words cluster like chromosomes: Marianne Moore

In 1961, at the age of 74,  Marianne Moore was interviewed by The Paris Review for their “The Art of Poetry” series. Apart from being able to write poetry as well as Marianne Moore, I would also like to have been in a time and position, as Moore obviously was, to have been invited by Lillian Hellman to have seen one of her plays!

I am also jumping for joy at having discovered The Paris Review online with its decades of recorded interviews with writers. Some more chewy grist for the mill!  To say nothing of their essays. Not only but also Dorothy Parker, Hellman herself, W H Auden, Joan Didion and Margaret Drabble, with whom I once had the pleasure of engaging in a short conversation. As literary sites go, this is pretty special.

Here are two excerpts from Moore’s interview.

INTERVIEWER

Do you suppose that moving to New York, and the stimulation of the writers whom you found there, led you to write more poems than you would otherwise have written?

MOORE

I’m sure it did—seeing what others wrote, liking this or that. With me it’s always some fortuity that traps me. I certainly never intended to write poetry. That never came into my head. And now, too, I think each time I write that it may be the last time; then I’m charmed by something and seem to have to say something. Everything I have written is the result of reading or of interest in people, I’m sure of that. I had no ambition to be a writer.

and

Now, if I couldn’t write fiction, I’d like to write plays. To me the theater is the most pleasant, in fact my favorite, form of recreation.

INTERVIEWER

Do you go often?

MOORE

No. Never. Unless someone invites me. Lillian Hellman invited me to Toys in the Attic,and I am very happy that she did. I would have had no notion of the vitality of the thing, have lost sight of her skill as a writer if I hadn’t seen the play; would like to go again. The accuracy of the vernacular! That’s the kind of thing I am interested in, am always taking down little local expressions and accents. I think I should be in some philological operation or enterprise, am really much interested in dialect and intonations. I scarcely think of any that comes into my so-called poems at all.

As for the poetry, here’s one small gem which appeared in Moore’s 1959 collection, O To Be a Dragon, snapped from my copy of Penguin’s Complete Poems.

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