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Marianne (Craig) Moore (1887-1972)

 

Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, highly esteemed by her fellow colleagues. Moore's often-quoted advice in 'Poetry' was that poets should present for inspection "imaginary gardens with real toads in them". Characteristic for her works is cryptic zigzag logic, eccentric rhythms, and ironic wit. Her best-known poems feature animals and are written in precise, clear language. Moore was a friend to many of the greatest artists and writers of the 20th century, such as T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Elizabeth Bishop, and E.E. Cummings.

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this
---fiddle.
-Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
-it after all, a place for the genuine.

(from 'Poetry', 1921)

Marianne Moore was born near St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of John Milton Moore, an engineer-inventor. Moore was brought up with her brother in the home of her grandfather, the Reverend John R. Warner, the pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church. John Milton suffered a mental breakdown before her daughter's birth and was committed to a psychiatric hospital; she never met him. In 1896 the family moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where Moore's mother, Mary Warner, worked as a teacher at the Metzger Institute, a private girls's school.

Moore was not an outstanding student at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, but she was popular, active in the social life, and contributed to the student literary magazine, the Tipyn O'Bob or Tip. Among her friends were Peggy James, daughter of psychologist William James, and Frances Browne, with whom she traveled to Europe in the 1960s. During her college years Moore considered herself primarily as a writer of prose. At early age, she had wanted to be a painter. Her first odes and sonnets Moore composed when she was seven. Moore graduated in 1909 with a degree in biology and histology. She taught typing and bookkeeping for four years at the U.S. Industrial Indian School in Carlisle. One of her pupils was the famous Native American athlete, Jim Thorpe.

In 1911 Moore spent a summer in England and France. Her first poems appeared in The Egoist, an English periodical, and Alfred Kreymborg's Others in 1915. In Greenwich Village at Kreymborg's apartment she met such young avant-garde poets as Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams.

After living in Chatham, New Jersey, with her mother, Moore returned in 1918 to New York City, again with her mother. Moore had a tight relationship with her mother. In the cramped tiny apartments, where they lived together, they often shared a bed. From 1919 Moore devoted herself to writing, working initially as a secretary, private tutor and library assistant at the Hudson Park branch of the New York Public Library. Her home was at 14 St. Lukes Place.

Moore's first book, Poems, came out in London in 1921, when she was 34. It was published without her knowledge by two of her friends, Hilda Doolittle and Robert McAlmon. Poems was followed by Marriage (1923) and Observations (1924), which won the Dial Award for "distinguished service to American letters". T.S. Eliot noted her work early and wrote in 1923: "I can only think of five contemporary poets – English, Irish, French and German – whose works excite me as much or more than Miss Moore's." These works contain some of her best-known poems, including 'To Steam Roller', 'The Fish', 'When I Buy Pictures', 'Peter', 'The Labors of Hercules' and 'Poetry'. In Observations Moore brought to her verse the rhythm of prose; she also avoided the rhyme in about half of its poems.

In 1925 she became an acting editor of The Dial, an influential American journal of literature and arts, where she worked until the journal was discontinued in 1929 for financial reasons. During these years she published texts from such writers as Paul Valery, T.S. Eliot, who admired her language, Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, and Ortega y Gasset. The closing down of Dial was a severe blow to Moore's career as a critic, although he continued to publish essays on diverse subjects. Moore's Selected Poems (1935) was highly praised by Eliot, who wrote in the Introduction: "My conviction, for what it is worth, had remained unchanged for the last fourteen years: that Miss Moore's poems form part of the small body of durable poetry written in our time." Moore's correspondence with Eliot began in 1921 and continued until 1964.

As several other writers in her time, Moore was interested in the creative process and the relation between expression and real things. Moore remained critical toward her own work. The Complete Poems from 1967 opened with the dictum: "Omissions are not accidents." In one poem she stated: "If eternal action if effete / and rhyme is outmoded, / I shall revert to you / Habakkuk, as on a recent occasion I was goaded / into doing by XY, who was speaking of unrhymed / verse." Moore's poetry is marked by an unconventional but disciplined use of metrics. Her poems have been compared to Picasso's cubist portraits – she moved swiftly from image to image. Sometimes she used pseudo-scholarly language or referred to art history, music, and to current affairs: "Dürer would have seen a reason for living / in a town like this, with eight stranded whales / to look at; with the sweet sea air coming into your house / on a fine day, from water etched / with waves as formal as the scales / on a fish." (from 'The Steeple-Jack, revised, 1961 ) Among her favorite subjects are exotic animals, which she also described in the essay 'What There is to See at the Zoo' (1987): "The zoo shows us that privacy is a fundamental need of all animals. For considerable periods, animals in the zoo will remain out of sight in the quiet of their dens or houses. Glass, recently installed in certain parts of the snake house at the Bronx Zoo makes it possible to see from the outside, but not out from the inside."

World War II deepened Moore's personal world view which was fundamentally religious in nature – she was a lifelong member of the Presbyterian Church. Her brother John was a Presbyterian minister. In the foreword to The Marianne Moore Reader  (1961) she wrote: "My favorite poem? asked not too aggressively – perhaps recalling that Henry James could not name his 'favorite letter of the alphabet or wave of the sea.' The Book of Job, I have sometimes thought..." Acceptance of the human lot is seen in her collection What Are Years? (1941). Her tragic identification with the world of pain reflected from Nevertheless (1944). Her mother, who died in 1947, appears to have been Moore's closest friend, and her death affected her deeply. Collected poems Moore dedicated to her mother. She also kept a notebook of her mother's sayings, and regarded her as almost a collaborator, especially with the translation of The Fables of La Fontaine.

