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Book Reviews

The Unmemntioable

by Erin Mouré

Prolific poet and translator Erín Moure’s latest book is a work of procedural poetry about the ways familial language and trauma reside in the body. The poems employ diverse tactics and approaches, including palimpsest, memoir, maternal cancer narrative, recreated family history, and elegy.

The first printed page contains three QR codes (a type of matrix barcode increasingly popular in the marketing realm), which, when scanned by a smartphone, provide a series of procedures for reading the book. (This material is also printed at the bottom of the copyright page for less tech-savvy readers.) This text reads, in part, “a) The native people rose up and killed the interlopers. b) The nation drove the interlopers out. c) All on the verges endured the sorrows. 4) Silence. 5) She stood in the rain and birches holding a spoon of ashes.”

In case this is not cryptic enough, Moure interpolates the voices of other writers into her poems, a practice endemic in her previous work. She quotes from poets and philosophers including Paul Celan, Emmanuel Levinas, and Chus Pato, and inserts phrases in languages such as French and Cyrillic. “Elisa Sampedrín,” a doppelgänger who appears in the author’s previous works, watches Moure in cafés, leaves mysterious messages for her, and steals her notebook.

The word “verges” appears several times in reference to the homeland of the mother whose ashes are in the spoon: Moure’s mother “was born in / Poland because of the magnates and a League of Nations, with a Polish / name or perhaps Ukrainian, yet speaking the language of the village.” The Unmemntioable is Moure’s ambitious and laudable attempt to reclaim a family history and to answer the question of whether one’s people come “from nowhere” or “[f]rom here.”