This Day In Literary History
On November 15th, 1887, the famous American poet Marianne Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri. She was born in the living quarters of her grandfather's church. He was a Presbyterian minister.
Marianne's father had walked out on the family before she was born, so she spent her early years living in her grandfather's home. Her grandfather died when she seven, and her mother moved the family to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where she began her education.
After attending college and business school, Marianne taught at the Carlisle Indian School for several years. In 1915, when she was twenty-eight, her first published poem appeared.
Marianne continued to write and determined to become a professional poet. She and her mother moved to New York City, where she would become an assistant librarian at the New York Public Library.
As her publication credits grew, with her works published in major literary magazines and newspapers, she was befriended by some of the greatest poets of the day, such as William Carlos Williams, H.D. (Hilda Dolittle), Wallace Stevens, and T.S. Eliot.
In 1919, she struck up a friendship with Ezra Pound, a fellow American poet famous for his poetry and controversial for his political views. She continued to write to him even after the end of the war, as he languished in a brutal military prison.
Pound had been serving time for treason. In the 1930s, he proclaimed his support for fascism and admiration of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. During the war, he had lived in Rome and recorded propaganda radio broadcasts for Mussolini.
Although politically conservative, Marianne had denounced fascism long before America's entry into World War II and was revolted by Pound's anti-Semitism. Yet, she remained his friend. Pound would suffer a mental breakdown in prison, be declared insane, and transferred to a mental hospital.
Marianne Moore's first poetry collection, Poems, was published in London in 1921. It was actually published without her knowledge or consent by her friend H.D. as a surprise. When Marianne received her copy, she wasn't happy with the selection of poems, the editing, or the layout.
She continued to write and publish collections of her poetry, establishing herself as one of the finest poets of her generation. From 1925-29, she served as an editor for the famous literary magazine, The Dial (1840-1929). She won the Helen Haire Levinson Prize, awarded by the famous literary magazine Poetry, in 1931.
Marianne became a celebrity among the New York literati. She was quite a character; whenever she went out, no matter what the occasion, she'd wear her trademark black cape and matching tricorn hat.
She was a huge sports fan, and her favorite sports were baseball and boxing. She regularly attended ballgames and boxing matches. Her favorite boxer was Muhammad Ali, and she wrote the liner notes for his 1963 spoken word album, I Am The Greatest!
Marianne's fame also attracted the attention of the Ford Motor Company. The company's manager of marketing research asked her to name their newest car, a breakthrough model that they believed would make automotive history.
She came up with a list of names, including the Resilient Bullet, the Ford Silver Sword, the Varsity Stroke, the Andante con Moto, and the Utopian Turtletop.
None of Marianne's names for the new car were chosen. Instead, Ford named it the Edsel. It did make automotive history; with its vulva-like grille and incredibly poor workmanship, it was the worst American car ever made. In its two years of production, Ford lost $350 million on the Edsel.
In 1951, Marianne published her most famous book, Collected Poems. It won her numerous awards, including a Pultizer Prize. She was a Modernist poet who believed that love of language and heartfelt expression were more important than meter, as you can see in her classic poem, Poetry:
I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important
beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it,
one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not be-
high sounding interpretation can be put upon them
but because they are
useful; when they become so derivative as to
become unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us – that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of some-
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll,
a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a
horse that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician – case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents
school-books;" all these phenomena are important.
One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
the imagination" – above
insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads
in them, shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on one hand,
in defiance of their opinion –
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.
Quote Of The Day
"Any writer overwhelmingly honest about pleasing himself is almost sure to please others." - Marianne Moore
Today's video features a rare recording of Marianne Moore reading her classic poem, Bird-Witted. Enjoy!