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RADICAL VERNACULAR Lorine Niedecker and the Poetics of Place

Edited by Elizabeth Willis

Radical Vernacular

Contemporary North American Poetry Series Series Editors Alan Golding, Lynn Keller, and Adalaide Morris

Radical Vernacular Lorine Niedecker and the Poetics of Place edited by eliz abe th w illis

University of Iowa Press  |  Iowa City

University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 52242

Copyright © 2008 by the University of Iowa Press www.uiowapress.org

Printed in the United States of America Design by April Leidig-Higgins No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the

publisher. All reasonable steps have been taken to contact

copyright holders of material used in this book. The publisher would be pleased to make suitable arrangements with any whom it has not been possible to reach.

The University of Iowa Press is a member of Green Press

Initiative and is committed to preserving natural resources. Printed on acid-free paper Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Radical vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the poetics of place / edited by Elizabeth Willis.

  p.  cm. — (Contemporary North American poetry series)

Includes bibliographical references (p.  ) and index. isbn-13: 978-1-58729-698-7 (cloth) isbn-10: 1-58729-698-5 (cloth)

  1. Niedecker, Lorine — Criticism and interpretation.  I. Willis, Elizabeth. ps3527.i6z86  2008

811'.54 — dc22   2008010583 08  09  10  11  12  c  5  4  3  2  1


ix Acknowledgments

xi Abbreviations

xiii Introduction

Natural and Political Histories 3 mich a el dav idson Life by Water: Lorine Niedecker and Critical Regionalism 21 m a ry pina r d Niedecker’s Grammar of Flooding 31 el eni sik el i a nos Life Pops from a Music Box Shaped Like a Gun: Dismemberments and Mendings in Niedecker’s Figures 41 jonath a n sk inner Particular Attention: Lorine Niedecker’s Natural Histories 61 jenn y penberth y Writing Lake Superior

Sounding Process

83 l isa robertson In Phonographic Deep Song: Sounding Niedecker

vi  |  Contents

91 patr ick pr it che t t How to Do Things with Nothing: Lorine Niedecker Sings the Blues 103 r a e a r m a ntrou t Darkinfested 113

el iz a be th robinson Music Becomes Story: Lyric and Narrative Patterning in the Work of Lorine Niedecker


ru th jennison Waking into Ideology: Lorine Niedecker’s Experiments in the Syntax of Consciousness

151 r achel bl au duplessis Lorine Niedecker’s “Paean to Place” and Its Reflective Fusions

Niedecker and Company

183 el io t w einberger Niedecker/Reznikoff 189 gl enna br esl in Lorine Niedecker: The Poet in Her Homeplace 207 a nne wa l dm a n Who Is Sounding? Awakened View, Gaps, Silence, Cage, Niedecker 223 el iz a be th w il l is The Poetics of Affinity: Niedecker, Morris, and the Art of Work

Contents  |  vii

247 pe ter middle ton The British Niedecker 271 pe ter qua rter m a in Take Oil / and Hum: Niedecker/Bunting 285 Selected Bibliography 295 Contributors 299 Index


Several of these essays appeared in different versions in the following publications and are printed here with the gracious permission of their authors and publishers:   Rae Armantrout’s “Darkinfested” also appears in her Collected Prose (San Diego: Singing Horse Press, 2007). An earlier version of Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s essay was published as “Lorine Niedecker’s ‘Paean to Place’ and Its Fusion Poetics” in Contemporary Literature 46.3 (Fall 2005). A similar version of Mary Pinard’s essay was published as “Lorine Niedecker: Environment and a Grammar of Flooding” in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment (Summer 2001). An earlier version of Lisa Robertson’s essay “In Phonographic Deep Song: Sounding Niedecker” was published in The Poetry Project Newsletter No. 198 (February / March 2004). Another version of Anne Waldman’s “Who Is Sounding? Gap, Awakened View, Silence, Cages, Niedecker” appears in Outrider (Albuquerque: La Alamada Press, 2006). Eliot Weinberger’s “Niedecker / Reznikoff ” first appeared in Jacket #30 (July 2006). Elizabeth Willis’s essay “The Poetics of Affinity: Niedecker, Morris, and the Art of Work” was published in Contemporary Literature 46.4 (Winter 2005).   Quotations from Niedecker’s Collected Works appear by kind permission of the University of California Press and the Estate of Lorine Niedecker. My thanks to Cid Corman, Bob Arnold, and Jenny Penberthy for making this possible.   Each of the writers included within this volume originally composed a talk for the Lorine Niedecker Centenary Celebration organized by Woodland Pattern Literary Center in Milwaukee in October 2003. Thanks to Karl Gartung, Anne Kingsbury, Stacy Szymaszek, and the many others involved in organizing and hosting that extraordinary and generative event.   Thanks to Amy Lutzke and Marilla Fuge of the Dwight Foster Public Library and Sue Hartwick of the Hoard Museum in Fort Atkinson, Wis-

x  |  Acknowledgments

consin, for their generous support of Niedecker’s archive in general and of this book in particular. Additional thanks to the Dwight Foster Public Library for permission to print the photographs of Anna Ramsey’s wedding reproduced in Glenna Breslin’s essay.   Thanks to Glenna Breslin for sharing her Niedecker collection, including the other photographs reprinted within her essay.   Thanks to Nancy Kuhl, associate curator of the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Library, for her invaluable advice and assistance.   Thanks to Jonathan Williams and Thomas Meyer for permission to print the cover photograph.   Thanks to Lori Shine and Andrew Joron for their assistance in preparing this manuscript for publication.   Thanks to Peter Gizzi for the continuing conversation of which this work is a part.   Finally, my ongoing gratitude to Jenny Penberthy, my comrade and co-conspirator in this project. Apart from her impeccable textual work on Niedecker and her instrumental role in the Centenary, her intellectual generosity, kind advice, support, assistance, and friendship have been crucial to the making of this volume from start to finish.


Please note the following abbreviations will be used within the essays: CW for Lorine Niedecker’s Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy. NCZ for Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky, 1931–1970, edited by Jenny Penberthy. BYH for “Between Your House and Mine”: The Letters of Lorine Niedecker to Cid Corman, 1960 to 1970, edited by Lisa Pater Faranda. LNWP for Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet, edited by Jenny Penberthy.


Where — or how — should contemporary readers place Lorine Niedecker? Is she a folk poet? A major or minor Objectivist poet? A regionalist? An eco-poet? A working-class socialist poet? An outsider poet? Her work has been described as realist, surrealist, rustic, even in the style of “the old farmland potato.” While Niedecker aspired to the production of an art as sophisticated as Nature, what did she make of her work being described in the jacket copy for T & G: The Collected Poems (1936–1966) as “as faithful and recurrent, as beautiful and homely as my favorite peony bush”? Was this an unintentional slight — or was the blend of humility and audacity implied in such a radical shift in frame precisely the point? James Laughlin’s sense that she chose not “to play the games of poetry politics” expresses an important part of the history of her work’s production and reception — yet one wonders if the repeated reinscription of Niedecker’s marginality will continue to serve her critical readership. Louis Zukofsky included her poems in A Test of Poetry under the folk category, a classification that stuck and that has suited her work to a greater extent as the term has accrued a more nuanced field of reference. The jacket copy on nearly all of Niedecker’s book publications prior to the 2002 Collected Works devotes as much attention to her working-class Wisconsin identity as to her poetics; we are told that Niedecker was isolated, washed hospital floors, lived most of her life in a small cabin, and sewed her own clothes by hand. However well-meaning, such formulations cumulatively construct a portrait of Niedecker as something of an anomalous rural savant. Still, the logic of this situation is deceptively complex; while the impulse to describe her literary work in relation to her life can seem paternalistic, it may also take its lead from the poetry itself. Niedecker was

xiv  |  Introduction

fascinated by the intersection of artists’ lives and their creative output, and her poems speak repeatedly to the constitutive impact of context on literary production — a matter explored in greater detail throughout this volume. The misperception that Niedecker worked in isolation and that her work was unmediated by cultural forces beyond the local has, of course, delayed critical recognition of some properties of her poems more than others  — namely, the extent of their engagement with collage, their attention to the semantic depths of words, the international and transhistorical qualities of their address, the intricacy of their engagement with biography, biology, politics, popular culture, canonical literature, and even a critical sense of regional identity itself. Meanwhile, the compensating impulse to link Niedecker exclusively with international modernism obscures other aspects of her work. Reading Niedecker afresh in relation to this complex network of alliance, relation, and refusal, it is easier to see her work’s increasing relevance to poets of succeeding generations, many of whom are represented within this volume. Niedecker herself was rich with complications: an ambitious poet who chose to live almost entirely outside professional networks; a localist fascinated with Lawrence of Arabia; a Marxist who owned property; a folk mannerist, setting the literary within the equally complex beauty of the commonplace. Wryly celebrating the negative economy of poetic labor, her poems can be strident as well as subtly self-mocking. They often seem to move deeply and laterally at once, code-switching between politics, geology, botany, aesthetics, sociology, and literary history, through wordplay and juxtaposition. Beyond the work of her fellow Objectivists — Louis Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, Carl Rakosi, and George Oppen — Niedecker knew well, and sometimes referenced in her poems, the writing of William Wordsworth, Mary and Percy Shelley, W. B. Yeats, William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and the political and domestic economy of Karl Marx, John Ruskin, William Morris, Thomas Jefferson, and John and Abigail Adams. But where are we to locate Niedecker’s original and idiosyncratic work within American letters? Niedecker traced her poetic beginnings to the discovery of the Objectivist issue of Poetry magazine, guest-edited by Louis Zukofsky and published in February 1931. She immediately wrote

Introduction  |  xv

to Zukofsky, who had been teaching at the nearby University of Wisconsin, and so began their lifelong friendship and correspondence. Soon Niedecker’s poems would appear in Poetry, and she would visit New York where she and Zukofsky would, for a time, become lovers. In 1933 Niedecker returned decisively to Black Hawk Island, much the way Wordsworth, at about the same age, returned to his Lake District in search of the poetry in common speech. Having read the Romantics in her youth, Niedecker was conscious of the historical resonances between landscape and literature, the “traces of living things” imprinted on both. As a teenager, she took books of poetry with her onto Lake Koshkonong, and in the magnificent late poem “Paean to Place” she notes with wonder that “Shelley could steer as he read.” Niedecker lived most of her life in this setting, eventually married again, earned her living by manual and secretarial labor, and wrote well over four hundred pages of poetry, fiction, essays, and plays before she died in 1970. Her association with Objectivism continued throughout her life. Having been linked with other Objectivists during the 1930s, she maintained a vigorous relationship with Zukofsky through letters, poems, and occasional visits. She became friends with Basil Bunting, with whom she shared a sense of the relationship between poetry and landscape and a deep-seated belief in the priority of sound within a poem. Her correspondence with Charles Reznikoff was intermittent but warm. Zukofsky supported her work with major poets and editors, including Ezra Pound, but she remained a marginal figure within Objectivism’s already marginalized ranks. Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Peter Quartermain’s introduction to the recent The Objectivist Nexus emphasizes the looseness of Objectivism as a movement consisting of a group of “persistently underknown and undervalued late-modernist and early contemporary writers” who read and admired each other’s work and who remained in disagreement about the value of Objectivism as a label. Having tenuously established themselves as a recognizable group in the 1930s, these poets, with their leftist political affiliations and explicitly intellectual and working-class concerns, all but disappeared from the public scene throughout the period of World War II nationalism and the red scare that followed. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Objectivism had its brief renaissance. Zukofsky’s A 1-12 appeared in 1959;

xvi  |  Introduction

an edition of Reznikoff’s selected poems and Oppen’s The Materials appeared in 1962; Reznikoff’s Testimony and Zukofsky’s All: the Shorter Poems were published in 1965; and the decade closed with Oppen’s winning the Pulitzer Prize for Of Being Numerous in 1969. This was the period of Niedecker’s renaissance as well. After she remarried and retired in 1963, her poetic production increased dramatically, as did her representation in literary journals and books. Three individual volumes of her work were published in her lifetime: New Goose (in Prairie City, Illinois in 1946), My Friend Tree (in Edinburgh in 1961), and North Central (in London in 1968); and two versions of her collected poems appeared just before her death: T & G (in Highland, North Carolina in 1969) and My Life By Water (in London in 1970). Throughout the 1960s, she maintained a close association and correspondence with Cid Corman, who published her poems in Origin; with Jonathan Williams, editor of Jargon and publisher of T & G; and with Ian Hamilton Finlay, who solicited her poems for publication in the U.K.; and she conducted briefer correspondences with Edward Dahlberg and Clayton Eshleman. Her poems appeared in Robert Creeley’s Black Mountain Review and in the young Clark Coolidge and Michael Palmer’s Joglars. But most of Niedecker’s publications have been posthumous. For years the most readily available edition of her poems was the slim but definitive selection The Granite Pail (1985), which was edited by Cid Corman, published by North Point and recently expanded and reprinted by Gnomon. In 1985, the Jargon Society published From This Condensery, edited by Robert J. Bertholf, which prompted additional attention to Niedecker’s poetry. Jenny Penberthy edited two further editions of Niedecker’s poems, Harpsichord & Salt Fish (in Durham, U.K., in 1991) and the expanded reprint of New Goose (in Berkeley in 2002), while meticulously editing and annotating the comprehensive edition of Niedecker’s Collected Works (2002).1 In adding to, clarifying, and re-organizing Niedecker’s lifework, the latter volume has made possible a more thorough rethinking of Niedecker’s place within American poetry. Apart from her poems, Niedecker’s letters — published in Lisa Pater Faranda’s Between Your House and Mine: The Letters of Lorine Niedecker to Cid Corman 1960 to 1970 (in Durham in 1986) and Penberthy’s Niedecker

Introduction  |  xvii

and the Correspondence with Zukofsky 1931–1970 (in New York in 1993) —  reveal an intense ambition cross-cut with a self-deprecating wit. Niedecker’s correspondence is infused with an indelible sense of herself as a poet, in spite of the frustrations of being underpublished, misinterpreted, and largely overlooked. In 1957, after yet another delay in the production of her eventually aborted manuscript For Paul, she writes to Jonathan Williams: “Poetry is the most important thing in my life but if sometime someone would print it without asking me for any money I’d feel it would be important to someone else also.” As if to cover for her own directness, she goes on to explain, “Then too at the moment I’m involved in hot water heaters for my cottages, in drilling for a flowing well and in job hunting, the last named the greatest nightmare of all even when I find the job.” Like Whitman and Oppen, Niedecker saw poetic subjectivity as vast, shifting, and multiple, a manifestation of geological and biological evolution. Her vocabulary was composed of endlessly recycled local elements —  iron, water, leaf matter, work stoppages, buying habits, vernacular patterns  — and the poet’s job was to record, rephrase, recombine, and condense that phenomenal world into art. She was acutely aware of the interconnectedness of things, persistently mixing the universal with the regional. Even in defining her poetic process in the poem “Poet’s Work,” she would localize Pound’s command that the poet “condense” by translating it into the economy of Wisconsin creameries: “No layoff  /  from this  /  condensery.” To understand Niedecker’s work one must negotiate many such intersections of the local and the global. When considering the long-perceived tension between her Wisconsin roots, her progressive politics, her poetic ambition, and her modernist attention to the processes of making, it is useful to consider that she learned as much about music from her neighbor Aeneas McAllister as she did from Louis Zukofsky, that she had intellectually rich and generative relationships with Gail and Bonnie Roub and other local friends, and that for a significant portion of the population, making one’s own clothes would hardly have been at odds with making one’s own poems. Consider as correlative rather than as contrast the way politics affected Reznikoff, whose entire career was inflected with concerns of home, family history, and the representation of working-class experiences that both were and were not his own, and whose almost ex-

xviii  |  Introduction

clusive engagement with New York City was surely as fiercely regional as Niedecker’s attachment to Black Hawk Island. While the Objectivists shared socialist and communist sympathies in their politics, those sympathies have been historicized in very different ways. In his essay “Misconstruing Niedecker,” Gilbert Sorrentino aptly describes the trap of reading Niedecker’s life as sacrificially counter-literary, absorbed in manual labor rather than aesthetic or ideological choices, while the choices of her city-dwelling compatriots are read as super-literary, stridently political, and steeped in ideological principles. This pattern speaks not only to the bicoastal chauvinism of American cultural history but to the historical tendency to read male poets as acting on ideas and vision while women poets react to life concerns. As Sorrentino urges, it is important not to presume a disconnection between Niedecker’s life, politics, and literary output. Contrary to recent perceptions of America’s blue coasts being separated by a vast red interior, Wisconsin politics were often to the left of New York’s during Niedecker’s life, and she lived between the even bluer districts of Madison and Milwaukee. When Niedecker was growing up, Milwaukee politics were dominated by socialism under the influence of Victor Berger, who worked with Eugene Debs to establish the American Socialist Party and became the first socialist member of Congress in 1911. In the 1930s, it was Wisconsin’s legendary senator “Fighting Bob” La Follette whose progressive legislation to protect the old and unemployed provided a model for President Roosevelt’s Social Security plan. Even in the 1950s, when Wisconsin was more widely known as the home of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Milwaukee was again electing socialists to city office, and it was Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson whose green advocacy throughout the 1960s led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. In terms of her literary context, consider also that Poetry magazine —  then aesthetically progressive under the direction of Harriet Monroe — was based in nearby Chicago, that Ezra Pound’s grandfather came from Chippewa Falls, a town on the banks of yet another Wisconsin tributary of the Mississippi, and that Basil Bunting married a woman from Eau Claire and considered moving to Black Hawk Island to go into business with Niedecker’s father. Consider that among artists of Niedecker’s own gen-

Introduction  |  xix

eration, the filmmakers Orson Welles and Nicholas Ray both came from Wisconsin towns, as did Frank Lloyd Wright, who set up his utopian workshop Taliesin in Spring Green, west of Madison. Consider this region’s tradition of self-taught and “outsider” sculptors and rural landscape artists like Fred Smith, Herman Rusch, and Nick Engelbert. Consider the historical context of Niedecker’s home, down the street from a surviving Native American earthwork intaglio and surrounded by what may be the highest concentration of Native American earthworks on the continent. Consider these facts as troubling the terms center and periphery, and beyond them the constructions of nation, region, and self. I mention these facts to complicate the perception of Niedecker’s life as isolated and to propose that, on the contrary, it was rather extensively peopled and in close proximity to a good many things. If she was far from one nexus of affiliation, she was closer to another, and her sense of poetic territory was flexible in significant ways. She recoiled at being classified as a “regional writer,” asking “What region — London, Wisconsin, New York?” Meaning, of course, is one defined by where one is published, where one lives, or where one’s aesthetic school is based? Is Fort Atkinson more regional than New York or London? If language is constitutive of reality, did it matter that her publisher’s address (London W1) looked as if it belonged in her home state of Wisconsin (WI); that her Thomas Jefferson poems were written in Jefferson County; or that we find William Morris’s aconites blooming in the poems she devoted to Jefferson? Niedecker’s attention to the local also meant integrating it within her reading practice. Her poems sometimes function as glosses to — or conversations with — other writers, reintegrating biographical and historical elements with the literary, and tracing acts of imagination back to their sources in living things, whether it meant acknowledging the metaphorical links between animal and vegetable existence or invoking the lifecontext of another writer as a “source” of her work. Literary sources receive the same treatment as oral text and hearsay in Niedecker’s poems. The title of her 1968 collected poems T & G is a condensation of Lawrence Durrell’s “tenderness and gristle,” and throughout her poems one finds acutely condensed references to the biographies and works of major writers — as in the deceptively simple phrasing of “Who was Mary Shelley?,” with its

xx  |  Introduction

phenomenal attention to the periphery, to what is left out, to what is felt beyond what is known. The ambitious scale of Niedecker’s poetic address is clearest in long works like “Lake Superior” and “Paean to Place” (poems to which two of this volume’s extended essays are devoted) and in “Wintergreen Ridge,” where we witness a transformative movement from mineral to animal, from a fashion reference to a comment on the nature of memory, to the awareness of plants as parts of oneself, to a reference to flower children and social protest, to a comment on rural vs. urban church architecture, to T. S. Eliot, to Henry James, to the Beats, to a murder-dismemberment in Madison, to the Vietnam War, to differences between human and bird grief. The poem becomes a fossil-like record of both individual genius and collective histories. One thinks here of the scale of Reznikoff ’s poetics of witness in Testimony and Holocaust, Oppen’s metaphysics in Of Being Numerous and Primitive, Zukofsky’s attenuation of sound, Pound’s subject rhyme, and Moore’s use of textual collage. Elsewhere, there is the simple beauty of poetic tautology: “If I am fernal, it’s fern country, then . . . ,” where one can hear the infernal hovering between “I” and “fernal,” the dark energy behind creative generation, the primitive self speaking within the fern, the “I” as metaphor in the ancient stroke of self-definition. We find the building of metaphor through the invention of precise verbs —“orioled” and “owled” — poetry infused with the originary power of naming. We find the shock of honesty around which a poem resonates: “I forget my face.” Where would Niedecker tell us to go from here? “Here in the lush wash, you go back to the exuberant source and start over.” With her Collected Works receiving critical attention from a new generation of readers, perhaps that starting over has begun. This volume was conceived in the context of the lively exchanges on contemporary poetics at the Lorine Niedecker Centenary Celebration held in Milwaukee and Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, in October 2003. The event was a testament to lasting readership, to the enduring value of small presses and little magazines, and to the ongoing generosity of the editors and financial sponsors who keep them running. The occasion was marked by Woodland Pattern’s publication of a handwritten facsimile of “Paean

Introduction  |  xxi

to Place” and by the presence of Cid Corman who came to read his poems and talk about his relationship with Niedecker in what would be his last visit to the United States before he died. Talks were presented by poets and critics from major literary centers across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom and by long-time readers and supporters of Niedecker’s work and a few surviving friends. The mayor of Milwaukee spoke at an evening event at the downtown convention center, where readings took place beyond a wall on which appeared a permanent installation of a passage from Niedecker’s “Paean to Place.” The event itself was a stunning manifestation of Niedecker’s own poetics, a broadly international forum of readership suddenly concentrated, intensified, and framed by the local. Fueled in part by the energy of the Niedecker Centenary, this volume presents a range of new readings of her lifework, informed by its engagement with geopolitics, regional identity, sound and information technologies, intertextuality, and literary influence. This volume is also occasioned  — one might even say necessitated — by the still recent publication of the Collected Works, and it is Jenny Penberthy’s work on that volume to which much of the intellectual energy of the Niedecker Centenary was indebted. Apart from correcting errors of previous editions, the new Collected Works (2002) presents for the first time a number of Niedecker’s early works, including two longer poems — “Progression” and the series “Next Year or I fly my rounds, Tempestuous” — poems often referenced by the critics and poets collected here. Building on the small body of Niedecker scholarship — the special issue of Truck magazine edited by David Wilk (1975), The Full Note: Lorine Niedecker edited by Peter Dent (1983), the more comprehensive Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet edited by Jenny Penberthy (1996), and The Objectivist Nexus edited by Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Peter Quartermain (1999) — the present volume extends and updates earlier engagements with ecology, geography, and community. Further, this volume develops areas that have been addressed less extensively, notably Niedecker’s intertextuality, her relation to sound technologies, her poetic methodology, and the politics implicit within her aesthetics. Many of this volume’s essays overlap in their attention to the complex questions of ownership and allegiance, ideology and practice that attend Niedecker’s work. Should Niedecker be read as a late modernist who simply chose to live and work outside of the perceived cultural centers of her

xxii  |  Introduction

time, or was she asserting a radical recalibration of the notion of center and periphery? In either case, how does such a stance affect her poems and/or drive her poetics? What do we owe to her local and international community or to her authorial intentions — and what do we owe to the poetry itself, apart from the poet’s life? How do we read Niedecker’s radicality as extending beyond high modernist aesthetics and leftist politics to a more nuanced consideration of form that includes other senses of the radical, namely, her rootedness in vernacular usage? Each section in this volume tackles a slightly different set of these interrelated concerns in essays that range from relatively short, allusive responses to more extensive critical engagements. The volume opens by addressing Niedecker’s attention to natural and political histories. Building on Niedecker’s fascination with biological taxonomy, each of the essays in this section locates her interest in ecology (as conceived globally) within her attention to local relational patterns. Michael Davidson’s essay on “critical regionalism” defines the critical judgment that informed Niedecker’s own sense of how and where to locate her work — and the ways this location is informed by progressive politics. Mary Pinard reads Niedecker’s poems and letters in the context of Wisconsin flood patterns. Eleni Sikelianos addresses the sound and imagery of the war machine within Niedecker’s poems. Jonathan Skinner places Niedecker’s poetics in dialogue with a broader range of ecological writing. Jenny Penberthy’s essay on the long poem “Lake Superior” shows Niedecker’s research in natural history evolving into poetry. Penberthy’s attention to Niedecker’s compositional method leads us into the volume’s second section, which is devoted to Niedecker’s poetic methodology (particularly as it concerns her interest in sound) and what it says about where we might place her writing in relation to existing literary formations, compositional methods, and generic categories. Lisa Robertson finds Niedecker speaking to nascent sound technologies, especially radio. Patrick Pritchett’s essay interprets Niedecker’s ability to make something out of nothing in the context of an American blues vernacular. Picking up on Pritchett’s discussion of the blues, Rae Armantrout discusses Niedecker’s engagement with states of abjection. Furthering this section’s attention to form, Elizabeth Robinson’s essay emphasizes the occluded

Introduction  |  xxiii

presence of narrative in Niedecker’s poems and its troubling of their lyric surface. Ruth Jennison’s reading of Niedecker’s early surrealist triptychs recontextualizes them in terms of their attention to global ideological and aesthetic patterns, specifically as a voicing of uneven development. Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s essay on Niedecker’s “Paean to Place” carefully assesses the competing demands of surrealism and Objectivism within the poem’s drive to integrate and reflect both its geographical location and its poetic landscape. The volume’s final section of essays places Niedecker in the context of her literary and biographical companions. The essays in this section also reflect back on the first section’s exploration of contextual cues and the second section’s attention to sound and form. Here Eliot Weinberger and Peter Quartermain explore the relation of Niedecker’s work to that of two important Objectivist peers: Reznikoff and Bunting. While Louis Zukofsky is rather underrepresented within this company, this shift in emphasis is a logical development given the prominence of Zukofsky within Niedecker studies to date. Glenna Breslin presents the results of two interviews with local men who knew Niedecker at different stages of her life: her brother-in-law Ernest Hartwig and her friend, neighbor, and erstwhile suitor Aeneas McAllister. Anne Waldman reads Niedecker’s sonic and semantic precision in relation to the gaps and silences of Asian poetics, American pragmatism, and the vanguard aesthetics of John Cage. My essay on Niedecker and William Morris explores her relation to nineteenth-century literary sources, returning us to the discussion of Niedecker’s politics and aesthetics initiated in Davidson’s and Penberthy’s essays. And Peter Middleton contextualizes Niedecker’s British publications in terms of the small press revival of the 1960s. In bringing together a range of new responses from contemporary poets and critics, this volume is intended not only to commemorate Niedecker’s first hundred years but to suggest the continuing relevance of her poetry to present and future readers.


1. Collected Works (CW) is used throughout this book as the source of Niedecker’s stories and poetry, unless otherwise noted.

Natural and Political Histories

Michael Davidson

Life by Water

Lorine Niedecker and Critical Regionalism Critical Regionalism In an oft quoted letter to Cid Corman, Lorine Niedecker complained that papers of hers deposited at the University of Wisconsin had been filed among the regional materials. She asks “[what] region — London, Wisconsin, New York?” (BYH 208). Her impatience at being called a regional poet is understandable, given the term’s association with minor genres and (often gendered) provinciality. Niedecker counters the association by recognizing that she has been equally concerned with the metropole, her poetics framed as much by debates in London and New York as in Black Hawk Island. Like Thoreau’s pond, Niedecker’s Rock River landscape often provides an allegory of events in a more public world. Measuring the sound of canvasbacks, “their blast-off rise  /  from the water,” recording the speech of local townsfolk, or seeing the world through her electric pump gave the poet a lens through which she could see the limits to modernity, its instrumental forms and agendas (“Paean to Place,” CW 263). Such localized perceptions — given further specificity by idiosyncratic lineation, enjambment, and syntactic disjunction — speak not of a lost agrarian past but of a vital, sensate world in which time itself can be rediscovered.

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Recent criticism has taken Niedecker’s cautions about region to heart, recognizing that she has been unfairly categorized as a local colorist whose short, naturalist poems are her major claim to fame. For her first readers, as Gilbert Sorrentino observes, Niedecker “was that astonishing creature, the true pastoral poet, naive amid the glades and rills and humming bees” (LNWP 288).1 She was consigned to a pastoral limbo from which she was unable to escape her role as “bumpkin-savant” (LNWP 289). Peter Nicholls notes that “the beguiling image of the nature-lover recedes in favour of the rigorous stylist testing the limits of language” (LNWP 194). And Richard Caddel feels that her treatment of nature “offer[s] few concessions to anthropocentrism” and that while other naturalist poets write from within a mystical or transcendental aesthetic, Niedecker is able to “root hers in ‘particulars’ — an immediate, local reality, a fusion of past and personal” (LNWP 281, 282). While these correctives to the picture of Niedecker as local-color poet are necessary, I worry that dismissing this aspect of her work might perform for her what it did for women writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — Sarah Orne Jewett, Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather, Kate Chopin — in removing their critical relation to place. Like these earlier writers (and one might include African American writers like Charles Chesnutt, Margaret Walker, or Paul Laurence Dunbar), Niedecker’s use of folk idioms, ballad forms, naturalist lore, nursery rhymes, haiku, and other “minor” genres represents a use of region and vernacular to comment on marginal subject positions in U.S. culture generally.2 Niedecker lived (as she admitted) on the periphery of the literary world and used that vantage to observe what others took to be the center. I would like to reinsert Niedecker’s claim to localism but do so within a critical regionalist framework that links her with her more metropolitan Objectivist colleagues. By analyzing Niedecker through place and locale, we may complicate the cosmopolitanism of Objectivism in specific and modernism in general.3 By speaking of Niedecker’s “critical regionalism,” I am adapting a term from architecture that has been used to describe the role of local, vernacular traditions against more universalized (e.g., neoclassical, corporate modern) alternatives. Regionalism may, of course, reinforce populist, even xenophobic cultural agendas (Southern Agrarians, midwestern nativists), but used as a critical vehicle it can, by its exploitation of the vernacular

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and local, create an alternative to what Kenneth Frampton calls “world culture”: In this regard the practice of Critical Regionalism is contingent upon a process of double mediation. In the first place, it has to “deconstruct” the overall spectrum of world culture which it inevitably inherits; in the second place, it has to achieve, through synthetic contradiction, a manifest critique of universal civilization. (21) At a moment when regional problems (AIDS, environmental pollution, unemployment) are being solved by global solutions, such deconstruction becomes increasingly difficult to imagine. Part of the problem is the entrenched nature of the term “regional” itself, defined as that which exists outside of production, peripheral to the urban economic core. In order to think outside of both a modernist and a globalist frame, it becomes necessary to imagine alternative forms of productivity (material and epistemological) from within the regional, not extrinsic to it. As Cheryl Herr points out, outsiderness must be construed, “not so much as ignorance or uncertainty but rather as a specific, productive social negativity” able to access “previously unseen or inaccessible platforms, of the conjunction of marginality and the accidental, of mutually constructed, chorally articulated interspaces” (2). Understood in terms appropriate to Niedecker, “floating” is not the same thing as doing nothing. By applying critical regionalism to Niedecker, I am not suggesting that her use of hardy plants or tenacious waterfowl represents enduring qualities of life in (or against) modernity — although she is capable of this as well — but rather that her clear-eyed focus on a specific locale permits her a class- and gender-inflected survey of that region she called “North Central,” home to the Fordist assembly line and Joseph McCarthy.4 The poet’s repeated references to her working-class background, her father’s marginal life as a fisherman, her work as a cleaning woman and library worker, her no-nonsense view of women’s condition (“Hatch, patch and scratch,  /  that’s all a woman’s for  /  but I didn’t sink, I sewed and saved  / and now I’m on the second floor”) and marriage (“I married  //  in the world’s black night  /  for warmth”) are all configured around the watery landscape of northern Wisconsin where she spent most of her life (CW 167, 228). Her most common metaphor for the linkage of place and person is “floating,”

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a term that describes the unstable character of material conditions and reflective positions taken toward those conditions, as in “Paean to Place”: O my floating life Do not save love for things Throw things to the flood ruined by the flood Leave the new unbought —  all one in the end —  water (CW 268) This “floating life” tests the limits of novelty in commodity society (“Leave the new unbought”) against the “flood” of nontemporal processes embodied in nature. But the flood is never far removed from a life formed around it. In “Paean to Place,” she makes it clear that her ability to “throw things  /  to the flood” is a product of a specific social background whose class stratification takes on geological features: My life in the leaves and on water My mother and I   born in swale and swamp and sworn to water My father [. . .] seined for carp to be sold that their daughter might go high on land   to learn (261)

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One way to understand this fusion of class, gender, and region is to see it as marking Niedecker’s participation in the Popular Front of the 1930s. Michael Denning has recently called for an expanded concept of the Popular Front to include not only urban intellectuals and partisan novelists, but regional writers like John Steinbeck, Carey McWilliams, Tillie Olsen, and Carlos Bulosan whose emphasis on the rural proletariat, migrant populations, and agricultural labor extends 1930s social formations beyond the industrial working class. What Denning calls “proletarian regionalism” opposed more reactionary versions (Southern Agrarianism and nativist populism) and provided an alternative narrative to the cultural Left written by New York intellectuals. Within this narrative, as Sanora Babb notes, regionalism “was the stinging word used by certain influential New York groups to try to keep writers outside NY in their places” (qtd. Denning 133). Denning also notes that in addition to proletarian regionalism, the Popular Front brought new genres and technologies to the fore, including mass cultural forms such as film, jazz, radio, and photography. Thanks to Jenny Penberthy’s new edition of Niedecker’s Collected Works we can better understand her place in such developments and assess her contribution to the cultural front. In addition to the short, Objectivist lyrics by which Niedecker is best known, she wrote radio plays, surrealist narratives, folk ballads, longer serial poems, short stories, travel guides, and reviews, thus emerging as a far more eclectic writer than previously thought. Her letters to Cid Corman and Louis Zukofsky show a lifelong concern with Left politics and social movements, and although she never identified herself as a feminist, she wrote numerous poems about women’s condition. Moreover, she self-consciously used the upper midwest region as a chronotope through which to understand national and global politics from the end of the Progressive era to the Cold War.

Right Down among ’Em Niedecker’s critical regionalist relationship to the Popular Front can best be seen in poems written between 1935 and 1944 which self-consciously deploy folk idioms and ballad meters.5 Many of these poems appeared in her first book, New Goose, whose title, with its playful invocation of Mother

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Goose, suggests its debts to childhood rhymes and stories. Louis Zukofsky included one of these poems, “There’s a better shine,” in his 1948 A Test of Poetry, noting that folk poetry “does not arise and exist in a vacuum,” but “reflects economic and social status of peoples; their language habits arising out of everyday matter of fact” (99). The New Goose poems were written concurrently with work for the Federal Writer’s Project in its “American Guide Series,” for which Niedecker contributed to Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State. This project reinforced her interest in American history, particularly stories of Great Lakes exploration and white/Native contact, and links her to better known writers of the period — Ralph Ellison, Nelson Algren, John Cheever, Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Walker, and Kenneth Rexroth — all of whom contributed to the series which John Steinbeck called “the most comprehensive account of the United States ever got together” (qtd. Brinkley 18). As Niedecker’s colleague, Vivian Hone, remembers, work on the Wisconsin book concerned more than local history, but was conducted in an atmosphere of Left activism. Talk around the FWP offices often turned to radical politics. “Like many young Americans who saw their own nation foundering, thus looked to Russia as a savior, Lorine was caught up in the web” (LNWP 103). While we know a good deal about the Objectivists’ relationship to the “web” of Left politics of the 1930s — Oppen’s rent relief work, Zukofsky’s translations of Marx in “A-11” or Rakosi’s labor organizing — we know less about Niedecker’s relationship to such contexts. One way to investigate Niedecker’s participation in a Left critical project would be to study her condensation of region and class in her story “Uncle,” originally published in New Directions 2 in 1937. The story’s free indirect narrative and its study of Progressive era politics is reminiscent of John Dos Passos or Sinclair Lewis. “Uncle” is a thinly veiled study of her maternal grandparents, who ran a small resort on Black Hawk Island, and of her father, who in this story becomes their son, John. The owners, Great Uncle Gotlieb and Great Aunt Riecky Beefelbein, establish their shabby genteel proprieties within a climate of Tammany Hall politics: Sometimes on spring election days, her money spent for taxes, she would serve Uncle Gotlieb with the blitz kuchen and soup and water-

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cress and handcheese he loved . . . and she would ride with him to town over the muddy road after the long winter — he had to attend to voting, didn’t he? — an important day for men and they were treated to cigars by those who were running. John [their son] had a poem in his schoolbook about voters by a man named Whittier — She would make it known to Gotlieb that she wanted him to buy her a blouse and a hat, thus making herself dear to him. (CW 309) Niedecker’s witty pun on “dear” conflates the expense of the blouse and hat with the affection their purchase signifies. But there is a darker side to the pun as we shall see. Against this backdrop of taxes, German food, electionday cigars, and genteel poetry by Whittier, Niedecker frames a textured view of midwest immigrant culture during a period of Populist racism and economic uncertainty. Much of the story revolves around John’s attempt to organize a farmer’s co-operative that would liberate the dairy industry from its fealty to the banks and high taxes. The cheese Great Uncle Gotlieb loves is also the commodity that provokes his son John to pursue a political career based on agricultural reform. Niedecker focuses these issues through a description of wealthy cheese makers who visit Gotlieb’s resort in the summer and who implicate Great Uncle Gotlieb in an insidious social ritual of deference and dependency: And it wasn’t long before they had him making merry with them, blowing the foam off their beer mugs splotch on the walls. And they pressed cheese upon him. Perhaps they liked people to whom they could be in debt and surely they liked to have people in debt to them. They took enjoyment in those who owed them something. We love you to stay this way, poor, working for us, they said, we want to be your Patrons. Postponement of the pay might even extend over into next year but then a silk dress would accompany the big check and a silver dollar for Matty and John each. It was just their leisurely, aristocratic social-democracy, perhaps even a kind of aesthetic. They were cultured and didn’t have to think of money. And my Great Uncle was cultured too and couldn’t demand. Really everyone accepted it as policy. The cheese people still held the mortgage on Uncle’s place and

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although it put Gotlieb in embarrassment to have to be a little late with the interest, that’s the way it was in the country. (310) The “aristocratic social-democracy” of these (literally) big cheeses is finessed by an “aesthetic” that implicates Great Aunt and Uncle into a kind of social dependency that permits deferred payment of the bill. Compensation for a summer’s enjoyment is justified by a form of “culture,” which to recognize as such would be vulgar. Gotlieb becomes dear to his patrons, but the cost is dear to his income. The use of free indirect style implicates the narrator’s own childhood perspective in this aesthetic, showing the moment when issues of “policy” and “culture” are normalized within the adult world of Great Aunt and Uncle. Unwilling to settle for such an aesthetic, John pursues his political bid based on a reform ticket and oratorical style reminiscent of Progressive Wisconsin senator “Fighting Bob” La Follette. But the Depression puts an end to his finances — and his political aspirations. On the day that he loses the election, he goes to the river on his family’s property and hears bullfrogs: He’d had them imported a few years before, saw the yellow-heads in the rushes, the little river and the lake, all in a land of slavery, blue heron stands, finish, form, if city folks could see, advanced into summer, took his new stand against the bankers. (329) In this passage we hear John’s internalized political rhetoric combined with Niedecker’s objectivist lyricism (“yellow-heads in the rushes,” “little river and the lake”), suggesting the inextricable connection between political and natural landscape, between the idealism of Progressive rhetoric and minimalist lyricism of Objectivism. By blending John’s political speeches with the female narrator’s reflections, we may see this story as an affectionate, if bittersweet, portrait of Niedecker’s relationship to her own father and the extent to which her voice is formed through his. By framing a historic struggle of big-city entrepreneurs and local farmers in Wisconsin through a single family, Niedecker is able to provide an intimate look at midwest progressivism, the epic of which is Dos Passos’s USA trilogy. When Niedecker came to reflect on the period in which this story was written, it was through a kind of Cold War optic that permitted some dis-

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tance upon her folk interests. We can see how she figured her relation to the proletariat in a poem in the “For Paul” sequence: In the great snowfall before the bomb colored yule tree lights windows, the only 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 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? (CW 142–43) This deceptively simple poem reflects on two forms of labor, manual and aesthetic, that exist in uneasy tension. The poet remembers her nine-tofive job in a print shop during the mid-1940s, “right down among em  /  the folk from whom all poetry flows,” but frames her memory through a history written by the bomb.6 Although Niedecker admires the “vitality” of her co-workers, she marks her distance from them, wondering how women who “hold jobs —  / clean house, cook, raise children” would feel

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about the fact that she sits “two months on six lines  / of poetry.” This aesthetic distance from fellow workers is reinforced by her use of their vernacular — “Larry the Lug,” “higher-ups,” “suction,  / pull, you know, favor, drag” — phrases that suggest a level of workplace competitiveness reinforced by crass mass cultural interests.7 She is cynical about the printers’ “rehashed radio barbs” that seem more corrupt in the stratified environment of the workplace — where “higher-ups grow more corrupt.” Whatever romance of the “folk” Niedecker may have maintained during the 1930s has been qualified by seeing their limits in what sociologists of the 1950s called “mass society.” There are two historical frames for this poem: the pre- or inner-war era (“the great snowfall before the bomb”) and the period of postwar nuclear paranoia. Her retrospective position suggests that the more bucolic moment can no longer be experienced outside the context of global annihilation; there is no more “well-oiled protection” of one sphere from another. The opening lines show Niedecker working in the print shop, speaking the lingo; the last lines represent her labor as a poet whose work is ultimately printed by the same printing process. The poem moves between two modes of poetic production: the workaday world of the print shop and the aesthetic labor of creating the poem.8 The gap between the workaday world of the print shop and the cultural labor of poetry embodies a form of aesthetic alienation that comes from trying to inhabit two forms of materiality, social and aesthetic. In this context, one is reminded of William Carlos Williams’s uncomfortable relationship to his “half-cracked” servant, Elsie, who, as a “pure [product] of America” represents the loss of a “peasant tradition” to commercial desires. In representing class stratification of U.S. society, Niedecker and Williams must invoke an image of themselves as out-of-place, ventriloquizing the other’s voice.9 This is a very different position from partisan writers of the 1930s who represented the heroic proletariat without necessarily implicating themselves or from high modernists like Pound and Eliot for whom class differentiation is achieved by quoting from the classics.10 Niedecker’s poem acknowledges its implication in a printing process in which alienated labor speaks in several voices.

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Where the Arrows . . . Lead Us For Niedecker, human and natural history form a continuum in which to comment on one is to invoke the other. In her notes preparatory to writing her long poem “Lake Superior,” she observes that “the North is one massive, glorious corruption of rock and language. . . . People of all nationalities and color have changed the language, like weather and pressure have changed the rocks” (LNWP 313–14). In her early, surrealist poems, this “glorious corruption of rock and language” is manifest in what she called “synamism,” the formation of new words out of morphemic elements drawn from several sources: “Unrefractory petalbent  / prognosticate  /  halfvent pur­ loined  / adark  / vicissitudes of one-tenth  / steel-tin  /  bluent . . .” (“Canvass,” CW 33).11 Although this was not an idiom that she pursued, synamism embodies Niedecker’s interest in finding a kind of vulcanized language, resistant to unitary semantics yet embodying the almost tectonic pressures of its formation. In later, longer works like “Lake Superior” or “Wintergreen Ridge,” this fusion of language and landscape manifests itself in the adoption of a triadic stepped line and increasingly broken syntax and heavy enjambment, as though lineation itself could embody something of the geology of the region. In these tendencies, the materialization of language represents an attempt to bring the poem as close to the landscape as possible, part of the place itself and not about it. We can see this fusion of language and landscape in the way that Niedecker often condenses syntactic elements, a tendency she shares with Emily Dickinson: In every part of every living thing is stuff that once was rock In blood the minerals of the rock (“Lake Superior,” CW 232) The opening couplet forms a complete sentence, balanced on the copula of the second line. The second couplet parallels the syntax of stanza 1 but eliminates the verb phrase: “In blood [can be found] the minerals [formed from the same stuff] of the rock.” To some extent, the removal of syntactic elements replicates the chemical reduction that the poem describes; just as

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living things are composed of chemicals found in that most inert element  — rock — so those same elements are hidden — like absent verbs — in blood. The Darwinism of the opening couplet (from rock to living things) is reversed in the second (from living things back to rock), a pattern reinforced by the shift from complete clause to sentence fragment.12 Language is not only about stone; it imitates the same forms of organic exchange as elements of nature. Yet this formulation — language as stone — may participate too much in an idealization of language as such. Niedecker recognized that the upper midwest region is a place of great natural beauty that is, nevertheless, marked by human interests and intentions — including her own.13 If she incorporated the landscape, she also understood the dangers of too much identification with it. The subject and title of one of her most important late poems, “Wintergreen Ridge,” exists “Where the arrows  / of the road signs  /  lead us” (CW 247). Those arrows — literal signs marking a trail — suggest the human imprint on the natural landscape, a postlapsarian consciousness of vulnerability in a rapidly industrializing landscape. It turns out that those arrows also point to a historical site of social protest where women “of good wild stock  // stood stolid  /  before machines  /  They stopped bulldozers  / cold” (249–50).14 The historical women who, in 1936, stopped the development of Wintergreen Ridge are like the plants that grow there, “of good wild stock,” and as such are among “Evolution’s wild ones.” The “pretty thing” the women save includes the “insect-eating  / pitcher plant” that traps flies and the ladyslipper whose “electric threads” force the bee to “go out at the rear  / the load on him  / for the next  / flower” (251–52). Such lines deflect traditional associations of femininity with nature and show a more aggressive force that, as Jeffrey Peterson says, “exploits the ambiguous boundary . . . between natural and technological (re)production” (253).15 If poems like “Wintergreen Ridge” celebrate a specific region, they do so by linking two forms of resilience, social and natural, embodied in the poet’s economical language and lineation. Earlier, I described critical regionalism as a use of locale to comment on global forces, placing indigenous peoples, local economies, and nonmetropolitan spaces within the orbit of capitalist production worldwide.

