Fleming_02-1991
Reviews

Poets and the Art of Interior Design

"I too dislike it"
—Marianne Moore

The sculptress Malvina Hoffman found the poetry of her friend Marianne Moore hard to understand and would sometimes ask her to read a poem aloud. "Then I would say, 'I really don't know what that's all about, because of my own ignorance, I'm sure, but just possibly you might explain it to me.' She would start explaining it, and then she'd say, 'You know, I don't really understand much of it myself,' and she'd laugh and say, 'Of course, I was convinced I understood it when I wrote it. I'll have to work some more on it,' and then there would be jottings in the margin, and revision."

This little anecdote reveals more than a little of how Marianne Moore viewed her own art. Throughout her career, she revised her work endlessly in an effort to achieve the dry, almost academic tone that Eliot praised in her verse. In the process, she sometimes edited out the phrases that might too easily betray her intention. The first published version of "The Pangolin," for example, ends with a Wordsworthian contrast: "wind- / widened clouds expanding to / earth size above the / town's bothered with wages / childish sages, / are to the child an intimation of / what glory is." However, in later versions Moore dropped the explicit comment on materialism—"bothered...

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