Holding on Upside Down

Holding on Upside Down

The Life and Work of Marianne Moore

Book - 2013
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A mesmerizing and essential biography of the modernist poet Marianne Moore The Marianne Moore that survives in the popular imagination is dignified, white-haired, and demure in her tricorne hat; she lives with her mother until the latter?s death; she maintains meaningful friendships with fellow poets but never marries or falls in love. Linda Leavell?s Holding On Upside Down?the first biography of this major American poet written with the support of the Moore estate?delves beneath the surface of this calcified image to reveal a passionate, canny woman caught between genuine devotion to her mother and an irrepressible desire for personal autonomy and freedom. Her many poems about survival are not just quirky nature studies but acts of survival themselves. Not only did the young poet join the Greenwich Village artists and writers who wanted to overthrow all her mother?s pieties but she also won their admiration for the radical originality of her language and the technical proficiency of her verse. After her mother?s death thirty years later, the aging recluse transformed herself, against all expectations, into a charismatic performer and beloved celebrity. She won virtually every literary prize available to her and was widely hailed as America?s greatest living poet. Elegantly written, meticulously researched, critically acute, and psychologically nuanced, Holding On Upside Down provides at last the biography that this major poet and complex personality deserves.
Publisher: New York :, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,, 2013.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780374107291
Characteristics: xxi, 455 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Alternative Title: Life and work of Marianne Moore


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2014 Plutarch Award for Best Biography- Winner

ChristchurchLib Feb 19, 2014

"A portrait of the modernist poet, written with the support of the Moore estate, goes beyond popularised depictions to reveal her passionate and canny nature as well as her struggles between her devotion to family and desire for freedom, providing coverage of her Greenwich Village artist influences and her later-in-life personal transformation." Biography and Memoir February 2014 newsletter http://www.libraryaware.com/996/NewsletterIssues/ViewIssue/0e887225-0b8a-4fa1-a3f4-f7a1eba4ffe0?postId=0eb00fdc-2a64-4083-8ac8-384add517db0

ksoles Feb 01, 2014

As a self-professed Marianne Moore geek (I wrote my Master's thesis on her poetry), I excitedly and impatiently awaited the release of Linda Leavell's new book for months. And, happily, it did not disappoint. Indeed, Leavell's revealing, respectful biography paints an absorbing picture of of a poet whose work H.D. once likened to “light flashed from a very fine steel blade”.

From a cache of 35,000 letters, Leavell uncovers the Moore family's unorthodox dynamic: Marianne never knew her father as he left after a breakdown manifesting itself in religious mania. Marianne and her older brother, Warner, were raised by their mother, Mary, and her lesbian partner, who both encouraged Marianne to attend the progressive women’s college Bryn Mawr. When Marianne returned home, she never left again, spending 37 years living with her mother.

From puberty onwards, Marianne's family referred to her as “he”. The family also shared their own secret language, naming each other after characters in "The Wind in the Willows." Mary opposed of her children finding partners, perhaps because of her own wretched experience of marriage. She disallowed Marianne from full-time work, believing her too frail. In their Greenwich Village apartment, Mary cooked in the bathroom and the family ate meals sitting on the bathtub. Nevertheless, Marianne always saw her home as the ideal cradle for her creativity. When her mother died, Marianne was nearly 60 yet admitted that she "did not feel grown up enough to look after herself."

While editing America’s leading cultural magazine, "The Dial," in the Twenties, she championed Gertrude Stein and Wallace Stevens. She famously took on Elizabeth Bishop as her protégé and both T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound professed their admiration for her. In her sixties (wearing a black cape and tricorne hat), she was trumpeted as America’s greatest living poet and was photographed by Cecil Beaton for "Vogue." She appeared in commercials and on "The Tonight Show." At 80, she threw the first pitch at Yankee stadium.

"Holding On Upside Down" amalgamates a wealth of material with great tact and conviction. Leavell gently paints the depth of love and understanding between Marianne and her mother and argues that, though Mary might not have done her motherly duty of helping her daughter make the leap into adulthood, her devoted ministrations enabled Marianne to see the world through words. She insightfully labels Moore's poetry as an act of survival. Ultimately, Moore thrived within her filial constraints, saw self-discipline as freedom and recognized that she was “hindered to succeed”.


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