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Cultural geographers have used critical regionalism to describe the selfconscious use of vernacular features to critique modernist universalism and as such have focused on urban spaces and commodity culture. A good deal of this enterprise has studied marginal urban spaces — what Michel Foucault calls “heterotopias” — as offering resistant sites to capitalist production. A poem like “Wintergreen Ridge” offers an alternative view of universalism by focusing on “The Natural” as a category produced within cultural meanings and human projects yet whose complexity and integrity provide a model of non-instrumental growth. The violence of evolution, embodied in the lady-slipper or pitcher plant, is extended to nuclear annihilation; the wildness of landscape is extended to wild women who protest development or to protesting hippies during the anti-war era. Although “Wintergreen Ridge” celebrates a natural space, Niedecker refuses natural consolation. In natural life there is “Nothing supra-rock  / about it  /  simply  /  butterflies  / are quicker  /  than rock” (247). So much for the “spirit of place.” Part of the poem’s resistance can be found in its form. Unlike most of her previous poetry, Niedecker turned, in the mid-1960s, to longer, more open-ended sequences that permitted her a wider range of speculation on matters of human and natural history. In a letter to Gail Roub she referred to this turn to longer forms as “reflective,” and it becomes clear that by extending her poems over several pages Niedecker was also able to become more critical as well. “Wintergreen Ridge” is arranged in ninetyfour tercets, lines staggered in the manner of Williams’s late poems. The absence of punctuation and the extensive use of enjambment create an unstable, constantly shifting semantic field. Speaking of her mother, Niedecker remembers: how she loved   closed gentians she herself so closed   and in this to us peace the stabbing

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pen   friend did it close to the heart pierced the woods   red (autumn?) (252–53) Here, reference to her mother’s detachment (she became deaf later in life) is connected to a verbal attack by someone else.16 The convoluted syntax of “and in this to us peace  /  the stabbing  / pen  /  friend did it,” joins several regions — the peace of the “closed” woods versus the violation of that peace by a letter, the redness of blood and that of autumn colors, mother’s distance and friend’s alienation. The lines, like the woods, are piercing, the “stabbing” pen linked to the psychic pain it caused, absent mother to absent friend, “closed gentians” to dying nature. Phrases become modular, joining with and separating from each other in a constantly circulating mobile. The instability created by enjambment and open punctuation, the confusions of pronouns and antecedents, shifts of tense and voice all contribute to a larger thematics of Cold War disruptions. Although Wintergreen Ridge has been protected from development, it remains vulnerable to a world bent on annihilation: thin to nothing lichens   grind with their acid granite to sand These may survive   the grand blow-up the bomb (253–54) The omnipresence of nuclear catastrophe is embodied by a series of negatives that organize the central part of the poem. Niedecker observes: no pelting of police with flowers no uprooted gaywings bishop’s cup (254)

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Looking at a water lily she reflects on what is not present: I see no space-rocket   launched here   no mind-changing acids eaten   one sort manufactured   as easily as gin in a bathtub (255) I would agree with Lisa Pater Faranda that the speaker’s journey into the interior of the isolated park appears to distance her from “the current of human life” embodied in space-rockets or social protest, but I also see these repeated negatives as signaling the endurance of social forms that, like the arrows on a sign, cannot be dissevered from the natural world (BYH 138, n.2). Reminders of what is absent from Wintergreen Ridge are, of course, reminders of their presence. The detailed botanical descriptions of plants and flowers often resemble Marianne Moore’s catalogues — fits of taxonomic exuberance that satirize the will to evidence. The “pelting of police / with flowers” that in 1967 would remind readers of anti-war protests provides a continuity with the women who protested bulldozers in 1936; the absence of space rockets or LSD reminds readers of space and mind-altering forces that were increasingly changing both rural and urban America. And where religious buildings had once aspired to the sky, they are now imitating plants and animals: as we drive   towards cities the change in church architecture —    now it’s either a hood for a roof pulled down to the ground   and below or a factory-long body

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crawled out from a rise   of black dinosaur-necked blower-beaked smokestack   steeple Murder in the Cathedral’s proportions (255–56) Factories replace churches, churches resemble animals and organic forms. Eliot’s play about Thomas à Becket and the temptation to do “the right deed for the wrong reason” now applies to industrial pollution and waste.17 The physical sanctuary where Becket was assassinated becomes a site where “human parts [are] found /wrapped in newspaper  /  left at the church” (256). We leave a natural habitat, but we see the built environment imitating the organic, seeking as Walter Benjamin said, a dialectical image of some pre-industrial space, the incarnation in a handful of sand. It might seem that Niedecker uses longer poems like “Wintergreen Ridge” to engage with the social activism of the 1960s — and perhaps to engage with younger poets in whose magazines she was beginning to publish (“Wintergreen Ridge” was published in Clayton Eshleman’s Caterpillar). But such poems represent a continuity with the Long Popular Front described by Michael Denning, one that did not die with World War II but which continued well into the 1960s. It is this latter possibility that challenges the totalizing character of literary historical terms like Objectivism and forces us to seek alternative histories of postwar poetry written not around manifestos or schools but around marginal spaces — Charles Olson’s Gloucester, Gwendolyn Brooks’s Brownsville, James Wright’s Dakotas, Cherrie Moraga’s Central Valley. Such alternate histories seem especially important in a globalizing moment when region and locale are threatened with extinction through the integration of systems, political, communicational, and economic. Niedecker’s microscopic look at the resilient flora and fauna of the upper midwest as well as the fishermen and women of Black Hawk Island offers not an isolationist’s remove from national events but a lens to see the impact of those events on a single area.

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1. Penberthy, Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet, 288. All subsequent references to this volume will be abbreviated in text as LNWP. 2. Judith Fetterley and Marjorie Pryse have provided a useful complication of regionalism in their recent book, Writing Out of Place: Regionalism, Women, and American Literary Culture. Although they do not refer to Niedecker, much of what they say about regionalism as critique could be applied to her work. 3. Barrett Watten argues for a critical perspective on region, noting the ways that much of modernism depends on a center/periphery, metropole/margin dyad that reinforces a productivist economy. Using Detroit as his model of a problematic region, Watten shows how opening the “discourse of the modern to questions of region . . . is not simply to insist on a local and occluded history. Or better, it is to bring a local and occluded history, of those who have been placed at the margins of the modern as a source of negativity, directly to an analysis of the dynamics of a modern cultural order” (340). 4. On links between class and gender in Niedecker, see DuPlessis in LNWP, 113–37. 5. Writing to William Carlos Williams in 1970, Niedecker says “I probably show a folk base . . . and that so far as I see it it might actually be my only claim to any difference between most poets and meself ” (qtd. BYH 305–06). 6. Niedecker worked as a stenographer and proofreader at Hoard’s, the printer of Hoard’s Dairyman, between 1944 and 1950 (BYH 309–10). 7. Jane Augustine regards this competitiveness as involving forms of sexual harassment as well: “The suggestion . . . that delivery of some forms of sexual favor — at least flirtation and ‘correct feminine’ behavior, if not more explicit acts — were expected from a woman in this workplace, in return for which she might get a better position and more pay” (LNWP 143). 8. One can see the extent to which Niedecker self-consciously saw her work as a poet in terms of cultural labor in several of her poems: Grandfather advised me: Learn a trade I learned to sit at desk and condense No layoff from this condensery (“Poet’s Work,” CW 194)

20  |  nat ur a l a nd p ol it ic a l hist or ies On the gendered implications of “In the great snowfall . . .” see DuPlessis and Augustine in LNWP. 9. In an unpublished story about her proofreading job, Niedecker writes from the standpoint of a male speaker. Commenting on her narrative position, Niedecker remarks, “I feel queer too as a man.” (From This Condensery 281–84). 10. An exception would be James Agee who, in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, definitely establishes his distance from the proletariat by implicating himself as the narrator of his text. 11. Peter Nicholls speaks of such passages as manifesting a “rebarbative materiality, creating awkward mouthfuls of sound which block the emergence of any compensatory syntactical logic. If there is a strand of meaning to follow here it is mainly determined by etymological connection . . .” (LNWP 202). 12. Consider the following: “I fear this war  /  w ill be long and painful  / and who  /   pursue  / it” (CW 183). Here the conflation of war and war makers is produced by condensing the second part of the compound: “I fear this war / will be long and painful  / and [I fear those] who  /  pursue  /  it.” The increasing enjambment at the end of the poem adds to the condensation of the statement. 13. Jenny Penberthy describes “Wintergreen Ridge” as an interior monologue with a “topography and sequence of events of its own” (NCZ 92). 14. On the public opposition to the women of Bailey’s Harbor who opposed the building of a trailer park in 1936, see J. Peterson, p. 251, n.11. 15. Jeffrey Peterson makes the point that, rather than oppose the “technological with the women who ‘stood stolid,’ Niedecker is claiming its insinuation within our imagination of the natural” (254). To enter nature is not to leave the technological but, rather, to find the machine already in the garden. 16. Jenny Penberthy speculates that the “friend” is Louis Zukofsky who, in later years, became increasingly distant, refusing finally to allow Niedecker to publish an edition of his letters to her (NCZ 98). 17. “The last temptation is the greatest treason:  /  To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” T. S. Eliot (“Murder in the Cathedral,” Complete Poems & Plays 196).

Mary Pinard

Niedecker’s Grammar of Flooding A river is a multi-channeled text that shapes as it is shaped, that preserves as surely as it destroys. In modern history, natural waterways have defined exploration, conquest, and settlement. A river allows for external exploration through estuarial ports, and it creates access to internal waterways through canals, streams, and washes. The inner valleys of some of the greatest alluvial rivers contain the remains of ancestral sites and even ancient cities. A river is thus a shifting repository of memory and identity. A riverine environment is both rich and dangerous. While seasonal and climatic patterns of flooding may be determined, the nature of river flooding is inundation and unpredictability: a wandering defined only by the force of its wash and the transformations it leaves behind. Surprise. Surplus. Resignation. Renewal. For Lorine Niedecker, the riverine world — especially the impact of floods and flooding — is an intrinsic influence, both as a theme and as a shaping force in many of her poems. She spent most of her life living on Black Hawk Island in two small houses, each located on the north bank of Wisconsin’s flood-prone Rock River. Her lifelong landscape was a narrow flood plain. The nearly constant presence in her life of flooding —  whether anticipated, occurring, or remembered — created a complex and ever-changing landscape, or perhaps more precisely, a waterscape, which required imagination, time, and physical labor to maintain. She was no

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stranger to the physically taxing work required of a regular resident of a flood plain, from pre-flood precautions such as diking, sandbagging, battening down objects likely to float away, and even tying a boat to the front porch for post-flood transportation, to the sustained tasks of flood aftermath, including baling, hauling, shoveling, mopping, and disinfecting. Many of these activities — and as often, their interpretation through image, narrative, sound, or metaphor — emerge across her poems and suggest her strong preference for order against chaos. At the same time, however, Niedecker’s writing often shows a surrealist’s appreciation for the usurpations of the flood. She took pleasure in the upended, the strange, the mongrel made from accident. To grasp just how deeply Niedecker was influenced by the river and flooding, it’s essential to map the watery place she called home. She was raised near Fort Atkinson on Black Hawk Island, located at the mouth of the Rock River near where it empties into Lake Koshkonong. The total area of Wisconsin is approximately 56,000 square miles, of which 38,500 miles is the Mississippi River basin. The area of inland lakes is more than 1,400 square miles. Fort Atkinson is located in the Rock-Fox River basin in southeastern Wisconsin. It includes the drainage area of the Rock, Fox, and Des Plaines Rivers, from their headwaters to the Wisconsin-Illinois state line (Holmstrom 4). Hydrologists and geologic engineers from the U.S. Geological Survey have created a number of open-file reports about the magnitude and frequency of floods in this region, data gathered from a number of gaging stations located across the state to record high-water levels. In a thirty-mile radius from Niedecker’s home, there are seven gaging stations. According to the U.S. Geological Survey report filed in 1961 by D. W. Ericson, between the years 1935 and 1956 there were twenty-six floods recorded at the nearest gaging station to Niedecker’s home. They usually occurred in March, but sometimes in April, June, and January. The average peak stage for floods during this twenty-one-year period was six feet, with the smallest in 1942 at 4.16 feet and the highest in 1946 at 8.88 feet. Eleven of the twenty-six floods reached above the six-foot average.

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In general, winters are long and cold in Fort Atkinson, and low winter temperatures create heavy ice cover on most streams. The thickness varies, depending on conditions, but it is not uncommon for ice to extend to two feet in depth. The spring breakup in southern Wisconsin generally starts in late February or early March, and as might be expected, this is the flooding season on the Rock River flood plain. The Niedecker family lived for generations on the banks of the Rock River and, except for a four-year period from 1938–1942 when Lorine moved to Milwaukee, she too lived and walked and wrote along this river, itself a kind of open-ended poem with shifting margins. River life becomes a touchstone for reportage and discussions of poetic form in a number of Niedecker’s letters. Quotidian references in letters she wrote through the 1960s to Cid Corman, and between 1931 and 1970 to Louis Zukofsky, characterize the frequency, force, and impact of flooding in, around, and through her home on the Rock River. With a combination of bemusement, frustration, and resignation, Niedecker often frames these letters with commentary on the river’s behavior and her reactions to it. Here is a sampling from eight letters to Corman: (from May 1962) “Another flood come and gone. This time not in my house. Muskrats grinding their catch just outside my door in the middle of the night — a heavy door with cracks”; (from May 1963) “We have frogs here now and sora rails giggling. No flood this spring, very unnatural”; (from Milwaukee, April 1965) “No flood at home but mud, a soft new driveway. We watched the ice go quietly out of the river (last week end). On one small cake stood a gull, riding backwards. Occasionally a mink walks across the front of the house, on the shore”; (from September 1965) “Torrential rains, water rising at Fort, my husband’s cucumbers & squash swimming. Depend on nothing”; (from October 1965) “The flood is receding a little, renters have moved out of the little place I used to live in leaving me a frightful cleanup job. If only I could be free of the dirty business of property”; (from Madison, where she was visiting Louis Zukofsky and his wife in March 1968) “No flood out home, in fact very dry, worried a bit about possibility of marsh fires”; (from March 1969) “No flood out home but they expect it

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on the Mississippi — Hope happy days flood you in March”; and in one of her last letters to Corman, on March 7, 1970: “I look out and see winter goldfinches (wild canaries). Strange to see greenish yellow in winter. Red wing blackbirds here storming the trees, a noise-storm, and for three days geese going over with their glorious noise. It must mean early spring. No flood expected here. Wish you were coming over this spring” (BYH 33–73). Similarly, Niedecker writes to Zukofsky in April 1960 of the practical as well as aesthetic reconfigurations enacted by flooding: “I waded yesterday all around dislodging big blocks of wood, oil drums, etc. After land comes out, you can’t lift these heavy things but during a flood you just touch them with your little finger and they move. So at least I got ’em off my path to the river and the low parts of my lawn. Mud hens swam right along beside me” (NCZ 261); and in April 1962: “Water on standstill after a storm, now at top of second step from bottom. A man changed his tire on his car under water. All the tin cans in the world floating on my lawn. Otherwise — and a muskrat too close to my porch — all is well” (NCZ 310). There are several wonderfully aural references in these letters to the sensualities of sound and odors amplified by the presence of water everywhere after a flood and the redistribution of trash. In March 1962 she writes: “Thousands of geese make a wilderness in your ear here. Water all over the back land, sunset paints all this calm water with ducks swimming in it. It’s all so nice when the anxiety of a high flood is past — we think, now that the ice is out of river and the rise has been slow, there won’t be nearly as much water as we expected. Hardly expect it on my floor this spring,” and in April 1962: “Frog trills, barred owl’s scary noise, splashes in the water which is still in my backyard — moonlight, O lovely night. I don’t think Venice could be better! Venice has its odors, I’m told, its garbage — so do we — this has been the filthiest little flood for garbage and tin cans.” In a late entry from September 1968, wherein Niedecker writes to Zukofsky regarding what she’s understood from reading some of his poems that were published that same month in Poetry, there’s this: “My special interest was seeing your preoccupation with water, the sea . . . as I’ve just come up out of that (I went thru all the sea words as well as little river ones but had to stick pretty much with the latter — funny thing in this connection: all that

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more or less heavy reading I did last winter on natural history — in the end I used — I’m speaking of Paean to Place — what I had always known anyhow!)” (NCZ 308–54). Perhaps most interestingly, though, are those letters in which she draws comparisons between flooding and her work as a poet. Niedecker’s letter to Corman in February 1962 is just one of several examples of this kind of metaphorical thinking. In the course of praising the spare and accurate imagery in his poems and in the work of another poet and friend, Jonathan Williams, she writes: “You and Jonathan have thrown off the shackles of the sentence and the wide melody. For me the sentence lies in wait — all those prepositions and connectives — like an early spring flood” (BYH 33). From the few lines she selects from Corman’s poems to include in her letter —  haiku-like, imagistic, and simple, rhythmically and sonically — it is clear that by “shackles of the sentence” she means the rational messages the sentence communicates through its subject, predicate, prepositions and, as Niedecker terms them, “connectives,” or conjunctions, those words that connect within a sentence and beyond to build a sequence of sentences into paragraphs. For Niedecker, there is no more apt comparison to the sentence — that accretion of meaning, movement, and melody — than the spring flood: an earlier than expected (therefore surprising in its meaning) overflowing onto land with a covering, an excess, a submerging that is random in its path and potentially dangerous in its power to overwhelm if not to destroy. There is also the implicit loss or obscuration of what the flood and the sentence cover up, revise, reorder, or wash away completely. How does Niedecker say she guards against the rational weight and sway of the sentence? She tells Corman that her follow-up feeling to these grammatical threats “has always been condense, condense” (BYH 33). Indeed she developed a technical aesthetic that appears at least in part to have grown out of her direct experience of the river and its seasonal tendencies, one that resulted in her characteristically honed lineation and stanzaic shaping. A very early example of Niedecker’s condensing impulses, inspired both by her Objectivist aesthetics and by her firsthand experiences with rivers, appears in “Next Year or I fly my rounds, Tempestuous,” a twenty-sevensection poem found by Jenny Penberthy among miscellaneous items she

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was exploring in the Zukofsky Collection in Austin, Texas (CW 41–67). Handwritten on 5 ½ x 4 ¾ inch pieces of slightly translucent paper and pasted over each original entry on a 1935 bi-monthly pocket calendar, Niedecker’s brief, suggestive, often mystifying poems are formally shaped by the narrow slips of paper on which they appear and through which one can detect the faint impression of the original text underneath. This revisionary setting makes the poem and its disposition river-like: that is, shaped but not limited by its form, just as the river is quite literally made (and one could argue unmade) as it flows; simultaneously revealing, by virtue of its translucence, and covering, as its current and volume affect the surface over which it moves. A poem from Niedecker’s 1946 collection, New Goose, shows the continued impact of river flooding on her sense of form. Near the end of the collection is an untitled, four-stanza, thirteen-line poem that alternates between two distinct points of view: one of a distanced yet knowing voice nonetheless familiar with the watery world of the poem, and the other of a lamenting woman, wife and mother, who claims in the wrenching last stanza that she’s wasted her life in this place. The poem begins: Well, spring overflows the land, floods floor, pump, wash machine of the woman moored to this low shore by deafness. And ends: I’ve wasted my whole life in water. My man’s got nothing but leaky boats. My daughter, writer, sits and floats. (CW 107) Here is a poem suffused with the river as its main focus and technically inspired by it in a range of ways: the river is figured in the language, modeled in the shifting indention of stanzas as well as in their shape-shifting through varying points of view, line lengths, grammatical sentence constructions (there are complex and simple sentences, as well as cause and effect constructions), not to mention the variety in sound and rhythmic patterns achieved through consonance, assonance, anaphora, enjambment, and end-stopped lines.

Mary Pinard  |  27

There are several other poems from this period and through the late 1950s that feature the complexities of the river: “Ash wood, willow, close to shore” (CW 93); “The brown muskrat, noiseless” (CW 109); “Sorrow moves in wide waves” (CW 148); “My father said ‘I remember’ ” (CW 154); “She grew where every spring” (CW 166); and “Along the river” (CW 168). This small sampling captures the thematic range, sonic precision, and technical innovation Niedecker filters from her riparian habitat and brings to bear in her poetry. Still, one of her late poems offers perhaps the purest distillation of the river and its myriad influences in her work. “My Life by Water,” published in 1968 in North Central, is a loosely autobiographical poem condensed to twenty-seven sparse lines. A stream of impressions captured in nine three-line stanzas, it appears to be carved yet it dangles its compact stanzas down the page, like a series of porous rooms spilling into and out of each other the images, sounds, and pauses of the poem. Adding to the sense of unleashed flow is the poem’s lack of punctuation (save for three dashes) and the wave-like indentions that accrete white space as each line shifts farther and farther away from the margin, only to be brought back to that margin at the beginning of the next stanza. It offers glimpses of the speaker’s knowledge and experience of living close to or by water — the flora and fauna, the sounds, the environs, including the shore, boats, and the drifting motion of the water — but it can also be read as a fluid map of the speaker’s own creation “by water,” as if she had been conceived, indeed parented, by water. Here are the first three stanzas of the poem: My life by water —  Hear spring’s first frog or board out on the cold ground giving (CW 237)

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As in many of her other water-related poems, the flood is invoked as a subject through its effect or aftermath. But the flood is also present as poetic form, or the poet’s resistance to excess, the unplanned, the unpredictable. The poem is tightly controlled, sonically rich but narrow in its range of sounds, yet also free from the restrictions of punctuation and wily in its disruption of regular sentence structure through lineation and stanza breaks, offsetting the processes of restriction and flow, constriction and release. The last line of the first stanza through the third stanza allude directly to a flood: “Hear  //  spring’s  /  first frog  /  or board  //  out on the cold  /  ground  /  giving.” It’s spring in the poem, a time when frequent flooding occurs. The speaker directs the reader to “Hear” the sounds of spring, including the first frog and the “board” — or that wooden plank used to cover muddy areas to provide a dry, sturdy passage over soft, unsafe, and cold ground — which would give both in terms of its flexibility to absorb force or strain and in terms of what it can give to those needing to move, repair, or rebuild. The next two stanzas describe the disruptive effects of the flood’s surplus: “Muskrats  /  gnawing  /  doors  //  to wild green  /  arts and letters  /  Rabbits,” an overflowing that rearranges behaviors and creates new opportunities for everything from the muskrat to “arts and letters,” which appears rather surprisingly at the exact mid-point of the poem, situated between “wild green” and “Rabbits.” For this speaker, the world according to water is inclusive, merging art, nature, and the poet’s life. The poem ends with a kind of meditation on boats, and it is significant that there are two of them. These are the boats of this speaker’s life and suggest a refuge — and for two, an acknowledgment of companionship, some form of community — as well as a mode of locomotion, and certainly an escape from the deluge: One boat two —  pointed toward my shore thru birdstart wingdrip weed-drift

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of the soft and serious —  Water (CW 237–38) The speaker claims ownership of the shore, or that space that borders, separates, distinguishes between what is water and what is land: “my shore” also implies this boundary or surrounding land is a part of the speaker —  as if she were a river or some body of water herself. Again, in an autobiographical poem, this nuance is significant, and prepares the reader for the final, one-word line: “Water,” capitalized, as if to begin a new sentence, but dangling, suspended, and in intriguing ways, sandbagged by white space. Compare this poem with another from roughly the same period and with a similar subject matter, “Paean to Place,” which dates from August 1969. This 205-line poetic sequence moves through a vertical archipelago of five-line, haiku-like stanzas whose irregular indentions lap margins across ten pages of text. Both poems are highly autobiographical, with the earlier and much shorter of the two presenting a life “by water,” that is, lived in its vicinity and conceived through its properties. And while “Paean to Place” offers much more detail about Niedecker’s parents, grandparents, more distant relatives, and her life as a writer (“the solitary plover,” “O my floating life”), it is through the remarkable compression and condensation in “My Life by Water” that the rhythms of Niedecker’s life by water are underscored for the reader. Throughout her work, Niedecker captures with extraordinary economy the vastness and particularity of the river’s powers of renewal and regeneration. Springtime’s wide water yield but the field will return (CW 184) In sinewy, spatially-modulated lines she at once protects and liberates this untitled poem from the limitations of the flooding sentence — that is, all

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that is implied by its narrativity, exposition, its very connection to the mainstream. Niedecker’s most characteristic poems inhabit the page architecturally, as if she meant to build pure, essential structures that hang in space, in tribute to and in defiance of the floods that shaped her life.

Eleni Sikelianos

Life Pops from a Music Box Shaped Like a Gun Dismemberments and Mendings in Niedecker’s Figures

“Poetry if anything has a sense for everything,” wrote Louis Zukofsky in his essay “Poetry,” which begins by noting his son Paul’s first words, “Go billy go billy go billy go ba,” spoken three months before the atomic bomb was used that “ended the Second World War” (Prepositions+ 3). Lorine Niedecker, possessed of one of the most distinctive senses “for everything,” quietly recorded the presence of things that fly through the air and explode in the body and mind. Many of us may not have noticed the disjunctures of a world gone to war in Niedecker’s poems because we were dazzled by other elements, such as the deft handling of phano- and melopoeia, her silence, her geohistory, her sora rails. Among the many things it has given us, Jenny Penberthy’s labor on the Collected Works has afforded a new window onto this poet whose consciousness must have been invaded at nearly every stage of her life by either the rumblings of war or the aftermath of war. Indeed, Niedecker was eleven at the outbreak of the Great War, a young teen when the United States entered that conflict, and in her early thirties at the start of World War II; she saw the rise of the Cold War, and she died before the United States pulled its troops from Vietnam. Radios

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and newspapers carried reports of deaths, dismemberment, the horror of the atom bomb, and the constant ghost-like smash-us-all-to-smithereens tensions of the Cold War. Her poems are haunted by the news. A re-reading of Niedecker, allowed us by the Collected Works, reveals a poet who might aptly be called political. Although she certainly wrote poems that deal with autobiography and interior states, the limits of such subjects were apparent to her; as she writes in “Progression,” “unto  /  the one constriction: what am I and why not” (CW 31). Even those poems that speak from the first person tend to offer a collectivized “I,” expressing something overheard or imagined in someone else’s voice. Just as the poems are haunted by headlines, politics, and war, they are also haunted by the accents around her. This, too, might be seen as a worldview. Niedecker’s poems are testament to a mind keenly interested in the relational and in particular, the political, environmental, and social aspects of the world. “New Goose” — a project long associated with the warm tones of folk-speech, due to poems with lines like “Remember my little granite pail?  /  The handle of it was blue” or “The museum man!  /  I wish he’d take Pa’s spitbox!” — takes on an entirely different tone when read in its entirety (The Granite Pail 7, 8). While the series was in part the result of Niedecker’s deep explorations of local speech habits, many of the “New Goose” poems left out of Cid Corman’s 1985 edition of The Granite Pail are about the world being torn asunder, affording a broader sense of the poet’s engagements. The series, written between 1936 and 1945, is rife with references to war, death, dismemberment, Nazism, and the bombing of London during the Blitz. Themes of war (and class) are suddenly obvious with poems like “Bombings”: You could go to the Underground’s platform for a three half-penny tube fare; safe vaults of the Bank of England you couldn’t go there. The sheltered slept under eiderdown,

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Lady Diana and the Lord himself in apartments deep in the ground. (CW 92) One of the stunning poems left out of Corman’s selection again brings the war home in just five lines: They came at a pace to go to war. They came to more: a leg brought back to a face. (CW 102) Here Niedecker is attentive to what bombs do to a body — tear it to shreds. The condensation of the last two lines, the severed leg “brought back  /  to a face” — a reference perhaps to the mental image or even photograph of a dismembered body brought to a mother or lover’s face, or simply to the casual reader of the newspaper headlines — brings us crashing into the domestic, where the war’s aftermath resonates profoundly. The uses of local speech and lore alongside poems of more public concerns might suggest that the uses of local speech were not a geographically limited study but one part in a total view of the world scene in an ongoing practice of reportage. As in “They came at a pace,” many of Niedecker’s poems articulate versions of a world or the body carved into parts. Even in the early poems “Canvass” and “Beyond what,” where each of three columns represents a different state of consciousness, there is a sense of disconnection as the mind splits into parts. Grammar and syntax, too, in poems like “Synamism” (which begins “Berceuse, mediphala  / and the continent. German and therefore unidentified”) playfully thwart connection (36). A number of poems in New Goose and other works written in this period that are not directly about war are haunted by themes of aggression, loss, or folly, pivoting around themes of dismemberment. Poems included in The Granite Pail that may have seemed quaint in that context take on new tones adjacent to war-themed poems. There is, for example, an eerie thoughtrhyme of dismemberment and death between “They came at a pace” and “I said to my head”:

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I said to my head, Write something. It looked me dead in the face. Look around, dear head, you’ve never read of the ground that takes you away. (CW 100) The disjunction between parts of the body and the mind is so extreme that the speaker is looked in the face by her own head. The rhyming of “head” and “dead” forcefully underlines that definitive disembodiment, when the “ground that takes you away” and the head and its thoughts achieve an ultimate alienation from the body. The poem appears to be “about” the self, or at least about a home event — a writer telling herself to write a poem — but it moves with startling alacrity toward death. With “They came at a pace” following just six poems later, it’s hard not to retroactively carry the war and its many casualties into this seemingly personal meditation on mortality. From a later period, the poem “I married” also has a powerful dismemberment image, where the speaker hides with her lover “from the long range guns.  /  We lay leg  / in the cupboard, head  /  in closet.  //  A slit of light  / at no bird dawn — ” (CW 228). The tone of military action invades this domestic scene, dividing the couple’s very limbs until they must live with legs and heads in different rooms. In the 1967 letter to Corman accompanying the poem, Niedecker wrote that the poem had been composed “Just a few minutes ago rather spontaneous from a folk conversation and I suppose some of my own dark forebodings” (BYH 128). We may recall that by 1967 large numbers of American troops were deployed in Vietnam, and that bloody battle was raging on. Although she appears to be somewhat uncomfortable with the first-person subject as a vehicle for dealing with the world’s events (as stated explicitly in the same letter to Corman — “Sorry it is another I poem. My god, I must try to get away from that”), this melding of an interior and exterior world (as here, where the world’s conflict invades home life) establishes a recurring movement that brings disparate parts together into the body of the poem (BYH 128). We see this in various guises everywhere in her work. Her titles “Home  /  World” and T & G (standing for “Tenderness” and “Gristle”) are obvious examples of her conscious interest in re-marrying apparent opposites: the domestic and the political, the folk and the national, the animal and the human, the human

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and the geological. We can see this compulsion to connect elements as a way to deal with a shattered world. In her despair over the world’s disintegration and the split of the once “uncuttable” atom, might she have been after a subtly healing art? History shows a natural spike in atomic themes in literature in 1945 and 1946, and the very first poem that Penberthy shows us in the poems written from 1945–1956 begins: New! Reason explodes. Atomic split (CW 125) The atomic bomb seems to mark a new type of bomb poem in Niedecker’s oeuvre — one that registers a silent aftermath but also offers various forms of reconciliation. In the poem beginning “Lugubre for a child,” there are references to the war which warn a child of the world’s dangers, while the child addressed in the poem is able to convert weaponry into something playful. Lugubre for a child but for you, little one, life pops   from a music box shaped like a gun. Watch! In some flowers a hammer drops down like a piano key’s   and honeybees wear a pollen gown. A hammer, a hummer! A bomber in feathers! Hummingbirds fly   backwards — we eye blurred propellers. Dear fiddler: you’ll carry a counter that sings

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when man sprays   rays on small whirring things. (CW 128–29) There is an uncanny marriage of light and dark here. A chilling subject  — atom bombs, their radiation, and their capacity to end all life — is taken up in an almost cheerful, off-hand way. The opening line sets the double scene of the notorious and the blameless, the only two substantive words being “lugubre” and “child.” Rhymes are playful, verbs belie their subjects, and innocent objects are compared to sinister ones. A Geiger-counter “sings,” and a hummingbird becomes a “bomber.” A music box is shaped like a gun; life pops from this music box, but the very word “life” evokes its specter-word opposite, “death,” which is what usually pops from a gun. A flower’s pistils “hammer” a bee with pollen, preparing a mental rhyme for the atom-split radiation/Geiger-counter to come. We begin with “lugubre” and are left with “small whirring things.” The tone left in the mind is light — I have to back up to the preceding lines to remember that these “small whirring things” have just been sprayed with rays. There is a similar marriage of tone in “Tell me a story about the war,” in which a war story sounds like a child’s lullaby. It begins: Tell me a story about the war. All right, six lines, no child should hear more. (CW 118, 144) In this same period, in a May 19, 1946, letter to Louis Zukofsky, Niedecker writes: When I got Williams’ letter [containing praise from WCW on her new book, New Goose] of course I was happy. But we’re all too tired to be breathless these days. Or we’re breathless and nothing else. Ten years ago such a letter would have sent me higher than the great blue heron. Guess now I’ve got my feet on bombed ground. (NCZ 140) The bomb and all its attendant history of aggression, and the continued difficulty she had finding work, are a source of pessimism about humans, who might be at work in her office or on the bomb: Beautiful girl —  pushes food onto her fork

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with her fingers —  will throw the switches of deadly rockets? (CW 185) In a letter to Zukofsky, in February of 1951: “[I]t’s getting so you go almost anywhere [to find material] but to the people — in their barbarity — no wonder I keep going to the birds and animals” (NCZ 176). Similarly: 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. (CW 142) It may seem that the bomb inadvertently gets dropped into this poem about the workplace; and yet, it’s those two lines — “the folk from whom all poetry flows  /  and dreadfully much else” — that link the bomb both to the poem and to the humans from whom the creation and approval of bombs flows. What to do, in the poem, with a world tattered by fact? Perhaps born of the urge to re-build a world that seems to be constantly crumbling, rather than continuing to represent severed pieces of consciousness, Niedecker begins to have “a strange feeling of sequence.” In 1962, she writes to Zukofsky, “I wonder if we dare to close the gap someday — What we feel, see, inside us and outside us melted together absolutely” (NCZ 327). Connection and rupture is conceivably what every poet is working out, embodied in the rupture and re-stitching inherent in every line break and enjambment. She saw an example of mending the breach in the enjambment of her own poem “Along the river”: Along the river   wild sunflowers

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over my head   the dead who gave me life   give me this our relative the air   floods our rich friend   silt (CW 168) Metaphor itself, of course, is a way of connecting disparate parts of the world. Get a load   of April’s   fabulous frog rattle —    lowland freight cars   in the night (CW 194) Rhyme, so dear to Niedecker, is another stitching element, an aural threading of thing to thing. Her form in poems like “Paean to Place,” which employs a regular visual stanzaic pattern, offers a feeling of holistic regularity. In a poem like “Don’t shoot the rail!,” which achieves Zukofsky’s “rested totality” (Prepositions+ 13) nothing else is necessary to the poem as man slides into bird: Don’t shoot the rail! Let your grandfather rest! Tho he sees your wild eyes he’s falling asleep, his long-billed pipe on his red-brown vest. (CW 92) This is an example of Niedecker’s constant and deft presentation of the human in a continuum that includes the animal landscape, as the grandfather’s “vest” becomes robin-like in color and echoes the absent but near sound of breast, as in robin red-breast.

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By North Central, Niedecker has relaxed into her perception of “everything influencing everything else.” In these poems, minerals, particles, change hands; birds and humans reverse roles as pigeons mourn for man. Although a poem must manage the cold hard fact, this does not preclude a poem’s lines from providing stitches along which scars can form and heal. In poems like “Lake Superior” and in particular “Wintergreen Ridge,” we can see the seams between parts and sources as Niedecker performs a kind of surgery on consciousness and information. The connection between “every living thing” as well as, apparently, every geological thing, is deftly established in the famous opening stanzas of “Lake Superior”: In every part of every living thing is stuff that once was rock In blood the minerals of the rock (CW 232) Niedecker quickly shifts from this observation to bits of historical information and condensations on local sediment and lakeshore stone, yet manages to make the poem’s parts move like the glacial drift that created the landscape she is narrating. In “Traces of Living Things,” the next sequence in North Central, she underlines the evolutionary connection again: “A man  //  bends to inspect  / a shell  /  Himself  // part coral  / and mud  / clam” (CW 239). One of her greatest poems from this collection, “Wintergreen Ridge,” achieves a kind of radiant energy through the dexterous plaiting of sundry elements. The poet meanders through the durable works of evolutionary time, along a walking trail on which “women of good wild stock  // stood stolid  /  before machines  /  They stopped bulldozers  // cold,” sounding notes of trouble and resistance to trouble (CW 249–50). Moving past drosera and gentians, Niedecker interleaves the “thin to nothing lichens  /  [which] grind with their acid  // granite to sand  /  These may survive  /  the grand blow-up  /  the bomb,” or “the war  /  which ‘cannot be stopped’.” She writes, “Well I see at this point  / no pelting of police  // with flowers . . .” but bids us: “See beyond  // — ferns  / algae  /  water lilies  // Scent the simple  /  the perfect  // order of that flower  / water lily.” So that we, in whatever new el-

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emental form we may take, like “Old sunflower,” may bow “to no one  /  but Great Storm  /  of Equinox” (CW 249–57). The genius of “Wintergreen Ridge” lies in part in the masterful handling of types of information. Niedecker adroitly weaves the threads of “historical and contemporary particulars” (Zukofsky’s directive) into a multi-textured fabric so that the poem becomes a potential reflection of all parts of the world, a “total” poem that doesn’t flamboyantly announce itself as such (Prepositions+ 12). Here and in other poems, her close attention to her physical surroundings evidences a world in which humans are not divorced from their environment, or even foregrounded necessarily, but participate in an ecosystem of mergansers, marshweed, and bombs. With Objectivist sincerity, she shows us how to “[think] with the things as they exist,” how to have the bulldozer in the nature poem, how to include the political and horrific in the most subtle of manners, so that the didacticism — a word I’d like to wash of its negative charge and reclaim for poetry — is left to the reader (Prepositions+ 12). As I’ve been collecting my thoughts for this piece, a new war between Lebanon and Israel has exploded, and the “old” war between the United States and Iraq rages on. News in the papers yesterday was of a man in southern Lebanon who climbed an apple tree to collect its fruit only to have unexploded ordnance from cluster bombs blow off his hands. The strange congruity of apples and bombs would not have been lost on Niedecker, who saw well that the bombs dropping on London were also exploding elsewhere. It’s hard not to wonder how Niedecker, or her inheritors, might handle the contemporary particulars of the day. The radio talk this morning was of obliterating the world I notice fruit flies rise from the rind of the recommended melon (CW 428–29)

Jonathan Skinner J. F. Kennedy after  /  the Bay of Pigs  //   To stand up  //  black-marked tulip  /   not snapped by the storm  /  “I’ve been duped by the experts” // — and walk  /  the South Lawn  — Lorine Niedecker

Particular Attention

Lorine Niedecker’s Natural Histories Lorine Niedecker, who finds the “facts” of “birds, animals and plants . . . wonderful in themselves,” pays particular attention to natural history (NCZ 243). Poems like “Wintergreen Ridge” or “Paean to Place” take their imagined place in geological time, speak with a working knowledge of ecological relations, and honor humans who extend solidarity across species lines: Life is natural   in the evolution of matter Nothing supra-rock   about it (“Wintergreen Ridge,” CW 247) the coiled celery now gone   from these streams due to carp (“Paean to Place,” CW 263)   Women   of good wild stock stood stolid   before machines   They stopped bulldozers (“Wintergreen Ridge” CW 249)

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Niedecker’s poems include particular natural facts of human and other species, often at odds yet working together in the stream of the poem. This is work “by water,” between eye and ear: born in swale and swamp and sworn to water (“Paean to Place,” CW 261) As the eye reads “born . . . to water,” the ear is “sworn” from the evolutionary “swale and swamp,” balanced between verb and noun (“born  /  in . . . [a] sworn”). It is a poetics of flow, this work by water, where line breaks suspend natural, “historic and contemporary particulars” in serial objects of attention (Zukofsky, Prepositions+ 12). As we look for connections between “J. F. Kennedy after  /  the Bay of Pigs” and the “black-marked tulip” on Niedecker’s lawn, facts shade off into other histories (including perhaps that of overvaluation in the Dutch tulip trading bubble). At the confluence of nature, history, and culture, Niedecker’s awareness of “everything influencing everything” privileges no class of particulars (“Letters to Gail Roub” 42). Her natural histories are rather acts of attention balanced, from the local to the global, on alliances as contingent as that between Asa Gray — who “wrote Increase Lapham:  /  pay particular attention  /  to my pets, the grasses” — and his botanical discoveries, singular connections between humans and other species in the evolutionary stream (CW 105). This essay approaches Lorine Niedecker as a poet of the field guide and of natural history. The discussion moves from her reading in the nonfiction prose of natural history to her work in the field of historic and contemporary particulars — a field to which her first published collection, New Goose, offers a kind of guide. Along the way, I consider Niedecker’s leveling play with the mutability of species in time and space, in the spirit of Darwin — who believed “Man . . . in the same predicament  /  with other animals . . . the universe  / not built by brute force  /  but designed by laws  /  The details left  //  to the working of chance” (CW 295, 299). This play takes place between eye and ear in what I call a poetics of flow. I also suggest that, for Niedecker, the poem is an instrument of balance rather than an aesthetic object in the modernist sense of an autonomous work

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of art. Throughout, the ethics of particular attention flow from practice rather than from scientific or aesthetic correctness: an attention on and off the page, from ecological and interpersonal relations to the play between line breaks and the sounds of syllables. In the choice between inclusiveness and “predatory intent,” it is such particular attention that makes all the difference (Zukofsky, “An Objective,” Prepositions+ 16). Niedecker is a generous interpreter of “natural” signs, cramming, as Richard Caddel puts it, plenty of information into short spaces (LNWP 286). Basil Bunting’s comment that “No one is so subtle with so few words” reminds us how easy it is to miss the details; like signs in the natural landscape, Niedecker’s poems reveal little to the casual passerby (286). Niedecker recognized that the lack of particular attention rots human nature from the inside out — as, in “Their apples fall down” from New Goose, the neighbors’ indifference is mimed into soft homonyms (“their,” “they’re,” “there”) sounding, with a velar difference, all the more distinctly the one word that counts, “care”: Their apples fall down and rot on the ground —  they don’t spray their trees, trees need care. You can tell they’re no good that live there. (120) Niedecker’s sustained practical relationship to her surroundings embraces a technology forbidden environmental purists. Her literal, alliterative, and punning metonymies blend the elemental and organic with the manmade: “Iron the common element of earth  / in rocks and freighters” (“Lake Superior,” CW 232), “I was the solitary plover  / a pencil  /  for a wingbone” (“Paean to Place,” CW 265), “TV //  See it explained — / compound interest  / and the compound eye  /  of the insect” (“Traces of Living Things,” CW 239). What could be more practical than Niedecker’s evident pleasure at finally, in 1962, getting plumbing and an electric pump: “my little pressure pump is a darling” (NCZ 320)? This sensitive “pressure pump” itself becomes one fulcrum in a writing practice gauged to felt parity between words, ideas and things, a mechanism adequate to the shifting contours

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(and occasional flooding) of their relations.1 In one instance Niedecker reverses the classic Basho haiku: Frog noise suddenly stops Listen! They turned off their lights (CW 203) The ambiguity of the pronoun “they” — prosopoetic frogs turning off metaphorical lights, or humans startling amphibious neighbors? — precisely measures Niedecker’s delicate balancing of the Objectivist and surreal, sonic and visual, nonhuman and human dimensions. Niedecker’s poems, like Louis Zukofsky’s, find their way largely outside conventional poetic representation, and outside the framing devices of persona and locale, with an even-handed placing of words in and beyond the borders of the page. “[T]hinking with the things as they exist,” the poems realize what Zukofsky characterizes as “desire for an inclusive object. . . . This object in process. . . . unrelated to palpable or predatory intent” (“An Objective,” Prepositions+ 12, 15–16). In North Central the inclusive object is in process between iron and blood and earth, suspended between freighters and rocks, human and natural history: “The waters working together  /  internationally  /  Gulls playing both sides” (“Lake Superior,” CW 232). Niedecker’s rhymes hinge on syntactical fulcrums (as in two poems I discuss below, “Black Hawk held” and “Linnaeus in Lapland”) that enable a condition of flow, a network of relations objectified — an ecosystem without the system, or one apprehended only in movement. While Niedecker refers her poetics to landscape, looking “back of our buildings to the lake,” Zukofsky envisions his in a metaphor borrowed from optics: “An Objective: (Optics) — The lens bringing the rays from an object to a focus. That which is aimed at. (Use extended to poetry)” (“Letters to Gail Roub” 42; Prepositions+ 12). The emphasis in either case is on objectivity as a gathering in the eye of the subject, the inclusive object of the poem. At the same time, in a 1958 letter to Zukofsky, discussing Edward Dahlberg’s The Sorrows of Priapus, Niedecker clearly indicates her preference for fact over mythographical embellishment: “For me, when it comes to birds, animals

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and plants, I’d like the facts because the facts are wonderful in themselves” (NCZ 243). Popular scientific prose is as important to Niedecker as poetry precursors and contemporaries. The letters, strewn with natural history, also demand to be read in this light. We know that Niedecker was a reader of environmental apostles such as Louis Agassiz, John James Audubon, Rachel Carson, Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Charles Darwin, Loren Eiseley, J. Henri Fabre, Donald Cul­ ross Peattie, Henry David Thoreau, and Gilbert White, whose nonfiction can all be found in the collection she bequeathed to the Fort Atkinson Public Library. We can open Peattie’s An Almanac for Moderns to find André Michaux and, later, Asa Gray, hunting the same unnamed flower in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or “Linnaeus on his way to Lapland.” Even the natal “equisetum” of “I rose from marsh mud” has an ancestor in Peattie’s florid Almanac (where it comes with a startling simile): “In the same place where last I found them, the pale watery shoots of Equisetum rise; buds of flowers open, all crumpled like babies’ hands” (CW 170; Peattie 394). From Niedecker’s reading (especially in nonfiction) many a trail leads, pre-“condensery,” to what Peter Whalen calls her “virtual, poetic correspondence” with the heroes of the American Philosophical Society.2 Here, in an unpublished revision of a poem from New Goose, the international fortunes of major figures get worked out over the patronyms of grasses, shoots, and flowers so local that they can go unnamed for a century, “an American flower that no American had ever seen”: Great grass! The shoots Michaux brought back to Philadelphia by way of Bartram and known to Linné bear Jefferson’s name.3 Asa Gray wrote Increase Lapham: pay particular attention to my pets, the grasses —  on these lie fame. (CW 376)4 Fame rides on shoots and grasses whose travel implicates the local in the global (and vice versa) in unpredictable ways. What makes Asa Gray a hero is not the expansive gesture of the conqueror but his particular at-

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tention, not mastery but humility. In “Linnaeus in Lapland,” Niedecker’s Linnaeus, whose patronym Gronovius gave to Linnaea borealis (Twinflower) — “lowly insignificant and disregarded, flowering for just a brief space, from Linnaeus, who resembles it” — takes note of shoots, boots, and blossoms (as well as bosoms) in Lapland (“Linnaea borealis”). Here Niedecker emphasizes the omnivorous roots of encyclopedic, Enlightenment taxonomies, heterotopic, or incongruous, from the standpoint of the individual rather than the system.5 Richard Caddel reads “Consider  //  the alliance —  /  ships and plants” as exploring the heterotopia of the plant trade, where biological entities carry human names (and ambitions) that “ride the seas” as much as the specimens themselves. The case Caddel examines is that of Queen Anne’s Lace, where “a little used name for one (English) umbellifer [Anthriscus sylvestris, i.e., Cow Parsley] became transferred to another, in New England [Daucus carota, i.e., Wild Carrot] . . . the name, in other words, came with the people who named it” (LNWP 285). In “Linnaeus in Lapland,” it’s not sink or swim so much as be tax­ (onomiz)ed or swim, as pistils leap from the “bosoms  /  of the leaves” into the pollen stream, like Laplanders slogging through the soggy tundra to the “rock” of the church: Nothing worth noting except an Andromeda with quadrangular shoots —   the boots of the people wet inside: they must swim to church thru the floods or be taxed — the blossoms   from the bosoms of the leaves (CW 181) Niedecker demythologizes Linnaeus’s anthropomorphism. Andromeda glaucophylla, the ‘bog rosemary,’ which grows in south-central Wisconsin, was discovered by Linnaeus in Lapland outside of Umeå, and fancifully named after Andromeda (as Linnaeus explains in his journal):

