Marianne Moore: Poetry

April 25, 2012

Invitation to Friends of MM

Welcome to a blog on Moore’s poetry.  Please comment and join the conversation. –Pat Willis

A New Column

Moore Poet-Scholars

It has been a tradition at conferences on Marianne Moore to feature poets who acknowledge an affinity with her and her work. Jeredith Merrin is one of them who has just published a new book, Owling, winner of the Grayson Books Chapbook Award for 2016.  It is her fourth collection of poetry. I asked her to begin this series with some remarks about her work’s connection to Moore’s:

owling.Moore is inimitable.  But my new chapbook , OWLING, is indebted to Moore’s both outward- and inward-looking poetry

To write it, I took Moore-like notes on individual species of owls (19 different species); and in some lyrics I do use quotations.  Also, as Moore readers will note, I use syllabics when the occasion seems to call for them. I never knew where an individual species would take me (in subject matter or in form), so a pleasure of composing this little parliament of owls was that I was surprised each time—which I hope means that the reader will find these poems surprising.  They move from natural history to Marilyn Monroe, to Alzheimer’s, to The National Book Award, to Blue Whales, to. . . .

A poet-friend who e-mailed just today called my owl poems “capaciously swervy” (a phrase which might describe “Peter” or “An Octopus”)!

I thought OWLING might be of particular interest to those who are teaching Moore poems and to those who are interested in the study of Literature and Environment (I’m a member of ASLE).

Jeredith can be reached at and she is available for readings and classes. OWLING: There is an author page at



  1. Dear Patricia,

    Is there anyway of reading Moore’s 2 versions of her 1919 ‘Museums’? I have been looking everywhere to try and read it, got hopeful when I stumbled across the Moore Archives Newsletter but it only comes up with ‘image x2’ ! Please help me out!

    Best wishes,

    Comment by Eleanor — March 26, 2016 @ 8:58 am |Reply

    • Both versions of the poem appear in the Marianne Moore Newsletter, I, I, Spring 1977. You might be able to purchase that issue from Rosenbach. Or you might be able to get a scan from Rosenbach. I understand that the Newsletter will be digitized and going on line but I do not know where or when.

      Comment by moore123 — March 27, 2016 @ 11:23 am |Reply

    • Eleanor. The Marianne Moore Archive has digitized all the issues of the Marianne Moore Newsletter. Don’t’ think that helps you. Please write to me–now a year later–at pcwinct@aol and I will try to help.

      Comment by moore123 — December 2, 2017 @ 11:58 pm |Reply

  2. Dear Patricia, I published a new article on Marianne Moore’s poem “In Distrust of Merits,” at Montreal Review. The article is here: It recontextualizes the poem from within her family traditions. Her grandfather John Riddle Warner wrote a famous speech about why the north should fight in the Civil War (speech given two years before the Battle of Gettysburg). I think this article will permanently change the reception of the poem.

    Comment by kirbyolson2 — September 10, 2014 @ 12:40 pm |Reply

  3. I came across a reference somewhere to a work of criticism by Marianne Moore in which she reflected on the surrealist movement. It was apparently the only major work of criticism that was never published. Do you happen to know about that work, and what it might be called? Is it in Moore’s papers at Rosenbach? I’m trying to remember where I found the original citation and maybe it is in the Molesworth biography but I can’t remember! I’d like to see what she said about the surrealist movement. There is the late poem on Magritte (one of her last really good poems), but other than that, I’m not sure what she would have had to do with that movement, except that it was so prominent at the same time that she was in her heyday. — Kirby Olson

    Comment by Kirby Olson — January 11, 2012 @ 2:14 pm |Reply

    • Moore writes on January 24, 1937, “My surrealist article was returned by Globe, and I think of revising it and offering it to The Southern Review.” (SL 379) She refers to a manuscript concerning the MoMA exhibition of 1936/7 on Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism. The work has not been published (by her or in her Prose, and I think not elsewhere) and is at Rosenbach. The title contains the word Fantastic, I think. It was about a page long, single spaced.

