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Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore Hardcover – October 22, 2013
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From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From Publishers Weekly
An engaging blend of literary criticism and biography, this ambitious work by literature professor and Moore scholar Leavell (Marianne Moore and the Visual Arts: Prismatic Color) challenges the persistent image of the modernist poet as a repressed and withdrawn spinster. From Moore's birth in Missouri in 1887, the book follows her lively intellectual development and years of unpublished obscurity, up until 1915, when she began to find outlets for her work. Her dense, cryptic, and complicated poems attracted the attention of avant-garde writers like T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and H.D. Torn between her closeness to her mother (with whom she lived all her life) and her desire to achieve literary celebrity, Moore went on to work at The Dial in the late 1920s and became a fixture of literary society. She toiled away for years as a poet's poet with a scant popular readership, eventually rising to national prominence when her Collected Poems swept the literary prizes in 1952, establishing Moore as a doyenne of letters until her death 20 years later. Where Leavell's biography stakes its claim is in its unprecedented insight into Moore's family relationships, made possible through previously unavailable materials furnished by her estate. In this well-researched biography, Moore emerges as a poet of freedom with a passionate inner life. Agent: Susan Rabiner, Susan Rabiner Literary Agency. (Oct.)
*Starred Review* Marianne Moore (1887–1972) is a “poet of paradoxes,” Leavell asserts at the outset of this superb, recalibrating biography, the result of three decades of intense effort. Singular in her tricorne hat and black cape, Moore eventually became a “celebrity and public poet.” But before her red hair turned white, Moore was an enigma, “one of the most radical of the new poets,” living docilely, it seemed, with her mother. Leavell tells the entire intense story of the poet’s pre-Revolutionary War heritage; her institutionalized father, whom she never met; the intensely symbiotic relationships between Moore, her mother, Mary, and her brother, Warner; and Mary’s long-lasting love affair with another woman. Leavell’s cogent interpretations of Moore’s poetry and chronicling of how diligently she pursued startling artistic innovation under her mother’s watchful eye in Greenwich Village and Brooklyn while teaching, working in a library, and serving as editor for The Dial, are equally revelatory. Like a sculptor working in clay, Leavell steadily builds up contour and texture as she portrays Moore as a poet of “sly wit” and “undetected but stormy passion,” who jumped rope on the roof of her apartment building and assiduously perfected “unconventional meter, unsentimental subject matter,” and scientific precision in poems about exotic animals, “freedom in confinement,” and “a sense of human dignity and reverence for mystery.” --Donna Seaman
Top customer reviews
Only a few of Ms. Moore's poems are included in this definitive work, and even then only portions. Most of those written during the early part of her career are difficult to understand. The biographer skillfully explains what can be explained.
If you are into poetry, this is the book for you. If you are into unusual biographies, this is definately the book for you. Chances are you'll end up being grateful for the life you are now living.
Moore wrote without regard to labels. She was a Modernist who used a precise syllabic form and rhymes. She was a defender of the underdog, an early white champion of civil rights and of black artists and athletes who also voted Republican and defended LBJ's continuing the Vietnam War, the latter mainly so as not to abandon the South Vietnamese. She wrote "advertising" verse and patriotic poems during WWII. She was raised by lesbians and then denigrated by second wave feminists.
Her poetry must be read and dealt with if you care about American poetry. Her carefully controlled poems were often described as emotionless and overly intellectual. In truth, she was able to contain deep emotion and thought in precise verse, a skill and aesthetic often not practiced or appreciated since the Confessionals came along.
A fascinating biography. No there are no fireworks or is there physical violence. But there is emotional violence and the heroic strength of a small woman with a large vision and poetic craft.