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This plant is always fixed on some little turfy hillock in the midst of swamps, as Andromeda herself was chained to a rock in the sea . . . . Dragons and venomous serpents surrounded her, as toads and other reptiles frequent the abode of her vegetable prototype . . . . As the distressed virgin cast down her blushing face through excessive affliction, so does the rosy-coloured flower hang its head. (Cox)6 Niedecker seems as embarrased as Linnaeus over the anthropomorphism (he never sanctioned publication of the journal during his lifetime) as she downplays the mythological Andromeda with the indefinite “an” — but also seems to confuse, or mix in, Arenaria tetraquetra (of “quadrangular shoots”),7 perhaps so that she can metonymize Laplanders and plants after all, through the “shoots”  /  “ boots” rhyme. (She also gets in Andromeda’s “bosoms.”) This apposition is Niedecker’s way of sliding humans and nonhumans together on the plane of syntax and assonance — as her Linnaeus reflects on the troubling relations of cross-pollination and colonization — sounding without containing the implications of a rigorous Darwinism. The dedifferentiations of such soundings are carried, against the consonantal (“quadrangular”) containments of “church” and “tax,” by floating, circular o’s in “worth,” “noting,” “Andromeda,” “shoots,” “boots,” “floods,” “blossoms,” and “bosoms.” In “Some float off on chocolate bars” we find a similar leveling. The “thin door  /  in the flood” that separates the subject of the poem from feral life, as she grips her “melting container” and hears “the wild  /  wet rat, muskrat  /  grind his frogs and mice,” barely holds back the dehumanizing tide: 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

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wet rat, muskrat grind his frogs and mice the other side of a thin door in the flood (CW 207–08) “Never say higher or lower,” Darwin once noted in the margin of a book, and this poem dramatizes the implications of that leveling — not only in the external nature of an alimentary wilderness but the internal one of compulsions like alcoholism, violence, or a (comparatively mild) addiction to chocolate (Phillips 42).8 The irony the poem notes, practically assuming the extra-human perspective of a poet like Robinson Jeffers, is the benefit nature might reap from human self-destruction: the bottle that makes the husband “harmless, happy, soft of heart” might eventually “breed  /  a new race . . . and let [the] birds live.” But the subject won’t “float off” on the libidinal flood: she holds (as Chief Black Hawk “held,” as Niedecker and her neighbors hold annually) her ground — “grips” the melting container of house, self, heart, mind, and listens to the raw and unconsoling meal a muskrat makes of its softer cousins.9 At the same time, Niedecker keeps the “I” in “wild” distinct from the “us” in the “muskrat.” Hers is a concern that the poem as object should resist — a hard job, for the poet who would bring facts into the order of poetry — what Zukofsky called “predatory intention” (Prepositions+ 18). Objects in the field of natural history, like species, are melting containers, always giving our mental constructs the slip. In her eponymous poem on the scientist, Niedecker quotes Darwin’s famous declaration: “Species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable” (“Darwin,” CW 295) It is this mutability that motivates Niedecker’s “condensery,”10 sanding words to expose their intrusive discontinuities — in the geological sense of “intrusion,” as the “forcing of molten rock into an earlier formation” (American Heritage Dictionary) — not, as she herself stated, for the “hard clear image, the thing you could put your hand on” but to participate in a condition of flow (“Letters to Gail Roub” 42).11 This condition — the tem-

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poral, evolutionary continuum philosophized by the pre-Socratics, worshipped by the Epicureans, and debated by the Darwinists, what Douglas Crase calls the “evolutional sublime” — is clearly signaled in the opening lines of Niedecker’s flow (or travel) poem, “Lake Superior”: In every part of every living thing is stuff that once was rock In blood the minerals of the rock (CW 232) As Niedecker put it more expansively in her “Lake Superior” notes (made during a drive around the lake with husband Al Millen): “In every tiny part of any living thing are materials that once were rock that turned to soil. . . . In our blood is iron from plants that draw it out of the soil.” She then rocks her “sublime slime-song” with a crucial undertow of humor: “So — here we go. Maybe as rocks and I pass each other I could say howdo-you-do to an agate” (LNWP 311).12 Flow is also a condition worked out in the “urgent wave of the verse” amidst words, vowels, consonants, and spaces in “Lake Superior”: at the blue ice superior spot priest-robed Marquette grazed azoic rock, hornblende granite basalt in the common dark in all the Earth (“Lake Superior” CW 233) The strong imbrication of consonantal sounds in these five lines is a workout from lips to tongue-tip, to back of throat: alternating labials with alveolars, uvulars with velars, approximants with fricatives, and plosives (and that’s not to mention the vowels). Note the lone breathy h at the center of this igneous constellation “of geologic periods preceding the appearance of life” (“Azoic”). It is as if the mouth crystallizes around the strong consonantal structures, where breath flows, prior to life. In another example of “Lake Superior” ’s blood-stone words, from the perspective of geological time, man’s intrusion into the natural order is more a case of collision than flow:

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Wild Pigeon Did not man   maimed by no   stone-fall mash the cobalt   and carnelian   of that bird (235) One has to see this poem to hear its play of eye-rhyme (and off-rhymes), its rain of ascenders so much a part of the falling consonantal fabric. In his essay on Niedecker’s “Natural Histories,” Joseph Conte notes that “the bird has been ‘painted by soluble mineral oxides.’ In turn, the cobalt and carnelian of the bird are ‘mashed,’ as if with mortar and pestle, returned to the mineral powder with which they began” (LNWP 355). This “stone-fall” into cobalt, like the scouring of Lake Superior’s rocks, is also the grinding of us in the jaws of the “wet rat, m(us)krat.” Extinction of the Passenger pigeon (ca. 1916) is a “mashing” more terrible than simple destruction — a “stone-fall” humanity too can expect.13 To trace the poems in the notes for “Lake Superior” is to sense the relative objectivity of Niedecker’s condensery: as if she doesn’t select words but yields to their specific weight in relation to things, follows the grain of their own highly variable trajectories, their snags and turns in the course of experience (“sworn” evolving from “born  / in swale and swamp”).14 It is as if they had found their own way — an “equivocalness of authorship” that Jenny Penberthy calls, in reference to the quotation poems, “anonymity and obliquity” (NCZ 73).15 Might this be another form of “composition by field”? We can see Niedecker working in the same direction as Charles Olson, who would write in a 1953 letter to Cid Corman published in Origin 3.20, of a “struggle for a form, ‘a shape . . . that form, in the sense in which we (who are staying out in the open) seek it.’ ” Corman sent Niedecker an advance copy of this issue shortly before her death, and she singled out Olson’s letter for notice (BYH 233–34). In other respects it is less Objectivism or Projectivism than, in Niedecker’s own words, “awareness of everything influencing everything” (“Letters to Gail Roub” 42). Niedecker’s poetry listens out the back windows. “Early in life,” she

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would write, “I looked back of our buildings to the lake and said, ‘I am what I am because of all this — I am what is around me — those woods have made me . . .’ ” (“Letters to Gail Roub” 42).16 Her first book New Goose engages this familiarity with the injunction, “Don’t shoot the rail!  /  Let your grandfather rest!” (CW 92). The volume was published by James A. Decker in 1946 as a field ready “Pocket Poetry” book (6 x 4.5 inches). To explain the format, Decker’s jacket notes affirm that “a book of poetry, more than any other kind of writing, should be of a size that can be easily ‘carried along’ with the reader.” The small format may have had something to do with economics; nearly thirty titles were printed by the James A. Decker Press in the same year, to make good on a backlog of contracts (Ballowe). Other titles to appear in the pocket format in 1946 included Zukofsky’s Anew. Nevertheless, the format reinforces the sense of New Goose as a handbook or primer, in the tradition of Mother Goose. It also hints at a field guide dimension. The book was written while Niedecker worked as a research editor, from 1938–1942, for the WPA Writers’ Program volume, Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State. The editor of Niedecker’s Collected Works, Jenny Penberthy, refers to this time as the period of Niedecker’s “folk project” (CW 372). Niedecker’s familiarity with her Black Hawk Island surroundings must have benefited from her work on the Wisconsin guide. We do not know exactly which sections of the guide Niedecker researched; however, we do know, from Edwin Honig’s reminiscence, that she carried out research in the Historical Records Division of the University Library, “a unit presided over by the august Louise B. Kellogg, famous for her historical studies of the French and Indian Wars and the Northwestern trade” (LNWP 43). Aldo Leopold, father of wilderness conservation in the twentieth century, was also a consultant to the guide. In it, we can read about Chief Black Hawk, who “led his Sauk braves in the last great war against the white usurpers” (Wisconsin Writers’ Project 40). We also learn that “Before 1800 there were not more than 200 whites in Wisconsin” (39). Niedecker would have taken a special interest in the tale of Chief Black Hawk since she was born and spent most of her life on the site of the final gathering place of Black Hawk’s people. In the spring of 1832, these five hundred men, women, and children, who had been forced from their

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Illinois lands, fought a retreat up the Rock River, pursued by four thousand Illinois militia. Niedecker lived most of her life on the flood-prone land at the meeting of the Rock River and Lake Koshkonong, dubbed “Black Hawk Island” after the Sauk Chief. Her research carried out for the WPA project surely telescoped into the New Goose “folk” poems Niedecker was writing at the time. If this work is Objectivist, it is so in its character as research poetry, a poetry of “historic particulars”: Black Hawk held: In reason land cannot be sold, only things to be carried away, and I am old. Young Lincoln’s general moved, pawpaw in bloom, and to this day, Black Hawk, reason has small room. (CW 99)17 It takes some research to undo the poem’s condensery of dramatic voice and statement packed with natural and historical incidence — for instance, the fact that a footloose, twenty-three-year-old Abraham Lincoln had joined the Illinois militia for the Black Hawk War. He was elected Captain of the volunteers but saw no military action during approximately three months of service. Pawpaw is Asimina triloba, or “Indian’s Banana” (a member of the custard apple family), the largest edible fruit native to the United States. Though Native Americans are credited with its spread as far west as eastern Nebraska, its distribution fades along the Mississippi River just south of Wisconsin. Pawpaw’s bloom, occurring in late spring, would indeed have coincided with the militia’s journey north in pursuit of Black Hawk and his warriors. Both the rhyme of “bloom” with “room” and the implied fading of that bloom (and contraction of room) as the natives retreat measure their loss, and the settlers’ gain, of what could not be “carried away.” It is also a contraction of “reason,” a rationale of the land clearly to be distinguished from the mobile, Cartesian reason of the settlers, making their “move.” (Niedecker’s variation on the Cartesian cogito is, again, “I am what I am because of all this — I am what is around me” [“Letters to Gail Roub” 42].) The pivot of the stanzas through

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“old.  //  Young” implies that even the young will, like pawpaw, fade. Niedecker implicates human history in natural history, yet suspends the poem between judgment (“reason has small room”) and naturalistic observation (“pawpaw in bloom”). Niedecker’s own small “room” (stanza) rhymes the settlers’ extirpation of natives with the perennial cycles and natural historical succession of the semi-domesticated Asimina triloba, at the same time that it distinguishes the human succession as irrational, perhaps a declension of the natural order. The folk element in Niedecker’s work has been well documented. Her ear for speech and knack for getting it down unadorned clearly appealed to Zukofsky and the other Objectivists, invested as they were in Popular Front concerns as well as in Dr. Williams’s project in the “American grain.” If Niedecker saw her New Goose poems as participating in the avant-garde practice of found art and assemblage — in particular, of quoted rhythms from Mother Goose — Zukofsky would encourage her to focus on copying and editing words in her environment rather than pursuing the more abstract associations: “there was this rage to get poetry into direct, simple speech” (CW 375). Niedecker herself saw this project as inclusive rather than selective, recognizing the thinness of the door between us and the muskrat (“Some float off on chocolate bars”) as part of the same attitude that wants to “pick up everything for poetry, get into everyday speech etc.” (NCZ 147). The integrity of her ear thus tends toward the inclusions of “complex pastoral” (Leo Marx’s phrase for the mutually embedded representations of nature and technology in American arts) rather than the consoling exclusions of nature poetry, as in the following late industrial haiku: Get a load of April’s fabulous frog rattle — lowland freight cars in the night (CW 194) Like the ambiguous pronoun in “Frog noise,” the connective dash of this poem holds open an interpretive horizon where the exact relation between literal and figurative language, as between the human and non-

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human, remains unresolved. A casual reading might hear a pastoral naturalizing of human industry, here (a greenwashing of freight cars as “frog rattle”), but, as I aim to show in my discussion of “The brown muskrat,” Niedecker’s particular attentions make her connective dashes disquieting rather than grounding. It is the kind of disquiet that flows from Niedecker’s fascination with the sticky-leaved, fly-eating Drosera in “Wintergreen Ridge”: “the better to eat you  /  my dear . . . DHL spoke of blood  /  in a green growing thing” (CW 251). Her green nature is alimentary, unsettling our neat taxonomic kingdoms, and thus more ecological than pastoral. In this sense, New Goose can be read as a field guide as well as an ethnography but one that at every point implicates the user of the guide in the supposedly objective field. The implications, “inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars,” as Louis Zukofsky would put it (Prepositions+ 12), are sometimes shocking and cut wildly against any sense of nature as retreat or escape, as in the following poem: The brown muskrat, noiseless, swims the white stream, stretched out as if already a woman’s neck-piece. In Red Russia the Russians at a mile a minute pitch back Nazi wildmen wearing women. (CW 109) Fascist racism (and sexism), communist ideology, and colonial exploitation are constellated in this juxtaposition of the “brown muskrat” swimming the “white stream,” with “Red . . . Russians” pitching back “Nazi wildmen,” who are “wearing women” (the way Russian women might wear furs) — in a manner that simultaneously suggests and undercuts a comparison of communist Russians with “red” Indians and of Nazis with the “white stream” of fur trappers and traders. A complication arrives sonically in the way the r’s of the “muskrat” (“already a . . . neckpiece”) and “Red Russia” get engulfed equally by the w’s of the “white stream,” of a “woman” and of “wildmen  / wearing women” — or by what Niedecker

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calls, after Robert Duncan, “the urgent wave  /  of the verse” (“Paean to Place,” CW 265).18 Communist resistance to fascism may itself — the poem seems to say — be predicated on a putting to death of other species (and of other humans, as communist sympathizers would soon learn, to their horror). The “noiseless” swimming of the muskrat places this violence (the frenzy implied in “at a mile a minute”) under sonic erasure, as if to emphasize the “tacit” nature of the “animal rite” subtending liberal humanism (Wolfe 6).19 The poem subverts any idealizing of Red Russia it might have evoked amongst Niedecker’s Popular Front readership. The presence of nature is disquieting rather than grounding, let in along a balancing act of inclusive attention, whose ironies allow for an ambivalent vision. In a discussion of sound, silence, and audience, in his essay “Lorine Niedecker’s ‘Folk Base’ and Her Challenge to the American AvantGarde,” Peter Middleton addresses Niedecker’s refusal to give readings. “The silence,” he writes, “is an absence of dialogue, of conversation, owing to the distance between poet and reader. Her poem begins there, with this silence, this absence of intersubjectivity, rather than immediately appealing to the universalizing languages and frameworks of modern art and the avant-garde” (Middleton 172). While it may be important to recognize the extent to which an absent audience — as well, certainly, as a rejection of “universalizing languages” — structures Niedecker’s practice, we might also attend to how her listening expands our notions of silence and of intersubjectivity.20 Speaking subject (and her audience) are absent only in the presence of nonhuman others, as in “Paean to Place” thrown into invisibility and silence as a practice of listening: sora rails’s sweet spoon-tapped waterglassdescending scale   tear-drop-tittle (“Paean to Place,” CW 263) The immediate cultural referent for Niedecker’s silence as “Yellowhead blackbirds cough  /  through reeds and fronds” is not the abstract silence of the psychoanalyst but Thoreau’s comment that “there is no such thing as

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silence; only listening is intermittent” (CW 271; Thoreau 245). Perhaps it was not the “somewhat inattentive” audience that bothered Niedecker, on the one occasion she did read her poems in public, so much as the sanctimonious silence of the poetry venue, attenuating the poem’s world (BYH 121). Perhaps, in a sense, her audience is the skeetering marsh.21 This, as I have suggested, is also her approach to “composition by field”: “I must have been washed in listenably across the landscape  / to merge with bitterns unheard but pumping, and saw  / and hammer a hill away; sounds, then whatsound . . . ” (“Progression,” CW 31). In the earlier poetry brought to light through Penberthy’s editorial work, Niedecker displays a radical susceptibility to word associations (often referred to as her “surrealism”), to verb “oriole” in “an old vibration orioled  / at dandelion heat,” to “jesticulate in the rainacular or novembrood  / in the sunconscious” or to close under “atmosnoric pressure” (CW 29, 32). But increasingly the objective (if there is one) is balancing words with things, subjects with objects, and judgment with precept: “a sensitive pump,” says the Montgomery Ward plumber of “Nursery Rhyme,” “that has at times a proper  /  balance  / of water, air  / and poetry” (285). Poetry as one element balanced in a delicate mechanism of survival — the poet, as Zukofsky put it, “acting at once as observer and instrument” (Prepositions+ 6). A 1962 letter to Zukofsky places this poem in the context of the Cuban missile crisis: “Montgomery Ward man came in summons re. pressure pump. He put a delayed action fuse into my fuse box. Each person silently suffering out a delayed action fuse as to Cuba. Each of us manoeuvred into a spiritual position?” (NCZ 324–25). This “spiritual position” might be fitness, not as strength but the adaptability Darwin went to such great lengths to elaborate, “to stand up,” like the presidential tulip, “not snapped by the storm” (CW 246). Niedecker’s instrument offers a ready difference or “delayed action fuse” of memory that Henri Bergson claimed for the virtual realm of art, in his celebrated image of the brain as a “central telephone exchange,” that by delaying or forwarding communication allows for a “zone of indeterminacy” (30). In “Lorine Niedecker’s ‘Paean to Place’ and Its Reflective Fusions” Rachel Blau DuPlessis discusses the “reflective something else” Niedecker “dares to do,” contrasting it with the Objectivist “resistance to association

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and streaming of the mind” — which resistance she characterizes as “external and bounded” (in this volume). I’d argue that Niedecker’s streaming, even her “wild untamed surrealism,” that flows into natural history, is located as much outside as within the subject (like Emily Dickinson’s robin, “extrinsic to attention”). Niedecker even subverts Emersonian tendencies by instrumentalizing her poetics, to move away from the ideal of poem as aesthetic object, turning inward and outward at the same time, toward a marginal attention — circumnavigatory and lacustrine — gauged toward “awareness of everything influencing everything.” Not subordinating the local to the cosmopolitan, or vice versa, she looks forward to a time, now upon us, when geopolitical concerns have everything to do with local water levels.

Notes 1. See Mary Pinard’s essay in this volume, “Niedecker’s Grammar of Flooding,” which applies hydrological principles and the facts of a “life by water” to a reading of Niedecker’s “shifting margins” and unpredictable closure. 2. “When considering her place within environmental tradition, one should first consider this virtual, poetic correspondence. Just like her important personal correspondences with major modernist poets like Zukofsky, which contribute to her place in modern poetic tradition, her internal, poetic correspondence with major naturalists also opens a door for Niedecker placing her within a complementary tradition that she also cares deeply about. In these manuscripts, letters between naturalists are being sent everywhere: Asa Gray writes Increase Lapham, the ‘Boston Bigwigs’ write Thure Kumlien, John Audubon writes home, and Niedecker herself sends a poetic letter to young Paul Zukofsky, ordering him to ‘Read Crèvecoeur and learn fast’ ” (Whalen). 3. Indeed, in a cabinet dedicated to patronyms (species names paying tribute to individuals) at the American Philosophical Society exhibition, Stuffing Birds, Pressing Plants, Shaping Knowledge: Natural History in North America, 1730–1860 (21 June 2003–31 December 2004), a copy of Thomas Nuttall’s The Genera of North American Plants and a Catalogue of the Species to the Year 1817 (publ. 1818) is opened to Jeffersonia diphylla — a plant (re)named by Nuttall’s mentor Benjamin Smith Barton, in honor of then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, when Barton saw the twinleaf growing in the garden of fellow Pennsylvania botanist, William Bartram. Forty years earlier, Linnaeus had named the plant Podophyllym diphyllum in an erroneous association with the mayapple (Prince 106; Shetler).

58  |  nat ur a l a nd p ol it ic a l hist or ies 4. This is a revision of the poem published in New Goose (“Asa Gray wrote Increase Lapham  /  pay particular attention/ to my pets, the grasses” CW 105). According to a letter Niedecker wrote Zukofsky on July 11, 1961, she had planned on using the revision for the selected My Friend Tree (1961). It ended up not being included in the volume, however, and was never published in her lifetime — editor Jenny Penberthy has printed it in the notes to the Collected Works. 5. “Heterotopias are troubling, no doubt because they secretly mine language, because they prevent the naming of this or that, because they break or entangle common nouns, because they ruin ‘syntax’ in advance, and not only the syntax of phrases — but that less evident one that makes words and things (side by side and facing off) cleave together” ([author’s translation] Foucault 9). 6. Lachesis Lapponica, or a tour in Lapland, now first published from the original manuscript journal of the celebrated Linnaeus by J. E. Smith, I-II (London 1811), qtd. in Paul Alan Cox, “The Unfinished Journey of Carl Linnaeus.” 7. “One of the ‘musts’ — mound or mat — the tightly sandwiched square shaped shoots invariably inspire visitors to pet it. Tiny white cups over a long season in spring” (Arenaria tetaquetra). 8. Thanks to Steve Dickison for citing this phrase, and Phillips’s work, in the context of a presentation he gave at the Niedecker Centenary in Milwaukee. 9. Muskrats are, in fact, mostly vegetarian — though they are known on occasion to eat clams, frogs, and fish. Like beavers (and unlike badgers), they do not eat other burrowing animals such as mice. In any case, the noiseless prey of the poem “The brown muskrat noiseless” has here become a (noisy) predator (CW 109). 10. “Condensery” is what, in “Poet’s Work,” Niedecker identifies as her trade: “I learned  /  to sit at desk  /  and condense” (CW 194). 11. In his essay, “Niedecker and the Evolutional Sublime,” Douglas Crase sees Niedecker “scouring” the sentence, “the way the glacier scoured the Lake Superior rocks. Her style became in this way a cognate for the evolutional attitude: primal elements in evolving arrangements” (LNWP 334). 12. What would Niedecker have made of the reputed connection between chlorophyll and hemoglobin — structurally similar, with magnesium doing the work in one that iron does in another? 13. This poem presumably “condenses” a visit to the Monument to the Pigeon in Wyalusing State Park, south of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Aldo Leopold wrote a famous piece on this monument, included in A Sand County Almanac (1949): “We know now what was unknown to all the preceding caravan of generations: that men are only fellow-voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution. . . . For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun” (109–10). 14. This is the aim that Elisa New, in her pragmatist discussion of “poetic experience,” calls “range-finding”: “a direction of consciousness into that experiential

Jonathan Skinner  |  59 force James called ‘a stream’ ” (50). The pragmatic line, New argues, is more like casting a line in the stream or sighting along the bead of a rifle than like a lens, or objective, for contemplation. It is a practice, and an ethos, developed in response to materials, certainly a thinking with the poem. 15. See also Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s discussion of “anonymity” in “Lorine Niedecker, the Anonymous: Gender, Class, Genre and Resistances” (LNWP 113–37). 16. The fact that “I am what is around me” is also a quotation of Wallace Stevens (“Theory”) measures the “dual” nature of Niedecker’s accountability, always more erudite than her homespun Fort Atkinson persona lets on. For “dual accountability,” see Buell, 91–103. 17. Penberthy indicates, as source for this poem, some notes (dated May 28, 1941) on The Life of Black Hawk, edited by J. B. Patterson (CW 374). 18. Thanks to Jenny Penberthy and Rachel Blau DuPlessis for identifying the Duncan source (see DuPlessis “Lorine Niedecker’s ‘Paean to Place’ and Its Reflective Fusions” 412). 19. In his book Animal Rites, Cary Wolfe critiques “an institution that relies on the tacit agreement that the full transcendence of the ‘human’ requires the sacrifice of the ‘animal’ and the animalistic . . . a symbolic economy in which we can engage in what Derrida will call a ‘noncriminal putting to death’ of other humans as well by marking them as animal” (6). 20. The issue of gender politics, and what Rachel Blau DuPlessis refers to as the “absent interview” certainly plays into this silence: Niedecker was not invited to participate in the interviews L. S. Dembo conducted with Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, and Carl Rakosi, just down the road, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1968 (“Lorine Niedecker’s ‘Paean to Place’ and Its Fusion Poetics” 394–95). 21. There is also care for the intimacy of particular attention, as Niedecker wonders in the same 1967 letter to Cid Corman in which she complains of an inattentive audience: “How would the bug on the branch, walking to the end of it, or the raindrop there — your poems — be read to a hall filled with people?” (BYH 121).

Jenny Penberthy “To name a feeling — a rock — a lake!”

Writing Lake Superior Lorine Niedecker’s “Lake Superior” — the first long poem she would see into print — occupies five pages with a total of 395 words. Her research and preparation for the poem, the punning and aptly named “millenium1 of notes for my magma opus” (Niedecker to Cid Corman, August 20, 1966), numbers 260 mostly typed, single-spaced pages. Tens of thousands of words. In late July 1966 Lorine Niedecker and Al Millen set off in their Buick on a week-long journey around Lake Superior, “by way of L. Michigan shore to Mackinaw Country and Sault Ste. Marie . . . along the Ontario shore and down the Minn. side” (Niedecker to Corman, July 12, 1966). The impulse to research the “magma opus,” her epic of rocks and minerals (Davie, “Lorine Niedecker,” 73), can be traced most directly to the previous summer’s road trip through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Niedecker remarked to Corman on the “[r]eddish gravel beside the paved roads and in a couple of places a pale gold driveway-covering with gold bits or yellow diamond sparkles all thru it!” and “[t]he big rock structures in the hills . . . merely greyish or pinkish or yellowish depending on the time of day” (July 28, 1965). A year later on July 16, 1966, just before leaving on the Lake Superior excursion, she wrote to Corman: You once spoke to me of rocks — someone there, is it Will Petersen?  — has an interest in them. I begin to see how one can have. I think

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our NW (Lake Superior region, Minn., Mich., Wis.) is not only for the geologist, a massive, grand corruption of nature. And of language (wonder if Bosho is still used in speech for Bon jour! Indian, French, British — . The Northwest passage to the Orient has its Bosho only like a ton of rock. And weak verse like Longfellow’s Hiawatha. But some kind of poetry has been felt by several of the geologists in that region. I’m frantic when I remember that gold and diamond ! driveway in South Dakota, not knowing what kind of stone or mineral it was. Probably a lot of quartz in it to give the shine. I’ll use a little time to walk beaches since this country is part of the agate, jasper, carnelian, Thompsonite region. . . . Cid, no, I won’t be writing for awhile, and I need time, like an eon of limestone or gneiss, . . . She mocks the naiveté of the previous year — “that gold and diamond ! driveway” — as she readies herself for a journey in the field equipped now with facts and terminologies, matter for poetry. The Milwaukee Public Library provided abundant materials for her preparatory research. Books to consult on the road, however, had to be carefully selected. A handwritten scrap among the “Lake Superior” papers hints at dilemma: “Might take bird books on trip.” Note-taking was a necessary economy, but while habits of compression came easily to her, we notice that along the way her “pocketbook broke from weight of notebooks2 and stones.” Many of the “Lake Superior” notes serve this road trip; all of the notes serve the nascent poem. But the notes frustrate any search for direct evidence of the developing poem. One sees glimmers of the poem here and there — the “Chocolate River” section of the poem, for example, can be traced directly to the notes — but these glimmers are fleeting. However oblique the relationship between notes and poem may be, the “Lake Superior” notes offer rare access to Niedecker’s poetics. The immediate impression they offer is of the vast body of facts lying behind a highly condensed poem. While only the “Lake Superior” notes have survived,3 there is some indication that extensive note-taking was a familiar feature of her practice. “I write from notes, grocery lists. I throw up my arms and scream: Write — cut it and just write poems” (Niedecker

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to Corman, February 14, 1968). A comparable ratio of notes to final poem is suggested in a letter she wrote to Edward Dahlberg: “I wish I could do the birds, worms, plants of my little plot of earth here in the manner of the first explorers landing in Virginia and with my own human setting, mental furnishing etc. . . . all the Greeks, your Bible people, everyone and all ideas strained, pointed to this. I might get 8 lines!”4 Writing “Lake Superior” appeared to require a mastery of facts. She sought out local geologists: “By the way, do you happen to know a geologist? I have stones from the Lake Superior region and here, and would like to identify” (“Local Letters” 94). She told Corman she’d written “for geological maps from the office in Washington, D.C.” and, in the same letter, conveyed her scholarly zeal: “. . . almost all petrified wood is agate-ized wood, I’ve read. The circles in the agate are of growth? Dunno, aim to find out” (August 20, 1966). Niedecker met Bob Nero at the Milwaukee Public Museum where, just before completing her first version of the poem, she continued “to research geology for her Lake Superior poem.”5 The notes typescripts are undated and their composition history is open to speculation. A crucial and sometimes opaque distinction divides the notes made before and after the trip. I propose that the bulk of the notes was amassed before the trip and that these were organized and made accessible by her pervasive system of cross-referencing. These documents may well have traveled with her around Lake Superior. After the trip, she made further notes and it is the chronology of these that is important to an understanding of Niedecker’s practice. In the following pages, I describe the different sections of the notes, provide excerpts, and propose a sequence for what I take to be the latter, post-trip sections. The remainder of the essay argues for this sequence and for the primary significance of the Lake Superior project. One category of notes appears to be a conscientious tourist’s advance transcriptions from guidebooks of key sites along the way, opening times for museums, and practical details for the collector of rock samples: Where to look in Minn. Little Marais, Lake Co., in gravels at County Line Beach. Agate, gravels at Two Harbors. Agate, gravels at Gooseberry Falls State Park Beach.

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Where to look in Mich. Thomsonites, pink, green — on the Keweenaw, Pete’s and Grotiot R. beaches. Amethystine agate on Thomsonite Beach (Marquette Co.) Canada: moss agate at Thunder Bay and jasper at Kakabeka Falls. Another far larger body of notes also appears to have been made before the trip: transcriptions and summaries of her research from texts such as Walter Havighurst’s The Great Lakes Reader — an anthology of excerpts from early explorers’ journals — from The Great Lakes by H. H. Hatcher, from Pine, Stream & Prairie by James Gray, from Minnesota: a History of the State by Theodore C. Blegen, and many more.6 She gave close attention to three books in the American Guide Series prepared by the WPA: Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State (the volume to which Niedecker contributed as writer and researcher from 1938 to 1941), Michigan: A Guide to the Wolverine State, and Minnesota: A State Guide. These notes record detailed information about the geology of the Lake Superior region; the cities, towns, rivers, and smaller lakes; and the generations of explorers7 and their meetings with the aboriginal inhabitants. There are extended chronologies of the history, paleontology, and geology of the region, plus etymological charts and lexicons of geological terms. A vast documentary apparatus. Within this large category, notes are bundled into their own improvised genres with text arranged on the page in various configurations. From one bundle to another, content is repeated and realigned. Selected facts and quotations are assembled alongside each other while non-contiguous parts are aligned by an elaborate system of cross-referencing. The result is an idiosyncratic taxonomy, a complex structure that maps the linkages between the plants, birds, animals, rocks, and people, noting their evolutionary relationships — their predictable or accidental meetings and their outcomes. The collection of “Lake Superior” notes is at its most enigmatic with the four handmade booklets — half A4-sized pages, soft cardboard covers, all bound with brass pins — titled: “Schoolcraft,” “Remember Rocks,” “Minn. Alphabetized,” and “Milw. Shoreline.” In most cases, the text on

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a single page is spare and cryptic, pared down to a handful of words. The booklets list names of towns, rivers, lakes, plants, and historical facts along with blank unremarkable details often but not always cross-referenced to a single-spaced typescript of thirty-six numbered pages. Perhaps the booklets served a mnemonic purpose, designed to help her locate her research from the passenger seat. But they are scarcely a systematic index to the notes. The booklets practice an austere minimalism, and the white pages and sparse text often register as experimental poems. Leaf R. Scalp L. Fish-line L. Ottertail L. Leaf R. Sibly L. — called “Lake which the River passes thru one End of.” Other source — Leaf River —  “A copper knife evidently a relic of prehistoric times was found in this river in 1903.”  —  Le Corbeau R. (Crow-Wing) A short distance above the Falls of St. Anthony a river empties in  —  Rum R. p. 36  —  Nipigon R. speckled trout  —  Port Arthur and Fort. Wm. pop of over 100,000  — 

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Two Harbors Agate City on Agate Bay When Indians first saw it they named it spear by moonlight Now Agate City Agates or Thompsonites here R. R. museum here Agate shop It is unclear whether the brass-pin bound booklets were written before the trip or after, and whether they were an accessory to the trip or to the poem. Among the undeniably post-trip notes is a twelve-page, single-spaced, typed prose account of the journey, an undated day-by-day travel journal  — assembled in retrospect — tracing Niedecker and Millen’s route. Travel journals written by the European explorers of the Great Lakes were among Niedecker’s research sources, and she knew and admired Basho’s prose and poetry journal of his travels in Japan’s north country (she had read Corman’s translation in Origin in July 1964). Her own travel narrative, first titled “Lake Superior and Minnesota Vacation Trip 1966” and revised to “Lake Superior Country: Vacation Trip 1966,” is interspersed with historical and geological facts selected from her notes. Additional details — omitted from the body of the narrative — are cross-referenced by roman numerals to yet another typescript titled “Notes”: Swan Lake is nearby. In 1851 Indians and whites came from all over the mid-west to a treaty meeting at the mouth of the Minnesota, Traverse des Sioux. Chief Sleepy Eyes came from his beloved Swan Lake. (XI, Notes) We started home. Brainard on the Mississippi (XII, Notes) Lake St. Croix — Schoolcraft sang the praises of this lake. The moon came out before they encamped. “If ‘Loch Katrine’ (Scotland) pre­ sents a more attractive outline of sylvan coast, it must be beautiful indeed. . . .” (LNWP 325)

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The prose narrative is the first evidence of an attempt to synthesize the research notes. It is a relaxed mobile account of the week-long itinerary layered with historical, geological, and etymological narratives from her primary sources. We remember others who came there more than three centuries ago in long canoes . . . . (LNWP 312) The North is one vast, massive, glorious corruption of rock and language — granite is underlaid with limestone or sandstone, gneiss is made-over granite, shale, or sandstone and so forth and so on and Thompsonite (or Thomsonite) is often mistaken for agate and agate is shipped in from Mexico and Uruguay and can even be artificially dyed in the bargain. And look what’s been done to language! —  People of all nationalities and color have changed the language like weather and pressure have changed the rocks. (314) Verb tenses shift uncorrected between past and present as she moves into retrospective mode, her own journey now one element in her project of engaging historical and prehistorical time. In several places, Niedecker’s actual journeying parallels that of the early explorers. She echoes Schoolcraft’s excitement at finding the source of the Mississippi by quoting his elevated language: “At last the joyous discovery — Lake Le Biche (Elk Lake) — renamed by Schoolcraft, Itasca” (323). Her own usage is comparatively muted: “sweet little swampy place where the water rises” (323). The steady momentum of the prose narrative is disrupted in what I take to be the later stage of the notes — a densely packed ten-page typescript titled “Notes from the Trip” with a cover sheet marked “Important.” These are working notes with much marginal annotation. The ten pages include selected and condensed passages from the prose narrative along with words, phrases, and truncated quotations from the source texts represented elsewhere in the notes. Piecing together fragments from different areas of the entire body of notes — the textual “world of the lake” — she begins to stage her own “grand corruption of nature and language.” “Bring on your purities and yr impurities for it’s the mixture of minerals — lava flow — and

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rock that creates their colors” (LNWP 317). Acutely aware of geological analogies for her own writing process, she’s poised for new alloys: Lake Duluth sent its waters into the ancient St. Croix. In Minnesota land of sky-tinted waters wild roses, New Jersey Tea, Labrador Tea, lady-slipper carnelian — sard — a clear chalcedony — a crypto crystalline quartz, as is jasper, agate, chrysoprase, onyx, sardonyx, chert. Quartz changes under different temperatures — i.e. silica combined with water is opal They decay to form something else. Momentary equilibrium, coming to rest (Lake Plantaganette (The Rest in the Path) during which we name it. . . . I spent a week in green wilderness — road flying thru it, thru cut rock, the past in mind and the imagination able to project 40 million years ? Reasonable to suppose that —  This is the theme: the going — even in the pause of this day’s century interrelation interrelation of peoples, stones, boats, the changing according to a vast, overall, timeless scheme of continuous progression. Source of Miss. not here the river began but in the clouds in the mind, imagination which is capable of being projected not farther than 40 million years. raining there — the leaf was once the stone in the rain — spurn not the falling rain, it is the source of the source, the creator of rivers. . . .

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The face of the earth is a graveyard and so it has always been. My inner midwest I was in a St. Ignace fog . . . Know stones? Nevermind if I don’t know their names —  the polished black with the lace in it, or the gunmetal with skulls and separate eye sockets to name a feeling — a rock — a lake! (“Notes from the Trip”) Beyond the first page of “Notes from the Trip,” references to the contemporary journey are few, and the chronology of their route is lost. It is this critical bundle of notes that is nearest in spirit to the poem. The trip itself had involved compromise and disappointment of a kind that only the poem could assuage. Her ambition had been to “walk beaches,” but she complained that she saw very little of Lake Superior because few of the roads took them along the shoreline. “And you’re whizzing along the highway with a glimpse of beach but there’s traffic behind and you simply continue to whiz” (LNWP 312). “When you can with some difficulty walk over that terrain to the shore you suddenly find you’re on a high bluff and how are you going to get way down to the water” (311). After her trip to the Black Hills the summer before, she wrote somewhat bitterly to Corman: “I see a flower I’ve never seen or rocks . . . or a glimpse of a blue lake, but you whiz by — you’d have to walk — someday — after you’re dead — ” (July 28, 1965). It appears that Al’s preference was to make good time, to press on: “[A]h, a long shot,” she poses teasingly in the narrative, “but could we swerve off our course a bit and from the Soo to Lake Itasca go west from Grand Marais or Duluth instead of directly home?” (LNWP 316). Misled once by signs for a side trip to Ouimet Falls, Niedecker and Millen preferred to keep to the highway; digressions were strictly textual. The final day of the week-long trip8 was a long and taxing drive from Little Falls, Minnesota to Fort Atkinson via the expressway: “Fast-moving out of slow geologic time.” Much depended on the poem. “Yes,” she wrote to Corman, “the Lake Superior trip was a great delight if I can make the poem” (August 20,

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1966). She had complained to Louis Zukofsky about the pitfalls of writing “direct from life,” and she told Clayton Eshleman that “It’s in the province of natural history that imagination . . . is limited by actual experience, but [imagination] has the innate impulse to cross barriers” (Dec. 27, 1967).9 To write “Lake Superior,” she would need to re-draw the coordinates that had sped her past the lake. At least two completed versions of the poem predate the final “Lake Superior.” Two months after the journey, Niedecker sent “Circle Tour” to Morgan Gibson at Arts in Society. Apparently it was written as a continuous long poem. Here is the only surviving excerpt: Sault Sainte Marie Old day pause for voyageurs, bosho (bon jour) sung out by garrison men Now the locks, big boats coal-black and iron-ore-red topped with what white castlework White-flying birds Iron the common element of earth in rocks and freighters —  and most things living Arrowed rest room signs in the park between us and the freighters —  the arrows of our day and the momentary unsinging pause The waters working together internationally gulls playing both sides10 On October 6, 1966, Niedecker wrote to Gibson again: “Re-reading the poem Circle Tour which I mailed to you a week or so ago I’m almost praying you’ll send it back. Between typographical errors and weak spots

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in the poem itself I’m actually embarrassed. Oh the terrors of the long poem . . .” (LNWP 90). A week later she had revised the long poem into a numbered series titled “TRAVELERS  /  Lake Superior Region” and resubmitted it to Arts in Society. She told Jonathan Williams, “Morgan has just taken my long Lake Superior poem for Arts in Society (it was a long poem but now I’ve cut it into short, sharp (we hope) nuggets of that rocky tour — why anyone ever wants to write a long poem?!)” (Jan. 11, 1967).11 Only in October 1967, a year later, did she omit the numbering, obscure the contemporary travelers, and further condense the poem into “Lake Superior.”12 In contrast to long poems such as “Wintergreen Ridge” (written in September/October 1967) and “Paean to Place” (written in October 1968), the layout of “Lake Superior” presents no visual template. Niedecker chose not to use her five-line stanza, by now a compositional staple. In its final form, each section of the poem is a discrete fragment with little stated continuity between parts. White space predominates over characteristically minimal placements of text, and the disparate parts coalesce within a mute and implacable topography. The two early titles — “Circle Tour” and “TRAVELERS  / Lake Superior Region” — lodge the poem with the human circumnavigators. In its final revision, the title is given to the lake. The disrupted continuities so central to Niedecker’s poetics can be traced back to an important juncture in the notes, the point where the consistent pace, sequence, and syntax of the prose narrative and indeed of other prose segments of the notes, needed to be shed. The fragmentary “Notes from the Trip” were written, I suggest, after the prose narrative as part of a necessary dismantling of the vast system of notes that had by now served its purpose. In “Notes from the Trip,” as in the poem, the chronology of the journey is barely discernible. Other continuities are interrupted too. Douglas Crase points out in his reading of “Lake Superior” that Niedecker inverts the chronology of Radisson’s life by referring first to his travels through Wisconsin — “a laborinth of pleasure” — and then the fingernail pulling by the Mohawks (335). The technique aims to suppress the expected and highlight the unexpected thereby flattening the hierarchies of official history and memory as enshrined in her prose sources. For Niedecker, prose connoted literal and figurative control. We recall

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her characterization of the predatory sentence that “lies in wait . . .” (Niedecker to Corman, February 18, 1962) and the “clause of claws” that led her to inveigh against prose in the final lines of “Foreclosure”: “may prose and property both die out  /  and leave me peace” (CW 291). To guard against the assertions of prose, she equipped herself with techniques for “disequilibrium,” Robert Duncan’s term that she quoted in a letter to Bob Nero.13 Prose was always for Niedecker the lesser genre, but here and throughout her work, it is an important originator and facilitator. Much of her poetry can be traced to her reading of prose texts, which clearly played a crucial generative role. While the emerging “Lake Superior” poem had to find ways to disengage from its prose origins, Niedecker nevertheless retained the rhythmic imprint of prose. The “drab”14 prose rhythms are a calculated refusal of heightened language. Her resistance occurs at the level of rhythm as she pushes toward anti-rhetorical extremes. The result is a consciously flattened discourse that, in “Lake Superior,” evokes the uninflected rock-like environment. One of the keys to understanding Niedecker’s method in this period lies in her ardent embrace of geology. “Geology has done so much for me!” (Niedecker to Corman, December 7, 1967). Her references to poetry were often framed in geological language: “The only time the lava really flows is those moments while the poems are being written” (Niedecker to Corman, October 24, 1967). She’s on familiar terms with rocks and dramatizes an actual encounter: “So how-do-you-do to an agate” (LNWP 311). She also felt a kinship with other mappers of the territory — “some kind of poetry [that] has been felt by several of the geologists in the region” (Niedecker to Corman, July 16, 1966) — and went so far as to identify herself with rock and earth. In Gail Roub’s photographs of her, Niedecker saw in her face “the fissures of the rock” (November 8, 1967).15 She told Corman that like limestone and gneiss, she needed an eon of time for her poem. She writes, in a pastiche of Whitman, “Every bit of you is a bit of the earth and has been on many strange and wonderful journeys over countless millions of years” (LNWP 311), referring to herself with a modest “touch of grey earth always clinging to me” (unpublished letter to Kenneth Cox, May 14, 1969). She finds daring identity between poetry and rock in her elliptical and

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compacted remark: “The Northwest passage to the Orient has its Bosho only like a ton of rock” (Niedecker to Corman, July 16, 1966). It was Jean Nicolet who, thinking he’d crossed the China Sea and found a northwest passage to the Orient, donned a flowered damask kimono for his meeting with the Winnebagoes in Wisconsin. “Bosho” was the local corruption of “Bonjour” and also, of course, the seventeenth-century Japanese haiku master translated by Corman.16 “[A] ton of rock” — geological conglomerate  — is the poetry of the northwest. Accordingly “Lake Superior” comes alive in its rock sections. Science and geology were an integral part of her developing poetics. In fact, her much cited exploratory statement of poetics in a letter to Gail Roub on June 20, 1967, should be read in terms of the geological tropes arising out of the “Lake Superior” project. The heat of lava and molten rock, the echoes of “this world of the Lake” (CW 232), the interdependence of animate and inanimate matter: Much taken up with how to define a way of writing poetry which is not Imagist nor Objectivist fundamentally nor Surrealism alone. . . . The basis is direct and clear — what has been seen or heard etc . . . —  but something gets in, overlays all that to make a state of consciousness. . . . The visual form is there in the background and the words convey what the visual form gives off after it’s felt in the mind. A heat is generated and takes in the whole world of the poem. A light, a motion, inherent in the whole. . . . The tone of the thing. And awareness of everything influencing everything. (“Letters to Gail Roub” 62–63) A scientific account of the past and present gave her access to poetry and a paradoxical release into the metaphysical. She had long been a reader of philosophers of science such as Diderot, Newton, Bertrand Russell, and others. The fusion of science and art, of the material and the metaphysical, was intoxicating for her and one that she returned to repeatedly in her reading and writing. She delighted, for instance, in the reverberating time-frames of Fontenelle’s “within the memory of a rose no gardener had been known to die” (NCZ 134). Several times in the notes, she quotes H. G. Wells’s statement that “the imagination can project 40 million years.” A typographical slip — one to savour rather than correct  — adds philosophy to a scientific observation: defining plutonic rock she

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writes, “The Platonics have cooled and solidified at some depth and much more slowly.” Her research on rocks revealed their extraordinary interdependence, both local and global: “Rubies result in the presence of chromium oxide in corundum. Sapphires depend on titanium and iron impurities in corundum.” The name “corundum,” as Donald Davie points out, derives from the southern hemisphere, the Tamil word “kuruntam” (“Lorine Niedecker” 71). “The quartz sand of Coney Island has one part of silicon and two parts oxygen, just like the quartz sand of the Sahara Desert.” Rocks propose the unities of time and space central to the vision of the poem. The experience of research and travel in the region had its exhilarations. Searching for language for the sublime, she turned to geology, which offered her an unromantic and inverse model of transcendence. As water is her medium in a poem like “Paean to Place,” so with this project it is rock, a conjunction nicely embodied in the protean Rock River that she lived beside for most of her life. In all her “Lake Superior” reading, it is the language of geology — stripped bare, bordering on abstraction — that attracts her most consistently. She chooses to immerse herself in geology rather than in human history. She might have adopted conservationism as a model, for instance, pursuing the note struck in her elegy for the extinct passenger pigeon.17 But having registered the dependence of all forms of life on rock — “In every part of every thing is stuff that once was rock” (CW 232) — she goes a step further and identifies herself and poetry with rock. She had abundant opportunities to adopt explorer/discovery rhetoric but she resisted those inflections and tropes and instead chose a more daring allegiance with rock. What language would she use to express her delight, her own “joyous” discoveries? The language of the explorers is contaminated by cruelty and special interests. She speaks of “The grand corruption of nature and language” using “corruption” with technical accuracy, but fully aware of the moral corruption of her race. There is little overt political commentary in the notes.18 She navigates her sources with care, ignoring Havighurst and others’ egregious paternalism, and simply quoting accounts of duplicity and hubris:

Jenny Penberthy  |  75 Scouting and fur-trading for Champlain, Radisson exclaimed, “We were Cesars, nobody to contradict us.” (LNWP 320) S[choolcraft]’s treaty with Indians meeting — S[choolcraft] records that a party of Indians came from Rainy Lake but had recently resided at Springing Bowstring Lake. “The chief had heard the Americans say ‘Peace, Peace.’ But he thought that advice resembled a rushing wind. It was strong and went soon. It did not abide long enough to choke up the road.”