      Comment by moore123 — January 12, 2012 @ 3:03 pm |Reply

  4. Thanks so much, Pat!

    Comment by Kirby Olson — August 19, 2011 @ 12:26 pm |Reply

  5. Oh, it changed it again, as soon as I posted it!

    Comment by kirby olson — August 17, 2011 @ 12:31 pm |Reply

    • Thanks, Kirby. I works now. I made a page of “Recent Articles on Moore” and it is clickable there. I”ll “advertize” it on my post in a few minutes.

      Comment by moore123 — August 17, 2011 @ 3:19 pm |Reply

  6. I wanted to try to put this through so you could see the computer language, but it always immediately changes the language.

    I’ll try one more time.

    She should include the following HTML snippet:

    Kirby Olson: Marianne Moore’s “The Camperdown Elm” and The Revival of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park


    Ah yes, there it all is. The whole thing is a formula that tells the computer how to present it.


    Comment by kirby olson — August 17, 2011 @ 12:30 pm |Reply

  7. Well, write to me directly at

    And I will send you his formula. As you see above, the thing comes out formatted as it should.

    But write to me directly and I can send you the way to link. It’s a formula that has a bunch of greater than signals and then some hrefs and such.


    Comment by kirby olson — August 16, 2011 @ 8:00 pm |Reply

  8. Pat,

    I asked the head of computer science at University of Chicago, and he said you do it like this to link to my article:

    Kirby Olson: Marianne Moore’s “The Camperdown Elm” and The Revival of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park

    I wouldn’t know how to link to others’ articles, but that’s the basic formula. Just cut and paste in the body of your post, and it will come out as a neat little link.


    Comment by kirby olson — August 16, 2011 @ 7:58 pm |Reply

  9. Pat, I don’t have much computer expertise. I’m 54 and it’s a second language to me. See if you can find a smart 12-year old and they’ll show you how to do these things. I get my 6th grader to teach me all the latest ways to do things. It may also be possible to write to Rebecca Raglon at U. of Vancouver, who is the editor. She seems quite savvy about this kind of thing. Journal of Ecocriticism has a main page that is online (that’s how I found them). There are now more and more ecojournals and I find it exciting!

    I think you can now get ISLE online, and it IS still coming out. Thanks so much for your kind words about my article. I’d love it if you featured my article in a “recent articles” post! That would be great.

    If you want to get in touch with me “back channel” my address at school is

    I’m usually available although this week they are stripping the floors and rewaxing them so I can’t go up there. I do still get email but it’s on a clumsy laptop that seems to not have the same kind of speed as the one at work.

    Comment by Kirby Olson — August 9, 2011 @ 11:34 pm |Reply

  10. I recently published an article about the Camperdown Elm at the Journal of Ecocriticism. It came out a couple of days ago. I wondered if you wanted to link to it. It requires signing up, which might take a few seconds, but is probably a fairly accessible article for your readers.

    Comment by Kirby Olson — August 2, 2011 @ 8:31 pm |Reply

    • Dear Kirby, Thank you for the link to the article. I think it’s a great contribution, a whole new look at one of the late poems and a smart beginning for addressing what Moore was up to in that part of her oeuvre.. As yo point out, critics have dismissed the late work. I’m trying to link the article to the blog but I haven’t yet figured out how. I thought I’d do a page of “Recent Articles” and lead off with it, but so far I can’t make it work. Any suggestions? Meanwhile, I’ll keep exploring.

      I’m interested in the new journal. I used to get ISLE, but now that I’m in God’s country, ecologically speaking, I don’t have easy access to the latest.

      Very best, Pat

      Comment by moore123 — August 9, 2011 @ 9:12 am |Reply

  11. The biography indicates that the father lived on well into MM’s prime, but there was apparently never an attempt to reconcile with him.

    Moore was pretty good at keeping harmonious relationships with many different kinds of people.

    When her mother was alive, would you say she had been more conservative?

