Saturday, December 19, 2009


"That all of us may write better"
Gatekeeping, the Literary Establishment, and Marianne Moore as Editor of The Dial

By Kristina Marie Darling

While known for her contribution to Modernist poetry, Marianne Moore also participated in this aesthetic revolution in the arts through her role as editor of The Dial. From 1925 to 1929, she selected writings for publication, commissioned works of criticism and art, and suggested revisions, in many cases substantial ones, to such writers as Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Although critics often depict the literary world of the 1910s and 1920s as a predominantly masculine one, in which female artists and writers were taken less seriously than their male contemporaries, Marianne Moore remained one of an increasing number of female editors of small, experimental magazines during this time period. Like her editorial colleagues, she frequently served as a gatekeeper between male authors of Modernist texts and the audiences that they hoped to reach. Exemplified by Moore's professional relationship with poet Ezra Pound, this newfound role for women as gatekeepers of the literary establishment afforded a unique form of self-expression, which remained largely unavailable to women of this time period seeking to be literary artists. Evidenced by her declining works by Pound, engaging with others from a revisionist perspective, and commissioning writings from him to advance her own magazine's standing, Marianne Moore's exchanges with this well-known literary figure reveal The Dial as an expression of her own personal aesthetic and views on poetry, which often served a mediating function between such writers as Pound and the literary community.

Although previous scholars such as Cristanne Miller have illuminated the ways women like Marianne Moore served as the infrastructure behind Modernist art and literature, few have looked at how their privileged position of literary gatekeeper affected the texts themselves. Such works as Miller's "Marianne Moore and the Women Modernizing New York" and "Cultures of Modernism: Marianne Moore, Mina Loy, Else Lasker-Schüler. Gender and Literary Community in New York and Berlin" do, however, offer useful strategies for such analysis. The articles, although proffering women's editorial work as merely a point of entry to a more public role as opposed to a legitimate form of self expression, offer a mixture of literary and historical analysis, which serves to situate texts within the literary marketplace of the period. This paper will build on these types of previous scholarly endeavors, using this hybrid approach to examine the ways the literary marketplace at a particular historical moment allowed female editors to shape the Modernist cannon. Such an approach reveals editorial work as a point of entry to both public life through the arts and letters as well as artistic fulfillment. Indeed, a literary and historical analysis of this topic suggests that Moore remained one of many female editors who, rather than serving as a receptacle for male artistic achievement as some scholars have suggested, played an active role in the creation and dissemination of Modernist texts.

Firstly, for early twentieth-century women, the role of literary gatekeeper and mediator remained a fairly novel and at times contentious one. Although a small number of nineteenth century female editors, such as Sarah Josepha Hale of Godey's Lady's Book, preceded Modernist women like Marianne Moore, these later editors of small, experimental publications often found a much greater range of opportunities for editorial work than their nineteenth century counterparts. As Patricia Okker argues in her book, Our Sister Editors, the notion of authorship and editorship as being full-fledged professions remained relatively new to nineteenth-century audiences. Okker writes that "As many scholars have demonstrated, throughout the 1820s most writers, editors, and publishers accepted the ideal of the scholarly gentleman, thus equating literary pursuits with leisure activities" (85). Additionally, as Okker implies, Hale and other female editors remained exceptions within a predominantly masculine field. The notion of editorship as a legitimate profession, particularly for women, remains the result of several intersecting social changes during the early twentieth century, including increasingly public roles for women as well as a decreased interest among men in such gate-keeping roles within the literary community. As Cristanne Miller writes in her article "Marianne Moore and the Women Modernizing New York," "...Pound was not alone among his male peers in wanting the intellectual authority and recognition attached to editorship without having to deal with the mundane responsibilities of production, correspondence, and running magazine offices..." (345). Although, as Miller suggests, many male writers like Pound often sought intellectual control of such publications, women like Moore used this lack of interest among men in the mundane aspects of cultural production to their advantage, forging unique artistic visions through their choice of writings, the revisions they requested, and the works they commissioned.

