They Dwelt on West 9th Street:  Marianne Moore, Mother of Modernism

They Dwelt on West 9th Street: Marianne Moore, Mother of Modernism

They Dwelt on West 9th Street: Marianne Moore, Mother of Modernism is the 5th in a series.

One of this author’s favorite poets dwelt on West 9th Street.  Marianne Moore, known as the Mother of Modernism, lived on the 7th floor of the neo-Classical apartment building at 35 West 9th Street from 1966 until her death in 1972.

Moore, a native of Missouri, was a student at Bryn Mawr, graduating in 1909 with a B.A. in history, law, and politics.  After her published poems began to gain attention from writers like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, among others, she moved from Pennsylvania to New York City with her mother, Mary Warner Moore, in 1918.  They originally settled in Greenwich Village at 14 St. Luke’s Place where she launched her New York literary career.  In a letter to Ezra Pound dated January 9, 1919, she wrote, “I like New York, the little quiet part of it in which my mother and I live. I like to see the tops of the masts from our door and to go to the wharf and look at the craft on the river.”

14 St. Luke’s Place, Marianne Moore’s first Village apartment

In 1920 Moore started working part-time at the Hudson Park Branch of the New York Public Library at 66 Leroy.   She steadily built her literary career while working there. She quickly developed friends in the circles of  literary magazines in New York, especially the Dial, the magazine where she would later become editor and  steer it into literary preeminence. She was the editor there from 1925-1929. The Dial unfortunately ceased publication in 1929, when Moore moved to Brooklyn with her mother.

66 Leroy Street, the Hudson Park Library where Moore worked

 

Moore and her mother moved to Fort Greene and lived there from 1929 until 1966. She gained fame as the “Poet of Brooklyn.” Moore’s Fort Greene home has been preserved, along with her correspondence, photographs, and other items, at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Moore’s West 9th Street Greenwich Village living room is permanently installed on the third floor of the Rosenbach house. The museum boasts over 2,500 personal objects from Moore’s Village apartment, ranging from furniture to figurines to postage stamps as well as all of her personal correspondence.

260 Cumberland Street in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn where Moore resided for many years.

In 1933, Moore was awarded the Helen Haire Levinson Prize for Poetry and secured herself as a modernist poet with Selected Poems in 1935. Her poetry was published in journals such as the New Republic, Partisan Review, and The Nation. In 1951, she wrote her most well-known work, Collected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and Bollingen Prize.

Moore was not only known for her written word.  She was also quite well known for her enthusiasm for athletics, most famously, baseball.  She was a huge fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, but she was equally a fan of the Yankees.  In fact, at the age of 81, she threw the first pitch at the opening of the 1968 baseball season at Yankee Stadium.

The Mother of Modernism wearing her signature tricorn hat

From the opening stanza of “Baseball and Writing” by Marianne Moore

Fanaticism?  No.  Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
generating excitement—
a fever in the victim—
pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?

            To whom does it apply?
Who is excited?  Might it be I?

By the time Marianne Moore moved back to the Village in 1966, she was one of the most celebrated poets in America.  When Moore moved to 35 West 9th Street in Manhattan, she had come to be known as “The Poet of Brooklyn” and her departure from Ft. Greene sparked a media frenzy about the poet’s decision to move to another borough. It was said that she left Brooklyn because of a series of robberies and a deteriorating neighborhood.  She quickly embraced her return to the Village, however, and is quoted as saying, “Well, now I am here, and I love it.”  The West 9th Street apartment was described as a “large living room with a fireplace, guest room, a small bedroom for herself, and a newly equipped kitchen. There is a man to watch the door and run the elevator. Miss Moore now feels quite safe.”

Marianne Moore’s West 9th Street apartment is replicated at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. This is the mantle piece from her home.

Ephemera from the living room at 35 West 9th Street

A photograph of Marianne Moore’s living room on West 9th Street, now fully replicated at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, PA

In her late years, Moore soared to an extraordinary level of superstardom: appearing on the Tonight Show, featured on the cover of Esquire, deluged by fans who showed up at her residence.  The elderly Moore continued to attend creative writing classes as a student and even enrolled in a dance school, where she learned to tango…   After throwing the first pitch for the opening of the 1968 Yankees season, however, she suffered a series of debilitating strokes. On February 5, 1972, Moore died after living nearly 65 years in New York City. In 1990, the United States Post Office issued a stamp bearing Moore’s image in her memory. Her legacy continues through her rare books available in the Pratt Institute Library, her archive in Philadelphia, and her ever fascinating poetry.

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2 comments on “They Dwelt on West 9th Street: Marianne Moore, Mother of Modernism
  1. Lannyl Stephens Kathy says:

    Megan Marshall wrote a book about the poet…Elizabeth Bishop…A Miracle for Breakfast. The author stated that Elizabeth would go to 260 Cumberland Street to visit Miss Moore & her mother. What a treat for me to see the actual building! Thanks for expanding my world!

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