Marianne Moore in the Village Voice
To the Jasmine's Kitten contest editor:
I think I should have him because I think her [sic] would like to have me. But if I win him, please give him to Mr. Balaban, or his sister, since I have not a yard, a tree, or a fence.
Cumberland Street, Brooklyn
Fully comprehending the letter's timelessness, I failed to take down the date, though it must have fallen between 1955, when the Voice was founded, and 1966, when Moore left Cumberland Street. I did record that the ever-quirky Voice editors were holding a kitten contest, and that “Mr. Balaban” was a writer for the paper.
Such a rich missive deserves scholarly attention. Dr. Patricia Willis--Moore expert and a former curator at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library--wrote: “I suspect someone rather fancied getting her name in the paper. By the late 50s, she was becoming New York's pet poet--witness large photo shoots for Life and Look.” The 1953 Life article, called “Life Goes on a Zoo Tour with a Famous Poet,” opines that “more than almost anything Miss Moore loves animals.” Photos show her feeding swans, cradling monkeys, and maintaining an admirable calm while an elephant unfurls his trunk above her head.
But what of Moore and cats? Her 1920 poem "Peter" reveals a complex fondness for felines, comparing a neighbor's cat to seaweed, eels, and mice. (One thinks--I do, anyway--of Christopher Smart's "For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey," a triumph among cat poems.)
Willis added, “There is a cat in a jingle she wrote on commission for the Lead Pencil Manufacturers Association in honor of Pencil Week, 1967.
is my cat.
makes my hat.
Our best pencils
write like that.
"It makes my skin crawl and I made sure it didn't go into any of her published works. The first stanza is from the second verse of a childrens' singing game, 'Widdy-Widdy-Wucky.'"
Abigail Deutsch, the winner of Poetry magazine's 2010 Editors Prize for Reviewing, lives in New York. Her criticism appears in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Village Voice, n+1, Bookforum, and other publications.