In doing so, Moore developed a distinct vision of the roles of both editors and artists in the literary community, an idea that she expressed through her work at The Dial. She perceived publishers of poetry as perpetuating a specific conversation between writers, a point of view that she discussed openly with her contemporaries before encountering Pound professionally. As Suzanne Wintsch Churchill argues in her book The little magazine Others and the renovation of modern American poetry, Moore coined the term "conversity" to describe her vision of poetics, which exists as a continual artistic exchange between a writer and the literary influences he or she encounters. Churchill writes, for example, in describing the concept, "In a poetics of 'conversity,' poetic identity--like personal identity--is a continual, dynamic, and interactive process, rather than a finished thing" (137). For Moore, magazines like The Dial served as a forum by which these series of literary and artistic exchanges could be accessed by an appreciative audience of readers and writers. Throughout her work as an editor, the literary "conversity" that Moore had established was characterized by her own avant-garde aesthetic, but one that, unlike the works of many Modernist writers who sent their work for consideration, matched the traditions of the magazine and the readers to whom it was marketed. After her editorship at The Dial, Moore staunchly defended her decisions to exclude some writers from this literary conversation, arguing that such choices remained rooted in her allegiance to a larger community and vision. She writes in her essay "The Dial: A Retrospective" that ", previous victims of mind have to dread from me, as pre-empting the privilege of the last word, nothing more than the solicitude that all of us may write better" (214). Such unapologetic statements establish Moore as finding this role of gatekeeper to the literary establishment as being not a service to the writers being published, but rather an expression of her particular vision of the relationship between poet and publisher, reader and editor, and, lastly, editor and literary community.

This mode of publishing, in which small magazines served as a forum for a more specialized, and often more avant-garde, group of readers and contributors, remained increasingly commonplace as the Modernist period progressed. Indeed, a variety of intersecting social changes enabled not only more writers to take part in these small magazines, but offered an expanded readership as well. As Joan Shelley Rubin argues in her book Song of Ourselves: The Uses of Poetry in America, the publishing industry and its audience remained in a process of rapid expansion during the nineteen twenties and thirties, leading to an overall democratization of literary life. Rubin writes, "The boom in production in the 1920s matched the overall patterns in the book industry, which benefited from several socioeconomic factors--among them a higher standard of living for the middle class, increased leisure time, and larger numbers of high school and college graduates anxious to present themselves as well-read individuals. The emergence in the postwar years of a new wave of young publishers, along with book clubs and other agencies for the popularization of the humanities, likewise contributed to the growth in literary markets" (78). In other words, a transformed socioeconomic landscape rendered the literary world accessible to new social groups, particularly a rising educated middle class. As these changes took place, the small literary magazine emerged as the new standard, as opposed to externally funded or university sponsored magazines. As Ira Bruce Nadel writes in The Cambridge Introduction to Ezra Pound, "Another measure of the new energy of modernism was the rise of the little magazine which provided a public, as well as international, face for the movement, although a modest one. No longer were institutionalized nineteenth-century periodicals like the Edinburgh Review and the Westminster Review or Fraser's determining cultural values or tastes" (23). In short, this democratization of both education and publishing resources mentioned in Rubin's article allowed for this proliferation of avant-garde periodicals, which frequently served as forums for much more esoteric exchanges of literary ideas than nineteenth century publications like the Edinburgh Review and the Westminster Review. The appearance of publications like The Dial, then, reflected both the new opportunities emerging for experimental writers and the vestiges of older publishing models, in which acceptance and distribution by a cultural gatekeeper served to legitimize a given text in the eyes of a literary community.

