Jesse's Reviews > Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems, 1907-1924

Becoming Marianne Moore by Marianne Moore
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's review
Dec 13, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: 1920-s, 1930-s, american-lit, lit-crit, literary-modernism, poetry, read-sections
Read in November, 2011

I'm presuming that like myself most casual fans of Moore are generally unaware of the issues surrounding the access and availability of this great Modernist's poetry: a relentless and scrupulous revisor, Moore reworked and re-published many of her poems throughout her long life, and so any given poem, even her most famous, often have multiple versions. Which is all fine and good, and in the end, perhaps not all that unique of a situation either.

The major point of contention, however, is that in the majority of the time Moore wanted her latest revisions be considered the final expression of her authorial intention, and as such, the only major collection of her work continuously in print, Complete Poems, represent the last revisions she was able to complete before her death in 1972. The potential problem of this situation, however, is that her final revisions are often radically different than earlier versions—an anthology I used this last semester included both the 1921 and 1967 versions of "Poetry," the former a (beautiful and eloquent) 30 lines; the latter, however, is solely comprised of the first three lines of the 1921 version. And so a curious situation was created: one of Modernism's great poets was often read, judged and enjoyed not for the poems that made her famous in the 1920's and 30's, but for the poems as she "saw" them at the end of her life in the 60's and 70's.

Which might not be an issue for some, but if you wished to have a sense of Moore's poetry in historical context, the situation quickly becomes a labyrinthine nightmare—what if, say, you interpret a poem as a response to a 1920's event, and then come to find out later that the most important content supporting that reading wasn't actually part of the poem until some four decades after the fact? Not that it was easy to check if this was the case, for Moore's niece and literary executor held to her aunt's wishes and wouldn't allow for earlier editions of poems to be reprinted.

Enter Becoming Marianne Moore, meant to both honor Moore's final wishes and make her earlier versions and revisions widely available. Not the biography the title makes it sound like, this is instead a large collection of facsimile copies of Moore's early publications, and all scrupulously annotated and organized by its editor Robin G. Schulze. It's a wondrous, fascinating volume, to say nothing of its historical value. Problem is it's a big reference book instead of an accessible and readable collection—but hey, something is better than nothing, right?
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04/30 marked as: read-sections

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message 1: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook I get so vexed at writers who rework-rewrite -- as opposed to "polishing," which is seemingly done before pub.

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