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This review is taken from PN Review 121, Volume 24 Number 5, May - June 1998.

'OUR SAINT - IF WE HAD ONE' The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore edited by Bonnie Costello with Celeste Goodridge and Cristanne Miller (Knopf) $35

With this selection of the letters of Marianne Moore (1887-1972), Bonnie Costello and her collaborators have winnowed to one volume the poet's extensive correspondence of some thirty thousand surviving missives. Though she wrote fewer than George Bernard Shaw, who by his editor's estimate dashed off in the neighbourhood of two hundred and fifty thousand communiqués, the number and general length of Moore's letters will impress many a present-day litterateur whose own correspondence might comprise, at best, a slim edition of collected e-mails. Beginning here in 1905, when Moore was attending Bryn Mawr College, the volume extends to 1969, the year of her disabling stroke (and three years before her death in New York City). Moore's dispatches contain her almost daily - and often more than thrice-daily - concourse with a world that she both delighted in and, to a fair extent, retreated from, favouring instead the genial privacy of life with her mother, for whom she was a perennial companion.

While Moore became during her lifetime a much-loved public figure, as a poet she continues to suffer from what might be called, in the parlance of public relations firms, an image problem. Though by no means as damaging as the infamy that beset Moore's champion and good friend Ezra Pound, Moore's late fame as a baseballloving, zoo-going magazine personality and a correspondent of the Ford Motor Company has taken its toll on the poetry in a way that her work is particularly susceptible to. Her poems' almost ...

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