Marianne Moore: Poetry

February 1, 2011

“Bowls” and Lawn Bowling

Filed under: Marianne Moore,Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 2:08 pm
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“on the green

with lignum vitae balls and ivory markers”

Secession 5 (July 1923) 12, ll 1-2.

Bowling at Stanley Park, Vancouver

When Moore went to the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 1922, she stopped in Vancouver where she saw a game of lawn bowling. [There is a letter to this effect, not in Selected Letters; reference welcome.] She finished her poem “Bowls” by October of that year. In lawn bowls, there are no “pins planted in wild duck formation, / and quickly dispersed” (ll. 3-2); possibly Moore extended her image to nine-pins played indoors.  Here follows a description of lawn bowling:

“Bowls” is a corruption of the word “balls,” which in its way is an evidence of the ancient origin of the game. Before the Revolution, it was the favourite sport of New Yorkers, when the Battery was the centre of the city’s fashion—and the end of its main thoroughfare still retains the name of the “Bowling Green.”

The game is played with balls about four or five inches in diameter, so that they are held easily in the hand, and made of lignum vitas, enamelled in colours, so as to be gaily effective on the grass. They are slightly flattened at the poles, and are sometimes made oval for scientific play, in order to give them a bias direction at will. A small, round white ball, called the “Jack,” is first thrown to one end of the lawn.

The bowlers, each using two balls, which are numbered to distinguish them, take up their positions at a certain distance from the “Jack,” and each in turn bowls toward it. He whose ball comes nearest counts one. The game is usually fixed at twenty. When there are more than two players, sides are formed, the balls being played alternately, and the ball that comes nearest to the “Jack” counts one point for the side that threw it.

When there are but two players they stand side by side to deliver their balls, but when there are several on a side the usual plan is to bowl from opposite sides of the “green,” the Jack having been placed in the middle. The art in bowling consists in knocking away the opponents’ balls from their positions near the Jack, or in carrying off the Jack itself from among the opponents’ balls, and in bowling nearer than any other without disturbing one’s own balls or the Jack. If, when sides are taken, and both sides have delivered their balls, two balls of one side are nearer than any balls of their opponents’, they count a point for. every ball.

A “green” is about seventy feet square, level, and with the grass closely cut. A bank as a boundary is desirable—where spectators may sit to watch the game. . . .

Balls and Bowling Mat

Balls and Bowling Mat

Each contestant plays two balls alternately, and the privilege of playing first is tossed for. The starting-point in a game is that portion of the green on which the “Footer” is laid—a cloth about a yard square, of carpet or canvas. The player places his foot upon this when about to roll the ball. In a match-game the “Skip” has entire charge of his side in the contest.

Points Of Play

The main point is first to roll the ball as near to the Jack as possible. The next point is to “guard” or “block” it—that is, to roll the next ball so that it may form an obstruction to the attempt to drive the counting ball from its position near the Jack. The “riding” of a ball is rolling it with great force, and is only employed in emergencies. “Raking” the ball is rolling it with force enough to strike the opponent’s ball out of position and put your own ball in its place. “Chucking” is striking a counting ball out of range, and thereby adding to your own counting balls, or striking one of the balls of your own side into a counting place.  An “in-wick” is a ball that curves in to the Jack; an “out-wick,” one curving from the opposite direction— points made by oval balls. An “end” is the completion of an inning on each side, and the playing of so many “ends”—mutually agreed upon—constitutes the completion of a game.

–from Florence Kingsland. In and Out Door Games. New York: Sully and Kleinteich, 1904. Pp. 192-194.


Early 20th Century

At the time, 1922, Moore lived in Greenwich Village, not far from New York’s Bowling Green,

Bowling Green Park Today

located at the foot of Broadway.  Its history as an actual bowling green receives various treatments in contemporary accounts, some insisting that players bowled there in the 17th Century.  By the time of Moore’s New York years, it was a pocket park and looked much as it does today.




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