What most readers remember of Marianne Moore are her beasts—her jerboa, her ostrich, her pangolin. Late in her life, when the brilliant strangeness of her early poems had receded into the mists, she became a fabulous beast herself, poetry’s most endearing mascot. In her tricorn hat she looked as if she’d just emerged from a meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution; and her befuddled, otherworldly air suggested that poets were absentminded nocturnal creatures, unused to daylight. Her antics made poets, and poetry, seem slightly ridiculous—she threw out the first ball at a Yankees game and met that poet of the ring, Cassius Clay (soon to be known as Muhammad Ali). The Ford Motor Company asked her to help name a new car, then apologetically, and with great delicacy, rejected her bizarre suggestions: the Intelligent Whale, the Arcenciel, the Mongoose Civique, the Pastelogram, the Turcotingo, and, surely the weirdest and most...


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