Critics and Poets on Marianne Moore: "A Right Good Salvo of Barks"

Article excerpt

Critics and Poets on Marianne Moore: "A Right Good Salvo of Barks." Ed. Linda Leavell, Cristanne Miller, and Robin G. Schulze. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2005. 266 p. $49.50 (cloth).

Throughout their lives, William Carlos Williams claimed an affinity with Marianne Moore, celebrating her innovations as central to the construction of a modern poetics. Generously expressing his admiration for Moore in reviews, correspondence, essays, interviews, and poetic practice, Williams unceasingly held up Moore's example to critical praise that reveals a keen reading of her formal poetics. Williams saw in Moore a poet similarly committed to creating an American poetry drawing upon local materials; additionally, he valued the unsettling of habitual associations enacted by her poetics, especially in its treatment of the word and image, its rapidity of movement, and its interrogation of the particular. Nonetheless, the radical nature of Moore's experiments with language, so evident to Williams, was eclipsed from serious critical attention for much of the twentieth century. During the past twenty-five years, renewed interest in the very qualities Williams championed have combined with new perspectives to bring Moore's accomplishments more clearly into light and, just as significantly, to pose new ways of thinking about American poetry of the modernist period (and beyond).

Three major scholars in American poetry studies have collaborated to bring together a new selection of essays on Moore, a collection growing out of the richly diverse conference on Moore held at Pennsylvania State University in 2003, also organized by the editors of this volume. Students, scholars, and readers of twentieth-century literature will be grateful to the efforts of Linda Leavell, Cristanne Miller, and Robin Schulze, first in having materialized a wonderful conference that irrefutably demonstrated the complexities of Moore's aesthetic and cultural efforts in relation to a dizzying range of sociohistorical contexts, and then in having followed through with this collection, the first collection of essays on this poet to appear in fifteen years. Critics and Poets on Marianne Moore: "A Right Good Salvo of Barks," builds on a necessary reassessment of Moore's work that arguably gained impetus through the concurrence, in the early eighties, of the general efforts of feminist scholars and poets reexamining modernist women's poetry and the specific forms of archival labor that intensified around the collections of her papers, notebooks, and other materials, housed at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. The editors provide a fine critical chronology of Moore scholarship in their introductory essay, clearly charting the work that has been done to help bring her out of the margins, particularly through feminist studies and the "new" modernist studies, but also through queer and ecocritical studies, all of which seek to illuminate the poet's life and work as active encounters with social and cultural history. Noting the vexed and frustrating situation for scholars of the relative unavailability of Moore's entire body of work (as the Complete Poems omit more than a third of her life's work and provides singular versions of poems that often underwent significant revision with each individual publication), the editors also point to the recent appearance of two collections of her poetry, Schulze's Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems 1907-1924 (2002) and Grace Shulman's The Poems of Marianne Moore (2003).

As Leavell, Miller, and Schulze claim, "the greater accessibility to Moore's work provided by these new editions and the fifteen years since [Moore's] centennial conference" led them to concur that "it was time for a reassessment of Moore's work" (10). This collection of essays, like the conference first growing out of their shared recognition of the immense possibilities yet untapped in studying this poet, emphatically challenges lingering notions, passed down dismissively through critical histories, of Moore as merely modest or distant from social concerns or, as the editors put it, "a demure eccentric" (9). …