Posts Tagged ‘Moore Moran’

Poet Moore Moran: A death in Ordinary Time

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Moore Moran, Sept. 27, 1931 - Feb. 27, 2011

I received an email from my publisher at Ohio University Press/Swallow Press earlier this week – the poet Moore Moran, known to his friends as Mike, died on February 27.  He was 79.

I had blogged about the Santa Rosa poet here and here. He had published his first full-length book, Firebreaks, in 1999 – it bagged a National Poetry Book Award.  His newest book, The Room Within, was published last year.

“Imagine a poet who could deal with the experience of Jack Kerouac but with too much intelligence to limit himself to the road. You don’t have to imagine him. He exists. He has many skills, all of them beautifully bright, and on occasions when he looks into the abyss they take him safely over it,” said Turner Cassity of Moran’s poems.

But I was startled when I reread the email a few days later and realized I had overlooked that the memorial would not be in Santa Rosa, but nearby, in Menlo Park – where, it turns out, he had graduated from high school before getting two degrees from Stanford.

So I dropped in on Friday afternoon to pay my respects to a poet in the century-old Church of the Nativity.  But it was not a poet who was being honored so much as  “husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, father-in-law, friend, poet,” according to the program.

He was much loved.  About 150-200 friends and family came to the mass, with bluegrass guitar and bass fiddle performers Dennis and Ehlert Lassen singing “Amazing Grace” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”  Not necessarily what one would expect from the poems, with their bleak, spare mystery.

Surprisingly, everyone looked like they had come for the same event – the men were all in jackets and ties, and the women in somber suits and dresses. Banished were all traces of “California casual,” where some people look as if they had wandered in from the garden or the beach or a cocktail party.  Nor did there seem to be any poets on hand from the “Yvor Winters Circle” – but then, the room was crowded and I was in a back corner, and this was a very quiet death, after all.

The priest, referred to only as “Father Davenport,” recalled that Moore Moran, despite disability, was “always smiling” and “a good man.”

His son, businessman Mike Moran, said, “I never stopped amazing my dad, and my dad never stopped amazing me.”  The son, to put it mildly, was not a poet or lit freak.

His father taught the kids Latin and music, as well as Yvor Winters, John Steinbeck, and J.D. Salinger.  He was “an encyclopedia of jokes,” recalled his son.  And, in fact, the program included his poem “Just Joking,” written on his 51st birthday, when he had “maybe a third of a tank left”:

…the bewildered heart in us which,
Year by year, measuring our slim attainments
With mounting despair, still feeds
In its recesses some faint hope, despite
The certain knowledge that what it hopes for
Cannot change the tide…

“He was often lost in afterthought,” said his son.  “I’m certainly no poet, but I came to appreciate my father’s poetry.” He recalled the children’s hesitancy to have their father correct their writing, because “then we’d go back for another hour of writing.”

But sometimes dad came in handy.  Moran Jr. recalled a long discussion his father launched when the son was having trouble “getting” Chaucer‘s Canterbury Tales.  The next day in class,  Moran Jr. performed the usual duck-and-hide with averted gaze, to avoid the teacher targeting him with a question.  The teacher targeted him anyway.

Thanks to his dad’s monologue, the so-so student poured forth with a reply “at a depth and level far beyond what my teacher had.”

The class was “absolutely stunned.  The whole room was silent,” he recalled.

“I was bumped up to AP English,” he said, and paused for only an instant. “That lasted about four days.”

On Moran’s memorial page at, David Sanders wrote: “A gentleman and a fine poet. It was an honor to edit and publish his last book.”

“Just Joking,” with its rambling style is nice, but my favorite Moran poems are quick and cryptic – like this one:

Ordinary Time in the Pews

Church of the Nativity, Menlo Park

Ordinary days again.
Advent, Pentecost are past;
who now will accept our sins,
raise the dust in which we’re cast?

Cold the God flesh on the tree,
banned the crèche to attic murk,
sheer the silence after prayer.
Nothing seems at all to work.

Yet we try and try again
serving Him we hardly know:
honk if you love Jesus, friend,
beeping blessings as we go.

Here we meet who, somehow, must
rescue meaning from the dust,
where betrayal’s kiss presents
our best hope of relevance.

PostscriptPatrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence has added a lovely tribute here.  “Earth only will find him cold.”

Postscript on 3/7: Looking online for others who remember Moore Moran, I found this mini-memoir from Peter Robinson.

Notes from the Sierra Nevada wilderness

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The rocks of Yuba River

California is parched and yellow in late August, before the rains begin – but away from the coasts,  the dryness becomes dire.  Inevitable wildfires are seasonal guests in the famed “Gold Country.”

I am driving through the manzanita, scrub pine, live oak, and dry brush of the fire-scarred Sierra Nevada foothills en route to a stepson’s wedding.

