George Platt Lynes (1907–1955) Gelatin silver print, 1935
Before Marianne Moore, female poets were outliers in the American poetical tradition. Poets like Hilda Doolittle (“H. D.”) were known and respected up to a point but were largely pushed to the margins. Marianne Moore changed all of that. She wrote poetry that was wholly original and of obvious high quality; she could not be dismissed or condescended to. She also influenced subsequent poets, especially Elizabeth Bishop (seen elsewhere in this exhibition).
Poetically, Moore exceeded Ezra Pound’s edict to “make it new,” concocting new verse forms—a line that seemed like prose but wasn’t, based in part on counting syllables—that she married to her close, empirical observation. In her “manifesto” poem, called “Poetry,” she begins: “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.”
Moore loved observing animals, especially at the zoo. And she was a devoted baseball fan, a pastime that most modernist poets would never have owned up to! Moore was also a charismatic figure at readings and literary gatherings, standing out with her distinctive tricorn hat. But her influence as a writer made her a trailblazer for the growing presence of women poets in American literature.
There is a great amount of poetry in unconscious fastidiousness. Certain Ming products, imperial floor coverings of coach— wheel yellow, are well enough in their way but I have seen something that I like better—Marianne Moore From “Critics and Connoisseurs,” 1924