    She was still a Republican in the 1960s (she wore a Nixon badge in 1960 during her interview with Donald Hall). But the Republican party back when she was a child had been the party of Lincoln. Hoover, whom she seems to have idolized, was the first Republican to turn African Americans against the Republicans. It had something to do with the awful way they were treated during the massive flooding of the 1930s.

    But I think she remained with Hoover until the end.

    Her mother and brother did, too.

    There’s a poem on Hoover that Molesworth alludes to in his biography. I got a copy from the Rosenbach and it was ten times more obscure than even her most obscure poems, or so I felt. I could make no sense of it at all.

    Moore’s sense of judgment: would you say then that she kept up with the times, and was a kind of relativist? In the 1960s she went with Nixon. I doubt if there were any other poets in America who did this. Am I right?

    I could be wrong. Kerouac was a Republican, as was the soul singer James Brown.

    I think it’s funny to think of those three: Kerouac, Moore, and James Brown as a kind of Mod Squad for the Republicans.

    Do you remember the program the Mod Squad?

    She’s the only one who can actually be called a modernist, though.

    I find the contours of her thought to be surprising. She was at once very much a product of her place and time, and also someone who seems to rise above her place and time into universality.

    Comment by kirby olson — July 24, 2011 @ 2:55 pm |Reply

  12. Nice link to the Selected Letters. I wonder too what she’d think of gay marriage since it’s now been passed in NY state. When she met Ginsberg she considered him to be badly off as a result of his proclivities, and yet at the same time she was friends with many gay poets and writers, at least some of whom had long-term partners.

    When she says something about Philemon and Baucis, is she saying that marriage is not always necessarily a perfectly happy ideal, but it’s the closest we can come?

    She calls herself a poor Libyan? What was that about?

    Often in the letters with her privates there are private codes that are difficult for me to untangle.

    She says that monogamy is catching on in Turkey.

    She also says that young people are not always so aware of the sexual part of love and she thinks this is as it should be.

    What did you make of all this? I often can’t figure out quite where she stands on certain issues. I think “the problem” she is referring to is how to be united with others without being controlled by another. She argues that marriage is a step up from living in a cave, by which I think she means that it’s not just animal life, where the women are controlled by the men (does by the bucks). It offers women certain inalienable rights.

    Am I right?

    I remember the statue of Daniel Webster in Central Park she quotes at the end of Marriage. Can’t remember the exact phrase. Liberty and union: these two ideals were the central idea of marriage, but she has just taken us through myriad bad examples of marriage. Esther’s marriage in the OT sounds like a drag, even if she did use it to save her people.

    Comment by kirby olson — July 3, 2011 @ 12:24 pm |Reply

    • I think if she had lived through the last 40 years, she would support gay marriage. The poor Libyan is Bryher’s poor Lybian. I can’t recall the reference from Bryher’s letter to M. Someone she knew or Bryher herself?

      If by the private codes you mean all the nicknames. you’re right. Very confusing because there are so many for the immediate family. And the letters to her brother have a lot of shorthand for things known to both of then.

      She had scads of unmarried and divorced friends and friends with troubled marriages. I think she was pretty open to their needs while holding on the her Christian (?) ideal. After all, her mother’s marriage ended before she was born.

      Comment by moore123 — July 20, 2011 @ 4:00 pm |Reply

  13. I’m in favor of animal economics. I think that if animals wish to marry that would be fine with me, because of all the economic actions it would foster. Not just the florists, but also the pageantry and clothing shops would prosper. Minks wearing leopard skin coats, and buffalo dressed up in the latest mink stoles, think of it!

    Rats and badgers and moles. They made a family life of it. But did they ever accept others into the trio? I think Moore did describe animals, but generally as solitarists. Why did she write about Marriage but not so much about divorce?

    The question of animal divorce should not be sniffed at either from the viewpoint of economics. If animals can marry, should they be able to divorce? If a lion marries a hippo, should they decide that “irreconcilable differences” prevent a true union of souls? I think not. At least if I were the Pope of such unions it would be rare that I would grant a divorce. The animals might yowl and snip at one another, but I think they would work it out, eventually. So, yes to animal marriage. No to animal divorce.

