Lorine Niedecker

biography and poems
 
 
 
NIEDECKER, Lorine (1903-70), was bom and died in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, living much of her adult life in a small cabin on Black Hawk Island on Lake Koshkonong, Wisconsin.  An active correspondent with numerous poets such as Louis *Zukofsky, Cid *Corman, and William Carlos *Williams, all of whom both influenced and praised her work, she lived an essentially isolated life, one which appealed to both her affinity for nature and her innate shyness.  From her earliest work on, Zukofsky was an encouraging mentor, and his notions of objectivity and sincerity as elaborated in his 
essay "An Objective" in Poetry magazine (193 1), were extremely important to her.  A keen reader, her interests lay in history, the natural sciences, and pre-Socratic philosophy, subjects fiiu of resonance for her, which informed both the content and shape of her poetry.

      Niedecker is an American miniaturist; in this, her work bears some comparison with the short poems of Robert *Creeley or the terseness of J. V. *Cunningham.  Her natural register is the epigrammatic mode, one which renders a life or a landscape as though it were composed of a series of small, intense moments.  Her mode of construction, something she obviously took from Zukofsky, airns for fidelity to the musical phrase, the leading of sound syllables, and the sense of closure afforded by rhyme-schemes and metrical attentiveness.  By such a method she invests with a satisfying density and selfcontainment what might ordinarily escape into ephemerality.  The consequent musical completeness and condensation in the poems transforms what could easily have become effusions into something like the workings of a scientist or botanist.  Whether commenting on the life of Audubon or Thomas Jefferson or on the often deeply painful events of her own life, she exhibits a rigorous detachment, all the more moving for its precision and lack of self-indulgence.

     The two most useful collections of Niedecker's work are From This Condensery: The Complete Writings of Lorine Niedecker, ed.  Robert Bertolf (Highlands, NC, 1985) and The Granite Pail: The Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker, ed.  Cid Corman (Berkeley, Calif, 1985).  See also Tmck 16, ed.  David Wilk (1975) and Michael Heller's Conviction's Net of branches: Essays on the Objectivist Poets and Poetry (I 985).
 
 
***The photo is taken from The online site for this 1998 Poetry Exhibit created and is hosted by Books.com.
***This biography is taken from Oxford Companion to 20th-Century Poetry, edited by Ian Hamilton (Oxford: Oxford
      UP, 1994). 




There's a better shine
on the pendulum
than is on my hair
and many's the time
.
I've seen it there.
 
 



The wild and wavy event
now chintz at the window

was revolution . . .
Adams

to Miss Abigail Smith:
You have faults

You hang your head down
like a bulrush

you read, you write, you think
but I drink Madeira

to you
and you cross your Leggs

while sitting.
(Later:)

How are the children?
If in danger run to the woods.

Evergreen o evergreen
how faithful are your branches
 
 



In the great snowfall before the bomb
colored yule tree lights
windows, the only glow for contemplation
along this road

I worked the print shop
right down among em
the folk from whom all poetry flows
and dreadfully much else.

I was Blondie
I carried my bundles of hog, feeder price price lists down by Larry the Lug,
I'd never get anywhere
because I'd never had suction,
pull, you know, favor, drag
well-oiled protection.

I heard their rehashed radio barbs-
more barbarous among hirelings
as higher-ups grow more corrupt.
But what vitality!  The women hold jobs-
clean house, cook, raise children, bowl
and go to church.

What would they say if they knew
I sit for two months on six lines
of poetry?
 
 
 



Poet's work

Grandfather
 advised me:
  Learn a trade

I learned
 to sit at desk
 and condense

No layoff
from this
 condensery
 
 



Popcorn-can cover
screwed to the wall
over a hole
      so the cold
can't mouse in
 
 



Some float off on chocolate bars
and some on drink

Harmless, happy, soft of heart

This bottle may breed
a new race
                  no war
and let birds live

Myself, I gripped my melting container
the night I heard the wild
wet rat, muskrat
grind his frogs and mice
the other side of a thin
door in the flood
 



Remember my little granite pail?
The handle of it was blue.
Think what's got away in my life-
Was enough to carry me thru
 
 



Sorrow moves in wide waves,
 it passes, lets us be.
It uses us, we use it,
it's blind while we see.

Consciousness is illimitable,
too good to forsake
tho what we feel be misery
 and we know will break.

Old Mother turns blue and from us,
 "Don't let my head drop to the earth.
I'm blind and deaf." Death from the heart,
 a thimble in her purse.

"It's a long day since last night.
Give me space.  I need
floors.  Wash the floors, Lorine!
Wash clothes!  Weed!
 
 
 



 
You are my friend-
you bring me peaches
and the high bush cranberry
             you carry
my fishpole

you water my worms.
you patch my boot
with your mending, kit
       nothing in it
but my hand
 
 
 



He lived¡XChildhood summers
 thru bare feet
then years of money's lack
 and heat

beside the river-out of flood
 came his wood, dog,
woman, lost her, daughter
 prologue

to planting trees.  He buried carp
 beneath the rose
where grass-still
 the marsh rail goes.

To bankers on high land
  he opened his wine tank.
He wished his only daughter
  to work in the bank

but he'd given her a source
  to sustain her
a weedy speech,
  a marshy retainer.
 
 



What a woman!¡Xhooks men like rugs,
clips as she hooks, prefers old wool, but all
childlike, lost, houseowning or pensioned men
her prey.  She covets the gold in her husband's teeth.
She'd sell dirt, she'd sell your eyes fried in deep grief.
 


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