Moore's later books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Collected Poems (1951), which was also awarded the National Book Award (1952) and the Bollingen Prize in 1953, Predilections (1955), a volume of critical papers, and Idiosyncrasy and Technique: Two Lectures (1958). Moore's influence is seen in such writers as Elizabeth Bishop, Randall Jarell, Richard Wilbur and Robert Lowell. When the aspiring young poet Sylvia Plath meet her in 1955, she saw Moore as "someone's fairy godmother incognito." Marianne Moore died in New York City on February 5, 1972. She was a prolific letter-writer – producing sometimes up to 50 letters a day at the height of her career. With Ezra Pound she corresponded from the late 1910s until 1968. Among her friends, beyond the literary world, were the Museum of Modern Art Curator Monroe Wheeler, the artist Edward McKnight Kauffer, the dance patron and writer Lincoln Kirstein, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, the artist and sculptor Joseph Cornell, the artist George Plank, the painter Loren MacIver, the sculptor Malvina Hoffman, and Mrs. Hildegarde Watson, whose husband was the joint-owner of The Dial. Although Moore wrote about fashion in her letters, she said, "Style is basic and does not change with the year." She had a slender figure, her red hair was tightly braided, and in paintings and photograps she often wore a large hat, a straight-cut suit jacket, scarf or necktie, and a skirt.

For further reading: The Time of the Dial by W. Wasserstrom (1963); Marianne Moore by B.F. Engel (1964); Concordance by G. Lane (1972); Marianne Moore: A Refrence Guide by C.S. Abbott (1978); Marianne Moore by L. Stapleton (1978); Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions by B. Costello (1981); Marianne Moore by E. Phillips (1982); Marianne Moore: The Poetry of Engagement by Grace Schulman (1986); Hints and Disguises: Marianne Moore and Her Contemporaries by Celeste Goodridge (1989); Marianne Moore by Bernard F. Engel (1989); Marianne Moore: The Art of a Modernist, ed. by Joseph Parisi (1990); Marianne Moore: A Literary Life by Charles Molesworth (1991); Illusion Is More Precise Than Precision: The Poetry of Marianne Moore by Darlene Williams Erickson (1992); Omissions Are Not Accidents: Gender in the Art of Marianne Moore by Jeanne Heuving (1992); Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore: The Psychodynamics of Creativity by Joanne Feit Diehl (1993); Marianne Moore : Questions of Authority by Cristanne Miller (1995); The Web of Friendship: Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens by Robin G. Schulze (1995); Cultural Critique and Abstraction: Marianne Moore and the Avant-Garde by Elisabeth W. Joyce (1999); Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell by David Kalstone (2001); The Critical Response to Marianne Moore by Elizabeth Gregory (2003) ; The Poetry of Marianne Moore: A Study in Voice and Value by Margaret Holley (2009); Marianne Moore and the Cultures of Modernity by Victoria Bazin (2010); Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore by Linda Leavell (2014) - Trivia: In 1968 Moore threw out the first ball for opening day at the Yankee Stadium - she has also said that she would have liked to have invented the 'eight-shaped stitch with which the outer leather is drawn tight on a baseball'. - - - Moore, who never married, was said to have been intensely jealous of Eliot's second marriage in 1957. 

Selected works:

  • Poems, 1921
  • Marriage, 1923
  • Observations, 1924
  • Selected Poems, 1935 (introduction by T. S. Eliot)
  • The Pangolin and Other Verse, 1936
  • What Are Years?, 1941
  • Nevertheless, 1944
  • Rock Crystal / Adalbert Stifter, 1945 (translator, with E. Mayer)
  • A Face, 1949
  • Collected Poems, 1951
  • The Fables of La Fontane, 1954 (translator)
  • Selected Fables of La Fontane, 1955 (translator)
  • Predilections, 1955
  • Like a Bulwark, 1956
  • Idiosyncrasy and Technique: Two Lectures, 1958
  • Letters from and to Ford Motor Company, 1958 (with D. Wallace)
  • O To Be a Dragon, 1959
  • The Marianne Moore Reader, 1961
  • The Absentee: A Comedy in Four Acts, 1962 (play, from M. Edgeworth's 1812 novel)
  • Eight Poems, 1963
  • Occasionem cognosce, 1963
  • Puss in Boots, The Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella / Charles Perrault, 1963 (translator)
  • Dress and Kindred Subjects, 1965
  • Poetry and Criticism, 1965
  • Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite, Steel and Other Topics, 1966
  • The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, 1967
  • Prevalent at One Time, 1970
  • Unfinished Poems by Marianne Moore, 1972
  • The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, 1981
  • The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, 1987 (edited by Patricia C. Willis)
  • The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, 1997 (edited by Bonnie Costello, Celeste Goodridge, Cristanne Miller)
  • The Poems of Marianne Moore, 2003 (edited by Grace Schulman)
  • Adversity & Grace: Marianne Moore, 1936-1941, 2012 (edited by Heather Cass White)


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