    And yet, what about the lawyers? Animal lawyers have a right to a living, and divorce pays far more handsomely than marriage itself. So, perhaps reluctantly, I agree to animal divorce, too, solely because lawyers would eventually find a way to make it happen. I think Moore would be reasonable, as always, and agree.

    Comment by Kirby Olson — June 29, 2011 @ 11:40 pm |Reply

    • For Moore on divorce, see her letter to Bryher of August 12, 1921 (SL 177). As to whether others were let in on the animal nicknames, there were some few, such as a young Canadian who taught at Metzger Institute with Mrs. Moore, Alice Benjamin MacKenzie (Benjamin Bunny), and Mary Jackson Norcross (the Beaver).

      Comment by moore123 — July 1, 2011 @ 6:33 pm |Reply

  14. Sorry, I don’t have anything to add to the discussion. Just want to say that as a big admirer of Moore, I have found your website a tremendous resource. Is this all original research? If I were to cite this, how may I do so? (I’m not a scholar, but just curious.)

    Again, thanks very much!

    Comment by Tien Tran — April 11, 2011 @ 10:29 am |Reply

    • Thank you for the kind words. Yes, so far, it is all my original research except the “Essays” section which has work by various scholars. To site the blog I would suggest the title of the post, perhaps the date, and the name of the blog “Marianne Moore: Poetry” or the address:

      Comment by moore123 — April 11, 2011 @ 7:12 pm |Reply

      • Hmm, Sequim. Why there?

        I lived in Seattle for twenty years. Nice town. Up the coast on the peninsula can be nice. I liked Port Townsend, and some other places. Can get lonely there or at least it felt to me. Lots of poets in Port Townsend, and there’s a bakery that has an oven that a guy found in Mexico left over from the French Occupation there during Maximilian III.

        The only person I ever heard of who lived in Sequim was Ron Silliman’s (language poet’s) brother.

        Have a safe move!

        Comment by Kirby Olson — April 13, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    • If this reply is a duplicate, sorry. Thank you for your kind words about the site. The research is original although I am sure others put things in my memory over the years and that I have benefited from that. The research is in part from my notes over years at Rosenbach, from research at Yale and elsewhere, and lately, from searches on the Internet, particularly through Google Books.

      To cite, I’d suggest the name of the blog, Marianne Moore: Poetry, perhaps the title of the post, the date of the post. I’ll check to see which of the latter two can be searched on the blog. That way a reader could go directly to the post you cite.

      Comment by moore123 — May 4, 2011 @ 6:30 pm |Reply

  15. Hi Pat,

    I’ve now subscribed and hope to be more a part of the conversation. What a great resource you’ve built here.

    Is it a possibility that there might be a bibliographical element – perhaps a move toward a complete online bibliography of work on MM? Could take a while, but there are resources to start from and could be a group effort.

    Or perhaps we might start a resource of recent publications on MM – maybe since 2000 – including essays as well as books. That could be helpful for many! Authors could be invited to update the file when pubs occur – or others could add them as come upon if the author doesn’t know about this site. Maybe you already do this and I just haven’t found it yet.

    If not, is there a bibliography software that would make that an easily searchable database by date, author, essay title or poem title? If you’re interested, I could look into it or perhaps someone else knows the answer and can chime in.


    Comment by Elizabeth — April 10, 2011 @ 2:29 pm |Reply

  16. Most people interested in Moore are probably professors. She’s not easy to read.

    What do you think about her relationship to Hoover as it is set out in the biography? Her family according to Molesworth hero-worshipped Hoover.

    Comment by Kirby Olson — February 24, 2011 @ 5:44 pm |Reply

    • They were Republicans and they certainly supported Hoover.My guess is that with Warner highly placed in the military, they did not broadcast their politics except in support of the commander in chief. Moore was keenly interested in public events and read the paper avidly. But I don’t find too much in her correspondence about politics. Of course, I’m not looking at evidence at the moment.

      Comment by moore123 — February 25, 2011 @ 8:06 am |Reply

      • Most of her correspondents among the poets would not have shared her politics.

