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Poetry Focus: Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore by Kim Roberts

A poet I return to again and again is Marianne Moore. She has an odd, precise, mathematical quality to her poems, many of which are written in syllabics. But she often combines syllabics with rhyme to make nonce forms. For example, "Nevertheless," one of my favorites, is written in three-line stanzas with six syllables to a line, but lines two and three always rhyme.

"The Fish" has an even more complex pattern: five-line stanzas with one syllable in line one, three in line two, nine in line three, six in line four, and nine in line five. The rhyme scheme is AABBC.

Moore loved to create challenges for herself. She also incorporated quotes from books she read, often completely out of context, because she delighted in the flexibility of language and because, as she wrote, "I have not been able to outgrow this hybrid method of composition."

Moore examined the objects of the world closely. I admire her humility. She does not write about herself, but she is infused throughout the poems as an observer. She writes ardently about nature (often picking strange animals as her subject: jerboa, basilisk, pangolin). Her themes, whether writing about the paper nautilus, marriage, or describing a mountain glacier, are always filled with a sense of rigorous, intellectual wonder.

Her main subject is awe, and re-reading her, she continues to surprise.

Kim Roberts is the author of two books of poems, most recently The Kimnama (Vrzhu Press, 2007). She edits the online journal Beltway Poetry Quarterly and lives in Washington, DC.

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