understand what Mouré's poems are about, pulls her hair through her mouth. Extreme self-consciousness is at the very core of Mouré's work and while this is an obvious enough method for a deconstructionist, for readers who may not be so interested in the various ways narrative can be undone, even its 'upsets' become predictable.

Essentially, Mouré writes a poem - a dense, poem - and then re-writes it over and over again. Or, she chooses an event, which is never explicitly revealed and implies a significance that can only be guessed at, as in a series of poems entitled, "Report from the Interior, a Swan Song". In this poem, a child falls through the ice and the ensuing poems describe the anxiety as well as the experience. As two people argue, later in life, presumably, about the event, the dialogue emphasizes the tendentious nature of recall:

When I was young, I said. You were grown up already-
No, I was young too, she said.

This lack of clarity, meaning, and headiness is frustrating because it alienates readers who are not invested in deconstructing text or who simply want to understand what is happening within the walls of the frame without secondary sources.

It is also frustrating because, despite the fact that Mouré appears to be a poet's poet, she is a damn good writer who in moments of unselfconsciousness can crank out a line that is viscerally pleasing, that grabs your gut, and loosens the vice on your head. The erotic textures of her work are most effective when they are not overwrought:

where I touched yr shoulder spoke into the bone
A ship rose there
We steered by it.

There is an ephemeral physicality, a playful femininity with both textual play and the sensual evident in Mouré's work and it is in these moments where to reader feels truly connected to the work. For example, "Astonish me a core of blood" Mouré writes, in 14 Description of Trees, again, though there is no real image to cling to here, the power of "core of blood" coupled with "astonish me" is a welcome respite for heady, impenetrable lines like:

Now someone has uttered the word 'Boltanski' in a yellow kitchen
Is this the form our grief has taken.

While A Frame of Book may be just that, a container for nebulous identity, fragmentation and poems jumbled and then shaken up, at times it reads like an intellectual scrabble board, too confusing for non-players, for those without an 'in' on the rules for play.

Ibi Kaslik finally graduated from the English Masters program at Concordia in spring 2000. Her work has appeared in "Matrix," "Hour" and "Peckerwood". She dreams of one day owning her very own banjo.







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