She challenges the ideology of the Christian explorers and their bigoted historians by locating the triumph of the region in matter conventionally regarded as inert. The transcendent moments in the poem are given to the rocks whose names — dense with acoustic qualities: “azoic,” “corundum,” “gneiss” — offer a material register of their compacted histories.19 “[A]ll those rock names and geological terms [that] might have come directly word for thing” she wrote to Corman about Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem, “Once in a Cornish Garden” (August 20, 1966); “Ordinarily I don’t want line after line of science terms. But I think it might be possible that names of rocks and rock systems created or taken from usage in those early days of this not too old science of rocks and earth formation not only show up application of word to thing but maybe the delight of it all in the senses” (Niedecker to Bob Nero, August 19, 1966). Reference overlaps reverence. Further intensities in Niedecker’s poem are located in verbal conglomerates where she gives full rein to non-hierarchical linguistic effects: phonemic echoes in, for example, “Marquette grazed  /  azoic rock” (CW 233), tricks of syntax in, for example, “To Labrador and back to vanish” (CW 234), and etymological and literary undercurrents. The ritual by which Marquette’s petrified remains are disinterred is a series of water/land transpositions conducted with a “rich and strange” ornateness paralleled by the depths and echoes of the language: And his bones of such is coral raised up out of his grave were sunned and birch bark-floated to the straits (CW 233)

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If geological activity offered Niedecker a matching trope for metamorphosing language, it also offered her a natural model for the subliminal operations of the mind and for stratified layers of consciousness. Hard geological terms abutting airy, mental constructs apparently posed no contradiction for her and offered instead an incidental opportunity for wit. It was in the 1960s that she made an explicit return to her 1930s experiments in representing “planes of consciousness”20: “I felt something like subliminals coming on. . . . reverting to my youth!” she wrote to Corman on December 15, 1966. Five months earlier, following her intense note-taking on the natural and human history of the Lake Superior region, she had remarked to Corman, “we are always inhabiting more than one realm of existence — but they all fit in if the art is right” (July 16, 1966). The great lake is scarcely addressed in the poem. From the notes, we know the lake by a variety of names: “the shining big sea water,” “the China Sea,” “the blue profound,” “the purest of the lakes.”21 But the voices of human history and written records are fleeting, and much of the poem is given to silence. While its provenance lies in journeying, it dwells in a kind of awed stasis, an arrested momentum, an unbreathing verticality, all of which evokes the great lake at the center. On the evidence of the collection of “Lake Superior” notes, the art of the poem for Niedecker required a daunting blend of both mastery and chance. Of her later poem “Thomas Jefferson,” she reported to Kenneth Cox, “[I did] all that reading beforehand (until I realized what am I doing? — writing a biography or history?? No, all I could do is fill up the subconscious and let it lie and fish up later)” (The Full Note 40, letter dated Feb. 2, 1970). A poetry founded on mastery and chance offers several planes for the reader to traverse, an effect described by Niedecker as “sliding in and out of the subcon[cious], the con[scious] showing at instants like the different shades and shapes of leaves and grass in the sunlight” and “the fascination of something rich and strange — out of shadows or dark stricture suddenly this brilliant and telling wit of wit or clear description or image.”22 It’s a model that reinterprets the awe-inspiring and the ordinary. She wrote to Bob Nero, “I dream of an ease of speech that takes in the universe” (April 20, 1967). At the same time she recalled her beginnings: “Early in life I looked back of our buildings and said, ‘I am what

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I am because of all this.’ ”23 “Lake Superior” negotiates the local and the global, the self and the species: we are what we are because of all this. Her point of access is the unselfconscious notations of geology and pre-history. There, through her own painstaking practice, she locates the solace of an immanent infinite.

Notes Unacknowledged quotations are drawn from the unpublished “Lake Superior” notes. For permission to publish, thanks to the Hoard Historical Museum in Fort Atkinson. Niedecker’s letters to Cid Corman are drawn from Lisa Pater Faranda’s invaluable edition, “Between Your House and Mine”: The Letters of Lorine Niedecker to Cid Corman, 1960 to 1970. Letters from Niedecker to Bob Nero are unpublished  — thanks to Bob Nero for permission to publish. The majority of Niedecker’s letters to Kenneth Cox are unpublished too and my thanks go to the Cox estate for permission to publish. Finally, my thanks go to the Niedecker literary estate, now in the capable hands of Bob Arnold. 1. In 1963, Niedecker married Al Millen and her misspelled “millennium” is a deliberate play on his name. 2. The archive of “Lake Superior” notes in the Hoard Historical Museum in Fort Atkinson offers little in the way of notebooks. Most of the notes are loose-leaf typescripts and manuscripts of varying dimensions. Niedecker’s comment raises the possibility that the collection of notes may not be complete. 3. After Niedecker’s death in 1970, Al Millen followed her instructions to burn all of her remaining letters and papers. One cardboard box went unnoticed and was passed to Gail and Bonnie Roub by Al’s daughter, Julie Schoessow. This box contained the “Lake Superior” notes and Niedecker’s photograph collection. 4. Letter of January 4, 1956. 5. Nero, Truck 16, 137. 6. Some of the other books consulted for the project include Journey into Summer: A Naturalist’s Record of a 19,000 Mile Journey through the North American Summer by Edwin Way Teale; Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth by Herman and Nina Schneider; Darwin’s Century by Loren Eiseley; and The Common Sense of Science by J. Bronowski. 7. Niedecker’s Wisconsin origins plus her wartime research for Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State would have provided early immersion in state lore. A 1940s “New Goose” manuscript poem registers her exposure to the history of the Lake Superior region:

78  |  nat ur a l a nd p ol it ic a l hist or ies Voyageurs sang, rowed their canoes full of furs, sang as they rowed. Ten minutes every hour rested their load. (CW 117) 8. Day 1: Green Bay, Escanaba, Gladstone, Manistique; day 2: St. Ignace, Sault Saint Marie (Michigan); day 3: Sault Saint Marie (Canada), Wawa, White River; day 4: Marathon, Lake Nipigon, Port Arthur; day 5: Fort William, Pigeon River, Schroeder, Grand Marais, Two Harbours, Duluth, Itasca, Winnibigoshish, Lake Bemidji, Walker, Leech Lake, Swan River; day 6: Brainard, Lake St. Croix, Pine City, Little Falls; day 7: Fort Atkinson. 9. See Niedecker’s letters to Clayton Eshleman. 10. Her 1966 Christmas card to the Neros includes an excerpt “from Circle Tour.” Strange that she should use “Circle Tour” when she had revised it in October. 11. From an unpublished letter to Jonathan Williams. Thanks to Jonathan Williams and Poetry/Rare Books Collection, SUNY-Buffalo for permission to quote. 12. Lisa Pater Faranda gives an excellent account of the revisions in “Composing a Place: Two Versions of Lorine Niedecker’s ‘Lake Superior’ ” North Dakota Quarterly, Fall 1997, 348–64. 13. She was reading Duncan’s “Towards an Open Universe.” (Niedecker’s letters to Bob Nero during the period of writing and revising “Lake Superior” and the related “Traces of Living Things” — roughly June 1966 to October 1967 — quote Robert Duncan’s essay several times, for example, “We are all the many expressions of living matter” and “a dancing organization between personal and cosmic identity.”) In Niedecker’s papers in the Dwight Foster Public Library in Fort Atkinson is her quotation from H. H. Honda in The Poetry of Tabuboku: “Poems . . . should not be thorough and complete, but piecemeal and fragmentary.” 14. Both Donald Davie (“Lorine Niedecker” 70) and Thom Gunn (25) use the word “drab” when talking about other Niedecker poems. 15. Niedecker, “Letters to Gail Roub,” 44. 16. Back Roads to Far Towns, trans. Cid Corman and Kamaike Susumu (New York: Grossman, 1968). It first appeared in Origin, ser. 2, 14 (1964). 17. The only note of conscience in Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State is in the chapter on “Conservation” contributed or at least overseen by Aldo Leopold. 18. Davie criticizes her failure to pass judgment on the cruelty of the colonial explorers (“Lorine Niedecker” 72). Douglas Crase believes that Niedecker’s judgment lies in her practice of omission — an ethics of omission (334). 19. There is no indication that Niedecker was aware of the gemstone Kunzite

Jenny Penberthy  |  79 discovered and named in 1902 by George Frederick Kunz (1856–1932), a gemologist employed at Tiffany in New York. Niedecker’s maternal name was Kunz. My thanks to Marilla Fuge in Fort Atkinson for this information. 20. LNWP 181. 21. Water had powerful resonance for Niedecker: “Of course I don’t care for Gods and Kings etc. in my poems but the wetness, the loaded with legend (water lege  — well, just to say the word water loads me with writing material . . .” (unpublished letter to Kenneth Cox, undated). 22. Niedecker writing to Kenneth Cox about the effect of reading Mallarmé and Zukofsky. She could be describing her own poetry (unpublished letter to Kenneth Cox, undated). 23. “Letters to Gail Roub” 42.

Sounding Process

Lisa Robertson

In Phonographic Deep Song Sounding Niedecker

I’ll begin by proposing a decorative chronology, a frieze of quotation. If perceptive organs vary, objects of perception seem to vary. (Blake) The forming of the five senses is a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present. (K. Marx) In 1874, Alexander Graham Bell and Clarence Blake constructed a most curious machine. A direct ancestor of the telephone and phonograph, it consisted of an excised human ear attached by thumbscrews to a wooden chassis. The ear/phonautograph produced tracings of sound on a sheet of smoked glass when sound entered the mouthpiece. One at a time, users would speak into the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece would channel the vibrations of the voices through the ear, and the ear would vibrate a small stylus. After speaking, users would immediately afterward see the tracings of their speech on the smoked glass. This machine . . . used the human ear as a mechanism to transduce sound: it turned audible vibrations into . . . a set of tracings. (Sterne 31) In 1888 Heinrich Hertz, professor of experimental physics . . . generated a string of sparks across the secondary winding of a transformer,

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radiated the resulting electromagnetic waves from an antenna, reflected them from a metal sheet suspended at the far end of his laboratory, and measured the distance between the crests with a simple receiver composed of a loop of wire, with a small gap across which sparks were visible. By doing so, Hertz became the first to measure the velocity of a radio wave, confirming in the process the predictions of James Clerk Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetic radiation.” (Aitkens 31) In the early part of 1894, Marconi was holidaying in the Italian Alps and chanced to read an obituary and tribute to the German scientist Hertz. As he read the description of the experiments Hertz had conducted, Marconi was gripped with an insight which was to become his abiding passion for the next 40 or more years: perhaps the electromagnetic radiation that Hertz had demonstrated could be used as a means of achieving communication without wires. At that instant was born what we now call radio. (Jensen 10) In 1897 Oliver Lodge developed and patented the concept of syntony. The principal underlying the patent was this: “the antennae systems of both transmitter and receiver [were] made sharply resonant at the intended frequency. The two antennae had to form a syntonic system. Energy would be coupled into the antennae circuit in the case of the transmitter, and out of it in the case of the receiver, in such a way as to disturb its natural resonance as little as possible” (Aitkens 130). In brief, syntony was a constructed, resonant compatibility within a sending and receiving circuit. In 1919, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of his childhood experience of the early phonograph: “When someone spoke or sang into the funnel, the needle in the parchment transferred the sound waves onto the impressionable surface slowly turning beneath it, and then, when the zealous pointer was allowed to retrace its own path — trembling, wavering out of the paper cone, the sound that was just a moment ago still ours, unsteady now, indescribably soft and timid and at times fading out altogether, came back to us. This always had a most powerful effect. Our class wasn’t exactly disciplined, and there couldn’t have been many moments when it attained such a de-

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gree of silence . . . We children stood, as it were, opposite a new, infinitely sensitive place in reality, from which we were addressed by something that far surpassed us, yet that was, in some unsayable way, still a beginner and in need of our help” (299). Lorine Niedecker was born in 1903, the year after the first flat 78 rpm phonograph record was produced. In 1942, she briefly worked at the Madison radio station WHA, where she wrote scripts for a program of her own (LNWP 96). In her work, the electronic reproduction of sound inflects and complicates phonic experience. The sonic environmental context, sound technologies, the verbal shaping of sound, and their internalization in thought, are interdependent phenomena. Sound’s perception is itself part of an active shaping, and this shaping constitutes a cognitive feedback pattern. The mimetic subtraction of sound from its originating environmental matrix by recording devices, and the spatial and temporal displacement effected by broadcasting, introduce a caesura into the continuum of perception. This caesura functions as a seam that articulates the differentials in sensing. The listener is sewn through by her listening. She carries within herself a pleasurable displacement. And technology itself is sewn through, animated by an identificatory and recombinant subjectivity. Listening’s resonance is in every particular “false,” as she says of “the contemporary” in her 1933 poem “Progression” “but no less admirable for that” (CW 27). There is no autonomous or pure sound after the phonograph — only mutual systems of syntony. This is a rich and excellent fact. Voice is loosened from source and its various eschatological anxieties. Voice is the resonant and productive compatibility or slippage among systems. Perhaps “ravenous for the sound” as she has Darwin say it (“Darwin,” CW 296), Niedecker mourned her mother “not hearing canvasbacks  /  . . . not hearing” (CW 296), and wrote “the emotion of fall has its seat in the acoustic gland” (“Progression,” CW 31), and also “I suppose man is, in the most sensitive physical part of him, an electrical apparatus, switches, wires, etc . . . ” (“Switchboard Girl,” CW 336). Perhaps the acoustic gland is sometimes outside the body, like the seductive technologies of radio or phonograph. I’m not referring to the feminized lure of the consumption of popular culture that finds its place in early modernist poems — In “The

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Wasteland,” for example, Eliot offers a clichéd image of the dumbeddown boredom of women’s use of the new acoustic technology —  When lovely woman stoops to folly and Paces about her room again, alone, She smooths her hair with automatic hand, And puts a record on the gramophone.    (The Complete Poems and Plays 44) For Eliot, woman and gramophone, each a mindless and attractive reproductive automaticity, are paired emblems floated on the field of modern vanity and ennui. They are mutually alienated in their repetitive inauthenticity. But I’d like to ask — how does she listen? And specifically, how does the listening device of the gramophone or radio shape and reshape listening? I’m interested in the presence of listening in Niedecker’s work, listening as a shaped, material practice of reception. Specifically I’d like to consider listening as a compositional practice rather than as a mode of consumption. The listener devises tactics of receiving in order to turn sound toward shapeliness. Listening is an active, shaped, and responsive attentiveness to, and among, environmental acoustics. My understanding of listening as composition has been guided by the electro-acoustic composer Pauline Oliveros, who teaches listening techniques as responsive followings outward of sound — whether vocal, environmental, or electronically reproduced — by the attending subject. That is, the listener, in internal alertness, waits for sonic information from the world, then attentively follows a perceived line of sound in its environmental movement, greeting or responding with a performed or imagined reciprocal sonic movement, next turning to a slightly altered performative trajectory as each perceived sound movement ceases or dwindles and a new one arises. The information Oliveros gives about how to compose is not metaphorical, but technical. Each compositional listening gesture places itself in moving, improvised relation to existing frequencies. In this sense, listening is itself a syntonic construct or agent. It composes compatibilities. But in imagining how to discuss such listening techniques in relation to Niedecker’s poems, I ran

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into some trouble. That is, I can’t speak for her subjectivity and its process. The performative interiority of process, even a materially based process, seems to remain private. The poems remain as listening’s trace. So I’m placing her writing in the context of a speculative description of the new sound technologies of the early twentieth century. I’m specifically not trying to prove a quantifiable influence of radio or phonograph or stenography on certain poems or periods of her writing. I’m posing the material history of sound reproduction technology as a frame for considering listening as a technical composing. Here listening is passive in that it receives, and artful in that it complicates, transduces, the assumed binary of inner and outer, of subjective experience, and worldly economy, of reception and extension. And here I’d suggest that passivity is an intensely figured grouping of agencies and techniques of reception, rather than an erasure of agency, a feminized naught. Niedecker charts this co-determining movement of reception and extension in what we might call the acoustic subject, in the 1933 poem “Progression”: I must have been washed in listenably across the landscape to merge with bitterns unheard but pumping, and saw, and hammer a hill away; sounds, then whatsound, then by churchbell or locomotive volubility, what, so unto the one constriction: what am I and why not. (CW 31) Her adverbial subject does not project identity, but loosely gathers identity’s strands from all over the sonorous landscape, to bring them, or follow them, to a point of questioning that only freshly releases potentials. In this sentence two directional compulsions coexist; as the listenable pronoun receives, “I” also fluently disperses across place to be washed in, “listenably.” We have not so much a knot, as a pleasurably harmonic slippage in sound’s uncertain, yet constituting movements, a slippage paced in the dense lines by consonantal stutter or static, a slippage that wittily twists to address itself — “what am I and why not.” A related slippage can be read in the juxtaposition of technologically reproduced sound, with an unmediated, organic model of sound’s — or silence’s 

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— sensual authenticity. In the opening stage directions to the 1935 play “Domestic and Unavoidable,” we read a complicity, a syntony, in the comparison of falling voices to a radio’s dreaded dead air (dreaded for the broadcaster, that is) — yet for Niedecker the turned-on, static-making silent radio is an organ of potentiality, as alive at least as the biological apparatus: “A confused murmur of voices of men and women from dining room soon becomes merely a suspicion of sound as of air in a tunnel or as a loudspeaker of a radio turned on but not speaking — movement in stillness out of which the action of the words becomes clear” (CW 68–70). In this play, a young man seated at a desk listens to voices emanating from an adjoining room. Of the other speakers, only their shadows are visible on the stage. In the following stage directions, she consistently places the word “sound” in quotation marks: “Even ‘sound’ ceases. There is now and while young girl and man are to talk normal and absolute quiet” (CW 69), and “Confused murmur becomes ‘sound’ ” (CW 70). The odd punctuation choice signals an equivocation. Can we say what sound is, if it is also composed of silence? In Niedecker’s description and placement of sound and its relation to silence, the radio denatures silence, transforms it into a technological reproduction, and it denatures sound as a positive quality or phenomenon. Sound is perhaps always sound/silence in productive, receptive syntony. It is an odd thing to read silence doubled thus. This doubling provides for the “movement in stillness” so that the voice, or silence itself, can figure as movement, rather than meaning in its ontological presence or absence. The effect is an exchange, or circuit in the habitual figure/ground relation between vocality and silence. The not-speaking radio becomes the cultural organ, the acoustic gland, with silence as its fuzzy but active material product. In a semantic reversal of originary values, it is the turned-on but unspeaking radio speaker that gives meaning to the drifting, delocalized voice, as if whatever the voice is receives and is suspended in a syntony with technology’s silence. This is syntony — a constructed compatibility between systems. It’s a useful word for thinking through what might happen when sound’s movement turns inward, becomes a material of thought. In a 1949 letter to Louis Zukofsky, Niedecker wrote of Mozart — “I read and read and it’s all like that music that I never seem to grasp, but always transports and never means twice the same. I love

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it because I feel that I think this way, not thought, but everything in a movement of words” (NCZ 157). I hear here the echo of her “movement in stillness.” In Niedecker’s work, thought’s not a noun, but a syntonic shift acted through or among acoustic environmental movements — it’s an attunement receptive to material silence, perpetual shift, and vibration. Thought attends the acoustical. It’s silence’s movement. Circuitously, this brings me to my own introduction to Niedecker’s poetry. In the mid-eighties, as a student I worked at the Contemporary Literature Collection at Simon Fraser University, helping to catalog the poetry audiotape archive. This archive holds the only publicly available copy of Niedecker’s recorded voice, made in 1970, by Cid Corman. On this audio cassette recording, she reads from a typescript of Harpsichord & Salt Fish, then concludes with a brief comment on her writing, before the tape cuts off. It was a shock and an excitement to me to hear her unscripted speaking voice. I’ll cite her from my faulty and persisting memory — more and more I think in lines of poetry, all day long, and even in the night. I recall her small, firm sounding voice through screen of tape hiss, and the slight snap of the tape ending, or the machine being switched off, my disappointment in the fracture of the recording. This brief, clear statement, the poet thinking in lines of poetry, even in the night, has in my imagination continued to cycle back into itself, shaping a question — what is it to think thought’s line? I’d like to return this idea of thinking in lines to Niedecker’s “movement in stillness,” or “everything in a movement of words.” As the sensing mind turns outward in a worldly gesture of perceiving that extends, it turns inward also, and with a similar perceptive attention receives and follows its own material silence, a silence that has been brought forward as semantic by its implication in technologies of reproduction. Thinking, an analogic activity, is phonographic. I think we would be mistaken to regard this turn from world to thinking either as a dematerialization, or as a rhetorical turning, or trope. Unless, that is, we return the notion of rhetoric itself to a corporal vitality, an institutionally framed gestural stance in a living acoustic environment. The thinker — try as she might — never stops hearing a world, and that hearing unfolds in at least two times: in the bodily, environmental present, and in the laterally displaced time of

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sound’s representation in thinking and technology. Could we say that as the poet’s body (already in syntonic relation with various technologies) attends sound, transducing, becoming the syntonic vehicle, this sound twists inwardly to insist on the very material fact and vibration of thought as a non-autonomous responsive medium which indeed stutters, wavers, snaps, twists? Not always fluent, floated on its caesura, stopped up by an enjambment, but nevertheless following some call in a direction we could characterize as outward, the thinking line of poetry could be the moving trace and the technology of this sensual cognitive event. For a poet forming her ear amidst the burgeoning sound technologies of the twentieth century, listening itself becomes ludic artifice. And so, in Niedecker we read the trace of this sounding play as it transduces into a listenable thinking “by churchbell or locomotive volubility, what, so unto.” Her thinking indeed receives an environment, enjambs it with a static, to cause perceptible limits and turns in direction or velocity. Lorine Niedecker thinks in poetry — as if poetry is the palpable phonographic static through which the movement of thinking becomes perceptible as an incompleted cognitive investment in a sensed environment. Because it is incompleted, because it holds within it the material resistance and conscious falsity of perceiving, the thinking line continues to move and turn. This prepositional inwardness has learned from the acoustic gland.

Patrick Pritchett

How to Do Things with Nothing Lorine Niedecker Sings the Blues

The year 1903 marks the conventional date assigned to the birth of the blues. As W. C. Handy describes it in his memoirs, while waiting on a late-running train in Tutwiler, Mississippi, he was wakened from a fitful doze by the sound of a knife being drawn across the strings of a guitar. “The weirdest music I had ever heard,” Handy called it (74). That weirdness has persisted in the hundred years since, despite the ruthless forces of convention, imitation, and marketing. The blues can survive anything it seems. Even Eric Clapton. What accounts in part for its remarkable longevity is its deeply idiomatic resonance, its ability to do so much with almost nothing. Doing things with nothing has always been the way of the blues. It’s been the modus operandi for Lorine Niedecker as well, herself a child of 1903. Niedecker’s work offers a study in the determined persistence of a disciplined minimalism, one marked sharply by hardship as a double outsider, both as a woman and a poet, and the kinds of attention which result from such conditions of alienation. By pairing Niedecker’s birth with the entrance of the blues into mainstream American culture, I aim to do more than offer an argument of convenient coincidence. Niedecker’s stark music of abjection and exile surely derides any attempt to consign her to the role of patron saint for a certain species of precious self-effacement. Her work not only invites comparison


to the blues; it is itself, I would argue, a cogent form of the blues. In its laconic use of folk speech, its sly, often subversive, humor, but above all, in its concerns with isolation and waste, marsh mud and flood water, her poems vividly figure not just the painful presence of loss, but its uncanny ability to embody a sense of intimacy inside brokenness. By taking up waste and negation for her subjects, Niedecker creates a space that affirms marginality, difference, and exile as terms of a deeper belonging. In so many of her poems a powerful sense of dispossession is transformed into a source of enjoyment through a shiver as weird as anything in a Muddy Waters guitar solo. In a word, the blues. It may sound like I’m offering a rather perverse argument here. But how else to explain the effect of this untitled poem from the sequence, For Paul and Other Poems? What horror to awake at night and in the dimness see the light. Time is white mosquitoes bite I’ve spent my life on nothing. The thought that stings. How are you, Nothing, sitting around with Something’s wife. Buzz and burn is all I learn I’ve spent my life on nothing. I’m pillowed and padded, pale and puffing, lifting household stuffing —  carpets, dishes benches, fishes I’ve spent my life in nothing. (CW 147–48) The sense of internal exile in these lines is harrowing. But what does it mean  — to spend your life on nothing? Or perhaps more to the point, what does it mean that, in the first stanza, “nothing” pointedly rhymes with nothing? That in the second stanza, “Nothing” rhymes internally with “Something” and then with “nothing”? That the final stanza, in a very sweet dialectical

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move that might have provoked the envy and admiration of Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, “nothing” is made to rhyme with “puffing” and “stuffing,” both figures for an ironically posed inflation that spikes the speaker’s sense of deflation. Is “nothing,” then, figural speech for a certain kind of something? There’s no doubt Niedecker was very much aware of the power of the blues. Rachel Blau DuPlessis recounts her 1966 letter to Cid Corman in which she writes that she “must have that blues book you spoke of ” (LNWP 132). And in a letter to Louis Zukofsky from 1946, Niedecker quotes with obvious approval a remark by Duke Ellington about jazz as a form of “folk music” (NCZ 135). Niedecker’s attitude toward blues and jazz and her incorporation of some of its techniques into her poetry points to a broader pattern in modernism of what critic Aldon Nielsen calls “transracial signifying practices.” For Nielsen, any thorough account of American poetics must be one capable of reading “the multitudinous ways in which black writings relate themselves to . . . writing by whites” (36). Of equal importance, I would say, would be an examination of how white writing takes up the tropes of black writing. It’s instructive, for instance, to compare Niedecker’s lines with the lyrics of Bessie Smith, “Empress of the Blues” and the author of “Wasted Life Blues.” In this song Smith laments: I’ve lived a life but nothin’ I’ve gained Each day I’m full of sorrow and pain No one seems to care enough for poor me, to give me a word of sympathy Oh, me! Oh, me! Wonder what will become of poor me? I don’t mean to infer some direct line of transmission here. Common idioms circulate freely within and between cultural networks of influence. What is significant about both texts is the ways in which both Smith and Niedecker employ a seemingly meager vernacular to maximum effect. “Nothin’ ” in Smith’s usage works, like Niedecker’s, to point up the drastic inequity between labor and profit, particularly for women. Niedecker may sound a less plaintive note than Smith’s, but both of these blues make plain the wages of feminine sorrows, libidinal or otherwise, in their respective author’s lives. Pierre Bourdieu reminds us that “linguistic exchange . . . is also an


economic exchange which is established within a particular symbolic relation of power” (66). So to rephrase my question slightly, why is it that Niedecker spends her life on “nothing”? In what kind of economy is “nothing” something that can be purchased? What model of expenditure is it that permits this kind of anti-productive labor? And is it really anti-productive? In order to read Niedecker’s negativity in this poem as fruitful we need to read “nothing” in a double sense, as both denotative and figural. This affirmative poetics of failure, whether we call it the via negativa of the medieval mystics, or just the blues, is what allows Niedecker, riffing on a poem by the Earl of Rochester, to create something from “nothing.” “Nothing” signifies both the catastrophe that capitalism has wreaked on human relations and the reverse side of the coin, a radical plenitude, issued by emptiness, that if not surpassing the forces of the market, at least affords an escape from them. It’s a common practice to associate the feminine with figures for vacancy, but what’s intriguing in Niedecker’s treatment is how Nothing appears as a third party, a presence “sitting around with” Something and Something’s wife.   How are you, Nothing, sitting around with Something’s wife. (147) Nothing’s tertiary status forces open an active wedge here, striking a note of independence and threatening to dissolve the matrimonial dyad. As Angela Davis notes, writing of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, the blues allowed women to find a voice outside of normative bourgeois discourse by providing them with “a space where women could express themselves in new ways in which they sometimes affirmed the dominant middleclass ideology but could also deviate from it” (47). This newness of expression which the blues suddenly makes available to women places it firmly within the vibrant emergence of pluralist modernist idioms. Niedecker’s shrewd deployment of colloquial speech signals her intention to use one such idiom as a subversive tool on behalf of feminist agency, much the same way Rainey and Smith used the blues to voice concerns unique to women that had hitherto been suppressed or unsayable. By rewriting the dyad so that “Nothing” replaces the husband — “Some-

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thing” — and assumes the role of partner in the wife’s life, Niedecker creates within the restrictive patriarchal space of marriage, a space where “Time is white,” a secret location of inner resource. “Nothing” offers a means of escape from the laboring feminine body’s dual status as reproductive agent and indentured servant. In registering her destitution, the depersonalizing pressures of ideology that compel such erasure are reinscribed. “Buzz and burn  /  is all I learn” may refer to the 3 am torment of a mosquito-infested white night, or even to the miseries of sexual frustration in marriage, as the line “the thought that stings” infers (147). But it also acknowledges the ability of lyric to tutor one in the peculiar consolation of the negative. “Buzz and burn” cedes to the poem what belongs to it alone. Like bending a string in the deepest blues, it hums with the rawness of a something that hovers on the other side of nothing. At the heart of Niedecker’s brilliant use of such vernacular is an ability to revivify human energy from the wasting procedures of loss. Georges Bataille’s theory of “the accursed share,” according to which any economy will necessarily generate a certain irreducible surplus resulting in either an excessive expenditure on war or some form of spectacular consumption, is turned here to good account, as it were. “The living organism,” he writes, “receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of the system . . . if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be completely absorbed in its growth, it will necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically” (21). Bataille conceives of this surplus as an excess that is altogether outside any notion of utility. It is, in a way, nothing itself, if by nothing is meant that which lacks any use value — a complete squandering of energy. Such squandering is irrational. It defies all attempts at absorption, posing the threat of rupture to the economy that produces it. In the economy of “What horror” the semiotic properties of “buzz and burn” generate just such a squandering, wringing from the desolation of inner catastrophe a note of lyric luxury. By the end of the poem, negation has been dialectically repositioned — “I’ve spent my life in nothing,” rather than “on nothing” — so that it negates the inaugural sense of negation, creating a new positivity. In emphasizing Niedecker’s vernacular I am not only referring to the


more obvious sense of plain speech or dialect, but to the older Latin meaning of the word, which denotes a slave born onto her master’s estate. Colloquial or vernacular speech is the language of the disinherited and the dispossessed. It’s through this secondary sense that I want to suggest that Niedecker’s expenditure of and on nothing acts as a method for divesting herself of her commodified status. In this way she is able to claim for herself a counter-currency. Niedecker’s fidelity to “nothing” is so moving because it refigures the struggle to pronounce failure and disappointment in positive terms. “Nothing” means the poem will live outside the stream of commodity exchange. “Nothing” signifies an extraordinary defiance, a poetics that refuses to be nominated into any economy but its own. Luce Irigaray’s famous negative description of women’s historical plight — “woman is still the place, the whole of the place in which she cannot take possession of herself as such” — finds an empowering response in Niedecker’s blues (227). One that sings “at the top  / of my white  /  resignment” as the poet declares (CW 55). I realize I am starting to make Lorine Niedecker sound a bit like the Samuel Beckett of Black Hawk Island. And there’s more than a little truth to that. But to play further on the economic conceit I’ve set up, Niedecker’s via negativa is really a route to self-repossession. St. John of the Cross (via T. S. Eliot) sums it up this way in Four Quartets: “In order to possess what you do not possess  /  You must go by way of dispossession” (29). To inscribe presence by way of erasure is, of course, a primary feature of negative theology. In this tradition of mystical thought, the purely rhetorical turn of apophasis is carried to its utmost limit. The thing that most urgently needs saying, namely God, is that which precisely cannot be said. Like Bataille’s accursed share, it’s surplus that exists outside signification. This anti-notational process of signifying is described by contemporary theologian Jean-Luc Marion as an act of “de-nomination” that does not result in “a metaphysics of presence . . . rather, it ends up as a theology of absence — where the name is given as having no name, as not giving the essence, and having nothing but this absence to make manifest” (37). Niedecker’s concerns in this poem could scarcely be described as theological. But her poetics of absence operates along similar lines, where for God we would read instead a specifically female laboring subject. The

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doubly-encoded speech of the blues, by which “nothing” means “something,” permits Niedecker to critique gendered speaking roles through an apophatic strategy of anti-notation. Apophasis as a form of resistance subverts women’s position as nonspeaking subjects in a symbolic order legislated by men. By drawing authority from a refusal to signify, she amplifies her ability to speak in a self-affirming register. The blues, we might say, squanders affirmation when it’s at its most negative. Funded by an assertive evacuation of the self, Niedecker opens up inside this spare poem a vast utopian surplus, a space of hope, that resists and defies the repressive operations of a dehumanizing (masculine) economy. It’s worth remembering that the word utopia itself designates a negative space. By using it here I mean to indicate not so much a place as a practice, even a discipline, if you will. To create a utopian surplus is the real work of poetry and the blues. Nothing, in this negative economy, becomes a potent signifier for transcendence, a way of getting beyond ideology. This movement toward the negative marks a radical reforming of women’s status in capitalist culture. It receives an equally forceful articulation in Niedecker’s reproach of marriage, “I rose from marsh mud,” which, significantly, is collected along with “What horror,” in For Paul and Other Poems, a volume ostensibly conceived of as a kind of didactic valentine to Louis and Celia Zukofsky’s son. With its bitter indictment of the institution sanctioned with the production of offspring, it seems an odd poem to place in a book dedicated to the child of one’s closest friends. I rose from marsh mud, algae, equisetum, willows, sweet green, noisy birds and frogs to see her wed in the rich rich silence of the church, the little white slave-girl in her diamond fronds. In aisle and arch the satin secret collects.


United for life to serve silver. Possessed. (CW 170) Marjorie Perloff accounts for this oddness by concluding that the poems in For Paul are intended not for the son, but the father, and that in so doing Niedecker makes Paul “her own poetic child” (170). Read this way, the entire collection takes on a distinctly Gothic tone, with the phrase For Paul acting as the crucial imploration for a massive figural displacement. “What horror” takes its place at the center of this strange ghost sonata as an elegy for the child she and Zukofsky would have had together in the 1930s had she not undergone an abortion. And the line which begins the poem’s third stanza, “I’m pillowed and padded, pale and puffing,” mocks its speaker with a parodic parade of some of pregnancy’s key emblems. As Jenny Penberthy remarks in her introduction to Collected Works, Zukofsky’s “ambivalence” toward the poems of For Paul was a major reason it never saw publication in the way Niedecker had intended. Zukofsky’s resistance, whatever the reasons, makes current readings of “What horror” and its related lyrics in the collection — poems such as “Wartime,” “Mother is dead,” and the sequence “Depression Years” — all the more poignant. Making a pact with nothing is certainly a way of locating and asserting an inviolable core identity in a culture where the female body is always read as a sign of expendable capital and a woman is reduced to a “slave-girl . . . Possessed.” At the same time, a profound note of mourning marks these poems — not, assuredly, for marriage and its spurious ideological rewards — but for some more stable architecture of belonging, one capable of building sexual passion and the cohesions of family into its structure along with the more basic creature comforts Niedecker so often sorely lacked. (Unless ideology itself is conceived of as already laying claim to those very structures of belonging and inseparable from them.) Lacan writes that “the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other” (58). Frustrated in her desire to achieve this recognition as both woman and poet, whether from Zukofsky or someone else, Niedecker stages a drama of decreated subjectivity, choosing to spend her life in nothing, rather than being consumed by its annulling forces. It’s as if the poet, confronted with a void, embraces that voidedness as a way of comprising subjectivity itself. For as Zizek notes in Tarrying with the Negative:

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The Lacanian distinction between the subject of enunciation and the subject of the enunciated: everything that I positively am, every enunciated content I can point at and say that’s me is not “I;” I am only the void that remains, the empty distance toward every content. (40) This sounds extreme. But it’s not too much to suggest that Niedecker’s “thought that stings” in a bleak white night is one in which “nothing” derives its power not from the way it occupies or even contests a central lack or void, but from how it perversely persists as nothing: a flat-out refusal, a resistance toward an externally determined subject position as the rejected lover, the ignored wife, the childless mother, that is itself an irreducible position of selfhood. Assessing the pain of the blues, musicologist Robert Palmer asks, “How much history can be transmitted by pressure on a guitar string?” (277). Likewise, we might ask: how much weight can a single word carry, a word like nothing? The weight of the world, as it turns out. The colloquial for Niedecker was more than an act of ventriloquism. She saw it as an essential part of her art, a way to produce a more direct form of speech. Vernacular folk speech must be more than an act of mimicry. For Niedecker, it issues from the seemingly innocuous, but very telling, violence that it performs on official, normative discourse. The terse contractions and anguished clarity of the vernacular in her poems come across much like so many flatted blue notes. Yet Niedecker’s rejection of the exceptional, as Peter Middleton puts it, belies the extraordinary craft that went into making her stinging blues (The Objectivist Nexus 183). In desiring to achieve the utopian ideal of a direct folk speech, they approach the hypothetical zero degree of writing — that is, they seem not to be a style at all, but a medium of perfect transparency. But are they? While they are certainly much more than mere ventriloquism, it has to be said that once even blues speech is encoded in written form it becomes just that: a style of writing. And since all style contains within it both a structural element of violence and an unconscious drift toward reification, the goal of attaining a pure transmission of folk speech will always fall short. Nevertheless, Niedecker’s use of colloquial speech demands that we upgrade our competency in reading the idioms of modernism. The blues style


in her work, whether we compare it to Bessie Smith or Woody Guthrie, achieves its success by championing the language of the displaced through a figural displacement of language. The vernacular, so frequently disparaged by the wardens of official culture, becomes the instrument par excellence for a utopian expression of that most dangerous of emotions, hope. Hope is what keeps the blues alive. Hope knows it is bound for disappointment and defeat. But without it, just as without the idea of utopia, nothing else is really possible. Indeed, it’s in the very expression of hopelessness, of some ultimate denudation of spirit, that the work of the blues, riffing on “nothing,” gets done. The quaint list of domestic emblems which close the poem exemplify this approach. “Carpets, dishes  /  benches, fishes” — as fetishes for the security of the home they could hardly be more banal. This catalog of the quotidian, with its rhythm of slow depreciation, quietly undermines the idea of comfort the fetish hopes to supply, supplanting it with a valedictory rhyme scheme whose very neatness drives home the dagger, “the thought that stings” (147–48). Her sense of affliction, while cutting, displays a wry species of irony that is also a distinctly American form of self-cognizance. As a constellation of routine and depletion, “carpets, dishes  /  benches, fishes” both ratifies and subtly mocks the poem’s tone of oppression. The poem’s colloquial counter-idiom eschews the more abstract usages of vernacular that mark Eliot’s brand of modernist pastiche. Instead, Niedecker works closer to the ground, like the blues, to offer a trenchant critique of capitalism and gender. Her adroit deployment of vernacular and rhyme as consciously formal elements skews the poem’s apparent drollness and daintiness, strengthening its ethical claim on our imaginations. Much like H.D.’s vocalizing of the silent Eurydice, in which the spurned wife of Orpheus mounts a defiant blues that allows her to claim, against her loss of earth, that “hell is no worse,” Niedecker in “What horror” owns and inhabits her solitude with a force that redrafts the terms for a poetics of failure into a dynamic sense of self-possession (39). It’s worth noting that for both poets, liberation from the impoverishing effects of the masculine turns on repolarizing the valences of nothingness and loss. H.D.’s Eurydice begins by asking:

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why did you turn back, that hell should be reinhabited of myself thus swept into nothingness? (36) And a few stanzas later, she concludes, defiantly: I tell you this: such loss is no loss, such terror, such coils and strands and pitfalls of blackness, such terror is no loss; hell is no worse than your earth. (39) While mythic in setting, H.D.’s staging of the drama of the heteronor­ mative dyad shares with Niedecker’s a deeply domestic character. Hell is that place where abandonment leads to a resolve to attain spiritual independence. Both poets assert the embattled position of women not by rejecting loss and nothingness, but by owning it, so that passivity becomes an active, autotelic power. “I’ve spent my life in nothing,” Niedecker writes, as if nothing were a kind of trade one apprentices to, the crux of this weird condensery business (emphasis mine, 148). A little shop set up at the crossroads where Robert Johnson sings “nobody seem to know me,  / everybody pass me by.” “Nothing” turns out to be a very powerful signifyin’ mojo — the weirdest music of all. To spend your life on “nothing” is everything.

Note I am indebted to Rachel Blau DuPlessis for her thoughtful comments on an earlier version of this essay.

Rae Armantrout

Darkinfested It’s well known that Lorine Niedecker’s mother suffered from depression. Niedecker describes her as “tall, tormented, darkinfested” (CW 287). What a wonderful, terrifying word “darkinfested” is. It’s a biological metaphor, of course. And Niedecker is neither casual nor careless about biology. She is, after all, the author of a long poem about Darwin. She lived in an environment in which the natural world always seemed about to overwhelm the human one. Her poems are rife with infiltrations and infestations of one sort or another: “mites wintering  /  in rabbits’ ears” and “muskrats  /  gnawing  /  doors  //  to wild green  /  arts and letters” (CW 270, 237). (In that last quote “arts and letters” seem to be equivalent to lettuce. The literary canon is then as vulnerable as vegetable matter.) Niedecker seems to accept this chronic invasiveness calmly. Yet, as we know, to be infested is to be occupied, to become other than oneself, to be non-self. The loss of boundary can produce nausea; it is what Julia Kristeva refers to as “the abject.” It seems evident to me that Niedecker herself was “darkinfested.” Depression could be described as the opposite of grandiosity. The normal subject perceives herself through notoriously rose-tinted glasses; the depressive does not. The depressive’s view of self and world could be conceived as merciless realism. Niedecker is a consummate realist. She often presents troubling facts almost flatly (except for her singing vowels) as if she had little sympathy for humans in general or herself in particular.

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Man lives hard   on this stone perch by sea imagines   durable works (CW 247) In this passage from “Wintergreen Ridge,” the contrast between the stability associated with “stone” and the flightiness, the precariousness associated with “perch” sets up an irony. Niedecker clearly does not place herself among those who imagine things can endure. Niedecker most often depicts her life as ascetic, humble, resigned. In “Paean to Place” she advises: Do not save love   for things Throw things to the flood ruined by the flood Leave the new unbought —  all one in the end —  water (CW 268) This passage may seem simply anti-materialist. A reader might conclude that Niedecker believes love should be reserved for living beings, not commodities. On the other hand, elsewhere she writes: Don’t fall in love with this face —  it no longer exists in water we cannot fish (CW 193) Constant fluidity (change) seems to preclude both ambition and love. The style here, with its short lines and near rhymes, is light, almost childish,

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reminiscent of the nursery rhymes and fairy tales she loved, while the subject position is bleak and austere. Niedecker does not generally indulge in self-pity though. She is more inclusive; she gives us all (as humans) a sober reassessment of our significance by placing us on the large canvas of nature. If the grandiose person sees the human drama writ large, Niedecker puts it in a different perspective. In “Traces of Living Things” she writes, For best work you ought to put forth some effort to stand in north woods among birch (CW 242) This stanza begins with what sounds like a lecture: Do your best; Try harder; Stand out. Niedecker turns these admonitions, which she might have imagined as directed at her, into parody. Here one puts forth effort not to stand out but “to stand  / in north woods  / among birch.” In this poem, humans are implicitly compared with trees. A tree is said to “put forth” leaves as a person is said to put forth effort. But a tree is consistent, untiring. Human effort is dwarfed by the forest. It sounds as if she thinks the valuable work is being done by trees and what humans should do is imitate them exactly, i.e., stand still, out-of-doors, and “put forth.” The little joke is that such behavior, if maintained, would cause humans to die of exposure. The poem’s inherent grimness is again leavened by the odd rhyme of birch and work and the for sound in “for,” “forth,” and “effort.” Like Dickinson, Niedecker ridicules the significance of publicity or exposure: Cricket-song —  What’s in The Times —  your name! Fame here on my doorstep

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— an evening seedy quiet thing. It rings a little. (CW 182) According to Jenny Penberthy’s notes for Niedecker’s Collected Works, this poem was occasioned by a review of Louis Zukofsky’s Some Time in The New York Times. Is Niedecker pleased by this review or not? The poem seems both ambivalent and ambiguous. She pairs the opinion-making voice of “The Times” with the “Cricket-song” of her own rural evening, either contrasting or comparing the two. Is it fame itself that is ephemeral  — ringing only “a little,” as Niedecker puts it with her dry wit? Or is it her evening which, in contrast to fame, is a seedy, quiet thing, but one which rings with cricket-song? In either case, her own life and the life of the famous person are held within the brackets the phrase “a little” deftly constructs. And the poem makes its own music, rhyming or near-rhyming “name” with “fame,” “cricket” with “little,” “Times” with “quiet,” and “evening” with “rings.” In a way, Niedecker goes further than Dickinson. Dickinson may have eschewed the world’s approval, but she nonetheless portrayed herself as the possessor of great, hidden power. She is an exploding volcano, a loaded gun. Niedecker describes her poetic activity in humbler terms. In “Poet’s Work,” she compares it to dairy production, “No layoff  /  from this  / condensery” (CW 194). She calls her lifetime’s work “a deep  / trickle” (CW 195). In “Subliminal” she rises “to give the universe  / my flicks” (CW 288). Does she get her licks in, give the universe a licking? Not quite. Flicks of the pen are small and light, comically disproportionate to “the universe.” Her life may have been limited (“one boat  / two  / pointed toward my shore”), but finitude is the human condition. Niedecker swings between feeling that her own life and work are particularly limited and “light-weight” and feeling that all human production, however pompously accomplished, is essentially inconsequential. These are the two faces of despair. Unlike Dickinson, she has no God to argue with. Dickinson’s argument with God puts her on a rhetorical par with the Creator. Niedecker speaks into the surrounding forests and waters, into the night sky, which,

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in answer, ring, at most, “a little.” If she is small in her chosen context, then so are we all. No one could accuse her of grandiosity. If Niedecker was depressed, like her mother, she was not helpless. She was usually able to control her moods and mediate her disappointments through writing. Indeed, she often presents her ascetic life and selfabnegation as freely chosen. In “Paean to Place” she writes,   All things move toward the light except those that work freely down to oceans’ black depths In us an impulse tests the unknown (CW 267) Here “black depths” are presented as an unknown to be explored and Nie­ decker clearly places herself in the company of those who will explore them. In “Paean to Place” she seems to celebrate this exploration. There are other places, though, where the “black depths” are less attractive: The thought that stings. How are you, Nothing, sitting around with Something’s wife. Buzz and burn is all I learn I’ve spent my life on nothing. (CW 147) In this passage from For Paul and Other Poems despair alternates with envy. Critic Jenny Penberthy hears these lines as voiced by Niedecker’s mother. Here as elsewhere Niedecker seems to identify with her mother’s depression, her “issues.” Daisy Niedecker seems to feel her life has been a failure. In speaking for her mother, though, might Lorine Niedecker not be speaking for herself as well, feeling the sting of being an unknown poet who corresponds with better connected ones as well as a childless woman who clearly spends a lot of time imagining the home life of her ex-lover, Louis Zukofsky, and his son Paul?