It was in this literary atmosphere that Moore first encountered Pound's writings during her association with the journal in the early 1920s before becoming editor. As Jayne E. Marek argues in Women Editing Modernism, Pound's work had been repeatedly refused by previous editor Scofield Thayer, who judged his Cantos and other verses to be incompatible with the audience to which The Dial was marketed. For Moore, mending the magazine's relationship with the influential literary figure Ezra Pound remained an opportunity to advance her own publication's standing, but one that must be negotiated with her own editorial goals. Marek writes, for instance, that "Moore had been in sporadic correspondence with Pound for years, ever since his initial inquiry about her work following her submission to the Little Review in 1918, and doubtless felt his contributions would add to the quality of inquiry at The Dial" (154). For Moore, then, publishing Pound's work remained a means by which to expand her readership and garner publicity, rather than existing exclusively as a service to the writer being published, as other scholars have suggested.

Likewise, although Pound remained an influential literary figure of his time, whose name could draw new readers to the publication, aspects of his work remained irreconcilable with Moore's editorial vision for The Dial. Although Moore professed in her correspondence from this period to enjoy the poetry of Ezra Pound on a personal level, she remained conflicted as to whether individual poems from his Cantos would prove accessible to readers. An epic-length poem sequence that remains heavily influenced by Asian thought, Pound's Cantos seemed to Moore at once intriguing and not immediately accessible, at least in an excerpted form, from an editorial standpoint. She explains in a letter to Morton Dauwen Zabel, "More and more I am aware that however well one knows the work of Ezra Pound, it is a re-reading of him chronologically, prose and verse, that unlocks the recent work and seals the uniqueness. I don't know about the wisdom of compressing to the point of concealment, but evidently it is his instinct to muse Chinesely" (306). This double-minded attitude toward Pound's work, read within the context of Moore's vision of publication as being a forum for artistic conversation, suggests a division that existed between personal aesthetic and editorial taste for Moore. Likewise, Pound himself remained aware of this aesthetic chasm between himself and the audience to which The Dial was marketed. As Barbara Probst Solomon argues in America--Meet Modernism!, "...the characteristics that angered Pound and Williams [about The Dial]--its eclecticism, its dilettantism--were the very qualities that appealed to Dial readers, knowledgeable people who might not have been to Europe and might have been relatively unfamiliar with the work of Pirandello or Proust, Schiele or Vlaminck" (85). Although both Pound and Moore remained aware that aspects of their work remained incompatible, the possibility of Pound's contributions served both his desire for an audience and the editor's desire for legitimacy through recognizable literary contributors.

Moreover, she attempted to bridge the gap between her own professional aesthetic and that of Pound through revisions and editorial suggestions, which became a source of conflict between the two literary figures. As George Bornstein suggests in Representing Modernist Texts, Moore's editorial strategies remained expansive, or, in other words, she often favored elaboration and added text as part of the revisionary process. Pound, as Bornstein also argues, favored the opposite approach. He writes in Representing Modernist Texts, "...for the modernism of the poets was characterized by a commitment to concision. Pound was the foremost spokesperson for this value, though he was not always its foremost practitioner" (126). As Bornstein suggests, this disparity between Pound's and Moore's revision techniques remains characteristic of a larger rift between Pound's aesthetic and Moore's editorial goals. As Churchill suggests, Moore strived for a literary conversation that could be accessed instantaneously, rather than in an author's entire body of work. She explains in The little magazine Others and the renovation of modern American poetry, "Moore's formal experiments...attempt to activate a social self through conversation with others. Her 'poetics of conversity' projects an interactive self-in-process that delights in movement and exchange" (24). Likewise, in letters to contemporaries, Moore frequently depicts Pound's body of work as being innovative but inaccessible (at least in excerpt form) as a process of literary exchange. Moreover, she appreciated the whole of his work as an act of engagement with literary influences, but struggled to find accessible, self-contained excerpt for publication.

