One of the most innovative poets of the twentieth century, Marianne Moore is often placed on par with contemporaries such as Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams, all of whom admired her greatly. In his introduction to Moore’s Selected Poems (1935), Eliot stated, “My conviction, for what it is worth, has remained unchanged for the last fourteen years: that Miss Moore’s poems form part of the small body of durable poetry written in our time,” and he credited her with one of the poet’s greatest accomplishments, that of “maintaining the life of the English language.”1
In 1915, Moore’s poems began to appear in little magazines in the United States and Europe. Several of her poems were published in the Egoist, a bimonthly magazine based in London and edited by the writer H.D., Moore’s Bryn Mawr classmate. Six years later, Moore’s first book publication, Poems (1921), appeared without her knowledge when H.D. collected and printed twenty-four of Moore’s poems as a surprise for her.
In 1918, Moore moved with her mother to Greenwich Village. From that point on, she would be indissolubly linked to New York City—first to Greenwich Village, and then to Brooklyn, where she lived for over thirty-five years. While living in Greenwich Village during the height of American modernism, Moore became involved in avant-garde literary circles and met poets such as William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens. She also began publishing in the Dial, the major American modernist journal of the time. In 1925, when Scofield Thayer stepped down as editor of the Dial, Moore took over until the journal closed four years later.
During the 1950s, Moore began to receive widespread public recognition that grew until she reached the level of a cultural icon. In the fall of 1956, Moore became famous overnight when her poem “Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese,” about the Brooklyn Dodgers, appeared on the front page of the Herald-Tribune on the first day of the World Series. From that point on, Moore became known as the poet who wrote about baseball, and as Charles Molesworth points out:
Virtually every newspaper article and interview with Moore printed after the publication of “Hometown Piece” mentioned the poet’s interest in baseball. These two elements—Brooklyn and baseball—would be linked with her name every time her audience extended beyond those who read her primarily as a modernist poet.2
Although she was mainly associated with the Dodgers and therefore Brooklyn, Moore also celebrated the New York Yankees in verse. Her 1961 poem “Baseball and Writing” compares the craft of writing to the excitement of a Yankees game, and in this it exhibits Moore’s tendency to juxtapose two seemingly unrelated things in order to enhance a poem’s emotional and visual effect. For example, in “An Octopus,” she creates a metaphor between an octopus and Washington’s Mt. Rainier, while in “The Pangolin,” she compares the mammal with Leonardo da Vinci, a spruce cone, an artichoke, and Westminster Abbey.
During her later years, Moore developed a personal, and somewhat dramatic, sense of fashion, and often went out dressed in a tricorn hat and a long black cape, which became her trademark insignia. However, it was her originality of thought and sentiment that gave rise to her marked originality as a poet. As Carl Van Vechten stated, “There is nobody in the least like her. She speaks her own tongue in her own way and rapidly becomes almost a figure in fiction, out of Jane Austen perhaps. . . . Her mere presence has charm and fragrance.”3