The Poetics of Engagement: Marianne Moore.

Ballade Von der Judenhure Maire (1991)

This Book Of Marianne Moore‘s Prose is entitled  The Poetry Of Engagement, edited by Grace Schulman, University of Illinois Press 1986.

I have printed one other piece by Moore on this blog. I tend to ignore critique except to contextualise the social and historical life of the poet, those movements that brought the writer to settle into her voice. There is a resonance in Moore’s poetry that is hooking, despite the best efforts of Ted Hughes to underrate her contribution, or whatever it was that provoked the nasty little Moore Poem in Birthday Letters

I am adding in this little excerpt along with the title of the book in the hope that more readers will come to look at women writers:

There never was a war that was
not inward; I must
fight till I have conquered in myself what
causes war, but I would not believe it.
I inwardly did nothing.

When I read Birthday Letters, long before I had read anything by Moore, I must confess that the imagery that Hughes used to talk of the woman put me right off wanting to read her. The issue emanated from a particular episode in which he accused her of putting shards of glass into an acerbic note she sent Plath,  or the image of her in her hat looking for the grave on which to lay her little wreath. It irritates me beyond belief that Hughes exploited his power in such a wholly provocative manner, and that be celebrated by other poets including Seamus Heaney. For what Hughes did in Birthday Letters was to make himself unanswerable, neither Moore nor Plath can respond to his work. It must have been great that the mostly male critical and academic establishment refused to note this in their reviews. It did not occur to Heaney, for instance to note that Hughes took an opportunity to settle old scores/scars.

For me, a writer of prose and a poet, the issue has always been about engagement with themes and symbols that evolve over time, but that somehow retain their shape and essence no matter what. I am still trying to understand how a voice as strong as Hughes is capable of honing those particular traumas so artfully decades indeed after the episode. Thats Poetic Engagement and can give reviewers the equivalent of the bends; and yet effect another writer’s historical place in our consciousness by sleight of hand (or with deliberate intention).


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