Friday, October 07, 2022

'Articulate Continuum of Pleasure'

“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).]

1 comment:

Thomas Parker said...

I wonder if Moore's collected poems contains the one she wrote with Muhammad Ali -

A Poem on the Annihilation of Ernie Terrell

After we defeat Ernie Terrell
He will get nothing, nothing but hell,
Terrell was big and ugly and tall
But when he fights me he is sure to fall.
If he criticize this poem by me and Miss Moore
To prove he is not the champ she will stop him in four,
He is claiming to be the real heavyweight champ
But when the fight starts he will look like a tramp
He has been talking too much about me and making me sore
After I am through with him he will not be able to challenge Mrs. Moore.

Umm...probably not.