A Lot of Nervernby Jane GreerrnNo More Bottomrnhy Richard MoorernAlexandria, Virginia: Orchises Press;rn75 pp., $10.00rnThe Investigatorrnby Richard MoorernBrownsville, Oregon: Story Line Press;rn220 pp., $18.95rnThe Rule That Liberates: Newrnand Pubhshed Essaysrnby Richard MoorernVermillion, South Dakota:rnThe University of South Dakota Press;rn124 pp., $10.95rnIt was an editor’s dream: poems of thisrncaliber, unsolicited and unexpected,rnin mv post office box. The verse wasrnassertive, muscular, practiced but neverrnunsurprising. Who was this man?rnEveryone else knew, it seemed.rnRichard Moore’s poems and essays hadrnbeen widely published for more than 15rnyears before the publication of his firstrnbook in 1971. He has appeared in mostrnof the major periodicals that accept essaysrnand poetry, and he still loves smallrnjournals. Eberhart, Nemerov, Wilbur,rnKennedy—these are the poets who willinglvrnwrite “blurbs” for the backs of hisrnbooks. Richard Moore is the real item.rnMoore’s most recent publication. ThernRule That Liberates: New and PublishedrnEssays (1994), should be used as a text inrnany serious poetics class. Three yearsrnago, Moore published a paperback bookrnof rollicking short poems. No More Bottom,rnand his first novel. The Investigator.rnMoore is brainy, but No More Bottom isrnwitty, bawdy, brief, and ironic. Some ofrnthe offerings seem to have no purposernbut to vent his spleen delightfully; others,rnsuch as “In Winter,” are much deeperrnthan they are long, and fairiy representativernof Moore’s most thoughtful,rnsustained work:rnA wife and children gone, onerngrievesrnand watches storm-tortured trees,rnhale,rnflexible, whipping in the gale.rnThey manage. They have shedrntheir leaves.rnThe Investigator, Moore’s first publishedrnnovel, is an “investigation” of thernodd Bromlev family—adult siblingsrnClara, Edward, and Archibald. Now,rnmany of us poets secretly feel that wernhave a novel in us, and not all of thatrnfeeling is due to wistfulness at the notorietyrnand wealth of successful novelists.rnHowever, what poets care most about,rngenerally speaking—sound, immediaterneffect, metaphor—and what novelistsrncare about—telling a story that gets fromrn”here” to “there,” developing charactersrn—are so different as to prevent mostrnwriters from doing great things in bothrngenres. Perhaps Moore will be the exceptionrnto the rule—but not yet. At anyrnrate, this is a competent first novel.rnThe next best thing to readingrnMoore’s poetry is reading him talkingrnabout poetry. The Rule That Liberatesrnis comprised of nine essays publishedrnbetween 1982 and the present. (“Poetryrnand Madness” appeared in Chronicles inrnOctober 1991.) In his preface, RichardrnWilbur writes:rnThough he can spend a fine essayrnhovering between the formal meritsrnof Erost and Williams, andrnbeing fair to both, Richard Moorernfinally comes down on the side ofrnmeter and rhyme, and would havernmost poets arm themselves withrnthose things if they want to bernprecise and strong and “transcendrntheir ordinary perceptions.”rnMoore is also one of the smallrnelite of writers who can discussrnsuch weapons—meters, rhymes,rnstanzas, traditional forms—withrnauthority and without putting onernto sleep. As a critic, however,rnMoore seems quite unarmed, savernby his intelligence and learning,rnhis experience as a writer, hisrnunfeigned enjoyment of letters,rnand his straightforwardness.rnThe sixth essay—”Of Eorm, Closedrnand Open: With Glances at Frost andrnWilliams”—informs the rest (which allrnconcern poetry) and is not a bad guidernfor life on earth, either. Moore describesrnthe depth and breadth of a Frost poem,rnits many accomplishments cradled in arnmere 14 lines, and asks:rnSo how did it come about that hernmanaged to [accomplish all this]rnin this poem? The answer to thatrnquestion, I think, is (or can be)rnsurprisingly simple: the poem is arnsonnet. Its primary commitmentrnis not to any previously discoveredrntruth or to any intentional saying,rnbut to form, to its manner ofrnsaying—whatever it is saying. AsrnErost himself remarked, he neverrneven asked what a poem he wasrnworking on was going to mean; allrnhe ever asked was, “How’s itrngoing?” This—and only this—rncommitment: the commitment torntraditional form (“Is it going to berna good sonnet?”)—can drop thernbarriers, the fears, the embarrassments,rnand make a deeper truthrnpossible.rnMoore praises William CarlosrnWilliams’ vast contribution to Englishlanguagernpoetry. Poetry so “withoutrnpretense, natural, unaffected, unartifieial”rnis difficult for some traditionalistsrnand formalists to love, but Moore says wernshould try. In his way, Williams was asrn”pure” in his “metrical devotions” asrnErost—or Milton, for that matter.rnI remember hearing Allen Tate inrnthe late 50’s, fuming about his formerrnstudent Robert Lowell: “Yournjust cain’t like all the people at thernsame time that Cal says he likes.rnYou just cain’t like Robert Erostrnand William Carios Williams atrnthe same time.” It seems to mernthat this is exactly what we have tornlearn to do, if we are going to putrnourseles together.rnWe are most free when we accept tradition,rnmost capable of greatness whenrnwe try to meet accepted standards: ofrnwhat it is to be a great mother or father.rnChristian, stockbroker, senator, or poet.rn(And a sonnet is most free when the poetrntries to make a good sonnet-as-sonnet.)rnOnce we accept the framework, werncan attempt to enlarge the boundaries.rnBut not until then. And then, not onlyrnwill we be free to be unique, it will be ourrnduty, under “the rule that liberates.”rnSaint Francis of Assisi and Saint ThomasrnAquinas. Andrew Wyeth and Giotto.rnGerard Manlev Hopkins and e.e. cummings.rnOpposites, and tradition set themrnfree.rnMuch is compressed into this shortrnbook. In “Milton, Satan, and Now,”rnMoore discusses the modern ambitionrn30/CHRONICLESrnrnrn