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I find it frankly painful to read this suite of poems in which Paul so clearly stands in for the child Zukofsky insisted Niedecker abort. In the following passage, Niedecker presents herself as a sort of invisible hungry ghost watching Paul bathe: Wash and say good night to variants and quarto texts emendations, close relations. Let me hear good night. (CW 151) These lovely lines have many resonances, but among them is the inescapable fact that the speaker begs, unreasonably, to be one of the “close relations” to whom the child would say goodnight before going to bed. When Niedecker is not a resigned ascetic, she’s a sort of stalker, infesting this closed domestic economy. In “City Talk,” section II, she depicts her situation starkly, simultaneously rejecting her own ego claims in violent terms. I’m good for people?  —  penetrating?  — if you mean I’m rotting here —  I’m an alewife the fish the seagull has no taste for I die along the shore and send a bad smell in (CW 222) In this poem, Niedecker emphatically refuses to take a compliment. She characterizes herself as an “alewife,” shorthand for a coarse, workingclass female. Someone (a city-slicker?) has apparently called her intellect, perhaps as displayed in her poems, “penetrating.” To her this penetration suggests the way a bad smell permeates its environment. “I’m rotting here,” she says. This colloquial and generally metaphorical statement is followed with the quite literal rot of the dead fish dropped by a seagull. Seagulls aren’t known for their discriminating palates. To be rejected by seagulls is to be rejected indeed. Niedecker presents herself here (without

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her customary light touch) as nauseating discharge. This again suggests Kristeva’s theory of the abject: There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being. My body extricates itself, as being alive, from that border. Such wastes drop so that I might live, until, from loss to loss, nothing remains in me and my entire body falls beyond the limit — cadere, cadaver . . . It is no longer I who expel, “I” is expelled. (231) Following Kristeva’s argument, we might say that Niedecker has resigned herself to the loss of possessions, literary success, and love, progressive detachments which have left her, finally, with nothing other than her own living self to reject. So we see Niedecker’s depiction of the “simple life” is not always celebratory. In “City Talk” section II it begins as a cry of pain. The following poem from the same period presents a further perspective: As praiseworthy The power of breathing (Epictetus) while we sleep. Add: to move the parts of the body without sound and to float on a smooth green stream in a silent boat (CW 223) Here Niedecker seems to suggest that humans (“we”) are admirable not when we do something to draw attention to ourselves (such as write poetry?) but, instead, when we can slip into nature, manifesting the universal ability to breathe while unconscious or the less common and under-appreciated ability to move without creating a disturbance — to be silent. Niedecker unerringly finds the place where human egotism or desire mars nature and locates herself there. Whatever blame we have, she takes on herself. In not allowing herself a (defensible) place to stand, she practices what Adorno called “Negative Dialectics.” In his book On Belief, Zizek describes negative dialectics this way:

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Negative dialectics designates a position which includes its own failure, i.e. which produces the truth-effect through its very failure. To put it succinctly: one tries to grasp /conceive the object of thought; one fails, missing it, and through these very failures the place of the targeted object is encircled, its contours become discernible. (88) The ability to make conscious use of such a dialectics may be the paradoxical gift of a depressive temperament. Niedecker’s deployment of a negative dialectics is probably most clear in the following poem: I married in the world’s black night for warmth if not repose. At the close —  someone. I hid with him from the long range guns. We lay leg in the cupboard, head in closet. A slit of light at no bird dawn —  Untaught I thought he drank too much. I say I married and lived unburied. I thought — (CW 228) This poem is a meditation on safety, its possibilities and impossibilities, its limits and the limits it imposes. She doesn’t speak of love. She says she

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married for warmth. We might ask to what extent we can distinguish warmth from love, of course. And she married to hide somewhere from the threat of “long range guns.” She doesn’t pretend this is admirable. Did marriage give her the comfort and safety in which to think or did it incarcerate and limit her? The rhyme words in the indented sections are either complementary or contradictory terms, depending on how you read them — creating a sort of dialectic. Repose is a good thing but “close” may have ominous implications. “Thought” is a good thing though perhaps not if it is too “untaught.” And, finally, the word “married” suggests “buried” as another milestone in the life cycle. This expectation tends to peek through the actual word “unburied.” We can see thesis and antithesis but no synthesis. Instead she continues on the treadmill suggested by the next round of “I thought.” (I thought I was living — “unburied” — but perhaps not.) No final decision seems possible because the poet’s own fallibility is figured into the thinking process. Niedecker points to the internal contradictions within systems. One may opt for safety (within the system of marriage) and get claustrophobia. Things are double-edged, two-faced. The other, hidden face of commerce, for instance, is figured as theft in “Paean to Place” where Niedecker shows us the man who stole her fisherman father’s minnows “by night and next day offered  /  to sell them back” (CW 262). We might see this as a thumbnail sketch of capitalist labor relations, reduced to absurdity just by being made plain and simple. The following poem shows us how capitalism’s vaunted freedom of choice can be both real and meaningless. Van Gogh could see twenty-seven varieties of black   in capitalism. (CW 183) This is a multiplicity that (like the 57 varieties of Heinz ketchup) amounts to nothing. Niedecker, with her interest in folk poetry, may have been thinking about the Mother Goose rhyme which begins “Sing a song of sixpence  /  A pocket full of rye;  /  Four and twenty blackbirds  /  baked in a pie” and continues, “Wasn’t that a dainty dish  /  to set before the king?” It

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doesn’t matter how discriminating one’s taste is, as king or as artist, if one is offered only repetitive instances of “black.” I began this essay with a look at Niedecker’s use of infestation. She focuses, in many poems, on the way living creatures, human and nonhuman, dominate, exploit or infest one another. At times she imagines herself opting out of this dynamic through a kind of self-abnegation — but she knows this isn’t really possible. Something in the water like a flower will devour water flower (CW 202) Systems produce their own contradictions. Niedecker is resigned, bemused, suffering witness but also active participant. She is able to use her minimalist poetics to heighten these contradictions by reducing background noise. Conflicts of interest and conundrums are starkly visible against her white page.

Elizabeth Robinson

Music Becomes Story

Lyric and Narrative Patterning in the Work of Lorine Niedecker Paul   when the leaves   fall from their stems   that lie thick   on the walk in the light   of the full note   the moon playing   to leaves   when they leave the little   thin things   Paul (CW 156–57) This poem from For Paul would seem to be an exemplary lyric piece with its repetitions, short lines, and gentle rhyming. The poem’s relation

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to time appears initially direct as it conjures a familiar seasonal event: the autumnal fall of leaves from trees, though here the image is frozen within the perception of a moment. Yet, there is a subtle tension embedded in the poem as well, one that is marked by the use of “when” in the second line. This usage makes the poem temporally contingent, an address to Paul that remains provisional: the reader does not know when the leaves will fall and what the result will be. The ellipticism of this lyric gives it its quiet emotional charge. What Elizabeth Willis has said of another Niedecker poem is equally true here: its lyricism arises as it “gestures toward meaning without offering a stable symbolic order or system for reading” (Telling it Slant 230). It would be easy to read this poem as a simple seasonal etude. If the poem tells any story, it does this graphically, through its portrayal of the fall of leaves as the poem’s lines make their downward descent on the page. Indeed, when I used this poem in a high school workshop some twenty years ago, I asked the students what they thought it was about. “Autumn,” was the reply. Then another student raised her hand and offered a fully formed  — and startlingly accurate — narrative which she saw as emerging from the poem. I asked if this student had read Niedecker’s work before, but she had not. This encounter has foundationally impacted my reading of Niedecker’s work. How is it that a poem could easily represent both the cycle of a season and a distinct narrative? What first beguiled me in Lorine Niedecker’s work was her lyric skill. Let me clarify that what I mean by lyric is an embodiment of thought and experience in the material processes of language. Like Marjorie Perloff, I am leery of an approach to the lyric poem that would base it primarily in “a consistent lyrical voice, a transcendental ego,” and prefer, with her, to understand lyric as “a verbal form directly related to its musical origins,” as something that reflects the materiality of language (Poetic License 12, 14). I admire Perloff’s insight that Niedecker often employs the sonic qualities of poetry, such as rhyme, to ironic effect, thereby undercutting conventional notions of the lyric as epiphanic (44–45). At the same time, I am sympathetic to Willis’s assertion that the lyric poem, while not self-expressive per se, reflects the ways “that ideas of self or voice are never entirely absent from the tonal shadings of language” (Telling it Slant 228). Lorine Niedecker’s poetry is, additionally, illuminated in terms of Dan-

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iel Barbiero’s discussion of lyric as circumspective (as opposed to introspective): instead of viewing the lyric poem as emerging from a voice that plumbs its own interiority, the circumspective lyric would have it that “we are situated within the center of circumstances surrounding us. But it is understood that such a center is not something we create, but rather is a kind of point of insertion into the given” (363). This is certainly relevant to Niedecker’s work which so often grapples with the harsh circumstance of her daily life causing her to scrutinize the banal, though frequently to surprising effect. Perhaps it is this willingness to confront and interact with the mundane facts of experience that results, in Niedecker’s poems, in a bridging between lyricism and narrative. By this I do not mean that Niedecker involved herself with a facile use of confessional, explanatory, or otherwise traditional narratives. Indeed, her work (as Rachel Blau DuPlessis has demonstrated1) frequently resists received social or cultural narratives and is in many ways highly abstract. What I perceive is, rather, a subtle (sometimes deeply rooted) desire on the poet’s part to make use of narrative strategies to forward the project of her poetry. Niedecker’s sequencing and patterning certainly arise from a finely tuned musical ear, but they serve, equally, narrative elements in the unfolding of her work. Paul Ricoeur’s essay “Narrative Time” is extremely helpful in interpreting this central aspect of Niedecker’s work. Ricoeur is critical of the way that, typically, the “art of storytelling is not so much a way of reflecting on time as taking it for granted” (171). A truer reflection of narrative function, Ricoeur observes, arises from the awareness that every narrative combines two dimensions in various proportions, one chronological and the other nonchronological. The first may be the episodic dimension, which characterizes the story as made out of events. The second is the configurational dimension, accord­ing to which the plot construes significant wholes out of scattered events. (174) It is exactly this dual usage of pattern and sequence that make the narratives in Niedecker’s work simultaneously powerful and elusive. As Karl Gartung recently wrote to me:

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The thing I’ve always noticed about LN is that her “narratives” are almost always at least harmonic. Dual at least. Usually with over and under tones . . . Her “music” is the verbal and sonic vibration produced between the elements of narrative. . . . The resulting music becomes the narrative, easy to discern, but just about impossible to paraphrase. (letter to the author) Niedecker’s poems add texture to their content by inhabiting more than one process at a time. There are temporal implications at work here. Using a Heideggerian framework, Ricoeur points out that the dual nature of narrative as sequence and pattern causes narrative to oscillate between within-time-ness and historicality, between reckoning with time and recollecting it (174). Niedecker is especially skilled at using the temporally transparent linearity of story-making and leavening it with patterns that rhythmically, albeit subtly, challenge assumptions about time and narrative shape. In “The Nature of Narrative and Its Philosophical Implications,” William Gass describes story as breaking “up the natural continuum of life into events. Next, stories arrange these segments in a temporal sequence, in order to suggest that whatever happens earlier is responsible for what happens later” (5). Gass’s discussion evinces a traditional approach to narrative, one that conceives of narrative as straightforward and episodic. It is evident that Niedecker understood and employed the workings of such traditional narrative structuring. One can see this, for example, in her attraction to such subjects as Margaret Fuller, Thomas Jefferson, or Charles Darwin. By attaching to biographical material, Niedecker framed her poems around the narrative trajectory of a life, a shape that is cleanly defined historically. However, Niedecker ultimately uses such narrative shapes as a springboard to her own, far more idiosyncratic narrative play or “plotting,” if we can understand plot as “the act of . . . eliciting a pattern from a succession” (Ricoeur 174). One also sees such patterning when Niedecker makes use of natural history as a narrative trope. Consider one of her best known poems, “My Friend Tree”: My friend tree I sawed you down

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but I must attend an older friend the sun (CW 186) The poem revolves around the simple act of sawing down the tree and in that sense the poem does tell a story. The crux of the poem lies in that it qualifies this act with a sort of apologia: “but I must attend  /  an older friend.” Rather than closing down the narrative of the poem, this qualification opens the poem to a larger narrative, one that attests, as Niedecker was later to write in “Wintergreen Ridge,” “Life is natural  /  in the evolution  / of matter,” and that “Man  /  lives hard  / on this stone perch  //  by sea  / imagines  / durable works  // in creation here  / as in the center  / of the world” (CW 247–48). The local anecdote of chopping down a tree is nested within a narrative of temporally vast natural processes. The relatively short life of the tree and, indeed, of the narrator, is opposed to the grander longevity of the sun. The poem looks to be a simple, syntactically regular statement, but by her use of repetition and rhyme (the double use of “friend,” the rhyme of “my,” “I,” and “I,” and the slant rhyme of “must” and “sun”) Niedecker patterns a more complex set of interrelationships. Thus, in Niedecker’s usage, segments move by ebb and flow; her temporal sequences, as I will show, often borrow simultaneously from multiple temporal measures, most frequently resisting a direct forward movement and leavening it with circularity that makes past and present simultaneous. Within Niedecker’s poems resound juxtapositions, too, that give the lie to what is generally assumed to be a smooth causal flow from A to B. In other words, Niedecker’s sequencing concerns itself with the evolutions of relationships rather than conventional ideas of progress. In what follows, I would like to consider two poems, one written at the beginning and the other toward the end of Niedecker’s writing life, and examine how lyric and narrative strategies influenced their making and meaning. To be sure, Niedecker’s work should be more properly seen as a stretching and alteration of narrative form. What she claimed as the possibilities of syntax in dream might just as readily apply to her sense of narrative in poetry: “in dreams, the simple and familiar [elements and terms] . . . are not absent, in fact, noticeably present to show illogical absurdity, discontinuity, parody of sanity” (LNWP 182). As my discussion will demonstrate, Niedecker was

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especially adept at developing unusual narrative patterning in her longer poems where she created what I consider a meta-narrative tension. In “Next Year or I fly my rounds, Tempestuous,” Niedecker adopts an ostensibly horizontal narrative approach that traverses a year, but does so through circularity, moving forward only in order to create a loop. In “Paean to Place,” Niedecker employs a more vertical strategy, focussing her autobiographical narrative in a site whose strata she excavates, working out a delicate balance between highs and lows in the process. “Next Year or I fly my rounds, Tempestuous,” written in the mid-1930s, shows Niedecker embarking on a journey through — or with — chronos, as she writes her way through a pocket calendar. In this piece, she creates a rippling, uneven model of narrative tussling with time. The pictorial representation of intervals, as she moves through the printed pages of the calendar (reproduced in facsimile in the Collected Works), is one means by which the reader is moved through time. The visual cues serve the poem well, because they safely assume that the reader knows about a year: i.e., that it is an orderly movement of days through weeks into months and that the completion of the year results in the commencement of another unit of time that is ostensibly identical. Simultaneously, the rich versification of the poem adds a resistant texture to that forward movement. By skillfully employing rhyme and other forms of sonic repetition, Niedecker demonstrates the circularity of time’s movement. It is interesting to note how this poem relates to the terms of the poetic typology that Joseph Conte has proposed. Conte suggests that postmodern poetry is characterized by two forms: the serial and the procedural. The serial poem “distinguishes itself from the neoromantic sequence principally because it forgoes the linear, thematic development of that form” (20). Rather than adhering to the “thematic continuity, narrative progressions, or meditative insistence” that are characteristic of a conventional poetic sequence, the serial poem “is instead a combinative form whose arrangements admit a variegated set of materials” (21). Thus the seriality of “Next Year or I fly my rounds, Tempestuous” can function in both linear and circular ways. Niedecker depends upon both of these qualities to build her narrative and a series of relations within — and resistances to —  calendar time.

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Oddly enough, the poem is also organized procedurally. In Conte’s definition, the procedural poem is one which rejects “the concept of form superimposed on pre-existent content; instead it proposes a system of arbitrary constraints which functions as a generative device” (40). In this case, the framework of the printed calendar page serves as the arbitrary constraint. The calendar formally limits Niedecker to narrow margins and short lines, while the succession of dates appears to frame the content of the poem temporally. The reader sees, visually, the series of numbers — days — in a month unfurl in their orderly fashion, while the poet places a drag on this motion by delineating a process that (to cite her language) variously wades backward, runs ahead, revolves, circles, sits backwards, rocks, rests, waits in the wing, embraces (e.g., throws its “arms around” [CW 67]). Any forward movement is halting or almost self-nullifying, as when in the June 16–29 section, the English Singers “came in sing-  / ing and went  / out walking” (53). Note how even the line breaks interrupt the verbs here. The interaction of prosody with movement is especially significant in the enjambment of “sing-  / ing” because it frustrates the rhythm of the word, making the very act of singing less songlike as the reader is compelled to negotiate the awkward break. At the same time, the line break underlines the immediate rhyme of “sing-” and “ing” and gestures backward to the rhyme buried in, “English,” even as it points forward assertively to the rhyme in “walking.” Though the initial break of “sing-ing” appears to stop movement in the poem, it works unexpectedly to create the circularity that is so frequently enacted elsewhere in the larger poem. The calendar entries are formatted at a fortnight per page. It is difficult to discern exactly what Niedecker had in mind for the formatting of her own writing, since the given shape of the pages combined with her own handwriting delimit the space. The sections of the poem are written more or less in the normal grammar of the sentence, but rarely is her syntax as awkward and unconventional as it is in this poem. Consider, for instance, the baffling construction of, “Laymen  / due to the stars  / around 1910 and  / erudition even  / sat backwards  / on diaphrams  /  kept for the  /   female so  /  long without  /  flowers” (45). As aforementioned, it is evident throughout the poem that the nar-

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row margins of the calendar page constrained Niedecker’s line breaks. However, Penberthy’s editorial decision was to also offer the text in print, with line breaks marked, immediately below the facsimile. Seeing the text in that format, the reader is struck by how adeptly Niedecker used the boundaries of her page to channel her ideas; the lines are carefully enjambed to highlight tensions and so concentrate the movement of the poem. An attentive reading shows that Niedecker was continually at work to integrate line breaks, rhyme, and other forms of sound play to heighten the prosody of the work. In this way, the poem further delineates movement via its sequencing and patterning. The unfolding poem is not defined by its straight-ahead manner, but rather begins, in the first section, by stating its own circularity: “Wade all life  /  backward to its  / source which  / runs too far  / ahead” (41). The careful phrasing here disrupts the general assumption of life as moving forward with the counterintuitive statement that it “wades” backward. The reader can adjust expectation to follow the idea that one might want to get back to a source, but is surprised, however, to discover that life, as it moves backward, is confounded by a source that runs not only too far back, but also too far (we find with the last line break) ahead. Niedecker uses this lineation to disorient the reader and thereby introduces “Next Year . . .” with a major disruption of assumed temporality. Time runs forward, backward, ahead of us. Quietly nested within this is understated soundplay. The initial and final words of the page (“wade” and “ahead”) are anchored with the soft d of their final consonant which is also repeated in “backward.” The gentle thud of those d’s contrasts with the sibilance of “its,” “source,” and “runs.” These sound patterns, lifted from the poem, create two telling phrases: “wade backward, ahead” and “its source runs.” The indeterminate movement of wading is juxtaposed with the inexorability of a source running onward. The story is thus the story of the loop, of contradictory movement in which one cannot keep up with the momentum of one’s “sources.” If one sees here the conventional conception of the story — with its beginning, middle, and end — ruptured and dissolved, then the second section of the poem only underlines this: “The satisfactory  / emphasis is on  / revolving.  /  Don’t send  / steadily; after  / you know me  /  I’ll be no one” (42). The poet introduces the poem with two multi-syllabic words, “sat-

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isfactory” and “emphasis,” which feel strangely out of diction with the plainspoken language of the first fortnight’s section and the second half of the second section. Niedecker amplifies the awkwardness of the locution by repeating the last syllable of “emphasis” in the next word: “is.” While this rhyme also picks up the second syllable of “satisfactory,” it is in practice difficult to enunciate the three consecutive words. Niedecker binds the poem factitiously through the recurrence of the is sound. She even echoes similar sounds later, if in a different order, with “steadily.” The confident, quasi-intellectual use of this opening lexicon is at odds with the simple, mostly single-syllable, words of the poem’s second sentence in which both subject and language pare themselves down. Ultimately, the story unfolding here is not merely circular, but loops back into the subject’s dissolution, a dissolution that is made only more emphatic by the rhyme of “know” and “no one.” Overall, the sequence that comprises the whole poem works selfconsciously to delve into and decipher time but its conclusions are expressed ambivalently, especially as played out against the inexorable onward movement of the calendar. Time has “for so long” given no cause for worry in this regard, and yet now proves itself trivial: “it’s always  /  just a flower in  /  the buttonhole.” Nonetheless, the same segment insists, even “insipid con-  / nections count  /  for a day — / tomorrow is  /  the fairest” (49). It would appear that such connections are indeed tenuous, as even the word itself, “con-  / nections,” is unable to maintain continuity over the space of a single line. And what counts for a day is the inaccessible horizon of the future, “tomorrow.” So it is by definition that something just beyond one’s grasp is always “fairest.” The circularity of time and narrative build to a rather painful irony. What Niedecker says earlier in the poem, “after  / you know me  /  I’ll be no one,” equates the passage of time (i.e., after intimacy is acquired) with nullity. This is restated after a fashion in the February 10–23 section of the poem: “If you circle  /  the habit of  / your meaning,  /  it’s fact and  / no harm  / done” (44). The entity in question becomes time’s relation to meaning, but meaning itself is portrayed as merely habitual, its “fact” as ineffectual. Additionally, “meaning” belongs in this articulation to “you,” not the narrator of the poem.

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Time or subject indeed die out at two points in the poem: “The trouble  /   is: this stirs  / a real mean-  /  ing.  /  Humanity  /  is engaged —   / on equal burial.” Two pages (or several weeks) later, one finds, “The monster died  /  of his last breath,  /  ate a honey and  / grew waxen” (52, 54). The poem states an ending, or perhaps better, an expiration. And then the poem catches its own elusive breath, and recommences. Is the poet between stories? Between lives? It appears that the circular shape of the poem draws in upon itself in such a way that it cuts off, so to speak, its own circulation. The circle can become a noose. Yet by virtue of Niedecker’s ability to treat this impasse with humor and insight, and by the sheer force of her rhythms, a thread of continuity is picked up, allowing the “arms” of the poem to stretch out, “going farther” as “resistance” is given “a fly” (58). Even so, in order to resume or resurrect itself, the poem by necessity adopts new strategies. One can see this in the increased use of third person pronouns. Roughly the first half of the poem tends toward (though it doesn’t consistently employ) first and second person pronouns, implying a more immediate dialogue between an “I” and a “you.” From July onward, there is still the presence of the first person, but the second person address almost disappears. In its place, third person constructions become more frequent. One can see this in both of the dying-out points, for it is first “humanity” that “is engaged —  / on equal burial” and then the “monster” who “died.” In the sixteen sections left of the poem, twelve clearly use a third person point of view, while only five employ first person pronouns. In one of the most intriguing moments of “Next Year . . .,” the reader observes Niedecker combining the first, second, and third person: Good deed, my love. The element of folktime. Nerves are my past monogamy, said her arms going farther. Rock me out. (57)

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This section is the last in the poem in which the narrator addresses another party directly, and even so, one cannot help but wonder if the “my love” in the first two lines is ironic, while the imperative of the last line shows the narrator speaking to herself. This section thereby breaks with the folktime — the monogamy — of shared time and emotional connection, placing it clearly in the past. The breaking of “folk-  / time” between two lines illustrates this rupture emphatically. Most dramatically, the move from an apparent first and second person dialogue to the third person “said her arms,” removes the narrator herself from the relationship. When the section ends with the imperative “Rock me out,” the reader can only understand that the narrator is enacting a removal from the spurious circle of the relationship and its folktime, yet to do so, she cannot refrain from summoning the relatively circular, repetitive action of rocking. Caught up in the motion of time, its seasons and redundancies — its constrictions — Niedecker nonetheless struggles to envision another possible pattern. It is revealing to note how many of the sections that ensue as the poem continues use language that suggests height or loft: “I talk at the top,” “Rock me out,” “I give it a fly,” “above  / any purpose,” “apt in  / the wing,” and “acro-  /  bats” (55, 57, 58, 59, 64, and 66 respectively). Notably, the image of the balcony appears three times in the second half of the poem. In the November 3–10 section, the narrator contrasts the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet” with the view “from Row  /  L in the balcony” (63): Balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet —  a white kerchief comes into a pocket shirred onto a blue silk gown. Or from Row L in the balcony? One can’t ignore the fact that the author’s first name begins with L! And so what is contrasted here are two modes of involvement or dispassion. The

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lovers act on their balcony, while in the balcony of Row L, a viewer silently looks on, outside the play’s fictitious time, struggling to be, in fact, above time at all. Despite this remove, the author can’t seem to resist making a loop, no matter how spurious its indication of inclusion or completion would be: look at how tidily the section is constructed so that it begins and ends with the word “balcony.” The poem’s pace slows, and with the conclusion of the year, the poet writes, “Jesus, I’m  / going out  / and throw  / my arms  / around” (67). From this standpoint, the narrator already assumes herself to be marginal, and it is then her prerogative to confront the circuit of the year by definitively leaving it. Yet the impulse is then to turn around and grasp it, hold it. This poem tells the story of a circuit which completes and therefore embraces itself, and yet within the “arms around” there is emptiness, lacunae which constrict and above which the narrator may have to rise in order to survive. By taking the known quantity of the year and filling its motion with text and its text with motion, Niedecker offers her version of the story of that year. Her embrace of a hollowness also marks her resistance to the “folktime” that the year is exposed as being. Joseph Conte has said in relation to the work of Lorine Niedecker and Louis Zukofsky that when “the poet’s clear perception falls within the field of force which is the poet’s desire for structure, the arc that the particle traces will close on itself to form a circle” and he goes on to point out that Niedecker wrote of Zukofsky, “[poems] move in a circular path ‘so that we may think in our time’ ” (141). Clearly, the statement applies as much to the former as the latter poet. Niedecker demonstrates this by creating many smaller metanarrative circles within the larger loop of the poem that interacted with a 1935 calendar. “Paean to Place,” which Niedecker wrote many years later, seems much more characteristic of her work as most readers know it. The poem is more openly autobiographical than much of Niedecker’s work, describing her parents, her own growing up, and all of this continuous with details from her immediate natural environment. By foregrounding that environment and making use of it as an imagistic and narrative resource, Niedecker tells a story of life’s vicissitudes: vicissitudes that are shared alike by the human and natural players in her story. “Next Year . . .” shows the narra-

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tor trying to escape from cycle and circumstance by breaking or burying time, or by struggling to rise out of it. “Paean to Place” is no less indebted to the concept of cycle and recurrence, but enmeshes fully with it. Conte, in marking the seriality of Niedecker’s “Wintergreen Ridge,” points to characteristics that apply just as well to “Paean to Place,” for instance that “Niedecker’s spare use of punctuation throughout the series reinforces this concept of an endless cycle: there are no full stops, no periods” (160). That is, “Paean to Place” plainly recognizes that the rise and fall of human history is inseparable from the landscape and season in which it is situated. As a result, the poem’s cyclic structure demonstrates that “everything returns home eventually; closure is nothing more than a return to a place of origin” (160). In “Paean to Place,” that cyclical return is less to “origin” per se than to a site of balance, a watery pivot that demarcates above and below. The poem is patterned by a recurring movement of rises and sinkings, and this is manifested in Niedecker’s verse constructions, her description of the landscape, and her conscious interrelating of the lives embedded in that landscape. The interrupted cadences of accretion, the alternating rhythms and quickly focused images capture and convey the poet’s experience sharply, showing her ever at work to create a precarious equilibrium within an unsteady world. Just as Niedecker used the calendar to shape time in her earlier poem, here she uses a seasonal rotation of being swamped by floods alternating with those moments when, so to speak, the speaker could find higher ground literally or figuratively. The jumps from section to section have the effect of transporting the reader, albeit jerkily, unevenly, from one “island” to the next. These islands mediate the watery surround, and the poem is infused with a sense of buoyancy alternating with threat: for example, the word “water” appears no less than thirteen times, while the word “flood” occurs six times. The repetitions of these words clearly shape the metanarrative shape of the poem, but they have implications for the temporal shaping of the poem as well. As Ricoeur points out, repetition is a culling of memory and, as such, “means more than a mere reversal of the basic orientation of care toward the future; it means the retrieval of our most basic potentialities inherited from our past in the form of personal fate and collective destiny” (176). Just as the poet’s father “kept us afloat” (CW 262), so

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the poet keeps the poem afloat by this methodology: rhythm and recollection. Niedecker’s movements keep the reader aware of the contingent nature of the experience she describes, the danger of being sucked “[u]nder  /   soak-heavy rug” (267–68) is part of the heritage the narrator claims and constructs. Similarly, the alternating thematic lows and highs of the poem keep the poem moving: for example, parents that “bore the weight of lake water. . . . that their daughter might go high,” or “All things move toward  /  the light  // except those  /  that freely work down” (267). The tension between these movements tugs at the poem so as to suggest its horizon, on which the narrator can tenuously bob, finally marking her kinship “with the persons  / on the edge” (269). Though she is divulging autobiographical material, Niedecker is also continually subverting the usual hierarchies of subject and object, especially when the landscape becomes the agent which acts upon its hapless inhabitants. One can see this from the very outset of “Paean to Place.” The heavy alliteration of “Fish  /  fowl  /  flood” lands in the weight of its rhyme with “mud” (261). The poem enacts its own geography and geology, demonstrating downward movement through its lineation. The starting point of the poem, its epigraph — “And the place  /  was water” (261) serves as a sort of horizon or surface permitting the poem to sink immediately beneath that fluid surface to a place suffused with water (the word is repeated four times in what is, roughly speaking, the first stanza). Within that same stanza, the prepositional usage is worth noting: “in,” “on,” “in,” and “to.” The poem is immersed in its landscape as the narrator is, but raises itself, briefly to rise “on” to the surface, slips down, and finally chooses a preposition of greater equanimity, “to,” signifying a meeting with that horizon, the true focus of the poem, water. Also of interest is the repetition of the possessive pronoun “my” three times in the first eleven lines of the poem. These repetitions set up a rhyme scheme with a sound that is not repeated elsewhere in this section except with the word “I” in line seven. The merging of “I” with “my” seems to insist on ownership and mastery, an insistence that plays out only ironically, as the poem goes on to prove how little mastery any of its inhabitants had over the landscape and shows rather their endurance through loss and privation. It’s not, as Kenneth Cox claims, that the emotional charge

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of the poem is weak (LNWP 308), but that the movement of the poem is laden with tension that does not break into emotional outburst. The title of the poem can then, too, be understood as ironic: a “paean” is a “song of praise, joy or triumph.” The bleakness of existence that Niedecker portrays and the spare moments of epiphany show her narrating her experience as tethered to contingency, as everlastingly negotiated. In many ways, the movement of “Paean to Place” stills time as it repeats seasonal and environmental patterns. Ricoeur observes that “when we speak of becoming, either in the field of nature or of history, we imply an indefinite extension of duration both backward and forward” (177). One can see this early in the poem, when Niedecker merges regeneration and death: “new leaves  / new dead  /  leaves” (263). By doing this, Niedecker flips the anticipated order: the “new” thing has already expired. By deforming chronology, Niedecker halts movement. Elsewhere a sense of endlessness mutes narrative progression, as exemplified in this section found midway through “Paean to Place”: Effort lay in us before religions at pond bottom All things move toward the light except those that freely work down to oceans’ black depths In us an impulse tests the unknown (CW 267) Time here is explicitly equated with strata: the historical weight of being at the bottom, the impulse to reach up to the light, the unknown. Niedecker plots the poem so that communal and environmental patterns overlap. The import of this overlap is that it permits Niedecker to depict a larger, albeit fragile, evolution. So it is that “when we speak of becoming, either in the field of nature or of history, we imply an indefinite extension of duration both backward and forward” (Ricoeur 177). The upward striving from the

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pond’s bottom is clearly not entirely successful for either Niedecker or her ancestors. Nevertheless that seeking movement creates an interim space or balance, imperfect though it may be, one that also allows for personal and seasonal cycles: Ricoeur captures this when he says “thanks to repetition as fate, retrospection is reconnected to anticipation, and anticipation is rooted in retrospection” (178). Niedecker herself articulated something of this when she stated that “Technically, a recurring thing, for all but the apathetic students, is never the same — though the idea of recurrence is useful to establish relationships, to reveal kinship” (qtd. Conte 150). That such relationships could be complex and ambivalent makes them no less cogent. Niedecker sums this up toward the conclusion of “Paean to Place” in a simultaneous motion of jettisoning and saving, crying out to “my floating life” not to “save love  /  for things  /  Throw things  /  to the flood  // ruined  /  by the flood” (CW 268). The instruction to retain is oblique here; one assumes that what should be saved is love for people or perhaps language itself. The repetitions of “things” and “flood” mark the stanza by their heaviness. The reader feels the force by which things are ruined and into which things should be thrown. The seeming dejection of this ruin is modified by the fact that Niedecker does recall hers as a “floating life,” and ends the stanza with a quiet affirmation of her ability to stay afloat, “all one in the end —  / water” (268). Surely Donald Davie is right in saying in “Niedecker and Historicity” that “the historicity in her . . . poems brings home, without her ever pressing it, how the cramped horizons of her upbringing restricted her particularly because of her sex . . . [though] the last thing she wanted was to dramatize her predicament” (LNWP 368). However, gender enters Niedecker’s concerns in “Paean to Place” in relatively minor ways. What is more significant is the way Niedecker plots and patterns a compelling bigger picture from her limited resources. The frayed pieces of her experience are sewn together in the manner of a quilt: parts too worn to function independently are built into a new and functional whole. Niedecker laments the dress of seven years’ wear, “faded, blue-striped” (CW 266), but she does it quietly and with the expertise of one who mends deftly, knowing what the new stitches disclose. Elsewhere, Rosmarie Waldrop has commented on her own work in a way that I think is helpful for interpreting Niedecker:

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There is . . . the tension between the flow of an almost unending sentence and its constantly being brought up short by the irregular grammar. It subverts the hierarchy of subject and object, which, I realized later, has definite feminist implications. (viii) Waldrop’s attention to formal shaping is pertinent here. Niedecker hands her readers narrative constructs that seem, prima facie, straightforward. In one poem, we find the simple order of the calendar, in another, the historical outline of familial and natural life. Within these accessible narrative constructs, Niedecker embeds alternative metanarrative patterns that demonstrate her resistance to conventional conceptions of subject and object and to tidy temporal linearity. The idea that “Paean to Place” is guided by a narrative impulse should not be difficult to accept. What is perhaps more difficult to discern in Niedecker’s process is that narrative is not merely the autobiographical disclosure of the poet, but a far more ambitious creation in which other modes of narrative are activated. “Paean to Place,” like “Next Year or I fly my rounds, Tempestuous,” illuminates Niedecker’s story-making as consistently involved with the creation of a metanarrative. In “Next Year . . .,” one discovers the story of a curve that completes itself, ambivalently, perhaps hollowly, as a circle. In “Paean to Place,” the story relates the rhythm of rise and fall, a tidal movement that struggles to transcend itself in brief moments of buoyancy or flight — or, failing that, to retain balance, a mere equilibrium that permits the narrator — and the poem itself — to keep its figurative head above water. The circularity of “Next Year . . .” and the high and low patterning (which could be graphically depicted as a line of alternating curves that orients itself around a flat horizon) of “Paean to Place” show how consistently Niedecker created this sort of sculptural patterning in her poems over the course of her writing career. Again, as Waldrop comments, the interest is less in “representation or character. . . . than about creating . . . a textual reality” (xii). This textual reality addresses itself not to the transcendent ego of traditional lyric, but to the lyricism and patterning of language. Further, Niedecker’s poems evince through the texture and rhythm of sound, through repetition of concept and image, a “making present” that is compelling to readers who would probably otherwise be limited in their apprehension of (or interest in) Niedecker’s more mundane historical location.

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In Romanticism and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, Robert Kaufman addresses the problem of lyric address in twentieth-century poetry. Too often, he says, it is “simply and balefully synonymous with romanticism and its presumably transparent ‘I’ ” (1). Happily, Niedecker disrupts such presumptions and engages in what Kaufman describes as a “practice of exploratory poetics for which experiment is virtually synonymous with the stretching (rather than the abjuration) of lyric subjectivity . . . lyric attempts simultaneously to make song think and to make thought sing, in such a way that the boundaries of extant conceptuality are formally extended through the critical experience of this emotional-intellectual complex” (2). So it is that the “I” who speaks in Niedecker’s poems may speak to the historical circumstances of Niedecker’s life without ever becoming beholden to a reductive understanding of temporality. The oddly harmonic quality of Niedecker’s poetry presents narrative and lyric as intertwining, and in the burr of friction between the two, Niedecker creates a new resonance. Niedecker is adept at “plotting” that combines personal history and lyrical prosody to create larger metanarrative patterns in order to conjure a renewed present, a now that engages the reader with its relevance. I end by letting Niedecker speak for herself: in a letter written to Cid Corman she says, “Strange — we are always inhabiting more than one realm of existence, but they all fit in if the art is right” (BYH 92).

Note 1. See Rachel Blau DuPlessis, “Lorine Niedecker, the Anonymous: Gender, Class, Genre and Resistances,” LNWP 113–37.

Ruth Jennison

Waking into Ideology

Lorine Niedecker’s Experiments in the Syntax of Consciousness Six Months ahead of a Movement and 20 Years behind It: Niedecker on Uneven Development Just prior to Jenny Penberthy’s discovery in 1996 of “Next Year or I fly my rounds, Tempestuous” in Louis Zukofsky’s archive, National Poetry Foundation Director Burton Hatlen found Niedecker’s expanded version of the 1933 poem “Progression” buried in Ezra Pound’s papers at the Beinecke Library. If critical accounts of Niedecker’s surrealist period read it as only a brief stop on a trajectory of poetic development shaped by her correspondence with male poets like Zukofsky and Cid Corman, this is in part because the archive of Niedecker’s surrealist work has been scattered and hidden amongst the papers of her male contemporaries. Indeed, Niedecker’s surrealist period previously seemed thinner to readers than her “folk” period because the recuperative work of locating its contents has only recently been made available in Jenny Penberthy’s 2002 edition of the poet’s work. Critical accounts of Niedecker continue to be shaped by the earlier contours of her published presence. Because Niedecker’s correspondence with Zukofsky and Corman appears without the accompanying letters from her male correspondents (the Zukofsky estate

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has refused publishing rights), the incomplete printed archive only contributes to the myth of Niedecker as a petitioner of Zukofsky’s advice; the epistolary record appears one-sided.1 The archival status of Niedecker’s surrealist work affects its critical reception in a similar fashion. It reinforces the view of Niedecker’s surrealist period as a private, personal record that didn’t pass muster with much-admired male modernists. New access to these works speaks to the contrary. Ambitious and aggressively experimental, Niedecker’s surrealist work reveals formal and substantive resonances with such French surrealist feminist works as Claude Cahun’s (née Lucy Schwob) “Beware Domestic Objects!” and co-Bretonist Marcelle Ferry’s “Frenzy, Sweet Little Child, You Sleep.”2 Despite Niedecker’s unfamiliarity with international feminist practitioners working within the surrealist field, her work shares this larger artistic and literary community’s preoccupations with experimental form, gender as ludic construction, and the antinomies of capitalist social life. Modernist studies has traditionally taken the canonized modernists at their own word: cliques and personal relationships substitute for a literary history of shared formal trajectories and/or political commitments. By placing Niedecker’s work alongside authors with whom she had no contact, but who share her ideological and aesthetic approach, I am suggesting a revision of modernist alignments that is less concerned with psychobiography and epistolary exchanges than it is with global ideological and aesthetic patterns.3 Looking toward Niedecker’s commentary on her own work grants greater significance to her experiments with surrealist forms. Niedecker writes about the curious historical coordinates of “Progression” ’s composition in a 1933 letter to Harriet Monroe, then editor of Poetry magazine: “[the poem] was written six months before Mr. Zukofsky referred me to the surrealists for correlation.” Niedecker closes the letter with a meditation on her own location within the historical timeline of this avant-garde: “The direction of ‘Progression’ . . . may not be surrealism, and it may not matter, only that it’s a little disconcerting to find oneself six months ahead of a movement and twenty years behind it” (LNWP 177–78). Within the context of her own development as a poet, Niedecker’s self-reflexive claim, of finding herself “six months ahead” of a movement before her own fa-

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miliarity with it, reveals her view of the proleptic (indeed, avant-garde) character of her own work. Further, it highlights Niedecker’s awareness that her work, with respect to surrealism as a critically recognizable international movement, would belong to a second generation. More importantly, however, Niedecker’s self-representation as unwitting (and ironically belated) vanguardist of an experimental practice ordinarily associated with an international coterie of metropolitan artists, upends the gendered reception of her as a miniaturist and a regionalist. In donning the mantle of modernist individuation, Niedecker refuses the ideological marriage of folksy populism with the regional countryside. In this sense, Niedecker self-consciously deploys the term “surrealism” to very specific and political ends, and in doing so she will body forth a surrealist poetics that is distinct in its articulation and goals. Niedecker’s self-location as ahead of her own belatedness describes an avant-garde poetics that both plays on and is rooted in the asymmetric relations between country and city under capitalism. For here, the rural, that place popularly conceived of as “behind” in time, is also, uncannily, ahead. Niedecker’s understanding of her own anticipatory belatedness thus maps the temporalities of modernist aesthetics onto a conception of capital’s uneven and combined developments: the folksy countryside is replaced with a much more historically specific landscape of simultaneously modern and residual formations. Contrary to the fantasy that capital revolutionizes the means of production inevitably, uniformly and ecstatically, capitalism, as a system, thrives on a mottled geography of varied levels of industrialization within and between nation-states. Capital reproduces the rural, not as its backward other, but rather as its endlessly available material for exploitation. Niedecker’s comment about her own lateness simultaneously seizes upon this material relation between country and city and exploits it to elaborate a myth of autochthonous modernist genius. As against the usual association of experimental aesthetics with the metropole, Niedecker relocates avant-gardism in the place of a rural sui generis fantasy. In the dynamism that exists between self-conceptions of the rural and the big fact of the capitalist city center, Niedecker mediates her claims to originality, revealing her sense of her own contradictory position within emergent modernist movements. Interestingly, she refers to the “direction”

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of “Progression” rather than its contents or formal qualities as the indicator of its place within the poetic movements of modernism. Niedecker views her work as part of multiple tendencies; its place among the historical trajectories of individual modernist movements is fluid. Modernist literary history is thus reconceived by Niedecker. Her work defies classificatory systems that conflate clique with movement — or a shared historical moment with a shared aesthetic project. From Niedecker’s perspective the avant-garde is a continuous tendency or “direction,” located aggressively in both time and the spaces of capitalist development; its forms and experiments can and should be taken up and transformed by artists of various historical moments. Niedecker offers a provocative concluding meditation on the relationship between objectified interiority and historical-aesthetic belatedness. In a 1953 letter to Zukofsky, she writes: “My own mind is like a star that got to be one through no great effort of its own, just part of world stuff, and the light from it hasn’t fallen on me yet. But I feel sumpn — oh, yes, they can’t take that away from me!” (NCZ 213). For Niedecker, interior life is “part of world stuff.” The self is separated from itself by its own self-consciousness. Similarly, the surrealist feminist finds that she both anticipated and missed the movement with which she shares forms and ideas (“six months ahead of a movement and twenty years behind it”). The splintered geographies of both individual subjectivity and modern cultural movement foreclose identity with both self and history. Niedecker possesses a remaindered “sumpn,” from which she makes her art. The materialist avant-gardist’s residuum of subjectivity becomes the basis for her exploration of historical and individual possibility, a place from which to begin. The readings that follow consider work from this period of Niedecker’s oeuvre — a period largely neglected by the critical history. I will argue that the poetry from 1933–1936 deepens our critical account of Niedecker’s, and Objectivism’s, experimental forms.4 Attention to these early works reveals a thick fabric of experimentation. Because Niedecker’s poetry from this period works in multiple tendencies, weaving together the strands of Objectivism and surrealism, Niedecker creates materialist and feminist hybrid poetic forms. We must now consider Zukofsky’s famous 1931 programs “Objectivists” and “Sincerity and Objectification” in which he calls for a materialist

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poetics that explores our relationship to “historic and contemporary particulars,” as it was an important influence on Niedecker (Prepositions+ 189). Her surrealism takes Zukofsky’s claim that language itself is amongst the material particulars it documents as its point of departure. He writes of “objectification” that it involves “the apprehension satisfied completely as to the appearance of the art form as an object” (Prepositions+ 194). Objectification thus involves a constructivist process wherein the poet shapes an entirely new object with the potential to produce entirely new varieties of experience and perceptual modes. The writing-object captures and transforms the subject’s entire field of perception. As against the mystifications of given narratives, objectified writing seeks to materialize in language  — and make the reader newly aware of — the obscured relations of production under capital: those “objects” which, as Zukofsky says, not only “affect the mind,” but structure mental life more generally (194). As we will see, Niedecker’s surrealist strategies for defamiliarizing reified hypotactical forms share with the Objectivist project a consciousness that the materials used by the poet in the process of objectification are themselves contoured by the historical forces and relations of production. But if Objectivism leaves somewhat un-parsed the particular qualities of interior life that accompany the material determinations of the subject, Niedecker’s surrealism brings Objectivist principles to bear on unevenly interpellated consciousness. The interpenetration of these two avant-gardes in Niedecker’s work allows each to supplement the other. The poems’ experimental movements from “subconscious” to “full consciousness” remedy the Objectivist inattention to the subject’s psychic internalization of ideological and grammatical expectations (LNWP 182). Simultaneously, however, Niedecker’s work suggests that the surrealists’ project of destroying the regulatory arm of the superego must also be accompanied by Objectivism’s political work of demonstrating how such regulations are constructed.5

Experiments in Verticality: Niedecker’s Materialist Surrealism “Utter mystification” was how editor Harriet Monroe described her response to the poetic experiments in planes of consciousness that Niedecker submitted for possible publication in Poetry magazine in 1934. While

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Monroe’s response was intended as a terse rejection, it was in fact an accurate description of what Niedecker was trying to accomplish. In both the movement from “subsconscious” to “full consciousness” in the “Canvass” triptych and the movement from “subconscious” to the “social-banal” in the “Beyond what” series, Niedecker charts the “utter mystifications” of everyday life. These mystifications are so naturalized that they even structure the state we consider to be “full consciousness.” Niedecker describes the form of “Canvass” (spelled “Canvas” in this letter to Monroe) thus:   An experiment in three planes: left row is deep subsconscious, middle row beginning monologue, and right row surface consciousness, social-banal; experiment in vertical simultaneity (symphonic rather than traditional melodic form), and the whole written with the idea of readers finding sequence for themselves, finding their own meaning whatever that may be, spectators before an abstract painting. Left vertical row honest recording of constrictions appearing before falling off to sleep at night. I should like a poem to be seen as well as read. Colors and textures of words appearing simultaneously with the sound of words and printed directly above or below each other, All this means break-up of sentence which I deplore though I try to retain the great conceit of capitals and periods, of something to say. It means that for me at least, certain words of a sentence, — prepositions, connectives, pronouns — belong up toward full consciousness, while strange and unused words appear only in subconscious. (It also means that for me at least this procedure is directly opposite to that of a consistent and prolonged dream — in dream the simple and familiar words like prepositions, connectives, etc . . . are not absent, in fact noticeably present to show illogical absurdity, discontinuity, parody of sanity.) (LNWP 182)6 Niedecker’s experiment in “vertical simultaneity” continues her interest in representing the essential units of perception, including “colors and textures.” Her emphasis on the simultaneity of presentation, in which the reader is meant to encounter a visual map of states of consciousness, rather than to be strung along by a narrative melody, reveals the fluid relation-

