The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing

‘Turn to the letter M’: index(ing) and the science of assorting in Marianne Moore’s Observations

The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing (2021), 39, (2), 127–150.

Abstract

Readers and critics rarely consider the end-pages of texts, skipping over the indexes and flyleaves in favour of the poems themselves, and the same is true of the poet-authored index to Marianne Moore’s 1924 Observations. To overlook Moore’s index, however, would be to (dis)miss its playful self-referentiality, the manner in which it works to simultaneously focus on, and distract from, the poems themselves. Taking Moore’s ‘Index’ to Observations as a starting point for thinking about both the poetry and the problematics of Moore’s indexical experiments, the article begins by asking how the process of reading Moore’s index might simultaneously inform and distort the experience of reading Observations itself, both for the reader and for Moore. In so doing, it considers the overlapping roles of reader and self-editor Moore that begins to play through the process of composing an index, revealing the manner in which (for reader and writer alike) the process of reading becomes one of selecting. Yet this process also becomes a process of dismantling and - implicitly - metonymizing, until the question becomes as follows: if poems are anatomized into a collection of constituent parts, can part lead back to whole? Far more than a marginal textual supplement, the index of Observations forms a fundamental, if ultimately abandoned, part of Moore’s poetic experimentation, and one that allows us to reconsider the trajectory of Moore’s poetic career.

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Author details

Bradburn, Rebecca