Subject: The not ineffable Julia
Date: Sun, 23 Nov 1997 02:47:11 -0500 (EST)
Seamus Cooney, it is not a fair fight. Julia A. Moore's writing is a broad target when examined without consideration of her geography and her educational background and of nineteenth century tastes. Literary snobbery isn't appropriate toward someone wit h Moore's circumstantial limitations. I think it's amazing that she wrote anything at all. For one thing, she had only a third grade education. For another, she gave birth to about 10 kids. Apparently she was a driven writer for years, even while working her tail off in the wilderness. Maybe a genius could have transcended the environment, but she probably was only a pretty smart woman. The wanna-be singer in the movie Nashville was set up and laughed at by the same kind of people who wax sarcastic in res ponse to Julia Moore's efforts to express herself.
At your Julia A. Moore website you say:
"The author's daringly experimental metrics and rhymes, her avant-garde grammar, the piquancy of her use of proper nouns, and her bold coinages all suggest themselves as topics for exploration. So do her relation to the rich musical culture of her contemp orary America, her politics and views on public events, her eschatological vision, and the mysterious sources of her Weltschmerz. Why, her gnomic "Preface" alone, with its subtle imbrication of the concepts of "truth" and "poetry" and its prescient contri bution to the "death of the author" debate, amply repays the closest explication. Surely there is a rich lode here for young scholar-critics to mine. "
Really, Seamus Cooney, that is a bit much.
Rita J. Stevens
Subject: Re: The not ineffable Julia
Date: Sun, 23 Nov 1997 05:40:57 +0000
From: Seamus Cooney
Well, you're the first person to write to me in defense of Julia Moore! Even several of her relatives who have written seem to take no umbrage. But I'm glad to hear from you.
I think I would make only a couple of points in response. One is to your saying her work should not be "examined without consideration of her geography and her educational background and of nineteenth century tastes". But isn't such "contextualizing" just what I desiderate in the semi-serious passage you quote later? Of course I'm not imagining that such an examination would turn her dross into gold -- are you?
The other point is the general one that "Don't shoot the pianist, he's doing his best" is not generally seen as a valid argument in favor of the artistic merit of the performance.
"Literary snobbery"? It's not snobbery to call a spade a spade, or even a bloody shovel. Waxing "sarcastic in response to Julia Moore's efforts to express herself"? I hope not. I really did, reading all her work, feel a sort of sympathy for her dogged per sistence.
But damn it all, her work is unforgettably -- and hilariously -- awful!
P.S. Would you like me to post your letter, or a fuller message, on the web site? I'd be delighted to start a page of reader comments.
Subject: Shooting the piano player
Date: Sun, 23 Nov 1997 14:04:18 -0500 (EST)
Seamus Cooney, I saw a piece on television once about an idiot savant who played the piano. This young man, if I recall correctly, had only rudimentary speech and he was illiterate, but he could play melodies with more or less the right chords after havin g heard them once. His piano-playing performance was the musical equivalent of Julia Moore's poetry - unsubtle, unrelenting in beat, unvaried in volume. No one would think of judging his performance by artistic standards. I don't think it's appropriate to judge Julia's work that way, either. Both the piano player and Julia did their things despite big-time limitations, and it's a matter of wonder that they did them at all.
I'm not pretending to find artistic merit in Julia's poems, and I'm not saying they're beneath contempt, either. I think that more education and more worldliness might have gone a long way toward improving her ear for incongruity and made her just another folk poet. As such, she wouldn't have attracted the attention she has. She wouldn't be a joke, she'd just be forgotten. But I think the folk poets of America are like the pretty fast runners and the pretty good tailors. Most people can't run fast at all, or make any kind of suit, just as most people can't express themselves in verse. That Julia could do so after a fashion elevates her out of the ordinary, and especially so when regarded in historical context.
I don't think Julia's verse is beneath contempt but I think it is beneath educated people to use Julia's writing as a target for ridicule. Nonetheless, I can understand the temptation.
Rita J. Stevens
Subject: Re: Shooting the piano player
Date: Sun, 23 Nov 1997 14:32:24 +0000
You didn't answer my question about posting your comments on a we b page. Shall I put our little exchange of messages out there for others to see and add to?
Subject: Re: Re: Shooting the piano player
Date: Sun, 23 Nov 1997 16:22:35 -0500 (EST)
Seamus Cooney, sorry that I forgot to answer your web question. By all means post our exchange.
Rita J. Stevens