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ship that exists between these non-discrete states of consciousness. Significantly, Niedecker makes the distinction between her poetic forms and the forms of dream life. In dreams she finds an intensification of narrative structure, rather than a freedom from it. The “subconscious” state for Niedecker is one that maintains the dialectic of intention and receptivity; it is a purposeful tension that reveals the “constrictions” (rather than liberation) imposed by sleep. Thus Niedecker is concerned to point out the difference between her highly agential method and that of something like automatic writing, as well as her suspicion of any psychical state, including that of dream life, which may merely appear free from codes, commodities, and conventions. Importantly, however, for Niedecker the agential method is emphatically situated in material structures. Her agent is not an autonomous one, but rather one which rejects myths of transcendence in order to examine the material contingencies of subject formation itself. In the “subconscious” poem “Canvass,” the first of the triptych, Niedecker eschews the orders of traditional syntax, which would foreclose the possibility of nonlinear associative forms:   Canvass 1 Unrefractory petalbent prognosticate halfvent purloined adark vicissitudes of one-tenth steel-tin bluent, specifically unjust   cream redbronze attempt salmon egress masked eggs   ovoid   anodyne lament metal bluegreen drying smoke dent exceptional retard

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bald out affidavit flat grey shoulder. carrions eats its call, waste it. He: she knows how for a testament to Sundays. (CW 33) 1. subconscious

Niedecker draws on visual registers to create a poetic terrain replete with painterly shapes and colors expressed through hybrid words and neologisms, rather than through linking parts of speech and punctuation. The rhyming neologisms “petalbent,” “bluent,” “smoke dent,” signal the potential for new forms to emerge while in this subconscious state. Indeed, the title itself, “Canvass,” merges its explicit meaning — examine in detail  — with the homophone of a painter’s work surface. This layering of visual, auditory, and literary forms characterizes the complex, paratactically present landscape generated by the subject turning on itself to “canvass” self-reflection. The adjacency of organic particulars (“salmon” and “eggs”) and inorganic particulars (“anodyne” and “metal”) indicates that for Niedecker the subconscious is not a pre-social space of unmediated organic plenitude, but rather a terrain in which modernity’s contradictions and uneven developments remain unresolved and in continuous conflict. Niedecker disrupts the reduction of the salmon to an ideological symbol of primordial reproduction by alluding to the mediated nature of our understandings of its biological reproductive processes. Its reproductive originals, its “eggs,” are “masked.” Further, they are “ovoid” — the word simultaneously describes their external shape and suggests an internal void, an emptiness and/or emptying. Such presentations of the organic as always-already constituted by mediating terms and expectations disrupt the commonplace perspective of biological reproduction as a fully natural process. The “masked eggs  /  ovoid” thus do not promise fecundity, but rather threaten emptiness. Similarly, “ovoid,” containing two egg-like o’s, highlights the materiality of the word itself, as object. Citing the object of description within the word itself, “ovoid” disrupts the link between symbol and an origi-

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nal, organic referent and reads against the sedimented layers of symbolic narratives that we bring to concepts of nature, reproduction, and birth. Modernization’s objects and materials — “steel-tin” and “metal” — bookend the image of the salmon and its eggs. In the non-narrative space of the subconscious, the material, historically-specific particulars of the present repeatedly intervene in the imagined and projected primordial of the symbol, revealing the historical contours of “subconscious” assumptions and perceptions. The next poem in the triptych, “For exhibition,” charts the influence of narrative and grammatical conventions on the structures of the “wakeful,” a state Niedecker locates between “subconsciousness” and “full consciousness”: For exhibition 2 for round of or in the young beautiful of life hat laid away, done for . . help a doorlight undergo monotones faily refervid emotionally or coral on black velvet gumdrops and proletarian fiction . . fast whaler formaldehyde   backline reversed no ageratum mine might blast the nose impectinal . . a jellying If you Denmark whisper

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I can’t quite notify An extreme time. (CW 33)

2. wakeful

Throughout “For exhibition,” Niedecker employs conjunctions and prepositions in order to highlight and disturb the narrativizing tendencies of “surface consciousness.” In the progression of this poem, we get a glimpse of wakefulness in tension with the hypotactical pull of consciousness. For example, the opening lines “for round  /  of or,” bring together prepositional and conjunctive terms that defer easy reference, forestalling mystifying clichés in communication. Similarly, Niedecker re-orders clichés into “the young beautiful of life,” disrupting routinized, conversational forms. Most importantly, perhaps, the conventional subjects of the poem’s interpersonal address, “you” and “I,” emerge only in the final lines of the poem, as if themselves produced by the narrativizing turn of the “wakeful” consciousness itself: “If you  /  Denmark  /  whisper  /  I can’t quite notify  /  An extreme time.” Bound together by a truncated if/then clause, the egoic self and its other (introduced as “you”) emerge interdependently, their fates linked by an implied, hypothetical narrative. Yet the hypothetical narrative relation is also conditional: “if ” the addressee (the “you” whose possible name and possible location both can be marked by “Denmark”) should “whisper,” the (implied) consequence is that “I can’t quite notify.” These two interdependent subjects, brought into being by the “wakeful” narrative turn itself, are thus simultaneously linked to and estranged from one another. Significantly, the elision of the adverb then presents the self ’s statement — “I can’t quite notify” — as a declaration linked to both the preceding lines (“If you  /  Denmark  /  whisper,” read as a conditional of the if/then clause) and the poem’s concluding line (“an extreme time,” read as implied grammatical object of the self ’s declaration, “I can’t quite notify”). Thus, in this “wakeful,” transitional state, the self (the “I”) “can’t quite notify” the individual addressee (“you,” “Denmark”) or the self ’s own relation to “an extreme time” of her address. This ambiguity of grammatical reference for the self ’s point of address highlights the necessarily conditional, necessarily unstable narrative of the self ’s “wakeful” recognition, of other, of self, and of the temporality of her very address. Not yet seamlessly integrated

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into either an interpersonal or an historical context, the individual speaker remains at the edge of social interaction. But if we consider “For exhibition” in its “symphonic” relation to “Canvass,” we find that this edge is not simply the abstract psychic space of some sociality unbound. The speaker keeps missing her addressee in these final lines: the interlocutors are separated by auditory gaps (Denmark “whisper”s) as well as temporal ones (“extreme time,” the general “if ”-ness of the whisper, and the “can’t quite” of the response). The temporal unevenness of Niedecker’s “wakeful” poem thus reiterates the spatial unevenness of “Canvass,” returning us to the question of the subject’s determination by her material landscape. Finally, this landscape of temporal asymmetries convokes a specifically modernist historical consciousness of both break and seriality.7 Niedecker’s “an extreme time” is also, homophonically, “a next” . . . time. The temporal ruptures of the modernist historical consciousness are thusly conditioned by the temporal ruptures of uneven development. In the final, “full consciousness” poem of the series, “Tea,” the poet introduces more syntactical connective tissue. Tea 3 dilemma my suit, continuous dear hind button off . . the velocities with which different   fluents change Newton’s compose in the mass wander anent anyone (negress certainly not) sidewheeler painted: on the next moon be still: we are near life focus your face to a

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then oh, divers lanterns in I meet   sworn   thick think shuffles o loud foot. to come to the end and pass it but I am having (CW 33)

3. full consciousness

Traditional sentence structures, alongside the self-consciously correct grammar of “with which” in line four, announce that the poet has entered the realm of social and semantic expectations. “Canvass” begins the exploration with simultaneously occurring adjacent particulars of development. “For exhibition,” with its prepositions and “if ” clauses, suggests more formal, if incomplete, relations between people and things. “For exhibition” ends with a newly born and uncertain “I.” The first lines of “Tea,” however, reveal an already social, “suited” self: the possessive individual subject (“my suit”). This social self of “full consciousness,” however, is also introduced in the midst of a “dilemma”: contradictions which once remained adjacent and simultaneous become choices required of a socialized subject who must organize herself according to the hypotactical demands of full consciousness. And while “For exhibition” ends with the “wakeful” self ’s uncertain (mis)recognition of “an extreme time,” “Tea” presents the self of “full consciousness” disoriented and unbuttoned by the social space and time of modernity, its “velocities” of modernization. The parenthetical “negress certainly not” divides “Tea” in half. Niedecker transforms the “salmon egress” of “Canvass” into a racialized, inassimilable force of negation, the “negress certainly not.” In doing so, Niedecker elaborates how the socially regulated field of full consciousness is structured by a struggle on the part of resistant social subjects against the routinized laws of language and of social structures that seek to contain them (here in parentheses). Furthermore, negation and freedom converge in the recursive morpheme “egress,” and the seemingly primordial force of migration is granted historical contours. The false universal of “anyone”

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is qualified by “negress certainly not,” and the poem thus replaces myths of the seasonal circadian rhythms of salmon migration with racist geographies of unfreedom and exclusion. If “egress” introduced the triptych to the terms of uneven development, “negress” concludes it by replacing the fantasy of unfettered freedom of movement — and indeed, the fantasy of a universal subject — with a landscape of development structured unevenly by concrete social exceptions to universal freedom. After the emphatic double negation of “negress certainly not,” the poet moves beyond the limits defined by narratives which must have beginnings and ends. The closing lines “to come to the end and pass it  /  but I am having,” concludes the poem’s three movements. Niedecker begins with the chronicle of an itinerant subject amidst a modern world of contradictory particulars. With the final announcement, “but I am having,” the poet counts herself amongst the exceptions to the rules of grammar and narrative structure. The final sentence is shorn of its object, and the poet reveals the link between our grammatical expectations and our social expectations. Refusing to complete the sentence, Niedecker frustrates the reader’s ability to end the poem; she thus also challenges our notion of a subject that is defined by what it consumes, possesses, or “has.” Niedecker’s second “experiment in verticality” explicitly elaborates, through its thematic contents, the politics of form introduced in her first series.8 In the “subconscious” “Beyond what” Niedecker explores the psychic landscape of war. Beyond what 1 decapitated areas momently to the constant removal liquidating aftermath inspired marksmanship Devil the ash trays show it instant with glee black winged lazuli beets redden and revert (CW 34)

1. subconscious

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Traumatized place and person merge in the “decapitated areas” of a fantasy life saturated with history. The spectral presence of official platitudes  — “inspired marksmanship” — haunts the mental scene. In the poet’s presentation of the “subconscious,” the language of war propaganda remains unintegrated, and thus its ideological content is thrown into relief. The “black winged lazuli,” linked by end-rhyme to the preceding “instant with glee” — an instant of recognition, perhaps, in which the “ash” of history throws up, like tea leaves, a premonition of the future — suggests the condensed surrealist image of speeding bullet/bomb/plane/precious gemstone as omen-bird. Similarly, the treasures of the earth (“lazuli”) are “black winged” like omen-birds or fighter jets, and the roots of the earth “redden and revert,” bomblike, in the abandoned landscapes of nature. As in the “Canvass” series, the second poem, in the “Beyond what” series entitled “I heard,” brings with it the emergence of the individual ego in its straining “toward monologue” and structures of meaning bound by narrative grammar.   I heard 2 too far for me to see lest we forget no fan thank you peonies if only one could I was born on a farm I watched arrive in spring city your faith in arches (CW 34)

2. toward monologue

The past tense of the title “I heard” links monologue with the narrative reproduction of sensory perceptions, received images, and ideological languages whose sources are external and prior to the self. The ego emerges in the context of multiple negotiations within this external world. The line “too far for me to see” announces the inadequacy felt by a subject in relation to a world whose totality exceeds its perspective. Potentials both threatening and unrealized define her horizon of possibility, as she warns

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“lest we forget” and muses sadly “if only one could.” Significantly, the self imagined by Niedecker is born of negativity. She rejects the decorations of femininity (“no fan thank you”) with an oppositional subjectivity rooted in the rural. “I was born on a farm,” the most traditional of autobiographical statements, instead of fulfilling the autobiographical function of individuation, merges Niedecker the individual with rural conditions outside the space of the city and of its “faith in arches.” The final poem of this second series elaborately parodies hypotactical structures and traditional grammars by linking these forms with nationalist myths and the language of war propaganda. Memorial Day 3 Thou hast not foreign aggression but world disillusionment dedicated to the proposition of an ice cream cone and the stars and stripes forever over the factories and hills of our country for the soldier dead (CW 34)

3. social-banal

In this “social-banal” terrain, the poet explores nationalist imagery of “stars and stripes,” “an ice cream cone,” “our country,” and “the soldier dead.” As with “Tea,” the final poem of the previous triptych, “Memorial Day” stresses normative narrative forms in order to highlight their political stakes, creating a hyperbolic, almost ludic hypotaxis. The oppositional rural landscape that defined the individual subject in “I heard” becomes the populist-inflected “factories and hills” that furnish the conditions of possibility for a collective, national subject. This new subject lives an existence circumscribed by the ideological structures and demands of national life and national priorities. The warnings “lest we forget” of “I heard” go unheeded; and the psychic and material traumas of “Beyond what” are foreclosed by an ideological constellation of consumption (“ice cream”) and nationalist clichés (“stars and stripes forever”). “Memorial Day” ironi-

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cally involves distancing oneself from the immediacy of historical trauma through the reproduction of memories fully mediated by the ideological demands of the state. This state, like its “social-banal” subject(s), lacks the quality of self-reflection, a human property, which, for Niedecker, is linked to the capacity to confront historical particulars directly. By intensifying her explorations of the “subconscious” with an Objectivist desire to explore, toward political ends, a materialist poetics of historical and contemporary particulars, Niedecker averts the potential solipsism involved in the surrealists’ introspection. Through these “experiments in verticality,” Niedecker revises both Objectivist and surrealist practices, developing a theory not only of artistic production but also of artistic reception. Her desire that “readers find sequence for themselves” extends her political work to the realm beyond the page, into the experiences of her readers. As she wrote in the letter to Monroe: “the whole thing [was] written with the idea of readers . . . finding their own meaning wherever that may be, as spectators before an abstract painting” (LNWP 182). Niedecker’s experiments in agency and reception thus also concern themselves with the readerly comportment. Niedecker brings the surrealist and objectivist critique of purely expressive aesthetics to its radical conclusion — indeed, she says in another 1934 letter to Monroe that her goal is “to discredit all journal method everywhere” (LNWP 186). Niedecker demands, in the last instance, that, as the hieratic poet vacates the poem, the labor of interpretation that the reader brings reflect, ultimately, her own position in a world of objects.

Between Freedom and Unfreedom In “Looking Back on Surrealism,” Theodor Adorno describes the conditions of possibility for the surrealist dialectic: As to modernity, there is a paradox in that, although already under the spell of the uniformity of mass-production, it still has a history. . . . The tension in surrealism which discharges itself in shock is that between schizophrenia and depersonalization, and therefore precisely not a psychological animation. The subject, grown absolute, legislat-

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ing freely for itself, and liberated from any concern for the empirical world, reveals itself in the face of complete depersonalization as inanimate and virtually dead, which throws it completely back upon itself and its protest. The dialectical pictures of surrealism are those of a dialectic of subjective freedom in a situation of objective unfreedom. (222–23) Niedecker’s surrealist work negotiates these same antinomies. The formal tension it maintains between strategies of free association (or automatic writing), constructedness, and reportage, produces a vertiginous alternation of subjective agency and objective determinations, in a world of often hostile particulars. Niedecker’s surrealist dialectic, inflected as it is by Objectivist principles, moves toward a sublation of the terrified selfconsciousness that Adorno describes. Niedecker historicizes Adorno’s dialectical materialism by deploying an aesthetics of uneven development to break the “spell” that we live in a universally homogenous “uniformity of mass-production.” She thereby reveals the conditions for Adorno’s closing dialectic, above. The subject’s “unfreedom” is not metaphysical but rather conditioned by the material landscape and its foreclosures. Let us close with a return to Niedecker’s anticipatory-belated methodology: “ . . . ‘Progression,’ was written six months before Mr. Zukofsky referred me to the surrealists for correlation. I had explained the poem in this way: 1st section — simple knowing and concern for externals; 2nd section — the turn to one world farther in; 3rd section — the will to disorder, approach to dream . . . the individual talking to himself, the supreme circumstance. . . . It is a system of thought replacements, the most remote the most significant or irrational; a thousand variations of the basic tension; an attempt at not hard clear images but absorption of these” (LNWP 177–78). Niedecker’s intensification of subjective freedom toward the “supreme circumstance” of the “individual talking to himself ” produces the recognition that seemingly subjective psychical processes are themselves objective in the Objectivist sense of the term: interior life is revealed to be “a system of thought replacements,” or a map of ideological-perceptual mediations. While the objectification of mental life does not, of course, change the situation of “objective unfreedom,” the technique does claim

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the processes of “depersonalization” for the avant-garde project of creating a subject capable of recognizing itself as both object and agent within its contradictory world. Against the reductive psychologizing view of surrealism as a movement depicting the world of dreams, Adorno writes: “that is not the way people dream; no one dreams that way.” “The subject,” Adorno continues, “which is at work much more openly and uninhibitedly than in dreams, turns its energy toward its own extinction, for which in dreams no energy is required; but thereby everything becomes, so to speak, more objective than in dreams, where the subject absent in advance, penetrates and gives another color to what it encounters behind the scenes” (221). Similarly, Niedecker writes of “Canvass”: “this procedure is directly opposite to that of the consistent and prolonged dream — in dream the simple and familiar words like prepositions, connectives, etc. . . . are not absent, in fact, noticeably present to show illogical absurdity, discontinuity, parody of sanity” (LNWP 182). For the materialist surrealist, dream life is not free from the structures of narrative and power, but rather an intensification of them. Just as the intensification of subjective self-reflection actually objectifies the psyche, dream life produces its opposite — that is, a consciousness of the discontinuous and contradictory nature of waking narrative structures. Niedecker’s experiments move beyond the opposition between interiority and exteriority. Her materialist surrealist work is, as a result, at once an intensification of Objectivist and surrealist avant-garde principles (extension of strategies of objectification; the development of surrealist strategies for survival in conditions of “unfreedom”); and an anticipation of a postmodern eclecticism. Niedecker found her precarious position in these crosshairs of modernist practice a “disconcerting” but productive location from which to write (LNWP 178). If we have now swept aside the critical commonplace that modernist poetics emerge only from the giddy cosmopolitan, then we too should find unsurprising the poet’s ability to bring the differentiated spaces and times of modernism together, in Wisconsin.

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Notes 1. See BYH and NCZ. 2. The many different definitions of surrealism that have arisen reflect the diversity of the tradition. Closest to Niedecker’s own practice is the definition offered by André Breton in the “Second Manifesto of Surrealism” (1930). Niedecker explicitly rejected the more strictly psychologistic version of surrealism expressed in Breton’s first “Manifesto of Surrealism” (1924). The formal and political concerns of the Trotskyist “Second Manifesto of Surrealism” (1930), however, speak directly to the forms and stakes of Niedecker’s work. In addition to acknowledging the potential ideological character of “automatic writing,” the “Second Manifesto of Surrealism” defines surrealism’s aims as “quite simply at the total recovery of our psychic force by a means which is nothing other than the dizzying descent into ourselves, the systematic illumination of hidden places and the progressive darkening of other places, the perpetual excursion into the midst of forbidden territory” (136–37). What makes surrealist work unique, Breton argues here, is its attempt to simultaneously deterritorialize interior and exterior life. Indeed, in the more radical moments of the second manifesto, Breton suggests that surrealism’s historical success depends on overcoming the contradiction between exterior and interior life entirely. As I argue here, Niedecker’s hybrid of surrealism and Objectivism allows her both to record the material world as it is transformed by the interior processes of thought and perception, and vice versa, to materialize the contents of interior life. 3. Elizabeth Willis’s article “The Milk Separator and the New Goose: Niedecker, Eisenstein, and the Poetics of Non-indifference” also resists the use of region and relationship as a means to identify generic poetic trajectories. Her fascinating article investigates formal and political resonances between Niedecker and Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. 4. A notable exception to this pattern of neglect is Peter Nicholls’s article “Lorine Niedecker: Rural Surreal.” This paper is meant to supplement Nicholls’s observation that Niedecker’s surrealism is an extension of Zukofsky’s desire to poetically embody “the fact as it forms.” Nicholls also brings up important points about the specificity of Niedecker’s surrealism, mediated as it was by her reading of Eugene Jolas’s surrealist periodical Transition. However, as I demonstrate, Niedecker’s surrealism does not, as Nicholls would have it, oppose the “practice of writing” to a “poetics of the inner life.” Rather, her work reveals the sober investigation of the ideological constructedness of interiority to be an essential part of materialist, feminist, Objectivist “writing” (LNWP 198). 5. Rachel Blau DuPlessis notes in her essay “Lorine Niedecker, the Anonymous: Gender, Class, Genre and Resistances” that “elements of a modernist and objectivist aesthetic seem . . . to take on a gender function for Niedecker” (LNWP 126).

150  |  sou nding pro cess 6. “Canvass” is the title of the first poem of the three-poem series: “Canvass,” “For exhibition,” and “Tea.” Arranged side by side on the same page, each poem title in the series is also marked by Niedecker as corresponding to three states: Niedecker links “Canvass” to “subconscious”; “For exhibition” to “wakeful”; and “Tea” to “full consciousness.” 7. See Fredric Jameson’s A Singular Modernity, especially pp. 23–30. Here he describes the contours of the modernist ideological construction of its own historicity as a “twofold movement, in which the foregrounding of continuities, the insistent unwavering focus on the seamless passage from past to present, slowly turns into a consciousness of a radical break; while at the same time the enforced attention to a break gradually turns the latter into a period in its own right” (24). 8. This triptych is another “experiment in verticality”; its arrangement on the page is identical to the “Canvass” series. Similarly, each poem corresponds to three states: “Beyond what” to “subconscious”; “I heard” to “toward monologue”; and “Memorial Day” to “social-banal.”

Rachel Blau DuPlessis That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten. — Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, x Early in life I looked back of our buildings to the lake and said, ‘I am what I am because of all this — I am what is around me — those woods have made me . . . ’ — Lorine Niedecker, letter to Gail Roub,   19671

Lorine Niedecker’s “Paean to Place” and Its Reflective Fusions When Professor L. S. Dembo organized his groundbreaking recovery of the Objectivist poets at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in April and May 1968, he conducted interviews with Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, and Carl Rakosi. Dembo was a penetrating interlocutor, and the men gave interviews of record which were published in Contemporary Literature in 1969.2 This makes it all the more poignant that Lorine Niedecker, who lived only thirty-some miles down the road, near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, was not invited to participate. That is, the person in the Objectivist nexus most accessible and closest to the University of Wisconsin-Madison was not brought forward either by Dembo or Zukofsky, who was, perhaps, in a position to intervene. For a day after Zukofsky’s interview on May 16th, Celia and Louis Zukofsky, L. S. Dembo, and Lorine Niedecker spent time together (May 17, 1968), visiting the University of Wisconsin campus and arboretum (BYH 164–65; NCZ 99 and 353).

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However, given Niedecker’s own avoidance strategies when approached for a poetry reading by another University of Wisconsin branch, the one in Milwaukee, it is plausible that she would have demurred if asked for a public appearance, as she had in 1965, explaining “I fight shy of that kind of thing” (BYH 77). “I fight shy” is a Niedecker motif. Niedecker is both shy, resistant, reluctant, and what one might call “fighting shy” — aggressively, decisively, contendingly shy, both presenting her shyness and maneuvering it.3 An early poem offers self-instruction: “Feign a great calm” (CW 25). In the late 1960s, Niedecker was in fact thinking seriously about Objectivist poetics and about poetics in general.4 This non-event — the non-interview of Niedecker as an Objectivist or quasi-Objectivist poet —  coincided with her own debate (beginning around 1964 and continuing until her death in 1970) about what the term objectivist meant for her work. Niedecker is explicit about her intense connection with what she saw as objectivist practices (in Zukofsky and later in Cid Corman), yet in a 1966 letter to Kenneth Cox, she also makes clear her negotiation among poetic positions, including surrealism: “there was an influence (from transition and from surrealistes that has always seemed to want to ride right along with the direct hard, objective kind of writing. The subconscious and the presence of the folk, always there” (Dent 36). Further, during this period, a trace of projectivist or Black Mountain poetics emerged in her thinking. This debate occurs in letters and is infused in the texture of “Paean to Place,” written in the mid-1960s when she was in her sixties.5 That is, Niedecker fused or synthesized the resources of several poetics, correcting one with the other; her debates are refracted in this important late poem. During 1966 through 1969, often in letters to literary young men, Niedecker articulated a suspicion of, or judgment of “Objectivism,” but she did not give one singular name to the “form of poetic thinking” that she wanted in its place (NCZ 343). She had first raised these issues in letters to Louis Zukofsky in 1964, yet did not continue this discussion with him possibly because of the increasing tensions between them concerning power and career.6 This poetic thinking is called by various names: in 1964, “metaphysical”; in 1968, “something else”; in 1967, “something more” (NCZ 343; BYH 153; Letter to Clayton Eshleman, November 18, 1967).7 Niedecker is interested (1969) in a “subliminal reflective carry-over” (BYH 185). And she

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spoke of “reflective”/“reflections” to Gail Roub as well as using the term “surrealism” in her evocative attempt to synthesize these divergent positions. But by noting the number of terms Niedecker had for this poetic move and by indicating that her commitments to surrealist tactics and objectivist strategies were both in debate and mobile, it appears that she wanted to make a synthesis or fusion of the two — or at least those two —  somewhat divergent tendencies in poetics. In 1967, she made this important statement: “Much taken up with how to define a way of writing poetry which is not Imagist nor Objectivist fundamentally nor Surrealism alone [ . . . ] I loosely called it ‘reflections’ or as I think it over now, reflective, maybe. The basis is direct and clear —  what has been seen or heard — but something gets in, overlays all that to make a state of consciousness . . . The visual form is there in the background and the words convey what the visual form gives off after it’s felt in the mind. [ . . . ] And [there is] awareness of everything influencing everything. [ . . . ] I used to feel that I was goofing off unless I held only to the hard, clear image, the thing you could put your hand on but now I dare do this reflection.”8 In this statement, Niedecker proposes some synthesis of the two poetic tactics most important to her. As we observe her negotiating the inflection and expansion of one (the objectivist) by the other (the surrealist), it is important to note that surrealism had long been suspect in the Objectivist context. The move is certainly mobile and dialectical, with “reflective”/“reflections” as the proposed synthesis. “Reflective” is a term that suggests both receptivity — the mirroring of an image or light — and an active mulling over what is seen, for reflective also means meditative or pensive. A reflection is both something (an image, a sound, a beam of light) given back and, as well, the concentration of the mind, a careful consideration given. It seems true that with this term Niedecker was speaking more overtly about the visual image, making both a passive register of the seen and an active response to the “visual form . . . after it’s felt in the mind.” But we will see that the “reflective”/“reflections” in sound is also vital to her poetics of fusion. Readers now knowing that Niedecker used the word “reflective” for her critique of the Objectivist position and her discussion of surrealist poetics may wonder why I don’t simply appropriate Niedecker’s term instead

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of adding the possibly more awkward word fusion or fused. My choice is deliberate. Using Niedecker’s word “reflective” alone makes the implicit claim that what I say here is what Niedecker really meant. This would be somewhat colonizing and would also tend to fix her interesting and mobile debates about these positions. At the same time, I want to emphasize that my attempt at the reconstruction of various strands in her late poetics is speculative and interpretive; thus I join a term not her own to the terms she suggested “reflective”/“reflections.” And despite her emphasis on two positions in this important statement from 1967, she was assimilating more influences and materials in her last years than even the “objectivist” and the “surrealist.” What Niedecker meant by “surrealist” might be a phenomenology of consciousness (and unconsciousness) and the desire to render the movements of mind. A shorthand summary of Niedecker’s long-standing interests under this rubric would include automatic writing, trance states, curiosity about dreams, sense of the absurdity of associations, consciousness and its movements, subliminal formations, possibly even the weirdness of everyday life — like Van Ess’s washcloths (CW 4, 95). There is no evidence to date that Niedecker was directly aware of “mad love” or other gendered elements in Breton’s playbook, including display of personal obsession and fetish, nor that she evoked the sublimities of “the marvelous.” The defamiliarized oddity of the everyday is one element of the “folk” always palpable to Niedecker. Peter Nicholls has commented upon Niedecker’s surrealism, which he sees, finally, as a practice of “writing” (associative writing) in the sense that William Carlos Williams proposed the term beginning in the 1920s. Nicholls tracks the potential confluence between some elements of the poetics enunciated in Zukofsky’s seminal 1931 essay “Sincerity and Objectification” and what Niedecker meant by Surrealism. “The articulation of the unconscious as something ‘other’ and uncanny” in Niedecker’s work in the 1930s becomes, in his reading, confluent with Zukofsky’s statement “ ‘shapes suggest themselves, and the mind senses and receives awareness’ ” (LNWP 198–200). Niedecker’s implicit definition of objectivist poetry is visual, directly represented, hard, unemotional, and bounded, neither interested in subconscious forces, nor in “experiments in planes of consciousness,” nor in

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insight from relations among “subconscious, wakeful, full consciousness” (CW 370).9 Niedecker takes objectivist poetics as implying a resistance to association, to any streaming of the mind at all levels, to any concentration on an emotional afterimage. Yet it is curious how unlike most Zukofsky or Oppen short poems is this “hard clear object you can put your hands on.” Oppen meditates on his “objects,” for his poetry is hardly descriptive, setting them in a historical, social, and emotionally associative surround, vectored through the serial strategies, with a good deal of syntactic originality that creates a strong afterimage and a sense of dissolve among thoughts. Zukofsky played richly and darkly with sound associations, verbal music, puns, fusions of registers (as high to popular culture), and a whole range of thinking — precisely meditation, filled with an obscure verve and challenge. And Niedecker knew this at least about Zukofsky: she did not think that Zukofsky continued exclusively in the limited objectivist vein, yet, before this interior debate, she felt that she should, or that she did. Niedecker was often self-deprecating to a fault, yet her library and the quick, brisk remarks on her wide-ranging reading in her letters show an intellectual, literary poet at work. “Goofing off” (said to Roub in the 1967 letter) is a comic phrase that implies a heavy, even if teasing, degree of self-judgment. This comment was a way of keeping herself in her place: a performative (and self-divided) minoritizing attitude in relation to Zukofsky that anyone who writes on Niedecker has to confront.10 There could be numerous versions of this narrative — noting her complicity in it; noting a role he had prepared for her and insisted on; noting the ways she seemed to perform subordinate status in order to keep him connected to her. The conflict over her poetics, the words “dare” or “goof off” suggest, even genially, her ambivalence to the program and writing methods, the discipline that she had set for herself. In this complex narrative of inhibition and discovery, Zukofsky emerges as an oxymoronic figure, an idealized, iconic impediment to some of her poetic development. Her resurgent thinking in poetics is coextensive with the erosion of their bond, beginning in the mid-1960s. Yet readers must always factor in the element of her poetics that precisely honored her continuing attachment to objectivist ideals (that she embodied in Zukofsky), for this standard provided a brake on her (perhaps

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imagined) wayward impulses to overdo. It appears that evoking objectivist practice gave Niedecker a frame for, a way of controlling, what she experienced as excess in herself and a way of judging that excess in others; a poetics is not solely an aesthetic position but is compounded in or by ideological, social, and personal investments. In a 1968 letter, Niedecker lists two notable surrealist writers of the day, saying: “Koch, Ashbery  — there but for the grace of God and Louie Zukofsky go I” (Letter to Eshleman, February 14, 1968). In correspondence with Clayton Eshleman, she also seemed astonished by the projectivist prolixity of the works of the 1960s — like Eshleman’s own and Robert Kelly’s. Here Zukofsky as guardian angel saves her from or is a corrective to some unbalanced poetics — too passionate, overdone, and verbose with these expressive notational works, or (with the New York school surrealists she names) apparently too whimsical and superficial. Yet her letters to Eshleman are also seriously engaged, trying simultaneously to negotiate a corrective to him while drawn to his poetic risks: “Intensity — one can spread it in voluptuous gasps over page after page?” she asks him, declaratively. She is debating whether “intensity without concentration, without the short poem impact” is possible; this question shows a projectivist tilt, and shows how fraught was her late-in-life choice to write a mid-length long poem. For to side-step “concentration” is to resist a key imagist-objectivist term (Letter to Eshleman, February 14, 1968). “I’ve been going thru a bad time — in one moment (winter) I’d have thrown over all my (if one can) years of clean-cut, concise short poem manner for ‘something else’ (still don’t know what to call it)”: this to Cid Corman on February 14, 1968, the exact same day as the letter to Eshleman cited above (BYH 153). (That “something else” again signals the terminological debate that eventually gets precipitated into the words “reflective”/  “reflections.”) She immediately alludes in judgmental terms to works by Koch, Ashbery, and by that very same Clayton Eshleman, saying that a glance at all that convinces her she’s been “doing OK for a long time” (BYH 153). This back-and-forth from anguish to a jocular self-acceptance is related to her debate about objectivist strategies (which she felt were represented by and as “clean-cut, concise”-ness) and about some of the surrealist-influenced, projectivist-expressivist movements of contemporary

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poetry like Eshleman’s own. Yet despite her resistance to it, Eshleman’s work in poetry and as an interlocutor allowed Niedecker the staging area in which she could make articulate statements of her self-division and pursue her debates in poetics.11 She survived Clayton Eshleman’s suggesting, in an exchange of letters in the mid-1960s, that she take LSD. This led to a discussion four letters long whose impact may well have been, wonderfully enough, what Eshleman had offered in the first place: the promise of a “loosening” (BYH 156). This non-chemical loosening occurred simply from her considering the question of consciousness-altering drugs; given Niedecker’s long-standing interest in states of consciousness, she might have thought she could accomplish her own shake-up without extra assistance. Both Eshleman and Corman, another vital figure, seem to have evoked memories of her rich feelings about poetics in the 1930s, at the start of her career. Beginning what must be “Paean to Place,” she says to Corman in December 1966, “I felt something like subliminals coming on — dream, mind at rest, automatic writing etc . . . reverting to my youth (my interest in the 1930’s) so I let it come!” (BYH 108). If this “something” was represented to her by Eshleman’s (and these are Niedecker’s words) “mysticphysical” or “mystic-sensual” poems spread in “voluptuous gasps over page after page” situated, as she said, “at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (deep into the subconscious),” she is emphatically using a sexual/sensual and psychological vocabulary for the sense of extent. Yet Niedecker is careful to locate these pulsing feelings as originating in reality, and thus a form of realism; about these “gasps” and depths she states, “nevertheless [they are] response to life’s stimuli” (Letter to Eshleman, February 14, 1968). That balanced statement pulls back into explicit realism from reverie and from subconscious depths; it is an indication of her mobile negotiation among tempting positions. Niedecker’s letters to Eshleman constantly express the fluctuation between her practices of precision, condensation, cutting, focus, and some kind of emotional, visceral, mental, and musical intensity, a play with fantasy that both preceded poems and sustained them but, in her selfevaluation, never came into her poems past the earliest works, at least until the very end of her career. This is, of course, a severe self-judgment with

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which at least one of her critics — Jenny Penberthy — disagrees. About “Wintergreen Ridge,” published by Eshleman in his journal Caterpillar in 1968, Niedecker poignantly and astonishingly states: “I figured after 40 years of more or less precise writing, I cd. afford to let go. I only hope I may never regret this.” She even describes her self division: “I know that my cry all these years has been: into — into — and under — close your eyes and let the music carry you — and what have I done? — cut — cut — too many words” (Letter to Eshleman, February 3, 1968). If she feels she is reverting to that mode of reverie, then the poetics of “Paean to Place” might well be summed up in words Niedecker used to Harriet Monroe in January 1933: “an attempt at not hard clear images but absorption of these,” yet still interested in “intelligibility or readers’ recognition of sincerity and force” (LNWP 178; also CW 370). On the one hand she rejects hardness, on the other she evokes the objectivist criterion of “sincerity.” Thirty-five years later, in February 1968, to both Eshleman and Corman, she cites Robert Duncan’s statement “I like rigor and even clarity as a quality of a work . . . as I like muddle and floaty vagaries . . . cloudy art . . . . It is the intensity that moves me” (BYH 153; Letter to Eshleman, February 14, 1968).12 Not only do “rigor” and “clarity” and “muddle” and “floaty” stand as explicit opposites, showing Niedecker’s attraction to alternatives in poetics, but clarity is a high value in at least Oppen’s versions of objectivist practices. Given that Duncan’s “Towards an Open Universe” also affected Niedecker, one might note that his is an essay written under the sign of Olson’s “Projective Verse” and other calls to a “physiology of consciousness” (Duncan 11). At the end of her career, Niedecker wanted to synthesize an objectivist poetics with surrealist, “subliminal” tactics of play with consciousness, and as well attend sporadically to claims of the organicist projective that were being made by the younger poets with whom she was engaged. The notion of the “reflective”/“reflections” was not only a synthesis or fusion of objectivist and surrealist tendencies, it was an exploration of projectivist urgencies and scope. The dialogue with what Niedecker takes as, or sees as, objectivist poetics has a long history in her oeuvre. For, as Jenny Penberthy has proposed, this was not the first time she considered the question of what the

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objectivist aesthetic had done for her and what its limitations were. Her first consideration had begun much earlier in her career, in the mid-1930s. Writing a letter (luckily not lost) to Mary Hoard, Niedecker proposes some dialectical correction of objectivism by surrealism.13 “Thank god for the Surrealist tendency running side by side with Objectivism and toward the monologue tongue. It is my conviction that no one yet, has talked to himself. And until then, what is art?” (LNWP 87).14 In the same letter, which talks of “Louis Zukofsky and the Objectivist Movement” but is also influenced by the book Foundations of Modern Art written by Amedee Ozenfant in 1931, Niedecker parses that term as “Objects, objects” and asks, “Why are people, artists above all, so terrifically afraid of themselves?” This suggests that one of her early views of “Objectivist” proposals were that they functioned to veil expressive, frank, energized feelings that were not only conscious emotions but also unconscious. “It is my belief objects are needed only to supplement our nervous systems” (LNWP 88). This odd statement shows that at least then she interpreted objectivist poetics as having to focus on the materiality of objects in the real world — a kind of realism exclusive of psychic phenomena of subconscious and conscious mind. Words emerging from hypnogogic states and from associative writing could bypass “objects” and work with suggestiveness and afterimages. The letter to Hoard also discusses her desire to produce a poetry of energy and intensity; it even mentions one (apparent) trance state into which she had induced herself (and of which her correspondent was aware). She describes her sense of memory being constituted wordlessly as “a nerve-sense, a vibration, a colour, a rhythm” — in short the “non-expressive, unconscious part” of memory (LNWP 88). She had apparently discussed these ideas with Zukofsky, who was fairly resistant to them. Indeed, this early forceful exposition of her poetics occurs in some contestation with Zukofsky. For all the complex or cluster of ideas around a feeling part of the mind, for vibration, movement, “abstraction,” Niedecker’s term seems to have been “surrealism.” The Hoard letter offers another definitional moment of great suggestiveness in her poetics “if anybody can possibly see the connection” — said Niedecker. This “connection” is actually quite difficult to draw and must remain speculative. Niedecker remarks, “I conceive poetry as the folktales

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of the mind and us creating our own remembering” (LNWP 88). There is no doubt that Niedecker thereupon wrote poems that insisted on a folk source strategically and by populist conviction. Indeed, she insisted so strategically that it became a paradoxical justification for her immediate neighbors’ ignorance of her work — if she became a literary figure in their eyes, they would cease acting like regular people with her, and cut her from her sources in observation, anecdote, and turns of phrase. But it is hard to integrate this remark if one thinks only of the populist element in her work, because the phrase “folktales of the mind” proposes another dimension. Niedecker held that the tracks one makes in poems, the traces, are the conscious formulation (not the mimesis, but the construction) of one’s own “folktales.” This term then means the “granite pail,” or the washcloths of Van Ess have to be seen as much more than quirky local color snippets of recorded experience (CW 96, 95). She is making “folktales of the mind” — the characters, narratives, and idioms are an objective correlative of states of her mind, part of the suggestiveness, the reflectives, the streaming, even the “surrealism” of the everyday — a key category. Further, this comment makes the mind like a tribe or social unit that has its own tales, furthering a sense that the mind is multiple and has a whole collectivity in it — this perhaps was one way of her dealing with her relative isolation and loneliness. This is again a populist-inflected account, not evoking a collective unconscious with its totalizing, unifying implications, but a collectivity in consciousness, a multiple set of persons or subjectivities seeing realities variously. Perhaps she dramatically projected herself into the characters and feelings of those around her and wrote from this constructed experience. The evocation of mental phenomena “Us creating our own remembering” at the same time links psychological/mental material and folk materials in a sophisticated fusion of three strands of 1930s thought: popular front and radical populism, the intellectual movements of abstract art, and psychoanalysis.15 There are even some analogues with the projective positions of ethnopoetics, which developed in the 1960s and 1970s, the interest in the critical and aesthetic sophistication of tribal thought, mythopoesis, and art. All this debate worked as a muted criticism of Zukofsky as well as a consideration of a poetics. The term surrealism remains on the table,

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rather than, say, the “projective” — a term increasingly current, or any consistent use of her term, “reflective,” because its use signaled the greatest possible distance from Zukofsky, the greatest implicit critique of him, given that surrealism had been in play between them for the length of her career. The crisis with Zukofsky occurred because of the occlusion of female cultural labor, the ploughing under of her work. Jenny Penberthy reveals that Niedecker spent a good amount of time in the early 1960s excerpting Zukofsky’s remarks about poetics from his letters (some written to her), a task done for him, with his imprimatur. During this time, Niedecker increasingly mentions to Corman how “sensitive” Zukofsky is getting about their relationship, despite the fact that “of course long ago I destroyed the parts of the letters that he wouldn’t want the public to see” (BYH 53, 59).16 Acting as typist and editor, she prepared a book-length typescript of materials culled from Zukofsky’s letters in about 1965, giving both the carbon and the original to Zukofsky at his request.17 Having induced this work and encouraged it, he then did not give her his permission to publish it. This was an enormous rejection of her and her labor, a symbolic and painful moment concerning women, work, and the poetic career. While Niedecker made a complex and self-ambivalent construction of her own ancilla status as sheer helper, this was a stance that she might not have expected Zukofsky to take literally, given their mutual and sustaining connection over so many years. When he does enact a hierarchy of importance between them by making her work for him negligible, the moment has both ethical and aesthetic ramifications. This rejection of seeing their work as mutually constructing, perhaps even coequal, also involved a refusal by Zukofsky to write an introduction and blurb for her book T & G, to be published by Jonathan Williams in 1969. Of this, Niedecker remarks to Corman in February 1966, “you can understand what I feel,” but, alas, she does not state directly what she did feel (BYH 80). Hurt? wounded? undermined? disappointed? betrayed? saddened? bitter? enraged? rendered negligible? stunned? This muted moment of untellable emotion at the rejection of her request that he make a quite normal and unremarkable move to support her literary career seems, as Penberthy incisively argues, to have begun a process of shock and separation from their literary bond (NCZ 98).18

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The way Niedecker affirms both adequacy and deprivation — simultaneous opposites — in “Paean to Place” is parallel to the way she worked to identify with and to separate from objectivist, surrealist, and projectivist poetics and practices. A serial poem of nine pages, written between 1966 and 1968, “Paean to Place” is both autobiographical and a work of poetics in which she becomes somewhat renegade to her own definition of objectivist strategies, more filled with flow and reverie. It is a work in which she tried to “resolve this daring and not daring that has haunted me for almost a year” (Letter to Eshleman, February 20, 1968). “Paean to Place” is a selective autobiography of the growth of a poet’s mind, an American mini-Prelude, very keen on watery spots of time.19 She also called the poem “a kind of In Memoriam” of the family and place in which she was saturated, thereby evoking the elegiac in this poem along with its Tennysonian intensities of sound (LNWP 99). In the arrest and backwash of her parents’ atrophied, angry bond, seeking an ethical relation with her land, the “I” of the poem emerges by a second, self-conscious, water-logged birth into her social place, her fiercely secular humanist attitudes, her anti-consumerist ethos, and her strong sense of material conditions and social class.20 One might say about Niedecker’s poem what she said about Zukofsky in 1955, a remark that seems to fuse objectivist realism and projectivist organicism: “Zukofsky’s greatest gift lies in transmuting events into poetry. The thing as it happens. The how of it happening becomes the poem’s form” (Quarterly Review of Literature 203–04). In its segmentivity and sequencing, its deliberate fragmentation, and intense economy, its building a poem by accumulating moments of sincerity, and its materialist claims, “Paean to Place” is written saturated with objectivist premises and practices. The poem uses montage as method, suturing disparate materials together, sometimes with syntactic fragments or breaks unfilled by explanation. It makes a discontinuous argument from condensed moments from which long-view speculation emerges. Its organizational strategy is essentially non-narrative, a discrete series, although the poem is loosely chronological. 21 It builds meaning by the cut of the fragments and the blaze of white space between the parts. It rests upon subtle, intense condensation, so that each word choice bears the traces of a struggle between plethora and containment, between permission and repression.

