“I like country fairs, roller-coasters, merry-go-rounds, dog shows, museums, avenues of trees, old elms, vehicles, experiments in timing like our ex-Museum of Science and Invention’s two roller-bearings in in a gravity chute, synchronized with a ring-bearing revolving vertically.”
The world is dense with things to inspire wonder and gratitude in those paying attention. Curiosity and openness to experience are inversely proportionate to dullness of sensibility. If you tell me you’re bored I will assume you’re not looking around, which is like refusing all the presents you’ve been given Christmas morning. Readers who pigeonhole Marianne Moore as a quaint old maid in a tricorn fail to appreciate her sense of irony, capacity for delight and gift for inspiring it in others. Her poems and much of her prose are catalogues of creation, gift bags of the things that give her pleasure.
In 1951, the New York Herald Tribune Book Review solicited writers for a feature titled “Some of the Authors of 1951 Speaking for Themselves.” On October 7, the newspaper published Moore’s five-paragraph reply, a mingling of potted biography and a log of enthusiasms. Later in the piece, she writes:
“My favorite authors, I think, are Chaucer, Molière and Montaigne. I am attached to Dr. Johnson; also like Xenophon, Hawthorne, Landor and Henry James. I take an interest in trade journals, books for children, and never tire of Beatrix Potter. My favorite reading is almost any form of biography . . .”
Reading widely and with devotion is the only way to come up with such a personal library. Nothing here suggests mere fashion, a wish to conform to acceptable tastes. Moore reads like a writer. There’s little waste. Any text she consumes might show up in a poem or review. Eric Ormsby describes her as “one of the most fastidiously sensuous writers in the English language; her perceptions garb themselves in a surface chinoiserie beneath which the intellectual and erotic meld in a seamless and articulate continuum of pleasure.”
[Moore’s essay can be found in The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore (ed. Patricia C. Willis, Viking, 1986). Eric Ormsby’s “Hart and Fangs” is collected in Facsimiles of Time: Essays on Poetry and Translation (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2001).]