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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Modern Poetry Class Visits the Rosenbach Museum's Marianne Moore Archive

This post by guest blogger John Dodig.

On the brisk afternoon of Sunday, November 3, a dozen students from Professor Kamran Javadizadeh’s graduate-level modern poetry class met at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. The Rosenbach, which sprawls across two interconnected townhouses on Delancey Street in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia, is the unlikely home of the Marianne Moore Collection, including poetic manuscripts, letters, notebooks, photographs, papers, and even furniture from the life of the important modernist poet, who spent most of her life in New York City after graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1909.

The class began in the research library of the Rosenbach, where the museum’s assistant director of education Farrar Fitzgerald passed around a lengthy letter Moore received from Ezra Pound and a copy of Moore’s response. Pound’s message, typed with his characteristic purple typewriter ribbon, asked the slightly younger poet about her age, her compositional process, and the formal elements of her work, along with providing some gentle suggestions for alterations (like transposing the order of poem’s final three words). Moore’s “A Graveyard,” later renamed “A Grave,” prompted this letter from Pound, who was living in London at the time. Appropriately enough, the class then got to examine both handwritten and typed drafts of the very same poem, along with several other manuscripts and letters, including a note from Bryher, an Englishwoman who was Moore’s friend and patron for many years.

Fitzgerald then passed around various first editions of Moore’s books, including William Carlos Williams’ copy of her debut, Poems. By looking at multiple published versions of the poem “Poetry,” the class could see how relentless a reviser Moore was, making minute alterations to punctuation in the few years after its first run before eventually whittling the multi-stanza work to a scant three lines in her final years. Students also had a chance to look at facsimile versions of Moore’s personal notebooks, many of which contain the germs out of which some of her major works grew. For example, the class passed around a reproduction of a book Moore took with her on a trip to Mr. Rainier in the early 1920s that contains the origins of two of her longest and most important poems, “An Octopus” and “Marriage.” Much of the material in the Rosenbach’s Moore Collection wound up in scholar Linda Leavell’s new biography of Moore called Holding On Upside Down, the first to be authorized by her estate, which the class also had a chance to see.

After interacting with several of these artifacts in the research library, the students moved on to a more intimate space, foreshadowed by portraits of Moore both by herself and with contemporaries like W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, and Delmore Schwartz. The contents of Moore’s Greenwich Village living room—writing desks, photographs, baseballs autographed by Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, paintings, a trapeze bar, William Blake drawings, hundreds of books (including a first edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost), Moore’s Smith-Corona typewriter, and tchotchkes ranging from a velveteen elephant to a wind-up crow—are installed in a comparably-sized room on the third floor of the museum, allowing visitors to see the space in which she lived for the last six years of her life as it would have looked in 1972. The class even had the rare opportunity to read a poem aloud while looking at the item that inspired it (the aforementioned wind-up crow).

While the Moore Collection was the reason for and the highlight of the trip, the class also got to take a look at some of the museum’s other materials, like a room full of Maurice Sendak drawings and paintings that would eventually become Where the Wild Things Are. Students also got to poke around the Rosenbach’s library, which contains rare books like first editions in both English and Spanish of Cervantes’ Don Quixote and a 1678 first edition of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. The museum’s collections, some of which were on display, also include a handwritten manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses, portions of handwritten drafts of Dickens’ works like Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick Papers, outlines and notes for Dracula by Bram Stoker, and letters and papers from figures as diverse as George Washington, Lewis Carroll, William Blake, Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Conrad, Phillis Wheatley, Dylan Thomas, and Jean-HonorĂ© Fragonard.

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