Not confessional or autobiographical, not openly political or gender-conscious: all that Marianne Moore’s poetry is not has masked what it actually is. Cristanne Miller’s aim is to lift this mask and reveal the radically oppositional, aesthetic, and political nature of the poet’s work. A new Moore emerges from Miller’s persuasive book—one whose political engagement and artistic experiments, though not cut to the fashion of her time, point the way to an ambitious new poetic.
Miller locates Moore within the historical, literary, and family environments that shaped her life and work, particularly her sense and deployment of poetic authority. She shows how feminist notions of gender prevalent during Moore’s youth are reflected in her early poetry, and tracks a shift in later poems when Moore becomes more openly didactic, more personal, and more willing to experiment with language typically regarded as feminine. Distinguishing the lack of explicit focus on gender from a lack of gender-consciousness, Miller identifies Moore as distinctly feminist in her own conception of her work, and as significantly expanding the possibilities for indirect political discourse in the lyric poem. Miller’s readings also reveal Moore’s frequent and pointed critiques of culturally determined power relationships, those involving race and nationality as well as gender.
Making new use of unpublished correspondence and employing close interpretive readings of important poems, Miller revises and expands our understanding of Marianne Moore. And her work links Moore—in her radically innovative reactions to dominant constructions of authority—with a surprisingly wide range of late twentieth-century women poets.
A bold and significant study of the function of Moore’s distinct and strategic use of poetic authority… Miller’s book is also an original contribution to existing Moore scholarship in its insistence of the intricate relationship between Moore’s poetic practice and her political and cultural engagement with the world she inhabited. Miller’s analysis of the historical and cultural forces that necessarily shaped Moore’s life and work is insightful and meticulous in its range of reference… Miller’s readings of Moore’s poems about race and nationality are provocative, suggestive, and far-reaching in their implications for future considerations of modernist writers’ responses to race… Miller’s book is admirable in its carefully orchestrated balance between close readings of Moore’s work and nuanced readings of the historical context in which she worked and produced her art. The revisionary thrust of this book is important, timely, and a major contribution to Moore studies and the history of modernism.
An elegant tribute to a complex style… Gender, race, class and power are subjects which are used [by Miller] convincingly to unearth embedded references to several aspects of social control in the poetry itself. As if in tribute to one element of Moore’s style—that of eclectic reference and quotation—Miller’s prose is densely peppered with speech marks, as she continuously returns to Moore’s diction to clarify her argument about authority as a social (and artistic) nexus.
Miller combines feminist categories of understanding with close linguistic analysis, offering a range of nuanced readings of particular poems.
Cristanne Miller’s scholarship is impressive and her wide ranging references add to the book’s solidity and helpfulness for readers interested in twentieth century American poetics, in feminist issues, and more generally, in ‘questions of authority’ in our age. Highly recommended.
- 303 pages
- 6 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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