Marianne Moore’s poetry is obsessed with mathematical perfection and formal precision. The precision of syllabic complexity results in internal rhymes and rhythms that drive the stanza formation rather than the typical reliance upon the rhymes coming at the end of lines. The nature of this formalism is directed toward ecological themes expressed through ironic contemplation. Put another way: Marianne Moore is an original.
Another element that separates Moore from the herd is her idiosyncratic and often dazzling intrusion upon the standard conventions of creative verse through the utilization of quotations from a genuinely wide and voracious variety of sources. A cursory inspection of poems by Marianne Moore may result in the shock of the familiar through re-reading someone else’s poetic verse or coming across a snatch of an old newspaper article or even—remember that obsession with math and focus on ecological conditions of existence—an excerpt from a scientific journal.
That interest in scientific precision doubtlessly was informed by the same stimulus that sent her to Bryn Mawr to pursue a degree in biology. The intense focus upon formal construction was doubtlessly informed by the pressure upon Moore to try to carve out a living as a poet while also supporting herself with freelance writing jobs while also taking care of her live-in mother even as an adult in the New York City of the early 20th century. What the poetry of Marianne Moore teaches above all else is the power of semantic mastery and the joy of ironic humor.
That wry sense of humor was notably on display when she was invited by the Ford Motor Company to compile a list of possible names for their newest model in the 1950s. Among the names Moore submitted were "Resilient Bullet" and "Ford Silver Sword" and "Mongoose Civique.” All of them were rejected as was her last submission: the “Utopian Turtletop.” The name that was finally chosen by Ford? The most infamous automobile flop of all time: the Edsel.
Collected Poems, published in 1951, earned Moore the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize and the Bollingen Prize. Four years later, Marianne Moore became was awarded membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1962 she became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.