Additionally, when examined carefully, many sections of Pound's Cantos echo Moore's view of poetry as a conversation between aesthetic influences, but Pound's "coversity" frequently drew from a fundamentally different literary exchange than many of the other works published in The Dial. As Line Henrikson argues in Ambition and Anxiety: Ezra Pound's Cantos and Derek Walcott's Omeros as Twentieth Century Epics, Pound viewed poetry as a constant process of literary allusion. He describes, for example, an image from Homer's The Odyssey that Pound subsequently appropriates and revises in the Cantos, "In the reappearance of the oar, poetry reveals itself as inherently allusive and formulaic. Through a repetition that is more than just reference, the oar epitomizes the poetic process" (46). Although taking a similar approach as that of Moore, Pound's aesthetic exchanges frequently drew from Christian mysticism, Neo-Platonism, and Confucianism, as opposed to the nineteenth century American and European tradition often referenced in The Dial. This tendency in Pound's work remains especially apparent in such works as "A Pact," in which Pound's speaker discusses his aversion to these type of allusions with which The Dial's audience would be familiar, "I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman--/I have detested you long enough...Let there be commerce between us" (27). In this passage, Pound expresses a desire glean wisdom from writers like Whitman, although recognizing the incompatibility of his aesthetic with his American poetic predecessor. Although reflecting a vision of literary "conversity" rooted in one's literary and aesthetic influences, Pound's poem suggests that he recognized his divergence from familiar nineteenth century writers like Whitman nonetheless.

Moore's revisions of Pound's work frequently entailed both collaboration with the author himself and refusals to publish portions of longer works while printing others, which she deemed more appropriate to The Dial's audience. As Jayne E. Marek argues in Women Editing Modernism, Moore worked diligently to restore the journal's relationship with Pound, but, after she judged this diplomatic maneuvering to be successful, held him to the same editorial standard as other contributors to The Dial. Marek explains, "Once Pound was back in the fold, Moore extended to him the same editorial policies that she did to others, asking for changes where she thought they were needed, refusing certain submissions and saving others for appropriate placement, and...calmly defending her choices" (158). Likewise, although continually assuring Pound that his contributions remained crucial to The Dial and that she remained "predisposed to publish anything" he "might send" to the magazine, Moore often found herself balancing Pound's "valuable" contributions with her editorial aesthetic (Marek 158). Exemplified by Moore's refusal to publish sections of Pound's "Anna Livia Plurabelle" and her rejection of "The City" in its entirety, Moore frequently couched difficult decisions in this type of deferential rhetoric (Marek 158). Although at times his submissions were courteously declined, as Marek writes, "Her mediation directly improved Pound's visibility on the American literary scene during the late 1920s, providing him with an audience and a small but regular income" (159). This visibility, however, remained tempered by Moore's vision of the particular type of literary "conversity" that The Dial should perpetuate.

As a result, the writings that Moore chose from Pound's submissions frequently privileged the accessibility of the artistic process for readers over newness or literary innovation. As Daniel Tiffany argues in his study Radio Corpse: Imagism and the Cryptaesthetic of Ezra Pound, the newness and originality that Ezra Pound strived for in using Imagist technique often resulted in a sense of obscurity on the part of the reader. Moore found that this reaction, elicited by many Modernist poet's use of concrete images to evoke subjective responses, ultimately presented a problem of accessibility to a more general readership. Tiffany writes, for example, in describing this aspect of Imagist poetic technique, "So far, I have addressed the problem of Imagism only in regard to poetics and the peculiar veiling of the Image concept during the course of its critical history. It is essential, however, to identify the poems written by Pound that pertain specifically to the problem of Imagism and to show precisely how these poems negotiate and embody the cryptic properties of the Image" (55). As Tiffany suggests, the "cryptic properties" with which Modernist poets imbued the poetic image remained part of its innovation, but also served to distance readers who, although educated, may have found such stylistic decisions to be obscure. The fact that Moore's editorial revisions frequently privileged added material or explication of the poetic image reflect this marketing concern with respect to Imagist technique.

