Erín Moure is an unusual name. Is there a story?
Everyone’s name is a story! I think I’m the only one in the universe with my name… it’s simply the product, as I am, of 19th century European hunger and emigration. I’m half Polish/Ukrainian on my mom’s side and Galician/French/Irish/English on my Dad’s… my family name is that of my great grandfather who left Crecente, Pontevedra province (near the Miño… he was already a border dweller) in 1848. All ties were lost with Galicia when that fellow died in 1874 or so. My grandfather, his son, was very young when his widowed English (we think) mother brought her small children to Canada where her brother could help them. When I first went to Galicia in 1994 I decided to learn the language.
You’ve worked with poets from all around the world. What makes the Galician voice particular?
Not quite all around the world! In parts. I don’t believe in a singular Galician voice; for me that would be essentializing a multitude of voices, registers, patterns, movements in poetry. Galician poetry to me is very full, very dense in its imagery… it’s a poetry, overall, that has no problem spanning urban and rural worlds at once, and no problem in leaping borders, though it is, oh yes, grounded in the particularities of its place, of its time, of the history of the poetry that precedes it and on which it builds… it is intriguing to help it leap borders where it can dialogue with (in my case) other poetries in English.
What makes it universal?
I don’t know that I believe in ‘the universal’ as it usually co-opts one version of what is truly universal (that we share a species, that we are animals, we are born and die and affect each other in the space between) in order to browbeat other versions of this struggle. Galician poetry is as various as any other. In it, there are voices that could profitably affect, change, create foment in my own language’s poetry… it is amazing how poetry can leap borders… leaving behind some particularities and gaining others in the crossing.
What was the first text you translated?
From any language? Oh I don’t remember! I think it was trying to figure out what my parents were saying in English, to explain to my brother, 11 months younger than me, in our private language. From a recognized language into English, probably it was in my head, while in France or Spain, and trying to find the sign for the way to the toilet! In poetry, a poem of Neruda’s, before I could read Spanish, actually. I just translated what arose for me when I read what I could not read.
My introduction to the idea of translation was through Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, as at the end of it, there was my first bilingual dictionary: Ape-English (but not the reverse). It was utterly unusable, though I tried. I showed it once to Manuel Rivas, and it makes an appearance, slantwise, in Os Libros Arden Mal… if you recall.
What has translation taught you?
Que somos seres multiples… Je ne sais pas. I translate all the time as I think in three languages, all badly mastered. Temos que deixar entrar o que non somos, para ser, e estar. We have to let what is not us enter us, in order to be, and be present.
What’s your favourite poem by a Galician author, and have you translated it?
Ah I have many favourites. I love the medieval lyric and have made crazy wondrous quiet versions out of parts of Sedia-m’eu na ermida de San Simión by Meendinho, in my own O Cadoiro. And I love the ‘chronology of practice: synopsis’ of Chus Pato from her Charenton, which is on pp. 82-83 of the English… which later I reset in the form of the floor plan for the Dia:Beacon sculpture museum north of New York City… I followed the same floor plan to map my own chronology of practice, and these floor plan maps were published last year in the Canadian journal West Coast Line. Following that, the idea was taken up by Canadian poet Margaret Christakos in Toronto, who runs a poetry salon called Influency… in the most recent Influency program, 36 people were enrolled, and they all made maps of influence after being introduced to Chus’s and mine… Other Canadian poets have made such maps too (I know this by fact and rumour)… Thus something Chus made in Galician, and I got excited about and brought into English, both conventionally and with a leap, makes its way in English as a force field for change and beauty in Canadian literature.
That’s how it’s supposed to work, I think… what moves me later moves someone else, across the boundaries of a given language, and the literature itself changes.
Thank you for talking to us!