Marianne Moore: Poetry

November 9, 2010

“Voracities and Verities” and Louise Crane

“I don’t like diamonds”

Moore’s 1947 poem “Voracites and Verities Sometimes Are Interacting” contains a hidden reference to Louise Crane: a copy of the Quarterly Review of Literature (4, 2, 1948, 124) among Moore’s papers has an inscription that reads in part “said by you to me, Louise,” referring to the diamonds.  Moore met Crane in the 1930s and their friendship lasted the rest of Moore’s life.

Crane and Bishop, 1937, Crane Papers, Yale

Louise Crane (1913-1997) was born in Dalton, Massachusetts, the daughter of Josephine Boardman and W. Murray Crane. The Crane family had long owned Crane & Company, the Dalton-based manufacturer of cotton papers on which national currencies are printed. Her father served as Governor of Massachusetts and later United States Senator from Massachusetts, all before Louise was born. Her mother was a founder of the Museum of Modern Art and of the Dalton School in New York as well as a philanthropist and cultural leader.

Vassar and MoMA

Louise graduated from Vassar College where she made friends with Eleanor Clark (wife of Robert Penn Warren), Margaret Miller (later of the Museum of Modern Art), and Elizabeth Bishop. After her father’s death in 1920, Louise and her mother moved to New York where their large Fifth Avenue apartment became a mecca for artists, writers, musicians, and intellectuals.

After college, Louise organized “Coffee Concerts” at MoMA, introducing audiences to such

Belle Rosette by Carl Van Vechten, 1941

artists as Trinidadan singer Belle Rosette (Beryl McBurnie), jazz composer Mary Lou Williams, classical German composer Lukas Foss, and singer and guitarist Utah Smith.  Time for November 17, 1941, tried to characterize the Coffee Concerts: “The program, called ‘Salon Swing,’ included subdued riffs by Benny Carter’s Septet, tap dancing by an extraordinary young Negro named Baby Lawrence, songs by Maxine Sullivan, three of them to harpsichord accompaniment. The recital got chastely in the groove when the harpsichord, precisely pecked by willowy, red-haired Sylvia Marlowe, gave forth Pine-top’s Boogie, rolling bass and all.” Billboard for January 9, 1943, reported that “Louise Crane has opened a management office to handle cocktail combos. On her books now are the Leonard Ware Trio and the Harlem Highlanders” (p. 23).

Patron and Publisher

In 1953, she published Iberica, a magazine dedicated to news of Franco’s Spain that went

Victoria Kent

unreported by the regime. Victoria Kent, the editor, was the first woman elected to the Spanish Parliament—before women were allowed to vote. A courageous reformer as Director of Prisons, she fled Spain when Franco came to power, finally living with Louise in New York, active with the magazine and with the Spanish Refugee Aid (SRA) founded in 1953 to assist refugees of the Spanish Civil War who were then residing in France.

Louise had an extensive correspondence with Moore, despite the fact that they saw each other often in New York.  To take a single example, Moore’s letter of June 5, 1941 (SL 413-415), parsing in great detail a Coffee Concert at MoMA, begins  “Last night has given me something to think about for fifteen years!” She refers to “Concert Swing,” the last evening in the series, June 4, and remarks on performers Billie Holiday and Zutty Singleton. Of the latter, she writes that “a born drummer,”  “he would have done something for us if he hadn’t done more than allow his name to appear.” Singleton on drums here:

The New York Times, reporting the next day, notes that Holiday sang “My Man Don’t Love Me,” “Forbidden Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” and “I Cried for You.” Singleton, “one of the swing world’s peppiest drummers,” played “Caravan,” “Muskrat Ramble,” and “Bugle Blues” with his orchestra. Also on the bill were “Hot Lips” Page and his orchestra and the Palmer Brothers, a quartet. Billie Holiday’s “I Cried for You” here:

Moore takes advantage of the letter to comment on the May 28 Coffee Concert’s “South

Elsie Houston by Van Vechten, 1940

American Panorama” which included soprano Elsie Houston, the Grupo Incaico dancers from Peru, Belle Rosette (later Beryl McBurnie), the Trinidadan dancer, Alderson Mowbray, pianist, and the Haitian Rada Group. She was unable to stay to the end of the performance but she liked the Incacio dancers and the singing of Elsie Houston: “[she] is such a person, it was hard for me to really listen.”

Moore concludes: “I am constrained,–overwhelmed by the pleasure and benefit the concerts have been to me. My whole perspective is changed . . . .” Always interested in popular culture, Moore here manifests yet again her close attention to cultural life in New York.

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