One might ask, then, why Pound endure these changes and editorial suggestions when his literary celebrity was sought to promote the magazine. For many modernist writers like Pound, publication in these small, experimental magazines remained a necessary form of artistic legitimacy, even after having established an artistic reputation and readership, which Pound also sought to gain through newness and originality. As Kevin J.H. Dettmar and Stephen Watt argue in Marketing Modernisms, in this respect Pound remained acutely aware of this business side to the Modernist movement. They explain that "What Pound meant, however, when he used the term "modern experiment" or "ultra-modern" is best defined by the term avant-garde. Pound's modernism implies experimentation and originality, and finds its natural expression in short-lived journals such as BLAST" (25). Although known for using newness and originality to advance himself in the literary marketplace, it was often these very strategies that kept his work from reaching an audience through publication. Frequently censored, even by experimental publications like the Little Review, for aspects of his writing that proved distasteful to public consumption and Christian morality, such uproar only fueled Pound's marketing strategy. He strived to maintain a delicate balance between legitimacy, which one gains through publication, and the literary celebrity of such aesthetic scandal.

Likewise, Pound viewed such small literary magazines as both a crucial vehicle for his own avant-garde literary views and their perceived legitimacy. As Thomas L. Scott and Melvin J. Friedman argue in their literary and historical study, Pound/The Little Review, this perception is reflected in the famed author's extensive involvement with such journals as not only The Dial but the Little Review and Poetry Magazine as well. Scott and Melvin explain, "Pound's active involvement with such literary magazines and small presses was extensive" (1). As the co-authors also argue, such publications became a berth for not only Pound's work but the writings of others to which he hoped to lend credence in the eyes of the literary community. Scot and Melvin quote Pound as writing, "'I want an 'official organ' (vile phrase)...I want a place where I and T.S. Eliot can appear once a month (or once an issue) and where James Joyce can appear when he likes..." (1). Such writings demonstrate that Pound's need to publish remained rooted in both his desire for an audience and the perception of legitimacy within Modernist literary culture. For authors of this time period, publication in such journals remained a source of not only exposure and income, but of reputation and legacy as well.

Moreover, although Pound often begrudged women like Moore for possessing such cultural authority, he ultimately worked within the early twentieth century systems of cultural production. As Jayne E. Marek argues in Women Editing Modernism, Pound rarely acknowledged the role of the literary "gate-keeper" in shaping the Modernist canon, but used small magazines like The Dial, The Egoist, and The Little Review as a forum for his work and writers he promoted nonetheless. Marek writes, for example, that Pound " no credit to the people who carried out the difficult work of keeping those magazines in operation, whose belief in the vitality of contemporary writing was as strong as Pound's, and whose opinions, efforts, and capital were derided by Pound even as he used them as extensively as possible" (170). As Marek suggests, male writers of the Modernist period frequently perceived such small publications as being merely a vehicle for their own artistic efforts and aesthetic judgments, and rarely recognized their role in shaping Modernism. The necessity to publish, then, precluded such derisions of women's roles as literary "gate-keepers" and cultural producers.

Along these lines, Moore remained acutely aware of Pound's necessity to publish and frequently used it to her advantage, particularly when negotiating this conflict of aesthetics with the business aspects of art. As Catherine E. Paul argues in Poetry in the Museums of Modernism, Moore regarded her role as editor in much the same way as would a curator of a museum, namely in that she strived to appeal to a broad audience while guiding the reader's eye toward an avant-garde aesthetic that valued works like Pound's "Anna Livia Plurabelle" and "Portrait d'une Femme." Paul writes, for example, "Together with her poetic work, I read Moore's editorial contributions to The Dial as the work of a literary curator whose compiling and ordering of other works create a new artistic product in the process" (37). Her critical prose that appeared in The Dial remained one of the main strategies that Moore used to guide her readers eye toward such innovations. Jean Heuving argues that Moore's promotional writings during her editorship of The Dial reflect both her own aesthetic recommendations and a more detached persona, in which she constructs rhetorical distance between her own literary tastes and the subject of the advertisement. Heuving explains in her study of Modernist women, Omissions are not accidents: "As a writer of promotional prose, Moore may appear to be writing as a representative of her culture, but this poetry is actually predicated on her disappearance. Moore, as a woman, can recommend aspects of her culture, but she cannot represent it" (142). As Heuving suggests, Moore skillfully negotiated her own literary tastes with the business of such artistic pursuits.

