#PoetryPromise December: Poetry by Marianne Moore

#PoetryPromise is coordinated through Poetry by Heart with the aim of promoting and spreading the love of poetry. My #PoetryPromise for 2015 is to share a favourite poem of mine every month through my blog. My choice for December is Poetry by Marianne Moore.

800px-Eastern_Giant_Toad_(Peltophryne_peltocephala)_(8573972369)

“Imaginary gardens with real toads in them” (source)

Poetry

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
*****Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
*****it, after all, a place for the genuine.
***********Hands that can grasp, eyes
***********that can dilate, hair that can rise
*****************if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
*****useful. When they become so derivative as to become unintelligible
*****the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
***********do not admire what
***********we cannot understand: the bat
*****************holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
*****a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that feels a flea
*******************************************************the base-
*****ball fan, the statistician—
***********nor is it valid
*****************to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a*******************************************distinction
*****however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not
*************************************************poetry,
*****nor till the poets among us can be
***********“literalists of
***********the imagination”—above
*****************insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” shall we have
*****it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
*****the raw material of poetry in
***********all its rawness and
***********that which is on the other hand
*****************genuine, you are interested in poetry.


 

What better poem to conclude my year of #PoetryPromise posts, than a poem about poetry? I love Marianne Moore’s playful, enigmatic tone in this piece, which she revised again and again over her lifetime, publishing different versions in 1924, 1935 and 1951. She capped this off by publishing two different versions in her 1967 Collected Poems. The first was condensed down to just three lines:

I, too, dislike it.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
   it, after all, a place for the genuine.

In the back of the same volume she published the version I used here, under the heading “original version.” This is typical of Moore’s tone overall, never allowing herself or her work to be pinned down. This poem wriggles and slips in the reader’s eye and mind, from that initial ironic statement, making the reader complicit in a dislike of the very thing that both writer and reader have set out to enjoy. The rest of the poem renovates this maligned art form, this “place for the genuine.”

I know that poems can “grasp,” can make my eyes widen and the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It is this visceral emotional connection that makes poetry “useful,” not the fact that a “high-sounding interpretation” can be put on it. The craft of the poet, says Moore, is to be a “literalist of the imagination” – to take the imagined, and render it so, as Sylvia Plath says, “it feels real.” To take an imagined garden, and put a real toad in it. The naming of parts, the “the poet uses alliteration in line 17 to…” approach, is not what poetry is all about. It’s the crackling emotional energy, the “raw material of poetry in all its rawness” which gives it its power. This is why I love it, why I read it, and why I teach it – why I am “interested in poetry.”

Read all the Poetry Promise posts here.

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