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Introduction to Poetry Notebook VII.04.04

By: Cristanne Miller

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VII.04.04, image 2; First Manuscript Page.
VII.04.04, image 2; First Manuscript Page

    This is the notebook of Moore’s that has received the most scholarly attention, for several reasons. First, it is the earliest of Moore’s extant notebooks dedicated to drafting poetry and hence gives us the earliest available information about her composition process—in its initial stages, as she pursues ideas and language clusters over several pages. Second, in this notebook Moore drafts toward several of her most famous poems: among others, “Marriage,” “An Octopus,” “Silence,” “Peter,” “The Student,” “The Steeplejack,” “The Hero,” “The Jerboa,” and “The Plumet Basilisk.” While her notes toward some of these poems are relatively brief (for example, “Peter”) she brings “Silence” almost to completion, and she makes over 60 pages of notes toward “Marriage” with almost an equal number toward “An Octopus.” The way her thinking and her drafted lines wander among subjects—like the conception of paradise—that find their way into entirely different poems, or sometimes are shared in quite different ways among multiple poems, provides a compelling focus for study.

    Third, this notebook contains a handful of never-published poems, giving a wonderful sense of what Moore rejected as ideas and lines toward poems as well as what she pursued. Titles of poems she briefly drafts toward and then drops include “Vienna   A Cat” (image 107); “A Crucifix The Land” (image 110)—a poem that may anticipate aspects of “The Steeple-Jack”; “Fugo fugare” (images 113-114); “John Johnson,” “The Tarantula,” and “Canada” (115); “Disappointment & Triumph” (125); “The Signer of the Valentine” (126), and “accursed Africa” (image 137). As the quick succession of page numbers for the first six poems indicates, Moore imagined drafts for several of these poems—some little more than titles—at the time when she was concluding her five years of editorial work at The Dial and beginning to draft seriously again. Image 110, dated “October,” seems to mark Moore’s return to writing poetry after the closing of The Dial in 1929. Scholars might study whether these are initial conceptions, with alternative titles, for poems Moore in fact completes or whether these are thoughts toward poems she decides not to write. In either case, some of her drafting here points toward language and ideas she does carry forward in other poems, fully developed and published. Whatever one’s interpretation of these sometimes winsome drafts, they reveal a part of Moore’s writing otherwise invisible.

    This is also one of the longest of Moore’s poetry-drafting notebooks (only the notebook she kept from 1942 into the 1960s is longer) and it has larger pages than most of her notebooks. It is a fliptop stenographer’s pad, with pages of 15x23 cm, most of which are written top to bottom, recto and verso, in small script, often crowding into the margins of the page. The notebook contains extensive reading notes on a few texts—primarily Richard Baxter’s The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (published in 1650) and the 1915 U. S. Government Rules and Regulations, Mount Rainier National Park. (Moore’s own copy of this brochure is available on the MMDA—showing her underlining and marginalia.) Unlike in her reading notebooks, here Moore’s notes on reading are interspersed with her composition and the two forms of writing seem to bleed into each other: just as she composes through slightly variant repetition of phrases or ideas she wants to retain, she repeats notes taken from the same page of a source, perhaps because she finds a passage particularly interesting or finds a phrase she thinks she may use in a poem. Through this process, one can see immediately how phrases from her reading move into the drafting of a poem.

    The dates of entries into this notebook are impossible to identify with precision. Moore dates no entries. Patricia C. Willis (in personal correspondence) estimates that the earliest writing stems from some time in the fall of 1922, because already on image 6, Moore is drafting “An Octopus / of ice”—that is, she has already both visited Mount Rainier and read a part of the Mount Rainier National Park Service publication from which she borrows this metaphor. She returned from her first trip to Washington in October of 1922 and her second trip on 1 October 1923. She sent “Marriage” to Monroe Wheeler for publication in October of 1923. This means that the first 67 pages of the notebook must have been written between October 1922 and October 1923. “An Octopus” was not published until December 1924, although it was submitted for publication in October. This suggests that most of the pages from 67 to 109 were written between fall 1923 and October 1924—although she mentions in a letter that she worked on “An Octopus” (and “Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns”) off and on for two years. The following drafts pick up later—sometime before Moore’s first publication of the new poems she is drafting here in June 1932. No blank pages in the notebook mark this hiatus between Moore’s drafting toward poems of the early 1920s and those of the early 1930s. It is possible that this indicates that Moore was drafting poems even while working at The Dial, but it is more likely that this had to do with her general frugality. When she began drafting again, she wrote from where she had left off in the notebook. Her reading notes in Notebook VII.02.02 indicate that she is reading actively toward the 1932 poems in 1930. She does, however, draft briefly toward a poem titled “The Basilisk” (image 109) and read about lizards in 1923 or 1924 (Reading Notebook VII.02.01)—perhaps early stages of contemplating what is published as “The Plumet Basilisk” in 1933.

