Wayne Koestenbaum

Marianne Moore: a Note

My earlier work was influenced by Moore:  my first book, Ode to Anna Moffo, is largely in syllabics, which I learned from her (and Auden, and others). (Two of the poems in that book—"Doctor Type," "Shéhérazade"—directly borrow her stanza forms.)  But by my second book, I'd mostly stopped writing in syllabics, and, if there's now a connection to Moore in my work, or in these particular poems, the resemblance (or inheritance) lies in a certain finickiness, obsessiveness, neatness;  a reliance on borrowings, allusions, name-droppings;  a contentment with the prosaic;  a fondness for negatives, double negatives, negations, antitheses;  an aversion to the "poetic," or a discomfort with it, or an inability to encounter and absorb it;  a comfort with the first-person but also an aversion for some of the propagandistic, customary uses of the "I";  unabashed fetishism (fetishizing the poem as artifact, also fetishizing the residue of memory, its bric-a-brac).  Mostly my connection to Moore these days comes through the artist Ray Johnson, who worshipped her;  I consider Moore, with Joseph Cornell and Ray Johnson (and others), to be a prototype of an eccentric American artist, individualist, loner, stay-at-home, who liked the experience of making objects and who didn't really know what to call those objects, and who, if he/she fit at all into established American art/poetry marketplaces, experienced that fit as an uneasy alliance, a compromise, a coincidence, an act of subcultural "passing."  I've never felt entirely comfortable being a poet, though "poet" is what, at heart, I am.  When I write prose I feel as if I'm writing poetry;  and yet, when I write poetry, I feel as if I'm writing prose.  I should add that the aspect of Moore's work that most heavily influences me, to this day, is her prose, not her poetry:  I still read her "blurbs" (collected in her Complete Prose) as models of what prose or poetry can aspire to be—entirely surface, entirely "persona," the syntax as weird and mannered as can be;  those blurbs, like her poems, are vivid and febrile performances, no word wasted, each word a fanatical exercise of a personality sculpted in the privacy of the bedroom/atelier, as if with the assistance of "Mom," though also in covert defiance of the strictures of the phantasmatic (and often actual) "Mom."  Baby/mother matrices—infantile and maternal subjectivities—are at issue in Moore's work, and, now, in mine.  I also feel connected to Moore in my fondness for stanzas as sculptural units—stanzas as a way of dividing the prosaic utterance into its obedient parts.  Finally, Moore for me is an artist whose "queerness" lies in a vexed and counter-intuitive relation to sexuality per se ;  though my work is at times highly sexed, and conscious of gay or queer sexual subcultural signs and practices, I'm also happy to see the "queerness" of my work (like Moore's) splayed out into ancillary modes and tastes (fashion, flora and fauna, neatness, observation, privacy, exhibitionism, mannerism, coldness and sternness, and a willingness to throw one's personality wholeheartedly and incontinently into identifications with Others, whether animals [in Moore's case] or stars [in mine]). 


John Wayne's Perfumes
Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1
How to Bend
Ballad of the Layette

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