A journey that only a dozen years ago would have been accompanied by a lapful of maps is instead guided by a handful of google printouts and “Eunice,” the Australian-voiced GPS in my daughter’s ancient Toyota.  Eunice won out against google with her reassuring voice, and by promising the shortest route – though, as it turned out, not the quickest.  Eventually, Eunice steered us through Woodland, Marysville, and Downieville, winding along Highway 49 over Bullard’s Bar, the dam where the current wildfire blazes after devouring 1,300 acres.  The smell of smoke (“like salami,” said my daughter) penetrates the car and, in places, fogs the landscape.

Sardine Lake and the Sierras

The moon is huge, heavy, and low on the horizon, a golden half-melon.  The chill takes even the August air by the time you reach 5,000 feet.  For my daughter, this is home.  Now, a city-dweller, she is nostalgic, but can’t envision the place as a campground.  She’d rather, if she were inclined that way, go to Oregon’s redwoods, rather than these “gross pines and scrub.”

We encounter no one on our travels, speeding through the darkness towards Sardine Lake.  “We are in the center of nowhere,” she says, as we drive deeper into the night, past the deserted Coyote Café, North Yuba Trail, and signs that advertise sales for “Aged Steer manure.”  We see a jackrabbit and a gray fox ambling across the street at midnight.

Life in the Sierra Nevada

Welcome to California

I do not like the country.  I lived here for a decade —  and fled for my home three times in the face of approaching walls of flame.  The granite walls along the highways are striking, but more than offset tonight by the bugs hitting the windshield, and the possibility (not having checked beforehand) that these orange warning signs we are passing will yield to closed roads and detours unforeseen by Eunice.  This very California landscape overwhelmed Czesław Miłosz, also, and he chastised its spokesman, Robinson Jeffers, who viewed humanity as a blight on a more-perfect natural world.  Miłosz wrote:

Better to carve suns and moons on the joints of crosses
as was done in my district. To birches and firs
give feminine names. To implore protection
against the mute and treacherous might
than to proclaim, as you did, an inhuman thing.

The moon moves as we round the winding curves — it goes under and over mountains again and again, digging out the hills with its golden shovel.

What I miss most about living in these hills is the quality of silence, that enters you, that deepens into still pools within you.  The solitude that troubles my daughter (reminding her of the opening scene of a horror flick, where someone horrible jumps out of the bushes), refreshes me.

All this was meant to be a lead-in to another California poet,  Moore Moran, and his poem on the Gold Country, “Outside Truckee.” But driving through the night, thinking of Miłosz’s alienation from the California landscape that has entered me, that entered him, too, I find I am drawn instead to Moran’s poem on the facing page, “Star Dust,” which concludes:

Yearn is another term for breathing.
Hostage, we live on cruising wheels,
eye ever quick, need ever seething,
rejections linger … unrung bells.

We trust our immortality
To sex, its produce and its scars,
and so persists the roundelay,
This dance of dust among the stars.

Don’t look for him in Wikipedia

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

In an era when most prominent poets seem to have a protected perch in academia, Moore Moran is rather refreshing.  Moran, one of the lesser known students of Yvor Winters, left Stanford and entered the advertising world as a copywriter and later creative director.  He lives in Santa Rosa, and has raised four daughters and a son — all the while writing poetry for the last half-century or so.  He’s managed to avoid even a Wikipedia entry.

Nevertheless, his first full-length book, Firebreaks, won the National Poetry Book Award in 1999.  His newest book, The Room Within, was published this month.

It rather startles that Moran’s name was entirely unknown to me.  For awhile, I had made a point of writing about the generally unheralded Yvor Winters/J.V. Cunningham group of poets, which included Thom Gunn, Edgar Bowers, and many others in the so-called “Stanford School of Poets” (I say “so-called,” because they dodge any grouping).  Moran and I have a number of mutual friends — Timothy Murphy for one.  The accolades on the back of the book include a few others who have been mentioned on these cyberspace pages:

“Imagine a poet who could deal with the experience of Jack Kerouac but with too much intelligence to limit himself to the road. You don’t have to imagine him. He exists. He has many skills, all of them beautifully bright, and on occasions when he looks into the abyss they take him safely over it”  — Turner Cassity (my article here — Book Haven post here)

“Moore Moran writes out of a wide range of experience in both traditional and experimental verse. Reading his work is a joy for the reader seeking a mature and sensitive mind.” — Helen Pinkerton (my article here)

And an important voice from my own alma mater, X.J. Kennedy, chimed in, too: “Moore Moran knows how poems should be made, and a great many of his poems score resounding victories.”

I haven’t had much time to go over the book thoughtfully.  But there is much that is striking and fine, and a good deal can be found online —  “Ordinary Time in the Pews,” for example.

The title poem will be top-rated for many readers, I think, but I favor this one, edged in spare mystery:

Holy Thursday

Tonight I ask You in to help me mourn.
You who help whom you please,
don’t leave me just with these–
a loincloth, timber, nail and scarlet thorn.

I‘m what I earn to think, not think I am.
Nor love, wisdom or art
sustains the baffled heart,
and fact contains no holy anagram.

Be more, Lord, than my hope, Your innocence.
Reason has never known
how to live with its own
immaculate, hard-hearted arguments.