Selected Lettersby Marianne Moore
Marianne Moore's correspondence makes up the largest and most broadly significant collection of any modern poet. It documents the first two-thirds of this century, reflecting shifts from Victorian to modernist culture, the experience of the two world wars, the Depression and postwar prosperity, and the changing face of the arts in America and Europe. Moore wrote letters daily for most of her life—long, intense letters to friends and family; shorter, but always distinctive letters to an ever-widening circle of acquaintances and fans. At the height of her celebrity, she would occasionally write as many as fifty letters a day. Both Moore and her correspondents appreciated the value of their exchange, so that an extraordinary number of letters, approximately thirty thousand, have been preserved.
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Moore, the distinguished American poet, lived part of her long life (18871972) through and in the writing of letters to a huge cast of family, friends, fellow writers, and other leading cultural figures. She expressed herself to them in ways so singular and specific that the letters assembled here by Costello (English/Boston Univ.), like her poems, resist easy paraphrase or comment. This collection, a major literary event, conveys to us an expanded sense of Moore's celebrated modernist signature while also offering an invaluable record of the literary history of her times. Moore was precocious: Her voice as a teenager is already remarkably distinct. Writing to her brother in 1905 from Bryn Mawr, she observed, "Fire drill is the worst institution we have here. The gong is outside my door and when it goes off the sound smites my angel ear with diabolical suddenness." An indescribably bold precision, advanced with a fey offhandedness, is part of her charm. Her mature voice, though, is even more riveting, whether raised to venture literary judgment or to relate the delights of a visit in 1921 to the zoo, where crowned cranes were "slate blue with a pompom of centipede's legs on their heads about the size of a silk pompom on a slipper." To read Moore's letters in succession is to become better acquainted with a novelistic character whose brio suggests that she must have created herself. She hid playfully behind a series of metaphorical disguises and yet also left her mark as one of the least compromising post-Victorian experimentalist poets.
To overstate Moore's originality or her skill, whether in poetry or prose, would be difficult. Here, finally, we also gain a fairly direct sense of who the womanalso an originalwas. A dramatic and witty revelation.
Meet the Author
Marianne Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri, on November 1, 1887, and spent much of her youth in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. After graduation from Bryn Mawr College in 1909 she taught for four years at the Carlisle Indian School. Her poetry first appeared professionally in The Egoist and Poetry magazines in 1915 and she moved to New York City in 1918. Her first book, Poems, was issued in England by the Egoist Press in 1921. Observations, published three years later in America, received the Dial Award. From 1925 to 1929 she served as acting editor of The Dial, the preeminent American literary periodical. She moved to Brooklyn in 1929, where she lived for the next thirty-six years. In 1935 Selected Poems, with an Introduction by T.S. Eliot, brought her work to the attention of a wider public.
Three additional books of poetry were followed, in 1951, by her Collected Poems, which won the Bollingen Prize, the National Book Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. She went on to publish a verse translation of the complete Fables of La Fontaine, a collection of critical essays, and three more volumes of poems.
Among the many awards Marianne Moore received are the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for poetry, the Poetry Scoiety of America's Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement, and the National Medal for Literature, America's highest literary honor. A member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters since 1947, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1955. In 1967 she was made Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic, and in 1969 she received an honorary doctorate in literature from Harvard University, her sixteenth honorary degree. Marianne Moore died in New York City, in her eighty-fifth year, on February 5, 1972.
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