Marianne Moore on Allen Ginsberg

Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore (1887-1972)

Marianne Moore (who’s birthday it is today) writing to the young Allen Ginsberg. Allen, on the advice of William Carlos Williams, had forwarded an early manuscript of poems

July 4 1952

Dear Mr Ginsberg.

I have been thinking about this manuscript (Empty Mirror) which you have left me. I am sad to find that it reflects hardship. You have ability, and that means responsibility, does it not? There are in writing a few technicalities to think about; but the thing that matters is our sense of awareness; this comes first. What are we to do about it? I am not satisfied with your solution of the problem.

…In the opening piece…you say “I wandered off in search of a toilet.” And I go with you remember. Do I have to? I do if you take me with you in your book…
“Paterson” – (“crowded in thorns in Galveston, nailed hand and/ foot in Los Angeles, raised up to die on Denver..”) – slobs and dumbells hardly sustain the Crucifixion metaphor.
“The Trembling of the Veil” – (“Today out of the window/the trees seemed like live/organisms on the moon..”) – The suggestion of the moon makes this penetrating; brings it to life (Though as with my own work I’m not so sure about taking others’ words and titles).
“..holding the dog/ with a frayed rope” (a line (two lines) from “A Crazy Spiritual”) – I like this. ( I watched it all/from the lunch cart,/holding the dog/with a frayed rope”)
The Archetype Poem  (“Joe Blow has decided/he will no longer/be a fairy..”) –  Are you for this? Is there any “universal princeiple” to be deduced?
“sweat, skin, feces, sperm, saliva, odor” (a reference to the last four lines of “The Night Apple”). My comment here is the same as for the first poem.  (sweat skin eyes/ feces urine sperm/ saliva all one/ odor and mortal taste”)
“The Night Apple” –  “Last night I dreamed/ of one I loved”. Why could you not go on with this in the way in which it starts? You betray us with a taunt –  with an “I fooled you”. This is wit with nothing spoiling it – “I learned a world from each/one whom I loved; /so many worlds without/ a Zodiac.
The Brick-Layer’s Lunch Hour is fine work, accurate, contagious, even if it is William C(arlos) Williams instead of (or as well as) Allen Ginsberg…

Now you see, Mr Ginsberg, that I am speaking to myself as well as you, in the above comments. Let me, though I seem top heavy in doing it, try to think why the book as a whole dejected me. Patient or impatient repudiating of life, just repudiates itself. There is no point to it. What can be exciting to others is one’s struggle with what is too hard. Unless one is improved by what hurts one, it can’t be of interest to others. What makes us read a gruesome thing like Tolstoy’s  The Power of Darkness or Gogol’s A Lodging For a Night – [Gogol? perhaps she is thinking of Robert Louis Stevenson here?] or the Book of Job. We read it and thank it because it puts a weapon in our hands; we are better able to deal with injustice and a sense of  “God’s injustice”. An understanding eye penetrated the dispiriting and called it dispiriting. If we share in the conspiracy against ourselves and call existence an insult, who cares what we write?

Your disgust worries me and I can’t make clear what I mean without being objectionable…Empty Mirror is too literal, you don’t get behind it. You don’t see that it is? It is “treatment”. It is your taste…Something is wrong. What is it? The old hackneyed truism: affirm or die. If I feel negative, why can’t I say I am? Why feign what I don’t feel? I am not grateful. What would make me grateful? Soliloquize in this way over and over; people will not listen {written in the margin – “Self-pity is bad, friend”] What can you do about it, I don’t know. As D.H.Lawrence said, “To hold on or to let go?” You see and feel with interest. Can’t you be grateful for that?. If not, not. But, try! 
Why do I say all this? Because your trials, your own realness, and capacity affect me…


– and one week later (July 11) to Louis (Ginsberg)

I am grateful to you, Mr Ginsberg, for your reassuring letter. It pained me to run the risk of perhaps estranging your son from wholesome pertinacity and humility by possibly ill-adjudged resistance to his manuscript. If I have persuaded him even somewhat toward “gratitude” – towards confidence in God or humanity – I am glad.
Your son, from what you tell me, has reason for being tempted to melancholy. I had not known this. I have had experience myself – have experienced the mystery of others’ disability. As for William Carlos Williams, loyal though I feel to him personally, I wish he could perceive the folly of a doctrinaire attitude to degredation and unhope. We are here to transcend and help others transcend what impairs us…
Sincerely yours
Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore’s 1959 Paris Review Interview with Donald Hall is – here

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