Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Marianne Moore

Hello and happy mid-week dear readers. Welcome to Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading that encourages bloggers to share their favorite quotes to help inspire and motivate one another to keep writing and working toward our goals. My contribution this week is from the American poet and critic, Marianne Moore.

Marianne Craig Moore was born November 15, 1887, in Kirkwood, Missouri, in the manse of the Presbyterian church where her maternal grandfather, John Riddle Warner, served as pastor.

Photograph by George Platt Lynes (1935)

Her parents separated before she was born after her father, John Milton Moore, a mechanical engineer and inventor, suffered a psychotic episode; Moore never met him. She and her older brother were raised by their mother, Mary Warner Moore. The family wrote voluminous letters to one another throughout their lives, often addressing each other by playful nicknames and using a private language.

Moore’s first professionally published poems appeared in The Egoist and Poetry in the spring of 1915. Harriet Monroe, the editor of the latter, would describe them in her biography as possessing “an elliptically musical profundity”. Moore’s first book, Poems, was published in 1921 by the Imagist poet H.D. and her partner, the British novelist Bryher, without Moore’s permission. Moore’s later poetry shows some influence from the Imagists’ principles.

Her second book, Observations, won the Dial Award in 1924. From 1925 to 1929, she edited The Dial magazine, a literary and cultural journal. This position in the literary and arts community extended her influence as an arbiter of modernist taste; much later, she encouraged promising young poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, and James Merrill.

When The Dial ceased publication in 1929, she moved to 260 Cumberland Street in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, where she remained for thirty-six years. She continued to write while caring for her ailing mother, who died in 1947.

Moore revised many of her early poems in later life. Most of these revised works appeared in the Complete Poems of 1967. Facsimile editions of the theretofore out-of-print 1924 Observations became available in 2002. Since that time, there has been no critical consensus about which versions are authoritative. As Moore herself wrote, as a one-line epigraph to Complete Poems, which offered her well-known work “Poetry” cut down from twenty-nine lines to three: “Omissions are not accidents.” In a foreword to A Marianne Moore Reader in 1961, Moore said her favorite poem was the Book of Job.

Moore never married. Her living room has been preserved in its original layout in the collections of the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. Her entire library, knick-knacks (including a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle), all of her correspondence, photographs, and poetry drafts are available for public viewing.

Moore’s novel and an unfinished memoir have not been published. In her will, she established a fund for the support of the Camperdown Elm in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, a rare and ancient tree that she had celebrated in a poem.

In 2012, Moore was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame.

I never knew anyone who had a passion for words who had as much difficulty in saying things as I do.

// Marianne Moore, The Art of Poetry No. 4

How is it possible to love words so much and be totally unable to string them together in a way that expresses the most basic emotions in an interesting and coherent way?

Maybe I’m not totally unable to write but I do feel like I am having the worst time of it. I’ll be honest with you, for the past week or so I have been working on, or trying to work on, a piece about who I am. I’m writing it for another blog and I am failing miserably at it. It shouldn’t be this hard, right? I know who I am, I write about myself nearly every day, either here or in a journal, so what is the problem?

The problem is writing does not come easily to me even though I have so much love for it.

Imagine a painter, who hasn’t been painting for very long or hasn’t been taught all he needs to know. In this painter’s mind he can see a beautiful scene he’d love to paint but, sadly, his hand, because he has not practiced enough or learned the right techniques, will not cooperate. His painting turns out poorly and he is frustrated. He loves art, he loves to paint, but he has a hard time getting his hand to express what it is in his head that he needs to share with the rest of the world.

That is how I feel as a writer. (And as an artist but that’s a subject for another post.)

Obviously, I am putting a lot of pressure on myself. The topic for the piece is very broad and I am having trouble narrowing it or choosing a direction. I also want to do a really good job and all 10 of my first attempts seem really stupid. I know I have a tendency to over think things and I am more than 100% positive that anyone else would think they sounded good and I was being too hard on myself.

It’s hard when you know what you want to say but you lack the skills and the experience to write it. You imagine a reader who finds your words and is brought to deep feeling and a state of near enlightenment. You want the reader to carry those beautiful words of yours with them in their hearts. You want to write something they all will love and come back to again and again. You want your words to be the Birth of Venus, the Mona Lisa, and The Starry Night of writing.

You see it in your head, you know what this ought to be, but you lack the skill to make it happen. Still, you love to write, and you hope one day to be good enough.

I’ll keep trying to write that great blog post, that engaging essay, and that breathtaking story, I hope you will too. I can’t help but wonder, though, in the end, if the words we have at our disposal to make the art we can, is inherently inadequate. Maybe the writing comes hard to all of us, and maybe it always will.

Maybe it should.


Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Original image via Kim S.


11 Replies to “Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Marianne Moore”

    1. I was describing to my girlfriend the other day what it feels like when I’m about to sit down and seriously write, it feels like preparing for a long hard run. I need loud music to build my energy, I need to be able to get up and move and pace, I need to talk out loud and use my hands. Writing is a physical activity for me, it can be exhausting, and sometimes even painful and still, like you said, I would never give it up :)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Don’t sweat it. People that genuinely love to write never feel that they live up to their own standards. And that’s the one thing that identifies them as good (or potentially good) writers, ironically. By the way, as you appear to be serious about this craft, I welcome any thoughts you have about my essays on my WordPress blog – http://www.therapyviews.com


    1. I’m an learning that writers are the only ones who understand how hard writing actually is. My friends are always telling me to “just write a book and publish it” as if writing something that transports people to a world outside their own and into the skin of another person were so easy *sigh*


      1. Yes, writing is a demanding occupation. (Not to mention one that pays you little or nothing, lol!) But don’t be enamored of the opinions of those who have never actually devoted themselves to the life of the mind. They are spouting agendas foolishly, without understanding the nature of the reality that faces them.


  2. I don’t know if you felt the same while getting started on this piece, but this post really struck a chord. I often feel like my work is crap, and sometimes wonder just why I’m doing this.

    Weird thing is, after all that self doubt and loathing, I get back to it the very next day.


  3. I hope you were able to push past your blocks. It can be hard. I relate. Lack of time to write and pressure when I have a moment or two leaves me with no words more times than not lately.

    I loved learning more about Marianne Moore. I had no idea she was from the St. Louis area, until now, nor that her home is on display in Philly. I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future.

    Thanks so much for sharing this at Throwback Thursday. I hope to see you again in June. :)


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