A Missouri native and Bryn Mawr College graduate, Marianne Moore moved to New York City in 1918 and began working at the New York Public Library. She quickly became part of the literary scene of Modernist writers that included William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, and gained a reputation as an important editor and critic while working on the influential literary magazine, The Dial, during the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1935, Moore published Selected Poems, which collected together work that had previously appeared in journals, anthologies, and a few slim volumes published by her friends. The book is characterized by her distinctive use of a technique called "syllabics." While most poets either employ established meters or write free verse, Moore’s poems are built from lines of counted syllables, in patterns that she devised herself. The line breaks, as a result, seem disorienting, or almost random, inside the strict syntax. She often wove quotes and selections from other texts seamlessly into her own work.
Selected Poems includes many of her best-loved poems, including "The Jerboa," "No Swan So Fine," "The Steeple-Jack," and "To a Snail." Also included in the volume, is her famous lyric "Poetry," which begins:
I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Full of animal imagery and details of the natural world, the exactness and precision of these poems earned Moore a reputation for being difficult but rewarding. T. S. Eliot wrote that her book was "part of the body of durable poetry written in our time, in which an original sensibility and an alert intelligence and deep feeling have been engaged in maintaining the life of the English language."