Marianne Moore

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Marianne Moore photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1948
Marianne Moore photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1948

Marianne Moore (November 15, 1887 – February 5, 1972) was a Modernist American poet and writer.


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Poetic career
  • 3 Edsel consulting
  • 4 Later years
  • 5 Selected works
  • 6 External links


Marianne Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri, in the manse of the Presbyterian church where her maternal grandfather, John Riddle Warner, served as pastor. She was the daughter of construction engineer and inventor, John Milton Moore, and his wife, Mary Warner. She grew up in her grandfather's household, her father having been committed to a mental hospital before her birth. In 1905, Moore entered Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and graduated four years later. She taught courses at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, until 1915, when Moore began to professionally publish poetry.

Poetic career

In part because of her extensive European travels before the First World War, Moore came to the attention of poets as diverse as Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, H.D., T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. From 1925 until 1929, Moore served as editor of the literary and cultural journal The Dial. This continued her role, similar to that of Pound, as a patron of poetry, encouraging promising young poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, and James Merrill, and publishing, as well as refining poetic technique, early work.

In 1933, Moore was awarded the Helen Haire Levinson Prize from Poetry. Her Collected Poems of 1951 is perhaps her most rewarded work; it earned the poet the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize. Moore became a minor celebrity, in New York literary circles, serving as unofficial hostess for the Mayor. She attended boxing matches, baseball games and other public events, dressed in what became her signature garb, a tricorn hat and a black cape. She particularly liked athletics and athletes, and was a great admirer of Muhammad Ali, to whose spoken-word album, I Am the Greatest!, she wrote liner notes. Moore continued to publish poems in various journals, including The Nation, The New Republic, and Partisan Review, as well as publishing various books and collections of her poetry and criticism. Moore corresponded for a time with W.H. Auden and Ezra Pound during the latter's incarceration.

Edsel consulting

In 1955, Moore was informally invited by David Wallace, manager of marketing research for Ford's "E-car" project, and his co-worker Bob Young to provide input with regard to the naming of the car. Wallace's rationale was "Who better to understand the nature of words than a poet?"

Moore, a loyal Ford owner, submitted numerous lists, which included such names as "Silver Sword", "Thundercrest" (and "Thundercrester"), "Resilient Bullit", "Intelligent Whale", "Pastelogram", "Andante con Moto", "Varsity Stroke", and "Mongoose Civique". (One name she suggested, "Chaparral", later coincidentally was used for a racing car.) Against the strong objection of her brother, Moore also submitted the name "Turcotinga", which was a play on cotinga (the name of various South American birds) and the color turquoise; however, she noted in her letter to Wallace that it was simply a suggestion, that if he wanted to go in the direction of nature she had several volumes of works that she could review. In a letter dated December 8, 1955, Moore wrote the following:

Mr Young,
May I submit UTOPIAN TURTLETOP? Do not trouble to answer unless you like it. Marianne Moore

All Moore's ideas were rejected, although she received two dozen roses and a thank-you note affectionately addressed to the "Top Turtletop", which she found amusing. In her reply to Young she regretted that she could not have been more help and noted that she was looking forward to trying out the vehicle when it was introduced. History has greatly exaggerated Moore's relationship to the project: her contributions were meant to stir creative thought and were not officially authorized or contractual in nature. The car was finally christened the Edsel.

Later years

Not long after throwing the first pitch for the 1968 season in Yankee Stadium, Moore suffered a stroke. She suffered a series of strokes thereafter, and died in 1972. She was interred in Gettysburg's Evergreen Cemetery.

Moore never married. Moore's living room has been preserved in its original layout in the collections of the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. Her entire library, knicknacks (including a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle), all of her correspondence, photographs, and poetry drafts are available for public viewing.

Her most famous poem is perhaps the one entitled, appropriately, "Poetry," in which she hopes for poets who can produce "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." It also expressed her idea that meter, or anything else that claims the exclusive title, "poetry," is not as important as delight in language and precise, heartfelt expression in any form. She often composed her own "poetry" in syllabics. These syllabic lines from "Poetry" illustrate her position: poetry is a matter of skill and honesty in any form whatsoever, while anything written poorly, although in perfect form, cannot be poetry:

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

In 1996 she was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Selected works

  • Poems, 1921. Published in London by H. D. without Moore's knowledge.
  • Observations, 1924.
  • Selected Poems, 1935. Introduction by T. S. Eliot.
  • The Pangolin and Other Verse, 1936.
  • What Are Years, 1941.
  • Nevertheless, 1944.
  • A Face, 1949.
  • Collected Poems, 1951.
  • Fables of La Fontaine, 1954. Verse translations of La Fontaine's fables.
  • Predilections: Literary Essays, 1955.
  • Idiosyncrasy and Technique, 1966.
  • Like a Bulwark, 1956.
  • O To Be a Dragon, 1959.
  • Idiosyncrasy and Technique, 1959.
  • The Marianne Moore Reader, 1961.
  • The Absentee: A Comedy in Four Acts, 1962. A dramatization of Maria Edgeworth's novel.
  • Puss in Boots, The Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, 1963. Adaptations from Perrault.
  • Dress and Kindred Subjects, 1965.
  • Poetry and Criticism, 1965.
  • Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite, Steel and Other Topics, 1966.
  • The Complete Poems, 1967.
  • The Accented Syllable, 1969.
  • Homage to Henry James, 1971. Essays by Moore, Edmund Wilson, etc.
  • The Complete Poems, 1981.
  • The Complete Prose, 1986.
  • The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, edited by Bonnie Costello, Celested Goodridge, Cristann Miller. Knopf, 1997.
  • More biography and criticism
  • "Poetry"
  • Read Moore's Paris Review interview
  • St. Louis Walk of Fame
  • Modern American Poetry: Marianne Moore
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