Monday May 27

Moore-Poetry Mary Moore’s poetry has appeared recently in Evolutionary Review, Nimrod International Journal Awards Issue 2011, Cavalier Literary Couture, Connotation Press (poems with interview), 2river view, American Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, Literary Mama Anthology, Coal, an Anthology, Kestrel, Sow’s Ear Review, and earlier in her career in Field, Poetry, New Letters, Negative Capability, Nimrod, and more. Cleveland State U. Poetry Center published a first collection, The Book of Snow (1997). She also publishes literary criticism mainly on Renaissance and later women poets. She lives and works in Huntington, WV, and has one daughter.
Mary Moore Interview, with Doug Van Gundy
Each of your poems we are publishing this month are portraits of a sort. How do you approach writing such portraits? Do you have an image in mind when you sit down to write? Or do you begin writing and find that a person or personality reveals herself to you through the process of writing?
I am intrigued first of all by your seeing them as portraits. That perspective is quite helpful to me, and, since I began them about a year ago after writing a series of poems that I very consciously knew were portraits, your insight makes perfect sense. The poems you've chosen are part of a series about grief and obsession represented in metaphors of possession. From the beginning of this series, I represented grief as figured by images and memories of the dying or dead person occupying the body of the mourner. These are in a way then love poems. Images I had in mind when I began were bodily, especially insides and outsides, gestures in the ordinary course of days, and the landscapes both human and natural that surround me. "Cuttings" for example literally began with images of the Rose of Sharon outside a window in a friend's house where we meditate in a teeny sanga (of three). Those images were co-opted in a sense by the series's images of inside/outside and of possession, here to suggest a momentary release from obsession. The dead girl's actions and gestures sometimes reflect those of my dead friend, my living daughter, and sometimes were invented.

Something about the poems' shapes as discontinuous perhaps sonnet-like poems helped me see different facets of what I will now call the portraits. The word "Blazon" in the title of one the poems you chose reflects my sense of them as love sonnets—since the term names love poems that describe and praise the beloved's body.
That all makes sense to me, and I am glad that I haven't totally missed the point of your work by seeing these poems as portraits. And I do see them as love poems now that you have given me an insight into the almost Victorian marriage of sensuality and death that is present in these poems.
Now it is my turn to be intrigued: I very nearly started this interview with a question about the sonnet-like quality of these poems, particularly “The Angel of the Knowledge of Death” and “Blazon”. I can see how the limitations of the sonnet would help to focus your attention on a single facet (inside/outside, some element of possession, etc.). Did the conscious choice to work in this form contribute to your sense of the sequence? And were there any unintended benefits of starting out in form?
Interesting question, Doug. I often write in sonnet-like forms and even do some rhymed sonnets. I find that the form's pattern evokes or aids invention—something like Wendell Berry said some years ago in an essay about marriage and poetic form (I don't know the essay's title nor do I remember where I found it). Its implied movement can help me reach levels of meaning that I hadn't foreseen—or at least that's how it works for me. I also like free verse, though, and especially enjoy the way line endings can create nuances of meaning that the next line can carry on or break with. I believe some of these poems, while sonnet-like in shape, try to deploy the line endings as in free verse—this may not be a successful strategy, but I like playing with it. Thus "she had grown dense/with the weight of all that dying" seems to me to play with the potentials of density including a pun of stupidity and then surprise with the clause's end on "dying.” Sometimes I find, though, that a form can limit me in an unkind way, forcing me find a resolution when really I need more poem to reach that closure. So even for one who likes form, it cuts both ways.
One of the things that I admire most about these poems, Mary, is the way that you use the map of the sonnet, but are willing to leave the marked roads if that better serves the poem. “Blazon”, for example, is very sonnet-like, down to the hinge at the end when "She can wash you in feeling, which is all / she is now – having disavowed bone, kin/and hovers in your corners, weightless as vows". But you take a tercet to unspool that image, rather than compacting it into the traditional couplet of the sonnet. I think that shows a maturity as a poet, and a fidelity to the poem over the form.
You mentioned that these poems are part of a series on grief and obsession. How large a series is it and is it still growing? Or do you know?
Thanks for your thoughtful reading, Doug: it's such a treat, as I'm sure you know in your poet self. There are about 40 poems in the series of which these are a part, but I fear that a number of them are not as strong as those that I sent to CP. And there's a lot of repetition too, which is a characteristic of the sonnet sequence in its original form, but too much of which can become ineffective. I would like to continue this sequence by writing new poems and refining existing ones. Some other poems, the portraits proper that I mention in response to your first question, may "go with" these, or they may not. I don't think of this series as a closed box but as one I would like to re-open. This conversation and the greater consciousness about what I am doing that it has brought about may help.
The Angel of the Knowledge of Death
First a warmth then a chill, she fit like my underskin.
       Sometimes she ate the light with wide
mouth as she laughed, swallowing all
openings and passageways––doorway,
staircase, well in the Churchyard. Or she sailed
and sank like flat thin stones we skipped
over Ritter Park Creek, radiating zeros,
ellipses of lips. Sometimes she sat, thick
waisted, inert, practicing the elocution of rain––
its iterative mumble–– for she had grown dense
with the weight of all that dying. Even the roadcuts
in Spring pranked with violets and pink
lady’s slippers were only aftermath, foreboding—
for she could not vanish entirely into ash, into ode.


Grays and grim yellows suit her. She’s a mood,
like light on a leaf-muddled pond.
The umber of cat-tails, swayed
against each other, shadows her hair,
the two large braids turned like sea shells
at each ear. Juniper berries green
her eyes, their transparency, gin’s.
No wonder she wanders the ledges
of ponds and windows, halts near thresholds
and door-sills, at ease in liminal
places like the angels in Renaissance
paintings, aloft in corners, all eye and wing.
She can wash you in feeling, which is all
she is now––having disavowed bone, kin––
and hovers in your corners, weightless as vows.
The jigsaw locust leaves on the glass
play scatter and slash on the floor, on the Rose
of Sharon blooming outside—startle
pink flowers the light chatter feeds. The bush
bobs and sways, its leaves washing
and touching light, which swells and retreats,
is stayed or let go, regardless of being seen.
The light touches me too, sometimes
like a lover, sometimes like a thief.
Today, I’m snug in my skin.
Nobody is in me but me.
The leaf-puzzle plays on one arm.
As I lift my arm to open the curtains,
the air slips under, a slight chill, a quick pressure.
I bathe in the play, the flash and stutter,
and now the swash-buckle sway
of the big palms to the West.
I wash in the cuttings, the difference.
Nobody is in me but me.