The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore

Koestenbaum, Wayne

CAUGHT UP IN SENTENCE-MAKING THE COMPLETE PROSE OF MARIANNE MOORE Edited by Patricia C. Willis Viking, $24.95, 723 pp. Wayne Koestenbaum Mariannc Moore's Complete Prose is more than the...

...But she did not efface herself...
...She read with ornithological curiosity and raptness awake to each felicity a writer offered her, as if each mot juste were a fresh species...
...A book, to her, was a collection of remarkable sentences moments of fidelity, of "verisimilitude" specimens she then exhibited in her own reviews...
...Pound's ideogrammatic method in the Cantos has its counterpart in Moore's prose, her sentences exhibiting so much toil that toil begins to seem her subject...
...Moore's omission of commas between adjectives, here, is not neglect: she believed good writing to be, in part, the science of rendering pauses without notating them through excessive punctuation...
...Her eccentric art branded as hers anything she touched...
...In her brief allusion to a forgotten poet, Lady Margaret Sackville West, Marianne Moore is so visibly caught up in sentence-making that she moves past mannerism into a sublime terseness: With the distinctness of the spinet and the rigor of the sermon, restrained without constraint, preserved when they tremble upon the brink of a banality by that sensibility which recoils from malapert insistence, these erect poems are consistently alluring in their respect for a freedom that must be permitted in the same measure in which it is enjoyed...
...Sentences as fanatically wrought as hers deserve the name of poetry even if they posed as journalism...
...His imagistic "direct presentation" was Moore's rule of thumb, but an instinct for perverse wording countered her admiration for "straight writing...
...Explicitness, for Moore, remained a chimera, impossible to seize...
...Wayne Koestenbaum Mariannc Moore's Complete Prose is more than the com-plement to her poetry...
...She was fond, too, of "verity" and "veraciousness," of any word that had its root in truth...
...But where, in her eccentricity, is the white fire...
...One is smitten by her description of Wallace Stevens's poetry: "Upon the general marine volume of statement is set a parachute-spinnaker of verbiage which looms out like half a cantaloupe and gives the body of the theme the air of a fabled argosy advancing...
...In her criticism, she quoted rather than paraphrased, to arrest the writer's live world...
...One notices Moore's fondness for negatives for words beginning with the prefix un: "unselfprotectively," "uncompactly," "uncontrol," "un-pity," "unpanoplied," "unceremony," "unassumptive,'' ''unhoodwinked,'' "undozing...
...One admires, even reveres, the "hydra-headed, ostrich-natured prose, at the same time wondering why an artist who strove for "straight writing" wrote so crookedly...
...She relished the inevitable emphasis the pause that exactly-calibrated prose cadence, without the surgery of commas, obliges a reader to make...
...She believed that "we must be clear as our natural reticence allows us to be": in the grip of "an unbearable accuracy," Moore, like Pound, discovered that verisimilitude in words depends on miscellany, that a "burning desire to be explicit" dooms one to the roundabout...
...He was in magnificent contrast with the two Dromios in The 186 Comedy of Errors "They must br...
...Perhaps Moore's most imposing chain of adjectives is a "spry-slow suave quaintly-toddling selfsuffi-cient imperviousness to weather...
...One reads Marianne Moore's prose to savor the labor that has been spent, to learn that craft is dignity and that good writing's "rapt, undeprecatory love for the subject" is a splendor of spirit as well as of craft...
...Moore did not repudiate miscellany: she embraced it...
...Marianne Moore depended upon quotation in her reviews, asking repeatedly, "why paraphrase what for maximum impact should be quoted verbatim...
...The woman who confessed to "a mania for straight writing" wrote sinuously...
...Moore writes that "we find, intensive, unmixed, and unimpeded, the white fire of the poet of one who, repudiating miscellany, is immemorially garlanded...
...she toiled at prose sentences with a visionary mania that exceeds the poet's...
...For example, In 1934, [Wallace Stevens] . . . became Vice President of the Accident and Indemnity Company of Hartford...
...Other words Moore favored in her reviews were "arrest" and "detain": good writing arrested, detained, and sometimes even "smote" the reader...
...She claimed that "women are not noted for terseness...
...A word as clumsy as "verisimilitude" a favorite of hers has full-blooded presence and cantan-kerousness...
...Moore's one-sentence review tell us little about Lady Margaret Sackville West, but much about the art of the sentence...
...This predilection permits her to contest subtly, to rebel decorously...
...Gaps in sense were Pound's device, and she revered Pound as master...
...Moore sought and found salvation in the writer's work...
...quotation armored her with an anonymity that "seems like a signature...
...Humility, modesty patience if she believed these to be the writer's virtues, then her straining sentences are evidence of virtue...
...He died August 2, 1955...
...She loved, too, the multisyllabic word, not for its arrogance, but for its tactility, its insistence as word...
...She valued the unsaid, the "lion's leap": "expanded explanation tends to spoil the lion's leap...
...What have the two Dromios to do with Wallace Stevens's death...
...Comparing books not to other books but to nautical things, she finds in Pound's rhythm "a firm piloting of rebellious fluency," a "quality of sustained emphasis, as of a cargo being shrewdly steered to the edge of the quai...
...Quotation, for Moore, was a form of genteel plunder...
...she considered her work "if not a cabinet of fossils, a kind of collection of files in amber...
...Would Marianne Moore, then, have considered her own terse style unwomanly...
...Moore's Complete Prose so jeweled and consummate that one turns to it for instruction in the art of writing strangely erases the woman whose signature is clear in each missing comma, each "aesthetically intent, precipitate, by no means 'easy' " clause...
...bound and laid in some dark room...
...She valued the writer who could bring "actuality" onto the page...
...Moore valued "gusto": there is gusto in her description of "a bronze-breasted, steel-gauntleted voluptuousness which is not always alluring,'' and in her praise of another writer's "not to be improved upon bits of actuality, and a graceful, seven-zephyred, corybantic suavity of interpretation...
...her diction is so archly precise one almost hears the whirr of the word as it slides into place the cog of the word's sense meshing with its cog of sound...
...as in their predilection for romance for flagged paths and mignonette, for roses by the latticed window, for polished floors and peacocks of clipped yew...

Vol. 114 • March 1987 • No. 6


 
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