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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 woman—also an original—was. A dramatic and witty revelation.