Book Review: The Unmemntioble by Erin Moure

Erin Moure’s new book of poetry is a mixed media collection of verbal and image art.

The title, The Unmemntioable, is not a spelling mistake.  It is a conscious decision by the award-winning writer to intrigue and mystify her audience. This collection of poems deals with Moure’s exploration of her Ukrainian heritage after the tragic death of her mother from cancer. Her poignant words will resonate with readers whose parents emigrated from Ukraine, ”Everyone comes from somewhere, Mom.” (p. 76)

Moure decides to bury her mother’s ashes in the tiny village of Hlibobychi in Ukraine. While dealing with her grief, Moure (known as E. M. in the book) meets her alter-ego Elisa Sampedrín (E. S.) who has followed her to Ukraine and later to Romania. E. S. is a writer and translator using E. M. to research the nature of experience.  She has appeared previously in Moure’s book Little Theatres (2005).  Although the relationship between the two writers is strained, they both need each other for inspiration. 

On her journey, Moure also describes her mother’s journey from Ukraine to her home in the South Peace region of Alberta.  In doing so, Moure touches on many poignant aspects of Ukrainian history, “In 1944, Soviets seized an UPA North order dated February 11, which said: Freedom for the Peoples! Freedom for the Individual!” (p. 101)

Throughout the eight sections of this poetry collection, Moure uses many literary techniques to tell her story.  There are numerous quotations from famous writers including Denis Diderot, Chus Pato and René Descartes. The text is written mostly in English, but the writer also uses words and phrases in French, Ukrainian, Spanish and Romanian. The very first page contains three QR codes.  When scanned by a smartphone, they contain a procedure for reading the book.  For readers who are technologically challenged, the cryptic procedure also appears on the copyright page.

The collection is mainly written in poetic form; however, there are also questions, lengthy prose passages and essay-like arguments. While this elegy for Moure’s mother explores her grief, it also explores her mother’s Ukrainian roots.  Through this pastiche of Ukrainian history, Moure examines the relationship between the past and the present.

The strength of Moure’s book lies in its complex web of meaning. She challenges readers to think about the complexities of human experience as she delves into her Ukrainian heritage. Many children of Ukrainian immigrants realize that they need to know about their roots, just as their parents are leaving them.  For some, there is no one left in the Old Country to tell them stories of their past.  This speaks to the importance of preserving the important stories of each and every Ukrainian immigrant.  If we don’t know our stories, they will become “Unmemntioable.”  Moure’s useful bibliography at the end of the book provides a very good listing of books about Ukrainian history.

Readers will definitely find Moure’s non-traditional poetic collection a challenge to read. However, its conscious vagueness and obscurity of both form and theme are critical to the success of the book.  The non-traditional spelling and use of foreign words and phrases will test even the most dedicated reader.

Erin Moure was born in Calgary.  She is a prolific poet and translator who lives in Montreal.  Her poetry collection Furious won the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1988.  In 2000, she began her career as a poetic translator with the translation of Nicole Brossard’s Installations. Since then, she has translated French, Spanish and Portuguese poetry. She performs and speaks nationally and internationally on poetry and translation.

In her sixteenth book of poetry, The Unmemntioable, Moure challenges readers to look at the limitations of language to express experience. This book was a finalist for the 2014 Kobzar Literary Award.

Reviewed by Myra Junyk

Moure, Erín.
House of Anansi Press Inc., 2012. 120 p. ISBN 978-1-77089-004-6

Available at Chapters, Amazon and Barnes and Noble

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