For a starting point, I am interested in Moores description of her method in “A note on the Notes” as “this hybrid method of composition” (164). she is most directly referring to her intertextual borrowing – she says in the interview: “I’ve always felt that if a thing had been said in the best way, how can you say it better? If I wanted to say something and somebody had said it ideally, then I’d take it but give the person credit for it. That’s all there is to it. If you are charmed by an author, I think it’s a very strange and invalid imagination that doesn’t long to share it.” (185) Often, the poems do not seem particularly engaged or in dialogue with the source of the quoted line, but that the quoted line becomes infused into the poem so it can be displayed / shared with the reader. An interesting hybrid method that seems to require much collecting of quotes.
But beyond this, her “hybrid method” seems to also involve something that Rob talked about in his email about how Moore “betrays dual commitments” of poetic realism / modernism, relentless accuracy / limits of representation, description of object / description of itself as poem, evidence / artifice, “transparency of the poem’s patterned zones” / “the opacity of detail”, free ranging sentences / formal stanza – the creative hybridity that results from being between dualism and within the tension of that in-betweenness – seems to allow the poems to be “untouched […] – freeborn” (144, Jerboa), that they cannot be pinned down to any master narrative, but must be read within that tension (the “byplay” that is “more terrible in its effectiveness / than the fiercest frontal attack” (146) – connects to the idea of “indirection” in Whitman and the “tell it slant” in Dickinson and the circularity of logic in Eliot).
This unavoidably leads me to her ethics. From the very first Moore poem in the reader, we are introduced to a world of “Too Much” (143) – a world where the other is exoticized, fetishized, romanticized, commodified and thus enslaved – a world where they understood “how to use slaves, and kept crocodiles and put / baboons on the necks of giraffes to pick / fruit, and used serpent magic.” (143) They enacted a “fantasy / and a verisimilitude that were / right to those with, everywhere, / power over the poor.” (144) These actions “passed for art” (143) – adorned the gardens (another site of imperial domination – I think Cole Swenson has a new book coming out on gardens and war).
Moore, on the other hand, seems to argue for the beauty of freedom, to see the other (the object) by describing the “strange detail[s] of the simplified creature” (145) in all its “Abundance” and “elegance” (144) – not with the goal of domination, but because she was “charmed” and “longs to share it” with the reader.
similar to “Jerboa”, “Snakes, Mongooses, Snake Charmers, and the Like” (154) shows us the exocitism and commodification of the modern world: “I have a friend who would give a price […] for that exotic asp and the mongoose — / products of the country in which everything is hard work” (154). And then: “’The slight snake rippling quickly through the grass, / the leisurely tortoise with its pied back, / the chameleon passing from twig to stone, from stone to straw,’ / lit his imagination at one time; his admiration now converges upon this.” (154) we see the difference between the violent converging upon the exotic and the bright imagining of the free object (Moore’s ethical stance).
In the poem “New York” (153), Moore’s protest is further revealed. We are placed in “the center of the wholesale fur trade” where innocent animals are being slaughtered to make “space for commerce” at home and abroad (is she talking about the Hudson Bay Trading Company???) – that all the money being spent if “estimated in raw meat and berries, we could feed the universe” (an echo of “power over the poor” in “Jerboa”) and then the reason at the end – “it is not the plunder” (not a recognition of colonial domination) but “’accessibility to experience’” (an imperial desire to experience “the savage’s romance” – both in Europe and America). Moore’s project seems to be a critique of orientalism and exploitation in favor of a humane way to encounter the other.
Of course, the immediate critique of Moore is that by “gazing” at the “strange” object, by “capturing” it in the poem, one is already involved in a politics of power and “imperialist nostalgia”. I want to argue, though, that Moore manages to avoid this critique through her “hybrid method of composition.”
Everywhere in these poems, particularly when she deals with animals, I read the “struggle between curiosity and caution” (158) – of a desire to experience the strange other, but an awareness of the ethics of this desire. In “jerboa”, we are given one mode of representation: “the strange detail of the simplified creature”. In “The Buffalo,” however, we are given a “negative descriptive” — a telling of what the object is not, an indirective description of the object. In “Nine Nectarines” and (to a lesser extent) “The Fish”, we are given another: a “comparative descriptive” – it is “like” these other things…but not “direct treatment of the thing” – (perhaps this is where Pound begins to break with the tradition of indirection.) and moore’s poems seem to do all this and more: “Creeping slowly as with meditated stealth, its arms seeming to approach from all directions.” (159)
In the poem “Bowls”, Moore learns that “we are precisionists.” (154) that “layer after layer exposed by certainty of touch and unhurried incision / so that only so much color shall be revealed as is necessary to the picture” (154) and then in “Novices” (155) my favorite passage of all which I must quote in full:
in this “precipitate of dazzling impressions,
the spontaneous unforced passion of the Hebrew language –
an abyss of verbs full of reverberations and tempestuous energy”
in which action perpetuates action and angle is at variance with angle
till submerged by the general action;
obscured by “fathomless suggestions of color,”
by incessantly panting lines of greens, white with concussion,
in this drama of water against rocks – this “ocean of hurrying consonants”
with its “great livid stains like long slabs of green marble,”
its “flashing lances of perpendicular lightning” and “molten fires swallowed up,”
“with foam on its barriers,”
“crashing itself out in one long hiss of spray.” (155)
wow, unless I am completely misreading…this seems like a nice statement of poetics. The variance of angles yet submerged within the poem’s theme – the fathomless “suggestions” of color, the “abyss” of verbs – the precipitate of dazzling impressions, that definitely describes what I feel when I read Moore’s best poems.
Finally, with her aesthetic and ethical projects sketched out a little, how does this hybrid method of composition allow the object to not be subjugated by the poem?
In the poem “Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns”, we get a hint at what this kind of method does to the object:
So wary as to disappear for centuries and reappear,
Yet never to be caught,
The unicorn has been preserved
By an unmatched device
Wrought like the work of expert blacksmiths […]
Thus this strange animal with its miraculous elusiveness,
Has come to be unique,
“impossible to take alive,”
tamed only by a lady inoffensive like itself –
as curiously wild and gentle […]
Upon the printed page,
Also by word of mouth,
We have a record of it all […] (160)
The unicorn is preserved by “an unmatched device” of “hybrid composition”, of remaining within the tension of dual commitments. The “miraculous elusiveness” is the object and the poem itself, not being pinned down to one mode of composition or representation, thus it cannot be caught or controlled. Through being distinguished in the poem, whether through positive, negative, or comparative descriptives, it becomes “unique”, not just another exotic commodity – it becomes impossible to take alive because it is not pinned to the page through a dominating narrative – it remains “untouched” and “free-born” and “wild” – can only be “tamed” (momentarily, until it crashes itself out of the poem) through a gentle, inoffensive perception which longs to share “a record of it all”.