Miss Moore, Briefly

I like Marianne Moore. I do acknowledge that Moore can be hard. And that not every single one of her poems is great.

James Dickey (though he later said he had changed his mind a little about how much he thought of her work) wrote of Moore that

Few poets […] have shown how endlessly various, how ingenious and idiosyncratic and inexplicably fascinating, how sheerly interesting the world is in its multifarious aspects […]

He also says

In her “burning desire to be explicit,” Miss Moore tells us that facts make her feel “profoundly grateful.” This is because knowledge, for her, is not power but love, and in loving it is important to know what you love, as widely and as deeply and as well as possible.

Like I said, I know what Moore’s limitations are, but her work has such wonderful charm to it I don’t especially mind. I can’t say that she is on my Desert Island list (although a friend did point out that she would keep one occupied for quite a long time on a deserted isle — counting syllables if nothing else!) — no, Moore is more like a delightful, beloved friend, one it’s best to call on only for short visits, but regularly.

Some favorites:

“The Steeple-Jack”

A Grave

The Fish

“Critics and Connoisseurs”

“The Frigate Pelican” (the original, longer version)

Nine Nectarines and Other Porcelain

and, though it does disintegrate into a somewhat dreary encyclopedia for a bit in the middle there, “An Octopus” for its wonderful descriptions of Mt. Rainier. “An Octopus//of ice”…

Postscript: The Dickey quotations are from an essay in Babel to Byzantium, a collection of his criticism. Quite a worthwhile read.

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