Sunday, March 6, 2011

Poetry Countdown: Women's History Month--#9

Prior to beginning this endeavor, there was only one poem that I knew by the number 9 poet. And that was enough to guarantee her a spot in my countdown of the top ten female poets in history (non-living edition). In fact, I like the first line of that poem so much that its mere existence might have been enough.  (When I visited the offices of The Poetry Foundation a couple years ago, one of their employees had a tote bag with this line emblazoned on it. It took all that I had to resist the urge to purloin that little tote.)

I, too, dislike it. 

Thus begins Marianne Moore's "Poetry," an epic piece that I don't completely understand and probably operates on some sort of syllabic plane that I can't wrap my head around. Factor in all that indentation stuff going on (which happens a lot in Moore's poems)...and there's a lot going on that I don't necessarily "get." But, that being said, it's one of my favorite poems ever. 

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
      all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
      discovers in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
      they are
Read it in its entirety here.

From what I've read this week about Moore, poetry scholars either really, really like her...or not. I'm certainly not ready to digest her complete works or anything, but she wrote many poems in addition to "Poetry"that I enjoy. I'll start with a short one:

"I May, I Might, I Must"
If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
I will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.
This has to be the most accessible of Moore's poems. It gets a lot heavier...

Those Various Scalpels

various sounds, consistently indistinct, like intermingled echoes
   struck from thin glasses successively at random—
       the inflection disguised: your hair, the tails of two
   fighting-cocks head to head in stone—
       like sculptured scimitars repeating the curve of your   
               ears in reverse order:   
                                                                        your eyes,
             flowers of ice and snow

Finish reading it here. How can you not love that? I am a firm believer that a poem is like a work of art. It's meant to be enjoyed. It's meant to be experienced. I don't need to understand it to enjoy it. And I enjoy it even more because of the obvious brilliance of Marianne Moore. Even if I don't get it, I respect it...I'm awed by it.

Here are a few others to try:
Stay tuned for our number 8 poet in the countdown. It should be up and ready for Poetry Friday. In the meantime, read about number ten, Lucille Clifton. And spend some time chewing on this:

What Are Years

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt, —
dumbly calling, deafly listening—that
in misfortune, even death,
encourage others
and in its defeat, stirs
the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.
So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.


  1. Have you read Elizabeth Bishop's memoir of Marianne Moore? "Efforts of Affection," I think it's called (I ought to know, having read it many times, but cannot be sure that I've got it right). Anyway, if you like Marianne Moore, it's a must-read.

  2. I have not read that, Sally, but I will put it on my list of books to read. She seems like an interesting person, to say the least. Thanks for the tip.