TIME’S WEB: POEMS BY RUTH MOORE, Blackberry Books, Nobleboro, Maine, 2010; 84 pages, trade paperback, $13.95.
How you would ever establish working criteria for identifying an “authentic Maine voice,” the lord only knows. No one figured it out a few decades ago when there was some Maine-scale bickering about it. But like Socrates and the boys who could not define the virtues but knew them when they saw them, most of us would be likely to agree that a touchstone Maine voice belonged to Ruth Moore. Come to think of it, maybe she was a touchstone for literary virtue, too, but that’s a different problem.
Ruth Moore, who died in 1989, is best known for her novels about coastal Maine, written mostly in the 1940s through ’70s and treating in generous-spirited ways the virtues and lack thereof of people living fairly simply off the radar of the summer rich. Possibly most of us would agree that the literary virtue of these books is in their integrity to the basics of human character and fidelity to the circumstances at hand, meaning largely those of the mid-20th century, roughly before the upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s changed things forever, for better and worse. I’m thinking of books such as “The Fire Balloon,” “Spoonhandle” and “The Walk Down Main Street,” which Blackberry Books nobly made available again in recent decades, among others.
Blackberry also this year reissued “Time’s Web,” the collection of verse first published in 1972. These poems offer snapshots in verse of voices and sensibilities such as those that populate the novels. “The Ghost of Phebe Bunker,” “Time to Go” and “Overheard in a Bar” offer straight-up narrative, dialogue and monologue, fully in character. There are rhetorical echoes of Moore’s Pulitzer Prize-winning predecessor, R.P.T. Coffin, in poems such as “The Mountain of Snow”:
New England, in my blood and in my bone,
Recall to me my flinty heritage —
Daisy and everlasting, saxifrage,
The slow, reluctant blooming out of stone.
To my mind, this is a clear, natural, if somewhat formal voice from the midcentury, which is the way of her prose as well.
Most of these poems are too long to fit on your BlackBerry screen, but this little book could draw a 21st century reader far enough into the relentless authenticity of Ruth Moore’s depiction of our actual (not virtual) whereabouts that you might get interested enough to read one or two of her Blackberry-issued paperbacks. Who knows. The publisher’s persistence in keeping Moore’s work alive certainly does it justice.
“Time’s Web” is available from Blackberry Books, 617 East Neck Road, Nobleboro 04555, or through amazon.com.