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Indeed, Niedecker could be viewed as one of the mid-1960’s inventors of seriality along with Oppen and (from another poetics) Jack Spicer. Niedecker might have developed her seriality from the “leaping” and “lingering” strategies of the ballad, which is one reason why she linked her longer poems to the “folk” (Gummere 91). She developed a renga-like long poem organization built of haiku-like, but five-line, units; Cid Corman’s work certainly affected her. But if she invented a version of seriality as a mode of reflective moments playing realist images and meditative pensiveness against one another, still her invention was relatively invisible as compared even with Oppen’s and Spicer’s. This was a function of gender, social position in the literary world, and her relative lack of power to pronounce any claims, generalize from or publicly perform her struggles in poetics. The missing interview haunts us, along with all other missing Niedecker material  — the journals and papers destroyed (at her request) after her death. Nonetheless, this poem shows how Niedecker has consolidated its power by her intense interior debate with and fused absorption of alternative poetics. One of the characteristics of this poem is the construction of double points of view, double meanings, not a “hardness” of the choice of one side versus another, but a “both/both” treatment of alternatives, to cite Anne Waldman’s useful extension of the already inclusive “both/and” (1, 2). “Both/both,” as a rhetorical flourish and descriptive term, seems to apply well to Niedecker’s evocation of surrealist, objectivist, and projectivist positions. The phrase “both/and” suggests additive strategies, while “both/both” suggests the simultaneous overlay of opposites. Niedecker constructs her “both/both” fusions deep in the texture of the poem, with diction choices of ambiguity and finesse and the use of doubled dictionary definitions in semantic images.22 The end of the poem is a significant site for this “both/both” attitude. On this stream my moonnight memory washed of hardships   maneuvers barges thru the mouth of the river (CW 269)

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A series of puns and linebreak hinges makes this a very rich site in which meaning floats between two alternatives, two opposites, with literal and figurative shifts, like the shift from the commonplace moonlight to the suggestive “moonnight.” The “stream” is both the literal river, and, figuratively, the poem written as a stream, in this new streaming poetics. “Hardships” (the quality or condition of difficulties) encodes the literal, while the figurative predominates: hard ships, real boats on a literal stream, lie behind the troubles of “hardships.” This word choice also reminds us of the freighted meaning of the word hard, as Niedecker’s characterization of objectivist writing and the streamings of consciousness that she took as the opposite position. So this maneuvering is a way of being on both sides of a debate in poetics. “Thru the mouth” is both the poet’s mouth and, after the line break, “the mouth  / of the river.” This is a muted Orphic moment: “my . . . memory” is like the (dismembered) Orphic head that still survives, still singing through its disembodied mouth and through the mouth of the river. Memory is “washed of hardships” — this “washed” is either purged of (washed clean), or continuously saturating (washed by). This verbal proposal of opposites makes the poem both able to absorb conflictual feeling and be somewhat unresolved, resting poised between alternatives. Playing between the literal and the figurative, using semantic images in which a literal surface meaning takes on figurative depth — could these tactics be what Niedecker meant by “reflections”? The very end of the poem joins the people fishing in the river with the astronomical/astrological Fishes and the planet Mars: They fished in beauty It was not always so   In Fishes red Mars rising rides the sloughs and sluices of my mind   with the persons on the edge (CW 269)

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In a double meaning intensely expressive of her crisis, we see that a s-lo-u-g-h (depending upon whether it is pronounced sloo or sluf ) can be bogs and swamps of deep despair, literal and figurative depressions filled with mud or mire, or the outer layer to be shed, skin cast off in the course of a transformation. (Attention: This double use is audible only in the American pronunciation of these words; in Britain the slough that means depression is pronounced slau, as in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress with its Slough [slau] of Despond.) It is true that the oo sound of sloughs (sloos) and sluices echo each other, making the watery, mired meaning dominant, but it is also true that the word sloughs (sluf) and “of my mind” have slight echoes, too. Making these meanings simultaneously available (with a “both/both” ethos), creates a significant but unresolvable alternation between depression and transformation. The poem is a way of discussing, though in a veiled way, the pressures of depression and her desire to break loose in transformation — precisely summing up the two meanings of “sloughs.” The speaker identifies with “the persons  /  on the edge,” those who suffer material bogs, swamps, backwaters and spiritual depressions, deep despairs, and anger. Anger emerges in the image of “red Mars” riding her mind, but it has been tempered by “beauty.” This edge is the literal bank of river or water, and figuratively it can mean those who act with zest and keenness (edgy), and those who are tense, unstable, vulnerable, enraged, or at war (on edge). Again “on the edge” is a semantic image, whose literalness (on a riverbank) fuses with the figurative (emotional vulnerability). The simultaneity of these meanings is one aspect of her practice of “reflective”/“reflections.” As a whole, this is a poem of praise, thanksgiving for one’s material and spiritual vulnerability. Paean has a specific meaning as a genre: it is an allusion to a poem of praise written to Apollo Paion, physician and healer, god of poetry, prophecy, and light, and going, as befits a song of praise, exaltation, or thanksgiving, up into transcendence. Niedecker constructs an explicit challenge to that sublimity. “All things move toward  /  the light,” she says, in an encapsulation of Darwinian evolution up from mud and slime — based on effort, incidentally, not on religions, a great humanist statement. With a notable, large exception:

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All things move toward the light except those that freely work down to oceans’ black depths In us an impulse tests the unknown (CW 267) Those things and people that “work down,” to mud, to water, to the bottom, to the “sloughs and sluices,” include Niedecker’s speaker herself. Thus sinking and praising are deliberately linked as a choice of free will. And  — for this is a cunningly literary poet — she may even have known that “paiein” means to strike, and that in Greek religious poetry, Apollo the Striker beats you to heal you, as in Oedipus Tyrannus. There are many blows alluded to — financial, relational, hurtful: alienation between parents, deaths, poverty, isolation, losses are depicted in the poem; in the background behind the writing are the strong rift with Zukofsky and her internal debates about poetics (NCZ 94–100). The story of the family takes place in metaphors of water “in the rise and sink  /  of life” sometimes down “toward Mud Lake bottom” and sometimes “afloat” on the “swale and swamp” but always “sworn  /  to water” and thus, as the poem tells us, to floating, and to sinking, to flood-dirt cleaned, and to surviving (CW 264, 263, 261).23 Flooding and submersion thus are political, poetic, and spiritual metaphors in this work. One never rises very far, one is overwhelmed and swamped, yet renewal is possible. One proud claim of the “high” occurs in a particular hard-won fact: her poetic career. “I possessed  /  the high word” (CW 269). However, she possesses that word only by virtue of working “freely” . . . “down  /  to oceans’ black depths” (CW 267). Other moments of highness at the beginning of the poem, especially her father’s hopes that she will “go high  /  on land  /  to learn,” were false paths. For transcendence is explicitly rejected in this work in favor of immersion or saturation. Niedecker’s vow was to poverty, containment, receptivity, modesty, populism.24 And this led to her kind of paean — never to anything high, transcendent, evoking authority, bounty, glory. She makes a significant

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un-transcendent counter-turn that confronts the ideology underpinning much poetry, poetry which is, as a genre, often taken to embody romantic/ symbolist lyric assumptions and no other. “Paean to Place” situates itself against two central defenders of that tradition: Yeats and Shelley, yet it approvingly cites their main contemporary inheritor, Robert Duncan. Both those older romantic poets locate epiphany, transcendence, and loft to the beyond at the thematic and formal center of their concerns. So the poem is a critique of the romantic lyric that is, like many a critique, knowingly involved with what it resists. “Paean to Place” begins with an allusion to lines in Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium”: “Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long  /  W hatever is begotten, born, and dies” (The Collected Poems 191). Yeats argues against this mired music in favor of the “artifice of eternity” — art itself as a mechanical golden bird in a particular classed relationship to an uninterested emperor and a Byzantine court. In Niedecker’s “Fish  /  fowl  /  flood  /   Water lily mud,” the direction is down, anti-“Byzantium”— into the mud, to the edge, adjusting to the pressure. She does not claim to sail to any exotic place, but to be within the place she is — the goal is saturation, not transcendence. Her “bodily form” as a poet is closely identified with a local (not an artificial) bird, the plover. There is no climactic build in the constant rising and sinking she depicts, nor is temporality sung by artifice in her poem. Yeats nobly says, “once out of nature,” and narrates the triumph of that transcendence (The Collected Poems 192). “Once out of nature” is neither Niedecker’s thematic goal nor her formal climax; hers is just the opposite; for her the triumph lies in being precisely in nature and making a spiritual adjustment to its designs. This is more Darwinian than pious, for she is one of those anti-fundamentalist, progressive free thinkers who once populated the American landscape.25 Not only has Niedecker alluded to one of the most famous and arresting modernist tropes of art as artifice, a formal world of perfection whose aim is transcendence, she has also cited lines about romantic love from Yeats. The second Yeats allusion occurs in early mid-poem — “Roped not ‘looped  / in the loop  /  of her hair’ ” — and virtually cites an early poem of Yeats called “Brown Penny,” whose first stanza ends “I am looped in the loops of her hair.”26 The Yeats poem is a yearning ballad about the desirable

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thralldoms of love; with the citation, Niedecker makes a thoroughgoing qualification of romantic illusion. This is what happens, she seems to say, to a man who believes too much in the iconic female figure of romance. The father is criticized (in the mother’s voice) for his hummingbird-like useless car, a car that is a trope for his other woman, part of the Niedecker family ruin and hurt. If you begin to want possessions, and if women are part of those possessions, the poem shows how these familiar narratives lead to alienation, fraud, and despair. The Shelley allusion in “Paean to Place” is not a citation of “To a Skylark.” The poem mentions approvingly how Shelley could both read and steer (at least without freak storms near Livorno) and then segues to herself as a bird. Yet the “Skylark” poem and bird are suggestive contrasts to Niedecker’s chosen bird, the plover, whose name comes from pleuvier —  rain-bird or weeping one. This wading bird has a short tail, rounded body, and, as the “Piping Plover,” is very pale and undistinguished in color, “as pale as a beach flea.” Its cry is the “plaintive whistle peep-lo (first note higher)” (R. Peterson 62). It is not hard to see these traits as mini-allegories for the poet herself, from the camouflaged anonymity to the Blakean, poignant “piping,” and the modest “peep-lo” as its sound. Niedecker’s self identification comes in the second half of “Paean to Place,” which shifts the emphasis to herself. I was the solitary plover a pencil for a wing-bone From the secret notes I must tilt upon the pressure execute and adjust In us sea-air rhythm “We live by the urgent wave of the verse” (CW 265) In “To a Skylark,” Shelley offers his bird only to remove it, and its actions are beyond negotiable. Right after the opening apostrophe to the bird

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as “blithe Spirit,” he insists “Bird thou never wert,” a move that trumps his own title (596). The skylark is urged to burst material boundaries and enter the disembodied realm of unmediated spirit, the better to inspire the quest of the poet. With protean speed, Shelley’s skylark dematerializes into a series of metamorphoses based in simile; it is “like a Poet,” “like a . . . maiden,” “like a glowworm,” and “like a rose.” Further, Shelley argues that the bird is not touched by anything humans have to suffer — sexual satiation, death, and pain. Therefore it lives in pure ecstatic joy, a “scorner of the ground” (596–98). This going “higher still and higher” is precisely not Niedecker’s argument. In “I must tilt  //  upon the pressure  /  execute and adjust,” she depicts care, balance, dynamic tensions survived (CW 265). Not only as a metaphoric bird, but as a real writer, her ability to “execute” her work is poised on her “wing-bone” pencil. Pressure and response involve a negotiation both with natural forces and with debates in poetics — not their transcendence, but their mutual suffusion. “Paean to Place” is, then, a critique of the romantic lyric and a critique of sublimity. Transcendence of nature is not only a central problem for lyric poetry in English, but it has gendered implications involving idealizing and debasing ideologies. Niedecker had devoted some thought to this problem because of her witty encapsulation of the mire in the phrase “sublime  / slime- / song” (CW 265). As she had criticized romantic subjectivity throughout her career in what I have called her “anonymity,” so she criticizes romantic sublimity in the counterturn to “sublime slime” (LNWP 113–37; Blue Studios 2006). In this Niedecker is holding a protofeminist (yet anti-de Beauvoirean) position that appreciates a materialist ecology. Simone de Beauvoir’s characterization of women gives us some purchase on how female transcendence was played out in one of the most radical thinkers of the 1950s. De Beauvoir considered that women were generally mired in what she termed immanence (the material world) while men, in contrast, could more directly experience transcendence; she urges women to make the existential leap into choice and deliberate life that allows for their transcendence, too. This involves a rejection of any aspects of female life (like pregnancy) that, for de Beauvoir, keeps women mired. A more dated, though fervent formulation is hard to imagine; women were

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to transcend the ideological binary in gender that they faced by identifying more fully with the side of upward mobility and power, not by changing the conditions of the female side or by valuing those terms. This taxing, fascinating ideology of female non-transcendence, part of general cultural assumptions, is addressed in various ways by women writers. In Niedecker’s case such manner of thinking stirs her to a situated antisublime, a female and classed affirmation. De Beauvoir rejected women who could not make the existential choice of transcendence. Niedecker asserts a materialist picture of care, balance, and dynamic tensions, in a “both/both” strategy that might be characterized as a materialist sublime. In other words — I “execute and adjust” in matter; I do not soar beyond it. She does not use the word fly of her plover, though it is airborne. This is an ecological position of subjectivity schooled by the objective world — one might, with some amusement, see her position as parallel to Charles Olson’s declared anti-subjective “objectism” — the principled, programmatic refusal of the romantic ego position in contemporary poetry.27 This “both/both” negotiation between the apparent opposites, materiality and transcendence, is signaled by a muted citation from Robert Duncan, “We live by the urgent wave  / of the verse,” a phrase modified from a sentence in Duncan’s essay “Towards an Open Universe.” The paragraph from which Niedecker chose to cite speaks of the “alembic of the primal sea” and other cosmic rhythms entering the pulsations of poetry. “There have been poets for whom this rise and fall, the mothering swell and ebb, was all. Amoebic intelligences, dwelling in the memorial of tidal voice, they arouse in our awake minds a spell, so that we let our awareness go in the urgent wave of the verse.” (A Selected Prose 2).28 This could be one description of the pre-conscious “streaming” that Niedecker sought; it also uses the suggestive word “mothering.” Duncan further argues “we are all the many expressions of living matter” and works to explore “a dancing organization between personal and cosmic identity”— exactly disposed toward a materialist sublime of fusions with the natural world (A Selected Prose 2–3). Thus this non-objectivist turn in Niedecker seems to include some attention to the burgeoning projectivist impulse in U.S. poetry, a position at least theoretically filled with ecological implications of immersion in, not separation from, the natural world.

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Two poetic elements in Niedecker in which this “urgent wave  /  of the verse” is embodied are line break and sound. In this poem she notably names the “sublime  / slime- / song,” carefully breaking and indenting each word to gain a maximum charge from the rhymed, almost mirroring, yet opposing words “sublime” and “slime” (CW 265). This move in sound reflects the moves in poetics I have detailed here — maximizing attention to opposites and fusing them in practice, just as “slime” and “sublime” are ideological opposites, but aural counterparts. Further, in this poem, wherever ideas of rootedness and fusion occur, Niedecker also produces intense, even aggressive sounding: I grew in green slide and slant of shore and shade or

My mother and I born in swale and swamp and sworn to water (CW 264, 261)

Both these excerpts, some in the “key” of S, whether sw-, sl-, or sh-, gain some of their arresting traction from the shifts from closely related sounds (a kind of sonic streaming) in relation to the exchanges among the grammatically different adjective, noun, and verb. In her debate between streaming and lushness and the focus of the efficient and condensed, sound allows these conflicting materials to be manifested.29 Sound in Niedecker is, then, part of the ethos of “reflective”/ “reflections,” involving opposites and their fusion. Niedecker offers a particularly lively instance of a poet’s relationship to sound. In general, one vocational call to poetry comes through the ear. “Think of the call [says Gerald Burns] . . . . The ear puts us in the mode of being summoned, of being answerable and having to appear” (127–28). But if you are the poet, you call yourself into attentiveness; you summon yourself with the sounds of your own poem. This self-calling takes on particular resonance, given the relative loss of Niedecker’s one-time lis-

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tener, Zukofsky, and given Niedecker’s empathy with her deaf mother’s loss of hearing. In this poem, Niedecker makes a total system of sound — a whorled ear into which her own melodic and aggressive (that is, sometimes exaggerated) sounds fall; she is both recipient and agent. My sense of the doubled compact between the writing self and the listening self as mutually reflective emerges from a reading of Emily Dickinson’s poem #505 (“I would not paint — a picture — ”) as posing a theoretical question about sound in relation to vocation (245–46). In this poem, Dickinson’s speaker wonders what it would be like not to be the agent of art (the painter, the cornet, the poet), but the thing made — the painting stirred and aroused by the fingers of the painter, the melody pulsed out from the cornet, and the ear in which the poem reverberates. The ear is “Enamoured — impotent — content” in its passivity and pleasure. It has fallen in love with the maker of the sounds. But Dickinson goes beyond this fantasy to an even more intense one. “What would the Dower be,  /  Had I the Art to stun myself  /  With Bolts of Melody!” In this turn, Dickinson admits the license of the intense coupledom — the dower or endowment — between the poet throwing those (lightning) bolts and the stunned ear receiving them, when these are the same person. She is coupled with herself, she receives the gift of her own dower, sound-maker and ear at once. It is an image of aesthetic and vocational completeness in which agency and receptivity are self-initiated and self-pleasuring. Similar to Dickinson, Niedecker evinces a fused subjectivity of passive bliss and powerful agency through the mechanism of sound. A suggestive theory of sound in poetry also emerges from Roland Barthes’s remarks on pleasure and bliss in The Pleasure of the Text. “Pleasure” he traces to an oedipal satisfaction that involves disclosure, finishing, fixing meaning, and unveiling, all of which offer fulfillment and closure. “Bliss” he traces to a preoedipal or semiotic satisfaction of pileups of sound, a sensual congestion, an enfolding in sound that is also a loss, a disturbance, a shock, or unfinishable overload (23–24). Like many of the binarist formulations of structuralist thought that eventually transcend their own articulate binaries, an ideal and memorable writing would have to incorporate both elements. Nonetheless, the theory is deeply invested in texts that tend more toward one pole than another. Three of the writers

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Niedecker speaks of in relation to “Paean to Place” — Hopkins, Tennyson, Shelley — certainly wrote texts closer to the pole of bliss; Yeats, whom she hears intensely as “lush,” might be described, using Barthes’s typology, as balanced or poised between the poles, as her own work might, as well. But some of Niedecker’s most dramatic moments in “Paean to Place” seem to be moments of “bliss,” the intensive sound she creates when speaking of her childhood, her mother, and of the mother-child dyad. Evoking Barthes’s terms allows readers to appreciate how, by attention to the relationships and intensifications of chosen phonemes, Niedecker enacts both the preoedipal semiotic blurs of boundary and the oedipal containments of limit and clarity. But finally, sound can be viewed as an autonomous material element that both supports the semantic meaning, while “simultaneously threatening meaning’s dominance” (Noland 110). Beyond any binarist readings, whether semiotic/symbolic or bliss/pleasure, the materiality of a poetic text emerges in its tones and phonemes. In this text, sound literally embodies Niedecker’s fusions in poetics: “sublime  /  slime- / song.”30 As this essay argues, Niedecker’s later work and thinking in poetics seems to use one position in poetics as a corrective for the other in a dialectical  — really “tri-alectical” — debate (among objectivist, surrealist, projectivist strategies). In relation to Eshleman, Niedecker articulates a poetics in which excess and the desire to touch subconscious levels take on an increased importance; it is as if she regains the expansive experimentalism of the Mary Hoard letter (LNWP 88). Her terms for this are “movement, gist, vibrations, a sense of floating . . . ”; as well she speaks of the mind — the “protoplasm of the mind” — never being satisfied, always wanting to “cross barriers” (Letter to Eshleman, December 27, 1967). This sense of a mysticism propelled by the characteristics of the natural world — a materialist sublime of consciousness and reflection is much more accurate to what Niedecker was intent on than the term “surrealist,” which was, anyway, only one of the many various terms she chose for her new concept of what poetry could do. She makes her (at least) double strategy clear in comments in March 1969 to Cid Corman about Jean Daive, a comment that articulates itself using a number of key definitional words (though not surrealism): the

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effect on the reader’s “subconscious”; plus “he delights in a kind of subliminal reflective carry-over” and then later “I’d think a mixture of this kind of writing and of objectification for myself ” (BYH 185, 186).31 It is clear that she is insisting on a synthesis of these poetics; surrealism is not embraced as opposed to objectivist poetics; this is not a binarist moment, but a fusion. The fact that Niedecker resisted a narrow definition of objectivist in the name of “something else” shows the complexity of her thinking in poetics, but she remains indebted to an objectivist practice at the same time that she modified her sense of its terms. Niedecker is a poet deeply implicated in the objectivist nexus whose own particular definition of objectivist poetics became too narrow and limited for her purposes. Hence while she apparently rejects this poetics in her discussions in the late 1960s, her sense of thinking with the poem and ranging between conscious and unconscious materials, are all consistent with certain late objectivist work of at least Oppen and Bunting, in long poems similar to “Paean to Place.” The notion that surrealism corrects objectivist narrowness was also a return to her sense of herself as an independent thinker in poetics, willing to resist and to criticize Zukofsky as she had in the Hoard letter from the 1930s. And as we’ve seen, the later period reveals serious Niedecker interest in the projectivist urge — whether this was Duncan’s romantic sublimity or Eshleman’s expressivist and notational versions of the projective. “Paean to Place” was written at a moment in her life when a number of positions in her poetics and poetic identifications vied, filled with self-debate, retrospection and rumination, and the poem encapsulates her mobile synthesis of opposites.

Notes 1. My first epigraph comes from a pioneering ecologist from Wisconsin, words particularly applicable to Niedecker’s investment in the realities — the evocative ecologies, difficult communities, and “cultural harvests” — of place. My second can be found on page 86 in LNWP. This paper was originally delivered in October 2003 at “Lorine Niedecker Centenary Celebration” in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sponsored by Woodland Pattern Book Center and the Milwaukee Public Library. I would like to express my gratitude to the late Cid Corman, Niedecker’s executor, for permanent permission to cite from her unpublished work; to Clayton Eshleman,

Rachel Blau DuPlessis  |  175 for permission to use letters from Niedecker to him held at Fales Library; and to Mike Kelly, Curator of Books, Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University, for his many professional courtesies facilitating this research. In addition, I would like to express deep thanks to Jenny Penberthy; anyone who writes on Niedecker is immeasurably in her debt. 2. Niedecker later saw that issue of Contemporary Literature (10.2, Spring 1969) and felt some of it was “literary gossip,” but also said “for me, who was on the periphery just after the ‘movement’ started back in those days, these pages give me a warmth” (BYH 193). Slight belatedness, “periphery,” and femaleness together are a compromising combination. There is no evidence that she was asked to participate in the interviews. A politics of curiosity about a poetry practitioner, or any politics of generosity toward a female practitioner, had it been applied at that time, might at least have gotten Niedecker in front of the tape recorder in 1968. What then could have been said is hypothesized in this essay. However, my findings are a synthetic hypothesis, in all senses of the word synthetic. 3. Definitions of shy are: easily frightened or startled; difficult of approach owing to timidity, caution or distrust; fearful of committing oneself to a particular course of action — chary, unwilling, reluctant; cautiously self-reserved; shrinking from self assertion, retiring or reserved from diffidence (Oxford Universal Dictionary). 4. In her George Oppen Memorial Lecture, in San Francisco in 1997, called “A Little Too Little: Rereading Lorine Niedecker,” Jenny Penberthy stated that Niedecker did not regard herself as an objectivist and showed “no trace of retrospective belonging” when she saw the issue of Contemporary Literature. This essay offers another consideration. Given that this was not an echt movement but a nexus of concerns, Niedecker’s “ambivalent connection” (also Penberthy) could be said to situate her into the “objectivist nexus,” which Peter Quartermain and I defined as “a relationship among writers based on their shared meditations [on, for example, Zukofsky’s inititating essay], but not necessarily shared conclusions or even practices.” The term “ ‘nexus’ embraces contradiction, variousness, and dispute” (22; 17). In our introduction to The Objectivist Nexus, Niedecker’s ambivalent connection to objectivist practices is discussed, along with her particular links to what she called surrealism, a poetics of great importance to Niedecker, as Penberthy’s work has decisively shown. 5. “Paean to Place” is cited in Jenny Penberthy’s magisterial edition of CW 261–69. An edition produced by Karl Gartung for the Niedecker Centenary celebration is particularly touching as an artifact, for the poem was transcribed as a gift, handwritten in separate five-line stanzas in August 1969 into a teenage “autograph” book easily available at 5 & 10s. 6. Some of these tensions emerge in the following exchange. When she wrote to Zukofsky in 1964 that she was to have poems published by Cid Corman in Origin

176  |  sou nding pro cess #17, Zukofsky tersely informed her that Origin was ending with #14. This proved true of the second series. However, Origin, third series featured Niedecker in July 1966, issue #2 (NCZ 1993, 343, 345). 7. Yet her important remark “I went to school to Objectivism but now I often say There is something more,” she considered for correspondence only, refusing explicitly to make it public when Eshleman wanted to include it in his magazine (Letters to Eshleman, November 18, 1967, then February 20, 1968). 8. This letter written to Gail Roub is dated June 20, 1967, and appears in LNWP on page 86. It was also published in full in Origin on pages 42–43. 9. Significantly, these are descriptors from a 1934 letter to Harriet Monroe, discussing the form of early “planes of consciousness” work (LNWP 181). Some of this experimental work was written “before Mr. Zukofsky referred me to the surrealists for correlation” [in circa 1931; this letter from 1933] (LNWP 177). 10. When Jonathan Williams reviewed My Friend Tree favorably in 1962, Niedecker made sure Zukofsky knew that she thought he was their mutual eminence grise: “I wdn’t know how to write poetry without Zukofsky and J. wdn’t know how to review me without Zukofsky!” (NCZ 322). 11. Particularly the poem “Walks” by Eshleman that Niedecker saw in chapbook form in 1967, a work about travels in Mexico, Korea, and Japan written in the diaristic, notational mode of projectivist Black Mountain writing (Indiana). 12. BYH (154) identifies this as coming from Robert Duncan, “From a Notebook,” published in Black Mountain Review 5 (1955). 13. The letter is written about a book published in 1931 called Foundations of Modern Art. The letter is signed Lorine Hartwig; this dates it between 1928 when she married Frank Hartwig (separated 1930) and 1942, when they divorced; the book alluded to means the letter is not before 1931; the mentions of Zukofsky, with whom she corresponded from 1931 (and whom she met in late 1933), suggests a time in the mid-1930s because the ideas the two were discussing suggest a maturing and mutually intense intellectual relationship. Discussions of surrealism, even negative ones, are a link to this early bond with Zukofsky and to her maturing sense of poetic vocation. She went by the Hartwig name professionally until about March 1933, as one can see from a letter to Harriet Monroe (LNWP 179). This letter also mentions a loan by Hoard to Niedecker of unnamed materials by Virginia Woolf. 14. Niedecker’s positive use of the term “surrealist” must be put next to Zukofsky’s entirely dismissive observation, in his 1931 essay “Sincerity and Objectification” which appeared in Poetry that “surrealism in 1928 was not essentially novel, and that for [Reznikoff] at least, ten years earlier [1918], it was not worth doing” (193). Certainly her early poetry was richly, lushly experimenting with surrealism, as Penberthy has decisively argued (CW 2–4 and the poems themselves from 1928–1936). 15. Peter Middleton proposes that Niedecker’s “folk” materials place her in a

Rachel Blau DuPlessis  |  177 critical relationship to the avant-gardes she knew; she streams between the two modes in a fusion of “avant-garde poet” and “small town folk poet” plus, simultaneously, she is “folk poet” and “folklorist in one,” both a participant and an observer (The Objectivist Nexus 181). This is a parallel argument about the importance of fusion for Niedecker. 16. They had had an affair between 1933 and 1938, and a pregnancy (some evidence says of twins), which was aborted at Zukofsky’s insistence (CW 4). Zukofsky married Celia Thaew in 1939; Niedecker called the twins “Lost” and “Found,” according to the significant witness Jerry Reisman (LNWP 36). This general outline was confirmed by oral comments by Cid Corman at the Lorine Niedecker Centenary Celebration in Milwaukee. 17. I am not certain whether the excerpts came from letters only to her, or from letters Zukofsky had written to others (and had saved in copies). This task is mentioned in a letter of October 5, 1965, to Gail Roub; her preparation of the manuscript meant she cut his letters to her into sections. The tremendous emotional and relational difficulty of this project is traced in NCZ on pages 94–98 (in part from the letters to Corman in BYH) and 101–04. “No trace remains of the typescript” says Penberthy (NCZ 103). Zukofsky seems to have taken back some of this writing for Little: for Careenagers (NCZ 361) but what Niedecker remembers from these letters is “sharp criticism of writers mostly” (BYH 68). 18. Given that the erasure or non-acknowledgement of work is a live issue, note how many of the sections of “Paean to Place” concern work: “seined for carp,” “string out nets  / for tarring,” steering boats, mowing grass, cleaning up after floods, maneuvering barges, playing the violin (Paul Zukofsky as a boy), and writing. The words “effort” and “work down” are also highlighted in one stanza. This poem is mainly a georgic of the working poor but it draws upon the occlusion of her labor for Zukofsky. 19. Her willingness to speak about her own life in an explicitly autobiographical manner was possibly inspired because Kenneth Cox asked about her life; she says as much in a letter to him of May 2, 1969 (Dent 37). Again, note the helpful impact of literary young men. 20. The “ethical” is an allusion to my epigraph from Aldo Leopold. Among the books in her library were Bertrand Russell, The Will to Doubt; Corliss Lamont, Philosophy of Humanism; and radical and left wing books analyzing history, such as Charles Beard, The Rise of American Civilization, as well as a book by Anne Rochester published in 1936 by International Publishers and called Rulers of America. Thus Niedecker could certainly be considered an objectivist in David Kadlec’s incisive terms: “Objectivism can be best described as a Marxist poet’s [Zukofsky’s] effort to substitute the authority of historical events for the clearly delineated ‘natural object’ of that earlier movement [ . . . ] Imagism” (307). 21. Niedecker owned a copy of the Objectivist Press edition of Oppen’s first

178  |  sou nding pro cess book, Discrete Series, 1934, along with a good deal of work by Reznikoff, Williams, Bunting, and Zukofsky, and some by Stevens, Snyder, Pound, H.D., Eigner, and Corman. 22. I’d define my term as the way the semantic thickness of words (including etymology and usage) constitutes an image. 23. Her family’s cabins on Black Hawk Island, where Rock River flows into Lake Koshkonong were set in a flood-prone site good for fishing but very vulnerable: “our house is just a slip-case ready to melt in any flood,” she wrote in January 1968 to Corman (BYH 147). 24. She writes to Ronald Ellis (October 26, 1966) that she resists publicity, “begged ” not to be written about in a local newspaper, and says that “I’d like not to appear a freak” to her neighbors and fellow citizens (LNWP 94). 25. See her remarks to Corman in a letter of December 7, 1967, in which Bible study groups and “Church religion is ALIEN to me” [sic] and any “traditional mumbojumbo” sends her back to “natural science reading” (BYH 137). She worked extensively on Darwin for her final poems in Harpsichord & Salt Fish. 26. (CW 264; The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats 96) I owe this identification to a Temple University student, Dr. Judith Schwartz. Niedecker’s use of such an obscure set of lines from Yeats points to her in-depth reading of his work and also to her suspicion of romantic love entrapments. As she is finishing “Paean to Place,” she speaks of having spent the summer “dreaming with Yeats” (NCZ 354). 27. The definitional passages in Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse” (1950) are quite pertinent to Niedecker’s project (except for the pronouns), for they speak of an ecological immersion in nature, reducing personal ego as an “interference”: thereupon “he [the poet] will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share”; the participation mystique via language giving “him size, projective size” (Selected Writings 25 [“objectism”], 24). Niedecker owned Olson’s Selected Writings in which this essay appears. 28. Jenny Penberthy identified the source in Duncan for me; I am very grateful to her for this help. “Towards an Open Universe” originally appeared in 1964 and was republished in 1966. 29. In this period, her poems’ sound is discussed with reference to Yeats and Hopkins; she was reading Yeats’s letters and writes to Zukofsky: “it’s a temptation to write like Yeats, a kind of mellifluous, lush overloading (kind of folk element in it tho at that) but I must not” (NCZ 227). This is a typical Niedecker comment, embedding in a parenthesis her qualification, her fairness, her refusal to overstate, her judiciousness. She never wanted to over-generalize. It is also typical as indicating a sense of rule, temptation, and injunction: “I must not.” She follows that with the comment that curiously Yeats did not talk about Hopkins. There is something quite suggestive in her evocation of these two poets for the “lush, mush-music” of this poem (BYH 176).

Rachel Blau DuPlessis  |  179 30. This discussion draws on Carrie Noland’s argument concerning the ways this binarist symbolic/semiotic model — in the work of Julia Kristeva which is coextensive with Barthes’s propositions — falls short of accounting for the intellectual and visceral impact of sound in a poem. Noland proposes that Kristeva herself exceeds the purely psychoanalytic model for which she has been best known by her acknowledgment that sound is an “acoustico-physiological” element, a “material support to which semantic value might — or might not — adhere” (110). The argument that sound is an autonomous material element that supports the semantic while “simultaneously threatening meaning’s dominance” encourages an understanding of the complex functions of the sonic dimensions of a poetic text (110). 31. Another observation about poetics in this later period comes from Peter Nicholls: that the European writers that she read in Origin helped Niedecker formulate (or return to) what she wanted. When Niedecker returned to the mode of thinking that had “been in me from the beginning” (NCZ 343), she sought, according to Nicholls, something analogous to the work of Jean Daive whom she had read in Origin — flow, mystery — “a penetration of the mysterious rhythms of the mind” (LNWP 213). Daive is not writing under the sign of surrealism more than under a kind of “new realism.” Nicholls also, wonderfully, found that Niedecker’s sense of what I’ve called a poetics of fusion was assisted by her reading an article on Wallace Stevens by Myron Turner in what was then Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature (published in Winter 1966); see Nicholls’s argument on 214.

Niedecker and Company

Eliot Weinberger

Niedecker/Reznikoff Much, perhaps too much, has been written about Lorine Niedecker’s relations with Louis Zukofsky — her friend, colleague, lover, commiserater, and forty-year obsession — but the curious thing is that if one knew no biographical details, it would be difficult to put them together as poets. Only rarely in their writings do they resemble each other, usually in those moments when they resemble William Carlos Williams. In contrast, almost nothing has been said about Niedecker’s true kindred spirit in poetry, Charles Reznikoff. Take a blindfold test on two short poems from around 1950: (1) One of my sentinels, a tree sent spinning after me this brief secret on a leaf: the summer is over– forever. (2) Two old men– one proposed they live together take turns cooking, washing dishes

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they were both alone. His friend: “Our way of living is so different: you spit I don’t spit.” The first is quintessential Niedecker — a tiny moment of nature communicating to a first-person narrator and at least three unexpected musical changes in six lines and twenty-one words — but the poem is by Reznikoff (Poems 62). The second is quintessential Reznikoff — the flat narration pared to the minimum necessity, the lives of ordinary people captured with a gentle humor by a bit of real speech — but the poem is by Niedecker (CW 132). Flipping through their respective collected works, this game can be played endlessly. What we know about the relationship between the two is very little, and there may well be little to know. They met in the 1930s when Niedecker was living off and on with Zukofsky in New York. Reznikoff sent Niedecker his books for thirty years. She does not appear in the very badly edited selection of his letters, but Niedecker, writing to Zukofsky in 1946, quotes his reaction to New Goose: “I picked it up when I was tired and dispirited and put it down quite refreshed by the words and music” (NCZ 138). (Niedecker notes with amusement that “good, quiet, cautious Rez” had added the word “quite” as a correction.) After her death, Reznikoff, unlike the bilious Zukofsky, contributed a short poem to Jonathan Williams’s Epitaphs for Lorine. And that is as far as the Reznikoff paper trail goes. On the Niedecker side, there is a little more. In the 1951 poem “If I were a bird,” which pays homage to her poetic contemporaries, Reznikoff appears with H.D., Williams, Moore, Stevens, Zukofsky, and cummings. In a 1959 letter to Zukofsky, she wonders who could help Reznikoff. She writes: “You get the idea he leads a lonelier life than I do but freer of trash?” And: “I have always felt he was writing my poems for me only better” (NCZ 257). In a letter to Reznikoff at the same time — she sent a copy to Zukofsky — she says, “I often find a kinship between us in the short poem. And if you are my brother-in-poetry then we have Chinese and Japanese brothers.” Also from the same letter: “Hard to write and then get it printed. I try to along

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with scrubbing floors in a hospital. Every now and again, tho, there’s a chink where a poem comes thru. Altogether life is not really too hard —  I gather this is what you say too.” Niedecker tended to route all things poetical through Zukofsky, and whenever she mentions Reznikoff in passing it is always with reference to Zukofsky’s essay from the 1931 “Objectivists” issue of Poetry — an issue she largely copied out by hand — “Sincerity and Objectifica­tion: With Special Reference to the Work of Charles Reznikoff.” (Zukofsky, characteristically, cut out all mention of Reznikoff when he reprinted the essay for the first time in the 1967 Prepositions.) That essay, the Magna Carta of Objectivism, while sharp in certain particulars, is generally vague to the point of meaninglessness, was interpreted in contradictory ways by its supposed fellow travelers, and has been largely misremembered, blurred with the Imagistic ideal of emotion expressed through concrete details. (I, for one, will never understand why Reznikoff’s one-line poem “The ceaseless weaving of the uneven water” is sincerity, not objectification, but his three-line poem on the death of Gaudier-Brzeska, “How shall we mourn you who are killed and wasted,  /  Sure that you would not die with your work unended —  / As if the iron scythe in the grass stops for a flower” is objectification but not sincerity [Prepositions+ 195].) Niedecker always associates Reznikoff with the word sincerity, and it’s a safe guess that she was thinking of that aspect of the word defined by Zukofsky as writing “which is the detail, not mirage, of seeing, of thinking with the things as they exist, and of directing them along a line of melody” (194). But there was something else in that essay, and in Reznikoff’s poetry, which Niedecker never acknowledges (at least in the published letters) and the critics never mention, but which surely came as a revelation to her. Niedecker and Reznikoff are kindred spirits in their difficult lives of isolation; their dedication to condensation and the excision of superfluity as the prevailing aesthetic; their preoccupation with the local — a local they almost never left; their perfect lyrics that often turn on a rhyme or a musical phrase; their sweet ironic humor; their personification of the natural world; their first- and third-person anecdotal narratives of ordinary people (the former, direct descendants of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon

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River Anthology — which, like it or not, is, with The Waste Land, the century’s most influential book of American poetry); and in their pathological self-effacement. These are matters of sensibility and personality and aesthetic comradeship. But there was also an idea that Niedecker got from Reznikoff — as important as anything she learned from Zukofsky — and that was the way to incorporate history into the poem. Pound in the early poems and in the Cantos (that “poem with history”) and Williams in In the American Grain had used two techniques: firstperson invented monologues by historical characters in the manner of Robert Browning, and the verbatim importation of historical documents. Reznikoff invented a third technique: the severe condensation of actual documents into first-person monologues or third-person narratives. It was a new way of performing poetry’s traditional and largely lost function as a re-teller of tales. Reznikoff had begun — in the 1927 Five Groups of Verse and the 1929 “Editing and Glosses” series (which Zukofsky mentions) — by condensing passages from the Old Testament. In 1930, he first applied the technique to American history, using the diaries of Captain John Smith to write “The English in Virginia, April 1607,” a poem that was included in An “Objectivists” Anthology. Further poems were written soon after out of Spinoza, Marx, the Mishnah, more passages from the Bible, Jewish historical documents, and a book called American History Told by Contemporaries. He also began work on a series of prose poems based on a range of American documents, from ships’ records to court cases. Originally called My Country ’Tis of Thee (parts of which are also in An “Objectivists” Anthology) it was published in 1934 as Testimony — a wonderful book that has never been reprinted). In the 1960s and 1970s, he returned to condensing court cases, this time into poems, for his American anti-epic, also called Testimony, and for the devastating Holocaust, based on the Nuremberg trials. In “Sincerity and Objectification,” Zukofsky writes that “interested in craft, Reznikoff has not found it derogatory to his production to infuse his care for significant detail and precision into the excellent verbalisms of others.” Describing the Biblical versions, and anticipating the charges of “impersonalness” or “anyone could do it,” that later dogged Reznikoff, he notes: “The narrative has been rendered concisely in emphasized cadence

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and given the condition of Reznikoff’s mental bearings and literal art.” And, surprisingly, in a passage that is rarely cited, he says, “It is more important for the communal good that individual authors should spend their time recording and objectifying good writing wherever it is found . . . than that a plenum of authors should found their fame on all sorts of personal vagueness” (201). Niedecker first experimented with the method in 1945, with “Crèvecoeur,” a condensation of Letters from an American Farmer into forty-five long lines in the first person. The poem was unpublished, and she later condensed it further into two short, third-person poems in the “For Paul” sequence. These were followed by very short first-person poems taken out of the writings or letters of Kepler, the naturalist Aimé Bonpland, Linnaeus, John Adams, T. E. Lawrence, and Santayana, and third-person tiny capsule biographies of Margaret Fuller, Mary Shelley, and Swedenborg. Finally, in the 1960s, in her last years, more than half of her work was devoted to historical condensation: the great long sequences, “North Central” (out of Radisson, Joliet, Schoolcraft, and other explorers), “Thomas Jefferson,” “His Carpets Flowered” (out of William Morris), and “Darwin,” as well as short poems from or on Jefferson (again), John and Abigail Adams, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Michelangelo, and Wallace Stevens. This was a return to one of poetry’s primary traditional roles, as the repository for what a culture has known about itself, a role explored by only a handful of the American modernists: Pound, Williams (in American Grain and Paterson), Eliot (in The Waste Land), Reznikoff, Rexroth, Rukeyser, Olson, Duncan and, these days, perhaps only Susan Howe and Ed San­ ders. Niedecker, among them, was the most extreme and the most crystalline. In her history poems, she was an intense lyric poet with epic content, and she has neither peers nor followers for her “holy  /  slowly  /  mulled over  /  matter” (295).

Glenna Breslin

Lorine Niedecker

The Poet in Her Homeplace When I began studying the poetry of Lorine Niedecker, I, like many other readers, thought of her as painfully isolated in her Wisconsin community, despite the facts that her family had lived there for three generations and that she lived and worked there most of her life. To sustain her creative life, I thought, she depended on her correspondence with writers at a distance, chiefly Louis Zukofsky in New York and Cid Corman in Japan. Niedecker contributed to this impression that her writing life went on in separation from Fort Atkinson and Black Hawk Island, except as “the folk,” the natural environment, and local history gave her subjects for poems. In poems like “In the great snowfall before the bomb,” in letters, and in anecdotes that have been reported by people who met or corresponded with her, she cultivated a persona detached from her community and claimed her anonymity desirable and self-imposed. However, during research trips to Fort Atkinson in the mid-1980s, I met two local men who shared their recollections of Niedecker with me: Ernest Hartwig, younger brother of Niedecker’s first husband, Frank, and Aeneas McAllister, a neighbor of Niedecker’s during the 1950s. These interviews changed my ideas about Niedecker’s attachment to her community. Both men’s recollections helped me understand how Niedecker created a life at home that was productive for her writing. In particular,

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McAllister’s story of the Zukofsky family’s visit to Black Hawk Island in 1954, which I recount in the second half of this essay, showed me how Niedecker adopted different personae for home and for the literary world. By the time of my second visit to Fort Atkinson, in 1987, I knew little about Niedecker’s first marriage to Frank Hartwig other than the courthouse rec­ords of their marriage in 1928 and divorce in 1942. At the time of the wedding, Lorine was twenty-five and Frank twenty-nine. On the license, she declared as her occupation “Assistant Librarian,” he “Road Construction.” Most of Lorine’s acquaintances never knew she had been married. A few local people who had known the two recalled being surprised that they married because they were “different types.” One of Lorine’s high school classmates described Frank as “a loner . . . even less outgoing to people than Lorine.” Neighbors of Lorine described Frank in his later years as a morose and bitter man, inclined to drink too much. Aeneas recalled Lorine complaining that Frank “drank and was mean to her.” Hearing these stories made me wonder what Lorine saw in this man that led her to marry him. So I was pleased to find Frank’s younger brother Ernest willing to talk with me. Ernest and Frank grew up on their parents’ farm on Black Hawk Island. Although the boys attended the Lutheran German-language grade school, they went to Fort Atkinson for high school, where Ernest and Lorine graduated together in the class of 1922. Ernest remembered meeting Lorine when he was about eight years old, accompanying his mother when she worked as a cook for members of the hunting clubs at the end of Black Hawk Island. As a teenager, he helped his father mow Henry Niedecker’s hayfields and store the hay in the barn, and both Ernest and Frank worked for Henry in his carpseining operation. Ernest met me at his office — he was the Town Clerk — in Koshkonong Town Hall, two miles outside of Fort Atkinson. The small cream brick building with its two brick outhouses in opposite back corners of the yard was formerly a county school very like the one Lorine attended. Ernest was a soft-spoken, kindly man who recalled Lorine with obvious affection and admiration. Although he willingly answered my questions, he seemed reluctant to say anything less than positive about people.

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Ernest described his brother as a gentle man who “kept to himself.” Frank hated school and quit in the spring of his junior year, not because his grades were bad, but because he wanted to work outdoors. He felt happiest outdoors, loved animals, and thrived on construction work. Although he lived in a community that offered plenty of opportunity for hunting, Frank “didn’t like killing pretty ducks.” Not until the day before the wedding did Frank tell Ernest that he and Lorine were getting married. “What? You?” Ernest’s astonishment offended Frank: “What do you mean, me?” Ernest explained, “Frank never went with any girl for very long. He said he’d never marry. He was by himself an awful lot.” Although Lorine had visited at the Hartwig farm a few times before the wedding, Ernest recalled, “it didn’t seem like they were in love or anything. . . . It must have been a hidden love affair.” Only once had Ernest seen the couple out together, driving to a show in town in Frank’s topless Ford in zero-degree weather, Lorine bundled up in a long sheepskin coat. Lorine and Frank were married at five in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day in the parsonage next door to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Fort Atkinson. Only Ernest and Lorine’s friend Anna Ramsey attended the wedding. After the ceremony the couples dined at the Riverside Guest House. According to the story in the Jefferson County Union, “relatives and a few close friends” were at the wedding supper, but Ernest has no memory of anyone but the four. “It was odd,” he commented; “Anna and I talked about it afterwards,” but neither one asked Lorine or Frank why they celebrated their wedding so quietly. Ernest conjectured, “Lorine never liked crowds.” From courtship to wedding, from marriage to divorce, Lorine’s union with Frank Hartwig was marked by secrecy. Following the wedding, the couple moved into the bungalow they were buying in town. Perhaps they were its first inhabitants, as the story announcing the wedding identifies the house as having been built in the summer of 1928. When I saw the small, well-kept house, backed by a treefilled lot, I imagined they felt proud of starting off together here. When I visited Fort Atkinson a year later, the library had added to its collection of Lorine’s books and memorabilia a large group photograph of guests at Anna Ramsey’s wedding in June 1929. However, no one was able to identify Frank Hartwig. I wondered if he were the good-looking,

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Courtesy Dwight Foster Public Library, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

broad-shouldered man with the confident smile standing in the back row behind Lorine, and I brought the photograph along to my next meeting with Ernest Hartwig. He studied it for a minute, then gave me a sidelong smile and pointed to the man I had noticed. “That’s Frank?!” Frank looks straight into the camera, pleased with himself, apparently having a good time. Beneath him, Lorine tilts her head away from the camera, eyes averted. With her closed-mouth partial smile, she looks painfully shy. Her heavy eyeglasses add to the distancing effect of her wrenched-away head pose. How did Lorine feel at this wedding? She had been married the previous Thanksgiving with little celebration. Her friend Anna, who had been her only attendant, now was being married with a crowd of family and friends gathered at the Ramsey home. Maybe Lorine was tired by the crowd and the occasion, maybe she was camera-shy, or maybe marriage didn’t look so promising to her that summer and the happy prospects

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Courtesy Dwight Foster Public Library, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

radiated by her friend depressed her. Looking away from the camera, she gives the impression of withholding a part of herself: “I’m not going to show you who I am.” How living with Frank affected Lorine’s writing is unclear, but Ernest told me he was confident that his brother would not have interfered. Lorine had begun publishing before her marriage: two poems appeared in the fall of 1928 (“Transition” and “Mourning Dove”). It seems likely that she continued to write during the next two years, because by 1931, she had poems to show Louis Zukofsky and Harriet Monroe. While Lorine was living with Frank in Fort Atkinson, she read extensively and wrote about books. Part of her job as assistant librarian was to write the “Library Notes” column for the Jefferson County Union (JCU),

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then a weekly paper. Her column, signed “L. N. H.,” appears on the same page of the JCU as the announcement of her marriage. Niedecker symbolically marked her dual identity as wife and writer by legally changing her name to her husband’s and using Hartwig within the local community, but keeping Niedecker for the publication of poems. She did not retreat into marriage, but continued to identify herself as a writer, making her voice heard to influence people in her community. Lorine’s columns indicate that she turned what another person might have thought of as mere obligation into an opportunity to air her opinions on a wide variety of topics. It seems she was free to feature any book or magazine she wanted since her choices of books and her commentary correspond to her personal interests. Sometimes her columns were topical; for instance, on November 2, 1928, for an issue of the JCU full of electioneering for state governor, local and national offices, she focusses on party politics in the United States. Sometimes her columns were thematic (nature studies) or organized by genre (biography). She often highlights gender roles, marriage, and divorce, with the intention of cultivating more liberal attitudes in her readers. Anyone who knows Lorine’s favorite subjects will notice how many women authors, poets, and books about birds she chooses to feature. Her personal convictions come through, also, in comments encouraging readers to go beyond the “recent acquisitions” shelf and explore the remoter shelves of the library for classic texts. Although in later years Lorine hid her literary interests from most people in her community, writing “Library Notes” gave her an opportunity to share her own enthusiasms and discoveries with others in an impersonal way. Her comments show changes she was trying to foster in her community: to be more tolerant of differences, more liberal politically, less likely to accept uncritically what was heard on the radio or written in the popular press. Like a successful teacher, she seems to understand her readers’ interests and to be clever in writing in a way that speaks their own language so as to draw them towards new ideas and experiences. Financial difficulties eventually caused the marriage to fail. Frank was an independent road contractor who owned heavy trucks for hauling rock and machinery that crushed gravel and laid it on roads. When he married Lorine at the end of 1928, Frank was prospering and had plenty of work, but “the next spring you couldn’t buy a job if you wanted to! It was gettin’

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scary — jobs was scarce,” Ernest told me; “the Depression wiped Frank out. He had at that time about thirty thousand dollars worth of unpaid-for equipment and the equipment places grabbed it back first chance they got and Frank wound up penniless.” The couple lost their house and returned separately to their parents’ homes. After Lorine and Frank separated, Lorine occasionally visited the Hartwig farm for dinner and Ernest would take Lorine home in his car afterwards. A couple of times after the 1930 separation Ernest and Lorine went to a show together, sometimes accompanied by Mrs. Hartwig, but Frank never came along. The couple offered no explanation to Ernest or his mother about their breakup. Why did Lorine choose to return to her parents rather than accompany her husband to his family’s farm when they lost their house in Fort Atkinson? Perhaps at the beginning of her marriage Lorine had seen herself and Frank as a team, engaged in work suitable to their different interests and abilities. Frank had work he enjoyed, away from home, and she had a job that allowed her to do what she enjoyed — read extensively and write. When Frank lost everything he had built up in his business, his personality and treatment of Lorine may have altered. Apart from the possibility that she no longer wanted to be with her husband, in making her decision Lorine would have taken into account her growing commitment to her writing. Perhaps the necessity of deciding where to live in 1930 played a part in Lorine’s recognizing the power of her interest in writing. At the farm, Lorine and Frank would have been sharing a home with Mrs. Hartwig and Ernest. The men would have done the heavy farming work and depended on the women to garden, prepare and preserve food, and do the cleaning and laundry. Even if Mrs. Hartwig continued to run the household, Lorine would have less freedom than she had living with her husband in their own home, where she could determine the extent of her housekeeping. In 1930, Lorine had the example of her own mother before her: silent, depressed, neglected by her husband, the obsessive housekeeper who on her deathbed gave Lorine orders to “clean house, scrub floors, weed!” Lorine saw her mother as a threat to her identity as a writer. Daisy Niedecker would have expected her daughter to follow her husband to the Hartwig farm and had Lorine been more like her mother, she might have

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done so. Lorine’s decision scandalized people. Men, including her father, gossiped about her. I heard from several sources that the marriage ended because “Lorine didn’t like to sleep with a man.” In their eyes, by resisting convention, she had committed an unwomanly act. Lorine had a vision of a writer’s life and acted to protect that vision. Hers would be a life radical in its simplicity, yet rich in time to read and write, walk and watch the growing, dying world around her. Returned to her parents’ home, Lorine sought out others like herself. She boldly located allies and cultivated their support, writing to Louis Zukofsky when his essay on the Objectivists in Poetry (February 1931) spoke to her own convictions about writing. She solicited publication from his editor Harriet Monroe, sending highly unconventional poems accompanied by statements that attempted to explain and justify their strangeness. Separated from her husband, Lorine was now free to make a move she thought would enhance her career by traveling to New York City to meet Zukofsky during the winter of 1933–1934.1 Lorine’s friendship with Aeneas McAllister began in June 1953 when he moved from Chicago with his mother, sister, and two brothers and bought a house on Black Hawk Island built by Lorine’s father, Henry Niedecker. Lorine was then living by herself in a one-room cabin nearby. They were neighbors until 1960 when Aeneas married and moved to a farm, but he kept in touch with Lorine, visiting her with his children, whom she greeted “with open arms, hugging all three boys at once.” For six years (1957–1963) they were co-workers at the Fort Atkinson Hospital, and he was still doing maintenance work there when she was hospitalized with the stroke that led to her death at the end of 1970. Aeneas had only a high school education, but he shared Lorine’s intellectual curiosity and her love of music. He was a student of astronomy, who built his own telescope and studied the night skies with her. A self-taught pianist and composer, he repaired and tuned his collection of pianos and explored the history of music with Lorine through reading biographies of composers and books on music appreciation. Several of Lorine’s poems are connected with Aeneas and rise from their shared interests and experiences.

