Marianne Moore: Poetry

January 23, 2023

Monroe Wheeler, Publisher, Friend

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 6:22 pm

Monroe Wheeler (1899-1998), whose friendship with Moore spanned their meeting in her first years in New York to her funeral in Brooklyn, published Moore’s poem “Marriage” as the third in his “Manikin” series, in 1923. Wheeler’s devotion to poetry and printing combined early when his father gave him a small press during the same period when Monroe was attending meetings of the Poetry Club of the University of Chicago. His interest in contemporary poetry was underlined by the Club’s mission: to explore why the university’s English courses neglected contemporary poetry. [i]

It was at the Poetry Club that Monroe met University student Glenway Wescott who became his lifelong companion. While over the years friends described Monroe as kind, quiet, loyal, with an eye for artistic detail, Glenway, in a late interview said: “Monroe was more beautiful than the sun . . . and radiantly joyous. His personality expressed that everything was the best it could possibly be and everything was just around the corner, and the arts were the only thing that mattered on earth.” [ii]

Wheeler and Wescott first met Moore in New York in 1921.  By then an accomplished printer, Wheeler began his Manikin series of pamphlets, the first two with poems by Janet Lewis and William Carlos Williams, the third and final one Moore’s Marriage, 1923[iii] The two men spent considerable time in Europe during the ‘Twenties and early ‘Thirties. In Paris, Wheeler and Barbara Harrison, the wealthy scion of a railroad magnate, took on a publishing venture they named “Harrison of Paris.” Thirteen paperbacks ensued, including two by Wescott, two by Katherine Anne Porter, and one by Thomas Mann (the others were editions of classics) before returning to the States where Harrison married Wescott’s brother, Lloyd.

In 1935, Wheeler joined the six-year-old Museum of Modern art and was to spend the rest of his career there, directing publications and exhibitions.[iv] Over time, he produced 300 books and many exhibitions for the Museum including artists Moore knew such as Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and Edward McKnight Kauffer. Some of his books became famous, such as The Family of Man, the catalog of Edward Steichen’s 1955 exhibition of 500 photographs of the world’s people that toured to thirty-seven countries.

The record of Wheeler’s and Moore’s friendship suffers from proximity: the two were just a phone call or a dinner invitation away and thus left a fairly thin correspondence. It is likely, however, that an exploration of Wheeler’s archive at Beinecke as well as his history with MoMA would yield his intersections with Moore in new ways.

[i] Harriet Monroe was a frequent guest and even host of the club but it was her criteria for work in Poetry to which Moore, Pound, Williams, and others contemporary poets objected when they stopped sending her work at Poetry Magazine  from about 1918 to 1930—but that’s another story.

[ii] Craig Kaczorowski in “Monroe Wheeler (1899-1988),” GLBTW, Image of Wheeler by George Platt Lynes, 1937.

[iii] The history of this publication is well-covered in Linda Leavell’s biography.

[iv] The first director of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., a Moore family friend who hired Wheeler, was the son of Alfred H. Barr, the Presbyterian minister in Baltimore for whose church Moore’s brother Warner worked when just out of seminary at Princeton.  

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