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So Rarely in Our Skins by Robert Moore

So Rarely in Our Skins, Robert Moore

Robert Moore

Robert Moore (poet, actor, director, playwright, and professor) was born on 13 May 1959 in Hamilton, Ontario. He has written over a dozen plays that have been performed across Canada, and he has published three books of poetry. His collections of poetry—Figuring Ground (2009), Museum Absconditum (2006), and So Rarely in Our Skins (2002)—reflect Moore’s ability to combine classical images with personal memories and histories.

His father, Eric Moore, was a steelworker and his mother, Marion, a registered nurse. His childhood exposure to literature influenced the work that he produces today. His earliest memories of reading are of an illustrated version of The Iliad and Odyssey, as well as having grown up in the “golden age of genre B movies concerned with the Greeks,” knowing the labours of Hercules and the patterns of events surrounding the crucifixion by the age of ten (Interview with author). Although the majority of his life was spent in Ontario and Alberta, Moore came to Saint John, New Brunswick in 1990 to teach the University of New Brunswick. Although he does not consider himself a regional or Maritime poet, he states that New Brunswick “isn’t the landscape that formed me, though it certainly shaped my thinking” (Interview with author). According to Moore’s home page, he is currently living (2009), “with his partner, Judith Mackin, and their children Alexandra Moore and Robyn Mackin in the south end of Saint John.”

Growing up in Hamilton, Moore was not always as scholarly as his present designation may suggest. Dropping out of school at age seventeen, he spent seven years exploring career and lifestyle alternatives. He worked as a poster artist, reporter, steel worker, and machine fitter’s apprentice, and in doing so, found his way back to his interest in literature and writing. He enrolled in McMaster University and discovered a passion for drama, working as an actor, director, and playwright. He also worked as a teacher during his graduate studies and eventually earned a PhD in English. His dissertation examined the “psychoanalytic issue” in the American postmodernist fiction of Donald Barthelme.

After nearly a decade as the Chair of the Department for Drama at Augustana College of Alberta, Moore moved to UNBSJ. Teaching courses in literary theory, postmodern literature, American literature, drama production, and film, his pedagogic interests parallel his creative ones.

Most of Moore’s influences were twentieth-century writers. Harold Pinter —an English playwright, actor, director, screenwriter, and poet— inspired Moore with his ideas of the past and memory, especially evident in his memory plays. Pinter’s mix of the melancholic with the comical was attractive to Moore. The Irish writer, dramatist, and poet, Samuel Beckett, was also a literary inspiration with his austere views of the human condition. Moore admired his black humour. Leonard Cohen’s influence as a musician, poet, and novelist was also significant. Cohen’s method of aligning dark lyricism with a sense of humour and gentle acceptance of absurdity have been recognized in Moore’s work as well.

So Rarely in Our Skins, Moore’s first book of poetry, was published in 2002. The collection was a finalist for the 6th Annual Atlantic Poetry Prize, the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, as well as being long-listed for the ReLit Award in Poetry. The poetry in this collection combines classic figures, such as Frankenstein and Icarus, with modern references, some banal. In this debut publication, according to one critic cited on Moore’s home page, he “turns his witty and ironic eye on everything from art history and fairytales to gender roles and the true meaning of wristwatches.”

Moore’s 2006 release, Museum Absconditum, delves deeper into the human condition, using memory and its re-imagining as a point of exploration. Relationships, death, time, and human interaction all play a part in this collection, providing a “museum of stories, people and ideas” (Home page 20 Nov. 2009). While it is more autobiographical than the first collection, Museum Absconditum also delves into the abstract, exploring the idea of time and its relation to love. Moore references his father’s life and death, and his father’s voice is one of many that contributes to the dramas so prevalent in this work.

Moore’s most recent book of poetry, Figuring Ground (2009), is also his most critically acclaimed. This book reflects his interest in cows, his philosophical musings, and his belief in the ambiguity of memory. His theatrical interests are also evident in the subject matter and perspective. As stated on Moore’s home page, the collection is “richly atmospheric and filled with cinematic details.”

Moore’s plays have been performed across Canada and his poetry has been published in literary journals such as The Fiddlehead, Wascana Review, Ink Magazine, Canadian Author, The New Quarterly, Descant, Maissoneuve, Pottersfield Portfolio, Gaspereau Review, Prairie Fire, Quadrant Magazine, and Contemporary Verse II. He has been the recipient of the Edmonton Journal Literary Award for poetry (1987) as well as having received honorable mention for the Pottersfield Portfolio Award (1997) and The Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick Alfred G. Bailey Prize (2001).

Ellen Higgins, Winter 2009
St. Thomas University

For a short analysis of a Moore poem, please visit the Atlantic Canadian Poets' Archive.

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Moore, Robert. Figuring Ground. Hamilton, ON: Wolsak and Wynn, 2009.

---. The Golden Book of Bovinities. Montréal, Signal Editions, 2012.

---. Home page. 20 Nov 2009.
<http://www.robertmoorepoet.com/index.html>.

---. Museum Absconditum. Hamilton, ON: Wolsak and Wynn, 2006.

---. Personal interview. 15 Nov. 2009.

---. So Rarely in Our Skins. Saint John, NB: The Muse and Apos, 2002.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Compton, Anne, et. al., eds. Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 2002.

Craig, Heather. “Images to Amuse and Move.” Telegraph Journal [Saint John] 4 Apr 2009: G6.10 Nov 2009. <http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com/salon/article/623977>.

Davies, Paul. "Samuel Beckett". The Literary Encyclopaedia. 8 Jan 2001. 20 Nov 2009. <http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople. php?rec=true&UID=5161>.

“Harold Pinter: Biography.” Contemporary Writers. British Council. 20 Nov 2009. <http://www.contemporarywriters.com /authors/?p=auth01g24k343812605467>.

“Leonard Cohen: Biography.” Leonard Cohen. 2009. Sony Music Entertainment Canada Inc. 20 Nov. 2009. <www.leonardcohen.com/bio.html>.

Nowlan, Michael O. “Moore Excels with Imagination.” Rev of. Figuring Ground. The Daily Gleaner [Fredericton] 1 Aug. 2009. D4.