In the summer of 1907, at the end of her freshman year at Bryn Mawr, Marianne Moore went straight from campus to Silver Bay for a conference of the school’s Christian Union. There she developed a crush, probably of a chaste nature, on a classmate named Katherine. In a letter, she wrote, “I have liked her ever since last November, but never would have said as I can now, ‘She can have me any time she wants me.’” Perhaps it was the Adirondack air.
Moore’s archived letters number more than 30,000; it was said she could write 50 in a day. But she is remembered primarily as a poet. She began writing verse at Bryn Mawr, thrived in New York City’s literary circles, and in time became a favorite of many other poets, although the public never really embraced her work.
In 1958, she had a brief flirtation with commercial endeavors. The Ford Motor Company was going to bring out a new automobile and sought a name. Perhaps too poetic, her submissions included (and it’s best to read these out loud) the Intelligent Whale, the Mongoose Civique, the Pastelogram, the Turcotingo and the Utopian Turtletop. Ford politely declined, and went with “the Edsel.”
Late in life she became a friend of George Plimpton. (His chauffeur, after overhearing her description of a wet musk ox, said she was the best passenger he’d ever had in his car.) Never one to be predictable, Moore wrote the liner notes for a spoken word album by Muhammad Ali and went on the Tonight Show to discuss baseball with Jack Paar.
Tossing out the first ball, opening day 1968 at Yankee Stadium, photo by Bob Olen
She was truly one of a kind. And in 1990, she even got her own postage stamp, certainly a fit tribute for someone who wrote so many letters.
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My thanks to Holding on Upside Down: the Life and Work of Marianne Moore (2013) by Linda Leavell