Honor Moore

Honor Moore’s first collection of poems, Memoir, was published in 1988 to critical acclaim. Equally lauded for her work as a playwright and biographer, she is the editor of The New Women’s Theatre: Ten Plays by Contemporary American Women, and author of Mourning Pictures, a verse play, and The White Blackbird, a “biography with traces of memoir” of her grandmother, the painter Margarett Sargent. Moore has held distinguished positions in poetry and theatrical writing at James Madison University, New York University, and the University of Iowa. She is the recipient of a N.E.A. Creative Writing Fellowship, and the Judy Grahn Award for The White Blackbird, which was also a finalist for the Lamda Literary Award. Moore’s much-anticipated second poetry collection, Darling, explores painters and painting, love and sex. In addition to bringing to life the works of painters like Degas, Darling expresses, both explicitly and implicitly, a great range of sexual and romantic experience, including lesbian love in middle age, and fearlessly takes on sensitive topics such as date rape, AIDS, and abortion at Yale in the 1960s. “We are in the presence of a poet to be praised not only for the eloquence and musicality of her voice,” writes Carolyn Forché, “but also for the courage of her moral engagement. [This] is not only beautiful work, it is brave.”

Poetry Center Reading:

Spring 1999

Cut Outs

Since we do this on the telephone, you don’t
see the daily face, cereal, fresh juice,
my eyes when you cut out leaving your voice
behind, the falling child whose breath won’t
come. When I come to, I have become want
the colors of those snipped triangles loose
on the floor after they cut out the house
and two big figures. The depth of the want,
they keep saying, is from the past: hot
oatmeal, a pitcher of cream from the cows
nuzzling in that oval cut from silver,
juice blazing orange, a child’s cries not
heeded. But this is the present: How
to stay close, up against that old scissor.

From MEMOIR (Chicory Blue Press, 1998)

Portrait of Manet’s Wife

his painting of Suzanne Leenhoff (Mrs. Edward Manet)
         in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

He kept scraping the paint from the canvas
After all those years of looking, he simply
couldn’t see her face

clearly, and so he abandoned the work,
leaving it in its present incomplete
state. Yet what is is clear

is the feeling, the almost cavernous
passion his blear of stripped canvas catches,
suspends for us, which

is how my stippled memory holds, then
blanks you. It is perhaps a consequence
of love I can’t hold

all of you in one frame of remembering.
Each memory scrapes another free
so that all I feel

undulates beneath an image of you
which changes as if you, not memory,
had consequences

of color and light. Or perhaps he’d lost
the love which could move his imagination
to complete her, and

could not find in he play of memory
a face as true as the naked nubble his
scalpel left three times.

From MEMOIR (Chicory Blue Press, 1998)

To Janet, On Galileo

Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo Havermeyer Hall at Columbia, 1978

In the play about the first telescope, a man notes
through Galileo’s strange tube a moon’s edge
not precise or sharp, but irregular, serrated.

We face each other, two women friends, a small
table. Mouth ached to a smile, you begin: the balance-
job, marriage, writing-it’s stopped working. Passion

of discovery: Brecht argues such a passion is true
reason. You contemplate leaving a man. I
have left a man. A Hungarian restaurant. Sun

not earth is center. Galileo argues
Copernicus. Priests argue heaven, Ptolemy,
crystal spheres that never move, refuse to look

through the telescope. A man weeping. I cannot touch
him. To comfort would keep me here. You speak of
leaving, feel abandoned. Fork lifted: Perhaps I am

insatiable. Perhaps no one can love me
enough. Chicken paprikash, red cabbage, red wine. Gold
light of April evening. Young women, young arms

Wreathing young men, whisper near university walls.
Janet, women like us are caught in history,
a diaspora. A Leonard Woolf taking care is

not enough. We are not willing to forfeit
passion of love to have passion of work: We want both.
A man’s blunt body on blue sheets. Sweetness of

years. I leave, go on more alone. Yesterday we talked
until night. Maybe it’s time to part, is what
we came to. Janet, when I knew I had to leave the

house where we’d lived seven years, I cried every
morning. If there were a child, perhaps I could not have
left. Unrestricted inquiry, they warn him,

is dangerous for mankind. Galileo, obsessed,
keeps eye to glass, night, Jupiter’s four moons, hears
no warning. If I leave, will anyone else ever

love me? Janet, I was in bed with my new
love kissing when I saw us: sweet Sunday, him, me
seven years younger walking near the blue

river way downtown. Late lunch in a bar, blue sky fall
vivid. I couldn’t stop crying until I
reached the telephone, called. I don’t know if I cried for

the loss of him, for the loss of a me who
could live with him, or for the loss of what I didn’t
know we’d lost until that night I walked through snow

with someone else. Ice air acme in me like freezing breath,
stars bristled a black sky, my mind knew I must
get our. A student in the presence of his mentor:

Galileo, old, blind, silenced. The young man
asks, “have you truly recanted?” “Yes, I have seen their
instruments of torture, and my body fears

pain.” Janet, I keep seeing a woman forty-one
stop painting: sanatoriums, shock, drugs; her
daughter, after nine children, begins to write: cancer,

dead at fifty. I am her daughter. Yes, my
body fears. Galileo at the telescope: Three
moons near Jupiter! I’ve proved Copernicus –

heaven moves! Writes his last at night, prisoner, candle-
lit, racing blindness. The young man smuggles it
free. Janet, we must risk our fear, this history. I say

we must be insatiable.. We walk, theatre
into cool night, moon silver in a black sky. Edge not
serrated, but smooth. Perfect as a clear choice.

From MEMOIR (Chicory Blue Press, 1998)