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August 29, 2008


I love the case you make for Moore's necessary idiosyncrasies of spacing.

Sometimes I give my students a Moore poem printed as prose, and ask them to lineate it themselves. Not the least of their responses to *her* choices, when they consider them in the light of their own suggestions, is to appreciate their weird, distinct, discriminating quality. Whether they can make a case for *why* she's doing it, they certainly come to feel she's *there* in the choices.

That said, your post also made me want to double-check Moore's spacing in this poem. Did she mean "Verse" to stand on its own, for example, or is that just a consequence of the page-width? (I was surprised by its capitalization in yr post...)

Robin Schulze's book, Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems, 1907-1924, gives two versions of this poem -- the one printed in the first edition of Observations (1924), and its earliest appearance in Others magazine in 1915.

Can't tell from the 1924 version whether "verse" (not capitalized) and "affords" are intended to be indented as one-word-lines (as you have them), or as leftovers from too-long lines. The right margin's too close.

But the 1915 version, which is in most ways the same, offers some clues. The two sentences with "verse" and "affords" are enjambed *differently* here:

...speaking of / unrhymed verse.
...'Ec- / stacy affords...

And, in this version, all the beginnings of lines are capitalized *except* for "unrhymed verse," and "stacy affords."

Which leads me to think that had Moore but space enough (or time to argue for it), "verse" would not stand on its own but come at the end of a long line ["into doing by XY, who was speaking of unrhymed verse."], and "affords," similarly, would not stand on its own but come at the end of a long line ["prose with a sort of heightened consciousness. 'Ecstasy affords"].

(I know. Too much space given to a small point. But it's the principle of the thing. And if there's anyone out there who would be interested in the comment, it would be someone who cared about your post in the first place.)

Yours in the common pursuit,


Thanks, JSC, for the outstanding sleuth work and meticulous attention to detail.

It's unfortunate that oddities of typographical arrangement (as here or even more emphatically in Cummings's poetry) -- which were encouraged by the universal use of typewriters -- may be a casualty of computer technology. Have you noticed that italics and space indentation rarely survive electronic transmission?

You'll see that I've made the two changes you suggest.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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