Wednesday, June 15, 2016

`A Great Amount of Joy in the Thing'

Among the first-generation Modernists, Marianne Moore was the joyful, grateful one. She might not organize the party but she would keep the conversation going and perhaps, clandestinely, spike the punch (without having a taste). Pound would be fulminating in the corner, preoccupied with his sermon, and Eliot probably wouldn’t show up. Can we imagine either of them writing, as Moore does in “Idiosyncrasy and Technique” (The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, 1986): “One writes because one has a burning desire to objectify what it is indispensable to one's happiness to express.” I thought of Moore again the other day when Cynthia Haven posted a photo of Moore seated with Muhammad Ali.

Moore was fond of quoting a line she attributes to the German painter George Grosz: “How did I come to be an artist?; endless curiosity, observation, research and a great amount of joy in the thing.” It shows up in her letters, in her Paris Review interview and, best of all, in a 1966 letter she wrote to the editor of Writer’s Digest, collected in Complete Prose. After the quote Moore writes:

“In current verse, I dislike the kind that whines and wanders and merely ceases, instead of concluding. A writer should blaze with life from within. Do we have to be cynical toward parents, arrogant toward moral standards, satirical toward duty, skeptical of every advantage?"

Moore is a renowned collagist, whose poems and essays are dense weaves of allusion, verbal counterparts to Joseph Cornell’s boxes. Guy Davenport said she loved things “cunningly made.” Here is the third and final paragraph to her letter: “Like John Cheever: `I have an impulse to bring glad tidings. My sense of literature is one of giving, not diminishing.’”

[I also thought of Moore, who loved baseball, when I read this.]

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