        Would there have been anyone in her immediate circle outside of her brother (she rarely corresponded with the mother since they were always together) who would have shared her politics?

        Comment by Kirby Olson — February 25, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

  17. One of the things I like about the modernists is that they were from all different viewpoints (Ezra P. had a very different viewpoint from MM on things) but they accepted one another and fought for each other, and never sold one another down the river.

    They were all pretty decent at least in terms of how they helped each other and had each other’s backs in spite of their political and religious differences.

    There were probably some fanatics, but if you think about the way Moore found Cummings’ moral character questionable, or rolled her eyes when it came to the politics of EP, and yet backed them all the way as poets, I think it says something about the cohesiveness of America, or at least poets.

    We’ve lost something of that, I think. What was it?

    Moore found a few poets’ worth questionable: was never a fan of Reznikoff or Zukofsky, but I think she was never a fanatic, either. She tried to help the two of them when she could, and was more or less of the opinion that perhaps it was her own failing that she didn’t love their work.

    Comment by Kirby Olson — February 16, 2011 @ 3:55 pm |Reply

  18. I sent an article about the Camperdown Elm to the New York Historical Society about three years ago (they declined because it was too long — nearly 85 pages), but the reader wrote to me that she had been Moore’s student at Bryn Mawr — perhaps it was in the sixties, but all that she said was that Moore was very nice to all the students, invited them to her digs, and served them nice treats.

    She also taught in Connecticut or somewhere up there, I think.

    There are also the notes she made with regard to Ginsberg’s early poems (she had moral concerns with regard to his sexual inclinations, plus she said something about how he should stay positive, and not run the country down with criticisms).

    Comment by Kirby Olson — February 12, 2011 @ 1:49 pm |Reply

  19. I enjoy reading it, but am behind. Have to work.

    What do we know about Marianne Moore as a teacher? What kind of comments did she make on student papers and poems?

    Comment by Kirby Olson — February 12, 2011 @ 10:25 am |Reply

    • I don’t think we know much about Moore as a teacher at Carlisle. I checked the library at Carlisle Barracks and there seems to be nothing left that would tell us. As for teaching later, there are her notes for one-shot classes in various colleges (at Rosenbach) and they tell us about her enthusiasms regarding the works of others, classical to contemporary. But I don’t recall anything directly about her interactions with students. It would be so nice to have some data!

      Comment by moore123 — February 12, 2011 @ 12:14 pm |Reply

      • I think we get a glimpse of what her teaching might have been like in Bishop’s memoir of her friendship with Moore–probably encouraging, but always with an editor’s eye–wanting to shift the occasional word or phrase. As a teacher and as someone who edited a scholarly journal, I know I have to monitor this in myself–to find the balance between suggesting a felicitous emendation and rewriting in a way that reflects your voice rather than the writer’s. My guess is that she would probably be better at working one-on-one with students than in large classes–while she was an exquisite “performer” (one only need listen to her lecture-reading at Berkeley to hear how she could entertain and inspire an audience), her attention to detail would make her a wonderful reader and listener. And her writings about her undergraduate days suggest that she understood what it was to be a young writer, struggling to find a voice.

        P.S. Hi, Pat! Would you believe a quarter of a century later I’m still at Ithaca? Hope you are doing well. Will always be grateful for your inclusion of my essay on “The Absentee” in the centenary volume–it was my first major publication. A student in my beginning oral interpretation class last semester chose “What Are Years” for the poetry unit–totally unprompted by any knowledge of my connection to Moore. I’m glad there are still undergraduates to whom she speaks.

        Comment by Bruce Henderson — June 5, 2012 @ 1:11 am

      • Thanks so much, Bruce. I think your notes on Moore’s editing are spot on. Even though Hart Crane is supposed to have complained about her work on “Wine Menagerie,” did he change the poem back to the way he had it before he gave it to The Dial? So glad to hear from you! I’ve retired and moved to the Olympic Peninsula–truly God’s country.

        Comment by moore123 — June 5, 2012 @ 10:55 am

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