Marianne Moore’s “Poetry,” one of her earliest lyrics, is written in free verse. It is so subtle in its arrangement on the page as to seem almost fragmentary, a quality frequently found among Imagist poets of the early twentieth century. The Imagist movement, by which she was much influenced, proposed in their manifesto to discard the shopworn and hackneyed diction of the previous generation. They intended to free poetry from the strictures of metrical patterns so as to approximate more closely the rhythms of colloquial speech.
Moore begins her poem with an astonishing confession for a poet: She says about poetry that “I, too, dislike it.” The assumption is that most people do not like poetry simply because it has ceased to reflect the world they know or the speech they use. She hints slyly that the writing of poetry is only fiddling, thus voicing the frustration of many poets who take pains in the search for the mot juste, the “right word,” to express their feelings, impressions, and ideas.
Having nothing but “contempt” for “all of this fiddle,” and questioning the value of the whole process, she can still maintain that poetry is valid, but only insofar as it is “genuine.” As long as a poem is a mirror of reality and is exact in its detail, as opposed to presenting idealized preconceptions, there is much to be said for poetry. Moore would insist on the real “hands that can grasp,” as opposed to the...
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