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Friday, March 01, 2013

Marianne Moore's Typewriter

This week's post is another in the series of posts adapted from papers on Rosenbach objects written by our wonderful new class of docents.
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Marianne Moore's typewriter came to the Rosenbach Museum & Library in 1972 through a bequest of the poet.  We previously believed that this typewriter might have been the one referenced by Moore as a gift from her friend Louise Crane and her mother in 1960, but we now think that it is a 1962 model.

Smith Corona, Coronet typewriter. 1962. 2006.2970.001
What is clear is the significant role that the typewriter played in Marianne Moore’s life and her poetic development. Moore’s first job in 1911, after taking secretarial courses herself at the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania, was teaching typing, stenography and commercial English at the Carlisle Indian School. She felt that the typewriter, as well as the sewing machine and telephone, helped American women to become “less servile,” and it certainly enabled her to document a broad and rich correspondence with family, friends and fellow artists who were shaping the modernist movement in America. Moore often kept carbon copies of letters she wrote to other writers and documented her correspondence and other documents with great care; over 3000 files in the Moore Collection here include exchanges over many years with Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, e.e. cummings, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, and many more. Her life-long use of the typewriter facilitated the preservation of an extraordinary personal and artistic history that, happily, we can access here at the Rosenbach Museum and Library.

Although she suggested in a 1960 interview with poet Donald Hall that the complex forms of her poems happened almost accidentally (“words cluster like chromosomes,” she claimed), her process was highly crafted. From material sources collected in notebooks, including anything from nature guides to magazine advertisements, she would select, arrange and splice lines which would then be used to compose on the typewriter, creating multiple carbons at one time. Each of these carbon copies might undergo up to seven re-workings, color-coded for rhyme scheme, until she achieved a final draft that met her exacting standard. The Rosenbach collection includes many of these drafts and setting copies for her 192 published and 72 unpublished poems.

The typewriter brought what was originally an oral art squarely into a visual, technical frame, and the way Moore’s poems play to the physical boundaries of the page and the importance of shapes in her poems--individual letters and the shapes of the poems themselves--reflect this evolution. She admitted in one interview that her line length was influenced as much by the rhythm of the typewriter as the number of syllables. We might imagine, over the span of such a prolific writing life, that the sound of those keys
tapping became as familiar as her own heart beat.

Cassie MacDonald  is a member of the Docent Training class 2012 and currently a docent apprentice. Her love of James Joyce and English Literature drew her to the Rosenbach’s collections

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