Approached with these ideas in mind, the body of work that Moore produced as editor of The Dial may be read not as a service to male writers, as other scholars have suggested, but rather a more deliberate statement of the relationship between writer and editor, reader and editor, and editor and literary community. Exemplified by Moore's professional relationship with famed Modernist poet Ezra Pound, in which she served as a mediating force between his aesthetic vision and a larger literary community, her decisions as editor suggests that small press publishing emerged as a unique opportunity for self expression for women of this time period. A careful examination of their professional exchanges reveals both women serving as gatekeepers of the Modernist canon and male writers who remained willing to work within this framework in order to gain readership and legitimacy. All points considered, such a reading of small press publishing in the Modernist period raises questions about traditional assessments of Modernism as a predominantly masculine literary movement, in which women did not play a significant role. Conversely, Moore's professional relationship with Ezra Pound while editor of The Dial suggests that Modernist women editors frequently mediated between literary texts authored by men and the readership that they sought access to through publication in small magazines.

Works Cited
Bornstein, George. Representing Modernist Texts. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.
Churchill, Suzanne Wintsch. The little Magazine Others and the renovation of modern American poetry. New York, NY: Ashgate Publishing, 2006.
Dettmar, Kevin J.H. and Stephen Watt. Marketing Modernisms: Self-Promotion, Canonization, Rereading. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.
Henrikson, Line. Ambition and Anxiety: Ezra Pound's Cantos and Derek Walcott's Omeros as Twentieth Century Epics. New York: Rodopi, 2006.
Heuving, Jean. Omissions are not accidents: Gender in the Art of Marianne Moore. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1992.
Marek, Jayne E. Women Editing Modernism. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995.
Miller, Cristanne. "Marianne Moore and the Women Modernizing New York." Modern Philology. Volume 98, Number 2, 2000. Pages 339-362.
Moore, Marianne. The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore. Eds. Bonnie Costello, Celeste Goodridge, and Cristanne Miller. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 1998.
Nadel, Ira Bruce. The Cambridge Introduction to Ezra Pound. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Okker, Patricia. Our Sister Editors. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008.
Paul, Catherine E. Poetry in the Museums of Modernism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.
Pound, Ezra. Pound/The Little Review: The Letters of Ezra Pound to Margaret Anderson. Eds. Thomas L. Scott and Melvin J. Friedman. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing, 1988.
Pound, Ezra. Selected Poems of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1957.
Rubin, Joan Shelley. Song of Ourselves: The Uses of Poetry in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
Solomon, Barbara Probst. America--Meet Modernism! Women of the Little Magazine Movement. New York, NY: Great Marsh Press, 2003.
Tiffany, Daniel. Radio Corpse: Imagism and the Cryptaesthetic of Ezra Pound. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.


Kristina Marie Darling is a graduate of Washington University. Her poetry criticism appears in issues of The Boston Review, Modern Language Studies, New Letters, The Colorado Review, Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review, and other periodicals. Recent awards include residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Prairie Center of the Arts.


  1. Odd not to mention Harriet Monroe, at least in passing...

  2. A note of appreciation and a small correction: "Anna Livia Plurabelle" is a character in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake as well as the title of an early excerpt from that book; it is not a poem by EP.

  3. Just want to note that I read the whole article with interest. Very good work of recuperation.

    Thank you.