    The transcription of this notebook makes Moore’s writing legible. It makes no attempt to reproduce visual aspects of her page. Because each page of transcription adjoins the appropriate notebook page, the user can see at all times Moore’s own handwriting, cancellations, circles, arrows, oversized letters, multiple underlinings, doodles, and other visual features of the page. Moore’s drafting is often messy and the handwriting miniscule, especially in her interlineations or slanted and marginal insertions. Several pages contain script that runs off the edge of a horizontal line of print into a margin, or inserted passages written entirely at a slanted angle from other writing on the page. Such passages are transcribed with an eye toward producing clear text for the user, not toward representing visual idiosyncracies of the page precisely; all text is reproduced on a standard horizontal print line and marginal vertical insertions appear at the foot of each transcription page. Moore’s use of the shorthand symbol ^ for the word “the” is transcribed as “the”—again in the interest of legibility. The text-link boxes will aid viewers in linking Moore’s script with the printed transcription, although these boxes also function with a horizontal orientation.

    Most poetry-drafting pages in this notebook reveal at least one kind of cancellation. Moore seems to have had a system for crossing out pages, perhaps after she had taken what she wanted from them for a later draft of the poem. Sometimes she draws a single line down the center of a page, lengthwise. On other pages, she has both a centered vertical line and one or more horizontal lines across the page. Often, it is impossible to tell whether these horizontal lines are meant to underline text, cancel a line of text, or function generally for the page. Moore also sometimes cancels large or small passages more vigorously, with looping spirals or circles or a plethora of slanted or straight lines. For ease of reading, and because we cannot know what Moore intended by these passage or page cancellations, this transcription represents as cancelled only individual words or rows of print that are crossed out individually. Typically, such cancellation is accompanied by interlineated substitutions or write-overs, or a passage that repeats some variation of the material. Because Moore also includes frequent write-overs, we transcribe this process only when Moore distinctly changes the word she is writing over (she frequently repeats or writes-over to clarify penmanship). The MMDA’s Transcription Guidelines provide a thorough explanation of our transcription principles .

    The most dramatic contribution this transcription makes to the clear and accurate presentation of Moore’s text has to do with the order of notebook pages themselves. The paper of this notebook is fragile (it was a cheap notebook) and it was frequently handled by scholars, because of its importance. At some point, several of its pages became dislodged from the binding and some became disordered. Unfortunately, the Rosenbach copy of this notebook was digitized, conserved, and rebound following this false order of pages. During an early stage of transcribing this notebook, Robin Schulze and I discovered this disordering and made a list of re-ordered pages. In 2017-18, Patricia C. Willis and I worked more methodically from a photocopy she made in the early 1980s to re-order all pages and all textual fragments—some of which used to be larger sections of pages, now disintegrated, and some which were stubs when the notebook was received by the Rosenbach Museum and Library. Willis speculates that Moore herself removed some pages, or parts of pages, from the notebook. The order you will find here is different from that of the conserved Rosenbach copy. We believe that the order here restores the notebook’s pages to their correct order. For more on this process, see my essay “A History of Moore Materials at the Rosenbach Museum and Library and the MMDA,” Some fragments cannot be positioned accurately in relation to other drafting. They appear at the end of this notebook (starting image 145), following the back cover.

    For the general reader, the joy of reading this notebook will be in following Moore’s repeating and sometimes wholly unexpected thoughts in relation to published poems they know. For the scholar, the primary interest of this notebook may have to do with Moore’s pursuit of ideas or even particular phrases (for example, “eagles w tigers in their eyes & feet”) that she repeats across the drafting of more than one poem. Patricia C. Willis has written about Moore’s compositional intertwining of “Marriage” and “An Octopus” (available through; others may read Moore’s drafts as suggesting she knew from the start that she was working on separate poems. But no one has considered ways that the concepts of “silence” and “restraint” are interlaced in the composition of several poems, or how the idea of “paradise” continues through from the 1920s poems into “The Steeple-Jack” and “The Plumet Basilisk.” For example, on image 52, she uses the phrase “a paradise of water basilisks.” References to cats also recur. Repetition is a primary technique in Moore’s drafting, and her repetitions may illuminate various aspects of her thinking. Moore also tries out several titles for her poems—for example, “Reluctant” for “The Jerboa.”

    While much attention has been paid to the shapes of Moore’s syllabic poems, critics have not yet studied her drafts to determine the extent to which Moore drafts in discernable lines—or at what point in her drafting either free or syllabic verse lines begin to appear. Even when drafting free verse poems in the 1920s, Moore occasionally plays with rhyming sounds—as on images 92 and 103, where she briefly considers rhyming sequences in drafts toward “An Octopus” and “Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns.” When she returns to syllabic verse around 1930, she sometimes circles rhyming sounds—as on image 114 or 128-129.  

    Like many of Moore’s notebooks, this one concludes with writing that indicates Moore used the notebook for various purposes, using back pages for non-drafting purposes. There’s a drafted letter to Kenneth Burke, dated 16 August 1923; a few pages contain apparent transcriptions of conversational comments. Moore also rewrites (or quotes from conversation) the chorus of a popular song called “The Prairie flower”; her version begins, “I’m not a hot house flower as you can see / I’m as wild as I can be” (image 142). Other lines at the end of this notebook may constitute notes toward “Marriage,” “Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns,” and other poems. On image 145, she begins what may be a draft toward “What are Years?”—which was not published until 1940, suggesting that this poem may not initially have been conceived as a response to World War II.

    This notebook provides rich ground for thinking about some of Moore’s most famous and highly acclaimed poems and for contemplating her process of composition. We are eager to see the contributions to Moore scholarship that may be enabled by online, public access to this key notebook.