One of American literature’s foremost poets, Marianne Moore’s poetry is characterized by linguistic precision, keen and probing descriptions, and acute observations of people, places, animals, and art.From Marianne Moore’s biography by Poetry Foundation
When considering Marianne Moore as a person and a poet we need to focus on the complexity of basics. That sounds like an oxymoron, I know. Even so, there are fundamental elements employed by Moore–such as nouns–that are combined with unique perspective and comparisons–for example comparing an octopus to Mount Rainier–unlike any other poet in the modern age.
Her poetry predominantly focuses on character traits and their interplay with images. Some of these character traits include
Using these character traits, she reflects on relationships, discipline, art, and nature. Many of her poems use animals as an image for how these traits live out in nature. She weaves in themes such as painting sculpture, literature, music, fashion, herbal medicine, and sports.
Marianne Moore could be considered a character herself with her tricorn hat and cape. She was a persona unto herself with a depth many still find allusive. So as was her poetry, so was her life.
The poems were hard, and harder still because they were not “difficult”—fragmented, allusive—in the prescribed modernist way.The New Yorker
Marianne Moore incorporated at least three main forms throughout the course of her poetic life. She used free verse rather than the more traditional forms of her predecessors and some of her contemporaries. T. S. Eliot referred to her rhyme as “light rhyme,” which is not to be mistaken as less than the “durable” nature of her poetry. Her use of line breaks and indentations give her poetry a concrete structure as characterized by Imagism. She also wrote found poems in that she incorporated quotations from other resources into her poems.
She wrote with the freedom characteristic of the other modernist poets, often incorporating quotes from other sources into the text, yet her use of language was always extraordinarily condensed and precise, capable of suggesting a variety of ideas and associations within a single, compact image.From Marianne Moore’s biography by Poets
Moore was working in no previously discovered vein of poetics when she wrote her poems, and in the decades following their publication they have gained new generations of admirers but almost no imitators.From the Introduction of New Collected Poems
In reading about Marianne Moore, I discovered a poet that was not afraid to try new things. Not only was she using free verse and found poetry, but those in the Imagist movement praised and embraced her work. Poets of the next generation became captivated by her poetry, too. Elizabeth Bishop wondered after reading Observations, “Why had no one ever written about things in this clear and dazzling way before?”
Moore was one of the first poets to use the typewriter for writing her poems. She described this as a “pleasing jerky process.” The typewriter became the rhythmic essence behind her poetry, and the clickety-clack of the keys echo throughout her poems.
Moore’s art has no straight path from beginning to end; there is no vantage point from which one can see it whole. She created new poems throughout her life, but she also created new arrangements of the old.From the Introduction of New Collected Poems
Most of all, Moore was an innovator of her own work much to the chagrin of her avid fans. Her Complete Poems published in 1967 reflect her most controversial revisions. My post for Tuesday will go into more depth about one of these poems in particular.
Yet, throughout her innovative processes, she is also “misperceived as primarily a (witty, but nonetheless) insistent moralist, and this has happened because she took pains to ensure it would.” Her early upbringing as the granddaughter of a Presbyterian minister reflects her adherence to certain convictions, and yet she managed to become a celebrity in her own right. She interacted with the poets of her own generation and the next generation, but she also contributed to efforts such as naming cars for Ford Motor Company (which they rejected) and writer liner notes for Muhammad Ali’s I Am the Greatest.
Although some see revision as a continual process–and I have found reworking past poems sometimes necessary myself–some would argue that Moore’s substantial revisions nearly erased herself from the Modernist culture she helped to establish. Yet, all is not lost, and I think most will agree with the following statement.
Moore’s work sounds like no one else’s.From the Introduction of New Collected Poems
I hope my readers will as you discover more about Marianne Moore this week.
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