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Feb162011

1952

Collected Poems

By Marianne Moore

Original Publisher: Macmillan
Current Publisher:
Out of Print 

Lee Felice Pinkas writes:

A cat flattening itself in the sun is like seaweed; a strawberry with its many seeds is a hedgehog; the sea is a giant grave. These are among the unique juxtapositions of Marianne Moore, who at every turn displays a dogged commitment to precision, not just of language, but of syllable and image. Traveling where she wishes in her work, Moore expects her readers to come along. In all her poems, she is an adept observer of things, be they in museums, in nature, or within the spaces of her mind. The objective is always to observe, to heap metaphor upon metaphor until the image or idea is realized.

Moore’s 1951 Collected Poems features poems from her Selected Poems (1935), What Are Years (1941), Nevertheless (1944), and nine “hitherto uncollected” poems. The collection shows that Moore can create subject matter from anything. She finds grace in the compression abilities of a snail; in “The Jerboa” she spends a long poem praising an African rodent that has long hind legs. “Don’t laugh,” she implores in “Wood-weasel” before describing a skunk dressed in “sylvan black and white chipmunk regalia.” No creature is too small, no idea too insignificant for Moore to applaud or discover.

 “When I Buy Pictures” displays Moore’s appreciation of details and even says something about her approach to art. “Or what is closer to the truth,” she admits in her first line (most of her first lines continue from the titles), “when I look at that of which I may regard myself as the imaginary possessor, / I fix upon what would give me pleasure in my average moments...” I love the humor of Moore’s admission that she’s not actually purchasing the paintings, only dreaming of doing so. Creating an intimacy with her readers, Moore mimics the style of real conversation, qualifying her initial statement with a more honest admission of the truth. She proceeds to tell us how small a detail can draw her in to a painting. “It may be no more than a square of parquetry; the literal / biography perhaps, / in letters standing well apart upon a parchment-like expanse; an artichoke in six varieties of blue; the snipe-legged hiero- / glyphic in three parts…” Moore is careful, both in her appreciation of art and her making of it.

I wouldn’t use the word accessible to describe Moore’s poetry, yet there is a welcoming humor to her tone.  Even her more serious poems, or those that are laden with learnedness, invite us to partake in their enjoyment. She doesn’t ask us to adopt her beliefs, nor does she ask that we see things the way she does, but she asks us to bear with her. In “Marriage,” she writes, “This institution...requiring public promises / of one’s intention / to fulfill a private obligation...” Such clever lines are what make Moore the philosopher of life so appealing.

At the end of Collected Poems, Moore says that an artist who relies too heavily on her audience’s desires risks becoming the “donkey that finally found itself being carried by its masters.” She uses this phrase as a justification for including notes about her poems at the end of her books. It is, she feels, the more honest thing to do. Moore wrote about what she liked, carefully and deliberately, allowing herself to be moved by the images of her life, allowing her poems to be driven by their own logic systems.

Lee Felice Pinkas' poetry and translations have been published in the Crab Orchard Review, Diagram, Witness, and Denver Quarterly, among other places. She is a teacher of English and government at a private girls' high school in New York City.


Poetry Finalists that Year: 

  • W.H. Auden for Nones
  • William Rose Benèt for The Spirit of the Scene
  • Richard Eberhart for Selected Poems
  • Horace Gregory for Selected Poems of Horace Gregory
  • Randall Jarrell for The Seven-League Crutches
  • Theodore Roethke for Praise to the End
  • Muriel Rukeyser for Selected Poems
  • William Carlos Williams for Collected Earlier Poems
  • William Carlos Williams for Paterson

Poetry Judges that Year: Conrad Aiken, Winfield Scott, Wallace Stevens,
Selden Rodman, Peter Viereck

The Year in Literature:  

  • Collected Poems by Marianne Moore also won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
  • William Carlos Williams was named Consultant in Poetry for the United States.

Other Information:

  • Marianne Moore (1887-1972) was born in Kirkwood, MO.
  • In 1955 Moore was hired by the Ford Motor Company to come up with a name for the newest model car.  Among the names she gave them were, “Intelligent Whale,” “Varsity Stroke,” and “Utopian Turtletop.” Read more about this story here: http://www.todayinliterature.com/today.asp?Search_Date=12/9/2010 

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