- Brett C. MillierBrett C. MillierMiddlebury College
Marianne Moore (1887–1972) is now considered a major Modernist poet, along with her friends Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. Winner of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Bolligen Prize, she was for a time (roughly 1955–1965) the most recognizable American poet (alongside Robert Frost), and her tiny pale face, wrapped by a long braid of white hair, and topped by a black tricorn hat, was known by many more people than knew her poems. The fey charm of her celebrity obscured for a long time her unique contribution to the Modernist poetic enterprise. Moore was an editor, critic, and translator, and edited the modernist journal the Dial from 1925–1929. As a poet, she wrote elaborately structured (she often wrote in syllabics, counting every syllable in every line and stanza) contemplations of the animal world, but with an eye to finding analogies in animal behavior for humanity’s moral struggles. A lifelong resident of New York City, Moore encountered nature in circuses and zoos, and in the pages of the National Geographic magazine, and often made use of lines from that magazine and other prose work in her poems, included in quotation marks. In addition nature and animals, her work is notable for its broad range of somewhat quirky subject matter. The elaborate formal structures of her poems conceal their absolutely correct grammatical construction; Moore claimed that she called them poems because she didn’t know what else to call them. Immune to the influence of literary fashion, she pursued her own goals of “humility, concentration, and gusto” in the composition of rigorously crafted, utterly idiosyncratic art.