Sunday, November 15, 2015

Marianne Moore and her Poetry Fixation

Rana © Russell Rosander 2012

One of Marianne Moore's most famous poems is appropriately titled, Poetry. It is also the poem that has vexed scholars and readers alike as she repeatedly edited the piece throughout her life. Her definitive version of Poetry — as she saw it — was reduced to three lines in the 1981 re-issue of The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. It reads as follows:


I, too, dislike it.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
   it, after all, a place for the genuine.

— Marianne Moore

In one of it's earliest forms, Poetry as it appeared in, Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse, edited by Alfred Kreymborg is significantly longer.


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 that there is in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
      they are
   useful; when they become so derivative as to become
      unintelligible, the
   same thing may be said for all of us—that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand. The bat,
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
      wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse
      that feels a flea, the base-
   ball fan, the statistician—case after case
      could be cited did
      one wish it; nor is it valid
         to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must
      make a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
      the result is not poetry,
   nor till the autocrats among us can be
     “literalists of
      the imagination”—above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,
      shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance
       of their opinion—
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness, and
      that which is on the other hand,
         genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

— Marianne Moore

In his introduction to Marianne Moore's 1935 volume entitled, Selected Poems, T.S. Eliot wrote in part that, “Miss Moore is, I believe, one of those few who have done the language some service in my lifetime.” In her lifetime, Moore’s Collected Poems (1951) won both the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and the National Book Award. In 1953 she was awarded the Bollingen Prize. She died in 1972 in New York City.

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