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Courtesy Glenna Breslin.

Courtesy Glenna Breslin.

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Aeneas was twenty-seven and Lorine had just turned fifty when they met. In snapshots from the early 1950s, he’s a slim, dark-haired man with a sexy grin and she’s a lithe blond, skirt swirling as she walks along the side-door path of the McAllister house. In another scene, she’s tipsy and giddy at a New Year’s party, awkwardly smoking a cigarette. Aeneas told me, “She was stagnant when we found her, like a sleeping beauty; we woke her up, we brought her into the present time.” He found her attractive and described her as a passionate and fun-loving woman. He also hinted at a romance: “I was a half-assed lover of hers.” In a follow-up letter, he reflected, “I guess our age difference hobbled us.” The fact that they boycotted each other’s weddings, disapproving of each others’ spouses, suggests a strong emotional attachment between the two. Some of Lorine’s poems that allude to Aeneas convey her attraction to him. One refers to their shared interest in astronomy and also takes a playful, ironic glance at their age difference: I lost you to water, summer when the young girls swim, to the hot shore to little peet-tweet   pert girls. Now it’s cold your bright knock — Orion’s with his dog after him —  at my door, boy on a winter wave ride. (CW 227) Aeneas told me about building his telescope and studying the stars: “from fall through to spring I was out at night, almost every night. For Lorine it was sometimes too cold. But she was pretty game and bundled up pretty good and peeked through a couple of nights a week.” A later poem refers affectionately to Aeneas, the “boy” become a father, who once asked Lorine, “Put me wise  /  to what a tree toad is” and with whom she shared “the stars  /  those glimmering talks” (CW 225). Yet another poem about their friendship refers to Aeneas’s water-skiing, which Lorine watched but refused to try:

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I don’t know what wave he’s on if he’ll be slowed. Once was one extended his hand. I’ve lived on a bigger river —  I present a load. (CW 405) These poems suggest Lorine thought of Aeneas in romantic terms, complicated by the differences in their ages and experiences. The “one” who “extended his hand” in the past could have been her first husband, Frank Hartwig, or Louis Zukofsky. Although Lorine’s relationship with Aeneas wasn’t primarily romantic, it was intimate, physical, full of energy and activity. Through Aeneas’s recollections, I caught glimpses of an expansion of Lorine’s personality under the influence of the McAllister family, who gave her entertainment and nurturing, as well as practical assistance. Aeneas looked after her when she was needy, giving her rides to and from town, bringing her groceries, helping with home repairs, and, during the winter, surreptitiously filling the oil drum that fueled her cabin’s stove. Lorine depended on the family in emergencies: they virtually took over when her father died in 1954 and they rescued her during the flood of 1959. With the McAllisters, Lorine found the kind of emotionally demonstrative, loyal family she hadn’t experienced with her parents. Six months after she met them, she wrote to Zukofsky: “Friday night we played Chopin records at McAllisters and when it came to Chopin waltzes we danced! Families are wonderful!” (NCZ 217–18). When I read this letter to Aeneas, he exclaimed, “She’d never known family life like ours,” joking, teasing, acting up, the mother hiking up her apron to dance a jig, putting on “big feeds,” urging Lorine to fill herself up. “We just practically took her in,” said Aeneas. “She just couldn’t quite get over that, she just couldn’t believe we lived the way we lived, . . . so boisterous and so full. . . . With her, with our family and her, everything was like an exclamation.” Lorine benefited from the warmth of the McAllisters, but, as Aeneas recalled, she “could only take so much”— then she had to be by herself. In letters to Zukofsky, Lorine complained that she found the McAllisters’ proximity intrusive at times and she ridiculed the vulgarity of the women. Yet she allied herself with them, confessing to Zukofsky her “low tastes”

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in enjoying their popular music and the television programs she watched at their house. Her apologetic tone to Zukofsky suggests to me that during this period, as a result of her intimacy with the McAllisters, Lorine was conscious of working out an identity that could embrace her home and work life, and her writing life as a poet with affiliations to the literary world. I first met Aeneas McAllister on a Sunday afternoon in August 1987, as Fort Atkinson was celebrating its history with the “Fort Fest” parade. Aeneas, then sixty-two years old and retired from his maintenance job at the Jefferson County Home, was living in a small, rundown house near the center of town with two of his sons. When I knocked on the back door, the sons and their friends were sitting at the kitchen table drinking beer. Aeneas was down the street watching the parade, they told me, and one young man suggested I search for him. “Look out for a guy in white pants and a brown hat . . . looks like him, only bald,” he said, pointing to a slim, dark-haired twenty-year-old with a bare muscled torso. I walked back to the parade, scanning the onlookers. A wiry man in a paintsplattered shirt carrying a grocery sack started up the street, stopped to dance to a band going by, stopped further along to admire a motorcycle, then continued towards me. That was Aeneas. I was cautious, as he had been hostile when I phoned to ask for the interview: “After she’s dead, you intellectuals and poetresses jump on the bandwagon. Lemme ask you, where was you when she was alive, living in abject poverty? You ignored her. What are you trying to do now?” He and Lorine “had a special thing going” and he wanted to keep it private, he said. He was angry on her behalf and resentful of the educated and more affluent people who worked to preserve her memory. I was from the alien camp, a college professor from California, and Aeneas expected me to be ignorant of Lorine’s life on Black Hawk Island. But when I told him I had spent time there the previous summer in one of the dilapidated fishing shacks at Mimmack’s Resort so I could experience the Island as Lorine had known it, he warmed to me and offered to show me where Lorine’s family and neighbors had lived. The Sunday interview was a little edgy at first, though Aeneas became animated and outgoing as we drank 7-Up at the kitchen table and looked

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at his collection of memorabilia: Lorine’s published poems, photographs, phonograph records, notes from Lorine, and sheets of his musical compositions with Lorine’s handwritten lyrics: settings for Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30 and a comic song she wrote for the McAllisters. He told his story of meeting Lorine. In June 1953, about two weeks after the McAllisters settled in their new home on Black Hawk Island, a neighbor took the family down the road on a Friday evening to meet Lorine. The next afternoon, just after he’d finished his share of the Saturday housecleaning, Aeneas was listening to Beethoven’s C Minor piano concerto on his phonograph when he heard a light, rapid “tap tap tap” on the door. Lorine always announced herself with a light tapping, he told me, as if she didn’t want to bother anybody. Aeneas recalled: “ ‘Oh!’ she said, ‘You like that kind of music?’ and we was buddies from then on.” Music was to become a bond between Lorine and Aeneas. They shared a love of Beethoven and Chopin, especially. They would go to Madison together to the Patti Music Company on State Street where they’d buy records and sheet music for Aeneas. Lorine kept lists of the records they bought along with study notes enabling them to recall certain parts they liked. They read and discussed books about music and composers, among them Aaron Copland’s What to Listen for in Music and biographies of Beethoven and Chopin. Aeneas’s companionship gave Lorine impetus in her studies, in practical ways, such as driving her to Madison to browse book and music stores, and intellectual ways, by acting as an interested reader, and perhaps just by his physical presence in her home evenings when they listened to classical music, he reading scores and she writing. During the seven years Aeneas lived on the Island, he would often spend evenings at Lorine’s, listening to phonograph records they had bought together. “The cabin was so cozy and pretty,” he recalled; “I loved to come there.” Looking with me at a snapshot of the interior of her cabin, Aeneas recalled where he and Lorine would sit on those evenings — she in this corner, he over against the picture window. Beethoven might be on the record player and he’d be concentrating on the music, trying to memorize it, “play it over” in his head. She’d be writing while sitting in the easy chair, looking up, thinking, her eyes moving back and forth, her lips moving, “and I’d know

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not to bother her then.” She might sit still for a while, then say “ahh!” and write again. Aeneas described Lorine’s behavior during periods of intense mental concentration as a withdrawal into a “cocoon” that wrapped her so densely that he’d have to call her name several times if he wanted her attention. She’d come out of her trance saying, “Where was I?” To Aeneas, Lorine’s cabin was a haven where his artistic and intellectual sides got more appreciation than at home. Like Lorine, Aeneas struggled with many hardships in his daily life, determined to persist in his music. He kept one upright piano in the McAllister house and three in the garage. When his family would tire of his playing and drive him out of the house, he practiced in the garage, even in winter, setting up electric heaters both above and underneath the pianos. “Lorine would come over in wintertime in the evening and laugh at me because I’d be sitting there all bundled up, playing with my gloves on. She’d say, ‘How can you play, it’s so cold!’ ” When spring came, Aeneas couldn’t play the pianos in the garage because dampness made the keys swell up and stick. Aeneas had a nickelodeon in the garage he was trying to rebuild. He recalled, “Lorine got quite a charge out of that nickelodeon because it was all full of tubes and pipes and bellows.” She liked to watch the pneumatic tubes in action, forcing air up to the plungers, which would then hit the keys. “She couldn’t believe anything could operate that fast. She used to stand there and giggle and giggle.” Aeneas proudly showed me his copy of Lorine’s collected poems, My Life by Water, inscribed to him by Lorine with a note to refer to page sixtyeight for the poem about a time when Aeneas had interrupted his playing of Chopin to dig a new well for his family. Here’s the poem: To Aeneas who closed his piano to dig a well thru hard clay Chopin left notes like drops of water. Aeneas could play the Majorcan sickness, the boat on which pigs were kept awake by whips the woman Aurore the narrow sand-strips.

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“O Frederic, think of me digging below the surface — we are of one pitch and flow.” (CW 158) During the summer of 1953, about a month after the McAllisters moved into their new home, the well had run dry. In that community of selfreliant, working-class families, if your well went dry, you didn’t call in a professional well-driller, you stopped whatever you were doing and dug a new well yourself. And on Black Hawk Island, Aeneas had to dig through hard clay — to about fourteen feet — until he hit a sand-strip where he could tap into fresh water. Some of the allusions in the poem are a product of Aeneas and Lorine’s shared reading of Chopin’s biography. With an air of showing off to me, Aeneas explained details — the pig-boats, Majorca, and the reference to George Sand by her birth name, Aurore. Lorine’s selection of details omits the aura of glamour surrounding Chopin’s life with George Sand, emphasizing instead suffering and hardship. Her portrait of Aeneas similarly represents a musician struggling against adversity. Aeneas’s labors digging through clay kept him from the piano and coarsened his hands: “How can you dig a well and play the piano with those hands?” Lorine had marvelled. Yet Aeneas feels so intimately connected to Chopin that he addresses him by his first name, Frederic, as if Chopin were a living companion, and asserts, “we are of one pitch and flow.” As Aeneas identifies with Chopin, Lorine identifies with both musicians, expressing through the persona of Aeneas her own experience of conflicts between her art and her daily life and acknowledging the passion that drove her to persist. The significance of this poem as a disclosure of Lorine’s reflections on her creative process became even clearer to me in connection with an anecdote Aeneas told me. During the summer of 1954, a year after Aeneas stopped making music to dig a well, Louis and Celia Zukofsky, with their son Paul, visited Black Hawk Island, staying for about ten days in the house in which Henry had died on June 30th. Lorine was so shaken by Henry’s death that she proved unable to handle the arrangements for his funeral and burial, so the McAllisters “took charge.” But she was eager for the Zukofskys to carry through with their plans to visit and she enlisted Aeneas in her preparations.

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Aeneas tuned his best piano for Celia’s use in her practice sessions with Paul, then ten years old and a talented violinist. For several days at the beginning of their visit, Celia and Paul practiced at the McAllister house for an hour or longer. Aeneas remembered marveling at Paul’s playing, how the notes “just spilled out” in his opening exercises. (He remained fascinated by the young prodigy and showed me Lorine’s “little records” [demonstration 45s] of Paul playing as a child, as well as an LP recording of his adult performances that Aeneas and Lorine bought together. He also saved the program of Paul’s concert at Carnegie Hall, November 30, 1956, that Lorine gave him.) However, Celia and Paul’s practices at the McAllister house ended after an incident that estranged Aeneas and the Zukofsky parents. One day, Aeneas took the boy out on the river in his motor boat, crossing over to where the undergrowth was thick and the woods wild: “I showed him small streams and creeks and we climbed some easy trees and he howled with delight; you know what I mean — like a kid really enjoying himself. Then we heard Celia and Louis calling us back.” When he and Paul emerged from the brush they saw Celia and Louis frantically waving and calling from the opposite bank: “COME BACK! COME BACK! HIS HANDS! HIS HANDS!” Aeneas recalled: “They were furious with me and kept us apart from then on. Paul was never out of their sight except that one time I got him across the river and oh, boy, you’d thought I’d committed a sin, that was sacrilegious, for me to take that boy across that river . . . well, I could see their point, y’know . . . a budding artist, out there amongst all that jungle, that brush and trees, with those beautiful fingers!” Aeneas’s version of the trip to the wilds across the river makes the parents seem over-protective and expresses pity for Paul, who was having “a swell time.” Aeneas described the Zukofskys to me as “intellectual snobs” who “looked down on Lorine,” and he felt Lorine was subdued during their visit, “down in the mouth. . . . I knew there was something bothering her, but I never asked her about it afterwards.” One can imagine that Lorine, grieving her father’s death, found the Zukofskys’ visit more stressful than she had anticipated. Further, their presence on her home ground dramatized for her the tensions she was trying to negotiate in creating her

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identity as a writer in that place. While Aeneas could reject the Zukofskys as “intellectual snobs,” Lorine could not. Aeneas’s story dramatizes the distance between the worlds of the Zukofskys and Lorine. Lorine came from a life where a musician struggled, poor and untutored, to play the piano with the same hands that served to do brutal work: dig a well through clay. As an artist, she had never experienced the kind of protected life the Zukofskys were creating for Paul. Lorine had already been thinking about the contrasts between Aeneas and Paul as musicians when she made the arrangement of For Paul, Group Eight. The first poem in the group is “Paul  /  when the leaves  /  fall,” followed by “To Aeneas who closed his piano.” The poems play off each other neatly: two musicians, one a privileged child prodigy, the other a struggling laborer. The lyric ease of “Paul” plays off the strain of the more disjunctive organization of “To Aeneas . . . ”. Later, Lorine uses Paul as a figure of transcendent art, juxtaposing her losses from the ravages of the flood of 1959 with the boy’s Carnegie Hall debut in the penultimate section of “Paean to Place.” In talking with me, Aeneas was concerned to stake his claim on behalf of the McAllisters and Black Hawk Island as against the residents of Fort Atkinson who promote Lorine’s literary reputation and host the scholars who come in search of her. Aeneas felt Lorine really belonged to him and his family, who changed her so deeply, sustaining her in emotional and material ways when she was needy, sharing her connection with the natural environment and helping her cope with its disasters, and making room for her in the car Friday evenings as they careened down the road to celebrate the end of the work week at Alex and Stella Kohlman’s fish fry. On the August day in 1987 when I first interviewed Aeneas, I drove us out to Black Hawk Island. Aeneas identified homes that Henry Niedecker had built and where the Niedeckers, McAllisters, and other neighbors had lived. We introduced ourselves to the new owners of the house Lorine and Al Millen built and got their permission to open the cabin, then used as a storeroom. Aeneas sighed in dismay as we peered in the doorway at the stacks of boxes, furniture, and tools, recalling the tidy, cozy interior Niedecker had furnished. A large picture window faced the beautiful wild growth on the river side; built-in bookshelves framed the window look-

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ing out toward the road. Lorine’s bed, an easy chair, a drop-leaf table and chairs furnished the main room; the kitchen was off in a tiny adjoining room. We drove on down the road towards The Point, the route Lorine walked often. Stopping at the path that leads to Mud Lake, Aeneas recalled walking with Lorine, on the lookout for birds, which she was able to spot despite her weak eyes. Mud Lake was then a wild marshy region with grasses, waterbirds, and muskrats. On one autumn walk along the path to the lake, Lorine was telling Aeneas about the birds when she stopped, staring in among the dense foliage of trees and brush. As Aeneas told the story, Lorine caught her breath: “ ‘O . . . kay! There’s a shypoke.’ I’m looking, I’m looking, ‘What’s a shypoke?’ . . . I’m looking, I’m looking, and . . . son of a gun. That sucker’s standing straight up and down like this, its beak about as long as your arm, beak to the sky, head hunched into the shoulders, ramrod straight, camouflaging itself into the brush. And I’m looking . . . and it picks up its boney leg like this, see, and moves very, very slowly, like this. And it stopped. Stood ramrod straight up and down. And she says, ‘Look at that! Isn’t that beautiful!’ Oh, she was so excited. And that was a shypoke.2 And I’ve never seen one since.” The path to Mud Lake was now overgrown, filled in with rock and debris, the water so low the lake was all muck and the muskrat lodges gone. Aeneas thought the marsh would be “a paradise for birds,” but all that winter and spring he didn’t see any: “Those macho hunters go down there in their boots and shock them, probably scare them all the hell away from there.”

Notes 1. I have written about this visit in a previous essay collected in Revealing Lives. 2. Shitepoke is a common name for the green heron and its family member the bittern, after their habit of excreting a stream of white feces when frightened. The bird Aeneas and Lorine saw may have been a least bittern or an American bittern, both of whom camouflage themselves among the grasses and rushes of marshes by turning their beaks to the sky and pretending to be another weed. Lorine owned a photograph of a least bittern taken by naturalist Merl Deusing on Black Hawk Island. Its beak is nowhere near “as long as your arm.”

Anne Waldman Time is nuttn in the universe. (NCZ 134)

Who Is Sounding? Awakened View, Gaps, Silence, Cage, Niedecker I propose a contemplative gaze to extend a look at Lorine Niedecker’s work and encourage a discussion around view in the spiritual sense, as well as performance/orality (both public and private) and silence. I also suggest a poetic affinity between the seemingly diametrically opposed Objectivist Niedecker and Zen-ist John Cage. Right view is one of the traditional Buddhist precepts. It acknowledges impermanence, the absence of a solid eternal self, and encourages the practitioner to wake up to that indisputable fact. It also recognizes what is termed pratitya-samutpada, a Sanskrit term for the interconnected, coarising, cause-and-effect principle of all living things, Darwinian in its complexity. Performance/orality may be a method for actualizing the efficacy of insight and imagination toward other and toward this view of inter-connectedness. Private mental space — frequently a state of quietude  — may be the source or background for poetry, and both Niedecker and Cage examined the noise of silence, or gap, in their work. Poetry may be considered a site where public and private soundings converge. Invoked here, also, is the practice of ti bot, of such a sounding from Asian poetics, referring specifically in the Thai tradition to the striking of a gong, and extended to include the sounding/unlocking/activating of a poem or

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ritual text. The poem is not activated until it is struck. This idea relates as well to the sense of a poem being made up of seed syllables whose purpose it is to awaken the mind. Mantra is a string of such syllables sounded to protect the mind. The root “budh” of Buddhism means to be awake. Ti bot sounds in the mind, a kind of inner space as it also may sound out loud in the world. As such it provides a gap, a dis-junct, an intervention, a cutting into the sound-scape. Niedecker’s work is gnomic, koan-like. A koan (a kong-an, literally a “public case”) as practiced in Japanese Zen Buddhism is a riddle and a psychological/philosophical device, not intuited by usual logics. It is an exercise of attention, a mental posture, and a sharp nudge to perception where suddenly the mind holds myriad thoughts (sounds, images, emotions) simultaneously — not unlike the state of “negative capability.” Keats’s view of being able to hold contradictory views “without any irritable reaching after fact or reason” resembles the Buddhist flash of insight. One might think of these terms as parallel measures of discernment, albeit from very different traditions. They both suggest a way that the mind might wake up to itself and the world around itself, and play between the binaries of this or that. As a spiritual device, as a public case, haiku is intended to do this; poetry may often do this. Before my own death is certified, recorded, final judgment judged taxes taxed I shall own a book of old Chinese poems and binoculars to probe the river trees. (CW 158) Seeing, reading, listening, probing is the praxis — the view — of Lorine Niedecker’s poetics and poetry. In the poem above she equates the finality of death with Judeo-Christian judgment, the case-closed “taxes taxed” anathema of record keeping, and counters with a richer investigatory see-

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ing life by owning a book of nonjudgmental (non-theistic) Asian poetry and a pair of binoculars. The thud of the final ed in “certified,” “recorded,” “judged,” and “taxed” is wearying compared with the open o sounds of “own,” “book of old,” “poems,” “binoculars,” and “probe.” And the rhyming of “Chinese” and “trees” lingers as one considers the “Before” and after of the poet’s decision. There is a gap between these two views. The “taxed  /  I” shifts and seems to unburden itself as the poem pivots and opens out toward a more awake view. Gap in the Buddhist tradition refers to a place between thoughts, between the places and states of mind one inhabits, between birth and death. Gap translates as bardo (in Tibetan). It is a pause before discursive mind clicks in and takes charge. Such a gap exists between Niedecker’s logopoeic lines, her sound clusters. A practice in Buddhism — tamal gyi shepa, referring to this gap or leap of mind — concerns cultivating an attitude of co-emergent thinking or (as in a Western model) the aforementioned “negative capability” (“both/both”), rather than an either/or binary. One is encouraged to drop conditions and projections in order to rest in the magic of ordinary mind and in the duality of experience. While not wanting to presume too much of a stretch here toward Eastern modes, structures, and praxes (a personal bias), I would like to position/imagine Niedecker as poet with that kind of mind and refer to the poems influenced directly by Japanese haiku, and her naturally meditative bent. Gap is measured by the breath, by the sense of a mental (actively thinking) spaciousness, of generosity toward the outside world, seeing it with all its emptiness (empty of ego) and luminosity and particulars. The Buddhist view is to see things as they are, with intelligence and openness and without the projections of ego. Not negating the richness of history, dream, emotion — which are necessary material for the artist  — but shifting the focus away from an I-centered universe. John Cage, considered a supreme avant-gardist, could rest in the ambiguity of silence in both his writing and his music, which is also a kind of gap. His structures are more radical perhaps, extended in time. And unlike Niedecker he developed much of his writing through chance operation and acrostic/mesostic methods. Position Niedecker and Cage in a

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similar post-transcendentalist mode. They are liberated both in the sense of their spiritual view — an attitude that sees the emptiness and playful quality in the phenomena of all conditioned things, including words and sounds — and in a secular view that is grounded, local, in the world. I believe language and sound held consistent truth for both of them, rather than any kind of formalized religion. Cage allied himself with Zen, and Niedecker wrote at one point in a letter to Cid Corman, referring to a friend who was involved with a bible-study group, “I told him, this and Church religion, is ALIEN to me” (BYH 137). The position — view — of both artists is politically and intellectually liberal, not religious. This view does not conflict with but rather coheres with the non-theism of Buddhism. Both revel in a realm that is considered magical and mysterious in that it cuts through pretension and the grasping toward rigid identity. You would not hear these writers mutter about finding their immortal “voice.” Like Cage, Niedecker is never passive, dreamy, or other-worldly. She is very much of this world: inquisitive although minding it from a distance. In the poems, in her observations she indicates an acceptance of suffering, yet an aspiration toward what’s deemed bigger mind. She lifts from her reading and study and intuits a view that life does not end with the death of the body. How radical is that? In a letter to Louis Zukofsky dated April 29, 1945: Reading Diderot: Interpreter of Nature. This is what I could have used long ago, alongside Engels and while I was wondering what Emerson was getting at. A great many of my questions are suddenly answered. I really begin to believe that there is another life for us after we die, one not like ours, at least not for a long, long time. Elements for awhile before we again become, if we ever do, another mass. Time is nuttn in the universe. The elephant may be on his way to becoming a worm, and vice versa, as a species, I mean. All of which I wanted to say in my poem but didn’t quite. . . . (NCZ 134) Jenny Penberthy notes that Niedecker refers most likely to the poem “Look Close,” a koan-like poem that reads:

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Look close the senses don’t get it all a few hundred thousandths of a centimeter in wave length and you see the mark or you don’t (CW 129) How does one “see”? How close — how microscopic — can you really get with the senses? What then is looking/knowledge? How steely and absolute is her “or you don’t”? Getting “it” — seeing the mark — is the ti-bot or striking of both the sound and the sense. The poem except for “senses,” “hundred thousandths,” and “centimeter,” is monosyllabic, sharp. In a similar poem that braids together several levels of experience and time, the Chinese poet Li Po makes an appearance: Swept snow, Li Po, by dawn’s 40-watt moon to the road that hies to office away from home. Tended my brown little stove as one would a cow — she gives heat. Spring — marsh frog-clatter peace breaks out. (CW 126) You have two beats of quotidian “swept snow” meeting the two beats of “Li Po,” a five-beat line if you hear the comma as a beat. Does the snow look “swept” or has “she” or Li Po swept it? A common image in dharma practice is that of “sweeping,” meaning sweep the mind of distraction. The modern moon bulb and “office” intersect with the classical poet and the “road.” In a landscape that is both outside and inside, there is the descriptive meditative Asian landscape — dawn, moon, frog, road, peace — these are all tropes of Asian poetries. “[M]arsh frog-clatter peace  /  breaks out” is a line of sounding surprise much like the frog in Basho’s pond. We hear a range of o’s: “snow,” “Po,” “moon,” “road,” “office,” “home,” “brown,” “stove,” “cow,” and “frog.” In the mid-1950s, after writing “For Paul,” Niedecker worked extensively with what Penberthy calls her “astringent condensed haiku form.”

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In the transcendence of convalescence the translation of Basho (CW 204) Note the repeating s’s hissing and slushing in the mouth: trans, -scend, -scence. What is the translation referred to? Is it like Bottom’s “I am translated”? Does the “translation of Basho” provide transcendence to the invalid or one convalescing? There’s also the counterbalancing of lines “the transcendence”  /  “the translation” and “of convalescence”  /  “of Basho.” The tripartite “heaven, earth, man” principle of Japanese haiku involves a practice which relates to gap/insight. The three-line haiku generally has one line/image reflecting a large enduring view (thus more heaven-based), another centered in the earth (natural world), and a line/image from the human/animal realm (activity) that connects the other two. One spiritual view in Buddhism is that it is the human’s job to make this connection. A few examples of Basho, as translated by Cid Corman: Under the noodles (earth) getting the kindling going (man) a cold night indeed (heaven) (30) The narcissuses (earth) and white paper sliding doors (man) harmonize nicely (heaven) (30) Preparing dumplings (earth) With one hand she pushes back (man) A dangling forelock (heaven) (32) And from Jack Kerouac: In the medicine cabinet (man) The winter fly (earth) Has died of old age (heaven) (74) A recent translation of Basho by Robert Hass:

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Sad beauty? (heaven) the morning glory —  (earth) even when it’s painted badly. (man) (31) Absent the first word “sky,” which is read as title, another haiku-inflected seventeen-syllable poem: Sky in my favor to fly to downtown crowds home and Basho on my mind (CW 225–26) Here is “Basho” again, as one would say Shakespeare, Dante, Blake, or Sappho “on my mind.” Basho took the long road north fleeing crowds. Niedecker presents us with a reversal, flying to crowds, then arriving home. There’s a pounding alliteration centered in the three beats of “downtown crowds.” And a subtle shift in perspective from “in my favor” which sounds pleasingly from “sky” to “favor” to “fly” to the definitive d ’s and m’s that sound with “mind.” Both the “sky” and “Basho” seem held aloft. The move from “sky” to “home” to “mind” also resonates with the shifting location heaven/earth/man principle of haiku. “Sky” would be the heaven principle, earth the downtown crowds, “home/Basho/mind” the man principle. In the following selections, the larger scale of “Alliance” seems to be condensed into the second version, “Basho” with Basho as the organizing principle. The alliance the poet has felt with Basho is pared down to an eighteen-syllable flash of insight. The first poem, however, is rich in its pure non-egoic observation (view) and mesmerizing sounds, and carries the dynamics of inner/outer, public/private meditations, as well as the essential job of the haiku combining vast with particular. In “Alliance” we hear almost a triad of sound activity going from “Hun,” “won,” “win,” “in,” “with,” “nub,” “moon,” “rug” to the “ger,” “der,” “er,” “ears,” “ter,” “tsur” to

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the rhymes of “mites”  /  “rabbits” and “hunger”/ “Pronuba”  /  “yucca”  /  “Tsuruga” and “pull”  /  “ full”: Alliance Hunger with wonder Mites wintering in rabbits’ ears Pronuba with yucca Basho’s backwater moon-pull He was full at the port of Tsuruga (CW 270) Here the poet identifies with Basho — his backwater is as her own perhaps. And later in an echo of the former poem, Basho is like the full moon. The sound is glorious, rich, strange. The pauses between the clusters each a gap, a silence. Basho is re-awakened here, brought close to the sensibility of this modernist poet. One can’t help but think of Pound’s adage, paraphrased here, that all times are contemporaneous in the mind of the poet. Another version: Basho beholds the moon   in the water He is full at the port of Tsuruga (CW 270)

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Niedecker had a link to Japanese and Chinese poetries not only through one of her primary correspondents, Cid Corman, who translated haiku and was himself influenced by Basho in particular but also through her own reading and study of Asian poetry and philosophy. Her library included The Way of Life by Lao Tzu, Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Rexroth’s 100 Poems from the Japanese, Van Wyck Brooks’s Fenollosa and His Circle, Harold G. Henderson’s An Introduction to Haiku, and Yut’ang Lin’s The Wisdom of China and India. She also had a copy of Cage’s Silence, a book influenced by much of the thinking of these and other comparable Asian texts as well. Comparing and contrasting some of Niedecker’s “poethics” and practices to those of John Cage is useful because they share a great moment in belletristic time, with many of the same forces generating around them. Their differences are considerable. Cage was the public person — a celebrated international figure who traveled the world as both a composer and a poet. He worked collaboratively, creating and performing scores for Merce Cunningham. Niedecker, on the other hand, refused offers to read in public, stayed close to her roots, and lived a life at a remove from the avant-garde,1 albeit none the less rich and complex. She made fun of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s offer to have a folk guitar accompany her reading of her poetry for a tape recording. Her refusal to tour and give public readings of her poetry even extended to her resistance to this idea of recording herself on tape. Cid Corman recorded her shortly before she died, but the reading is brief. She would not project her verse in the impersonal manner it required. “I fell over one of the stanzas and nearly squashed it,” she explained in a letter to Kenneth Cox (Dent 41). The strongest direct link with Cage may well be Thoreau, whom they both admired. Thoreau’s clarity, modesty, near folksy wit, and bare bones lifestyle was appealing. A rugged individualism and meditative spirit as well. Disciplined and exuberant. For Niedecker, he was a Yankee predecessor living in the woods in relative isolation, communing intimately with the natural world. For Cage: “Each day his eyes and ears were open to see and hear the world he lived in” (Empty Words 3).

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It was important to Cage that Thoreau was born to a pencilmaker. Perhaps Niedecker had Thoreau in mind in this poem: I was the solitary plover a pencil   for a wing-bone From the secret notes I must tilt (CW 265) Niedecker had read Thoreau in the mid-1930s, sending Louis Zukofsky notes on her reading. From March 1956: Dear Louie: I’m all right. [ ] I take down not my bible but Marcus Aurelius and follow up with Lucretius and Thoreau’s Journal (The Heart of) and why couldn’t somebody like Thoreau — a whole family of him — have ever settled here near me? (NCZ 134) And from June 1, 1958: Cleaning the old cupboard I placed three books together that mean most to me — Marcus Aurelius, Thoreau’s Walden and Japanese Haiku and standing beside that is Test of Poetry. (246) Referring to “typing notes on religion,” she lists Thoreau along with Leibniz, Plato, Santayana, and others. In Cage’s “Tenth Interview” (with Richard Kostelanetz) Thoreau’s Journals is on his list of ten favorite books. Thoreau figures into many of his chance operations. He wrote “through Thoreau” and quoted him often. “The best communion of men happens in silence” “simplify, simplify” “Reading the Journal (Thoreau’s),” Cage says, “I had been struck by the twentieth-century way Thoreau listened. . . . He paid attention to each sound  — explored the neighborhood of Concord” (M ix). Thoreau provided Cage with music, silence, and sound. Cage records the sounds through his piece “Mureau.” “Mu” from music.

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Cage writes: “Silence like music is non-/existent. There always are sounds. That/is to say if one is alive to hear them” (Silence 152). Thoreau’s Walden starts out with his chosen condition of separateness, then moves/pushes even accelerates into an intimacy with the busy world. This retreat accentuates his social and biological connectedness, just as meditation in Buddhism, ironically, is seen as a link to other sentient beings  — all the denizens of the planet which include the “trees and greenery and so on,” as one Buddhist chant puts it. One’s meditation includes the entire pulse of cyclical existence. It engenders empathy with the world, with the suffering of other, rather than retreat from it. But to accomplish this right view as it is called, one needs hours of solitary retreat and practice, being attentive to the ayatanas or the awakened senses as well as the subtle shifts of the mind. Where do thoughts come from? Where do they go? The gap is a moment when the watcher or ego, the manipulator, lets down guard. Gap is seen as a powerful meditation praxis. It is a moment when body, speech, and mind are synchronized, and when there is no ownership of experience. This stopping of grasping mind is the purpose of the koan. The writing of both Niedecker and Cage in many of its aspects functions in this zone, as does Basho’s. The transcendentalists had posited intuition over scientific rationalism. “Trust thyself ” said Emerson, relying on direct experience. Niedecker and Cage seem consummate posttranscendentalists. Niedecker’s personal life — in terms of issues of literal gap and silence —  is also relevant perhaps. Think of the ways she was compromised in the relationship with Zukofsky — their early love affair, her pregnancy and subsequent abortion. These conditions demanded suppression — a palpable emotional pressure, and in spite of elisions, a sounding tension. In fact, the elisions create a greater tension for the reader. Inside the gap exists her love, her hunger, her debt as she perceives it, to Zukofsky. What’s seen and what’s unseen is a powerful bifurcation. We understand, fissure has been a particular focus for many of us of late in the current social/political/ cultural realm and often personal realm — the body, its broken health and heartbreak. Yet she continues to listen to him, defer to him, and in fact

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might be considered his most loyal and constant reader. And keeping the wit and longer view, Niedecker writes: You with sea water running in your veins sit down in water Expect the long-stemmed blue   speedwell to renew itself (CW 268) a person conscious of a listening audience would write just a tiny bit differently. (BYH 241) “Niedecker’s idea of the silence of the reader waiting to be filled is evocative because it underlines the importance of sound to her poetry, and her lack of the recognition onto which poets can project relations between poem and reader from within the poem itself,” writes Peter Middleton in his essay “Lorine Niedecker’s ‘Folk Base’ and Her Challenge to the American Avant-Garde” (172). Middleton continues: “The silence is an absence of dialogue, of conversation, due to the distance between poet and reader. Her poem begins there, with this silence, this absence of intersubjectivity, rather than immediately appealing to the universalizing languages and frameworks of modern art and the avant garde. This is why she is explicit (in the letter to Corman) about the intimate scale on the intersubjectivity with which her poetry aims to work. ‘Poems are for one person to another, spoken thus, or read silently.’ This is a poetry that refuses the blandishments that promise it can be placed anywhere in public culture without loss, and does not believe that it can always put other people’s thoughts into words without attenuation” (172). Niedecker listened acutely to the particulars of her natural world (e.g., birdsong), to the phones and phonemes of the spoken and written word of neighbors and books, and seems to relish the lack of discursive subjectivity between her work and audience. There’s a Zen-like rigor and purity of purpose: she will not get in the way of the work. She will listen and hone and refine and respond with a pared down clarity far from the distracted

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public space. Her work, like haiku, will be as a public case without having to appear in person. In a letter to Cid Corman on May 3, 1967, she described the audience at a reading she attended as “mixed and nerve-crossed . . . somewhat inattentive” and said she would only be able to manage if she could find a way that “the silence could be governed among the people” (BYH 121). One has the irony of silence and the intervention of silence, the spiritual need for silence, and the interruption of silence. Beyond his study of silence, John Cage, of course, was acutely aware of the noise that fills the silence of our projects, our history, our lives, our very existence. And he worked in musical modes, oral modes, and performative strategies that worked with the mystery and literal ticking of time. How opposite to Niedecker’s praxis, one might ask? Most interesting is what Niedecker and Cage share: they both wrote across genres and in Cage’s case across art forms. They were both naturalists, both attentive and “minding” the details. Ornithology. Bird song. She wrote to the “twittering and squawking noises from the marsh.” The soundscape of her island. They shared methods of appropriation, fissure, homage, song. They were both “looking around in America” through text, history. Both were politically progressive, interested in social reform. Niedecker touches on the Depression, World War II, incipient fascism, the atom bomb. Cage — a citizen of the world — proposed breathing in our lives more “anarchistically.” Some of Niedecker’s earlier chattier poems evoke both Gertrude Stein and Cage’s original anecdotal story-telling: Old Hamilton hailed the man from the grocery store: What’s today, Friday? Thursday! oh, nothing till tomorrow. (CW 113) Cage says “I write  /  in order to hear; never do I hear  / then write what I hear” and

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. . . It is not . . . . in the nature of doing to . . . . . . . . improve but rather to come . . . . . . . . . into being, to continue, to . . . . . . . . . go out of being and to . . . . . . . . be still, not doing. That . . . . . . . . still not-doing is a . . . . . . preparation. It is not . . . . . . . just static: it is a quiet . . . . . . . readiness for whatever and . . . . . . . . . the multiplicities are already . . . . . . . . . . there in the making. We watch . . . . . . . . . . for signs and accept omens. . . . . . . . . . Everything is an omen, so . . . . . . . . . we continue doing and changing. (Silence 235–36) How things are overheard is important to both of them. They are both inside an avant-garde nexus yet expand the possibilities for us of listening. I must possess myself, get back into pure duration, or I should like to be an orator and rise. . . . (CW 28)

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Jenny Penberthy states that Niedecker’s work is “distinguished by its attentive use of sound, a consequence perhaps of her poor eyesight and her experience of her mother’s deafness, but also of her immersion in the rich soundscape of Black Hawk Island” (CW 2). Beautiful girl — pushes food onto her fork with her fingers —    will throw the switches of deadly rockets? (CW 185) Here is a very loud poem that has the tripartite juxtaposition of haiku. The heaven principle seems to lie in “beautiful girl,” the earth “food,” and the throwing switched “deadly rockets,” the man principle. Critic Gordana P. Crnkovic notes: “The language of silence Cage posits is one that knows how to listen when the other centers are acting, so that it may construct itself as a re-action to the other senses, and not only as the self-determined action of its own talking. So silence is not just the absence of talk. It is very much listening to what else is going on. In fact there is no such thing as silence” (184). I conjure a significant position for Niedecker, inside the work, inside the mind, modest and resolute. Spiritual without orthodoxy. Her direct engagement with seeing, listening, reading, her natural proclivity toward an awakened “view” activates the sound of the gong striking, powerfully reverberating in all who read and come to read her. Considering her active silences next to those of Cage broadens our understanding of her aesthetic, philosophical, and spiritual alliances with Asian poetics, Thoreauvian pragmatism, and avant-garde practices beyond Objectivism.

Note 1. See Penberthy’s introduction to Collected Works (1).

Elizabeth Willis

The Poetics of Affinity

Niedecker, Morris, and the Art of Work Lorine Niedecker’s work is saturated with politics, with an embodied, practical intelligence conceived at the intersection of public and private lives. It’s not simply that there are unions, bosses, paychecks, and presidents in her poems or that two of her most frequently recurring nouns are “war” and “work.” It’s what lies behind her wry, undercutting perspective; her fluid sense of material and intellectual property; her awareness of the world as a site of physical and social evolution; her sense of language’s transformative power; and her drive for self-determination: “I must possess myself ” (CW 28). Her poems insist that art and labor are inseparably bound; her subjects perform their identities, their ideological affinities, and their labors within a literary context that likewise considers itself as knowledge, as work, as relational system, as a product whose consumption demands even further labor. Niedecker’s trans-historical poetic research often focused on the location and processes of art, superimposing the lives of its local and international producers. While this gesture runs throughout her work, it gains priority in her late poems, particularly the poem for William Morris, “His Carpets Flowered,” on which this essay will ultimately focus.1 Niedecker’s often quoted metaphor for poetic production was the “condensery,” an echo of Pound’s call for compression but also a cross-

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ing point of agriculture, manufacturing, and distribution, inflected with local meaning. Throughout her lifetime, Jefferson County, Wisconsin, was headquarters for the theory and practice of the American dairy industry. At its height, it was home to eighty-four creameries, many containing condenseries, and it continues to be the home of Hoard’s Dairyman, the industry’s publication of record, for which Niedecker at one time worked as a proofreader. The condensery was a site of concentrated collective activity where — whether due to its communal structure, its marginality, its constant work flow, or its crucial relation to everyday life — there was no chance of “lay off” (“Poet’s Work,” CW 194).2 The term aptly references Niedecker’s practice of producing highly concentrated poems intended for long-term consumption, asserting her intellectual activity as both mechanical and manual labor within the vocabulary of her local economy. It also captures the methodology with which she approached her reading. Niedecker’s poetics were influenced early on by the ambition within the Romantic worldview, its pantheistic vision of nature and its aspiration to everyday speech rather than heightened literary language. Yet more than the poetry of any of the Romantics, which was of course familiar to her, Niedecker’s work is engaged with people and things that come to us in unabashedly vernacular forms, like the “Two old men” whose social impasse amounts to: “you spit  /  I don’t spit” (CW 132). Her acts of recollection occur less in the context of Wordsworthian tranquility than in the conflicts of the workplace and the exhausted pleasure of the day’s end. Reverie is part of the poet’s guilty pleasure, a form of unregulated and largely uncompensated work by which she gleans the excess, value-added services of others, knowing all too well how the excesses of her own work would be read by her immediate company: “What would they say if they knew  /  I sit for two months on six lines  / of poetry?” (CW 143). And yet what happens within these three lines of poetry conveys some idea of the level of condensing their making requires. Here, as elsewhere, we see Niedecker’s poems performing socially constructed acts of seeing: the poet assessing her surroundings, looking at herself and contextualizing her work among that of others, then imagining the returned gaze of the subjects within her poems, thinking all the way through to what they would then say about it, how it would re-enter the realm of public commentary and hearsay. In assessing Niedecker’s work, it is tempting to emphasize her relation

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to the first term of Percy Shelley’s familiar assertion that poets are “unacknowledged legislators”; in her lifetime, Niedecker was a classically underacknowledged poet. But it seems likely that she, like George Oppen, would have emphasized the second term; “legislators” are elected and thus crucially and inescapably linked to the local; they represent a constituency; their livelihood depends on their ability to listen to the voices of their region, to fit in yet to understand the outer reaches of the world enough to let those voices be heard. “I must have been washed in listenably across the landscape,” Niedecker writes in “Progression” (CW 31). And that landscape goes beyond her geographical local — to the listenable intellectual constituency of her letters and reading. The texts Niedecker condenses and reframes in her poems are primarily marginal texts — common materials, mostly biographies and letters —  where personal and public content meet, merge, or usurp each other — bearing the “traces of living things,” of other artists’ lives and labor, including private commentaries on the public matters of governance, art, war, and labor politics. Apart from their often extraordinary mechanics, these poems have the air of a natural process, the sense of an underground evolutionary movement, an honest fluidity from line to line, sometimes taking us across centuries or continents as casually as if leaping across a stream. Her lines are flooded not just with Lake Koshkonong, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior but with Charles Darwin’s and Cid Corman’s Pacific, William Morris’s North Sea and Thames, Mary Shelley’s alpine lakes, and Percy Shelley’s Mediterranean. Niedecker’s reading moves beneath the riverine surface of her poems, sometimes overflowing into a direct articulation that can be as crushingly immediate as, say, the presence of her ailing and bitter mother. Eileen Bigland’s biography of Mary Shelley, Philip Henderson’s William Morris and his edition of Morris’s letters, Black Hawk’s Autobiography, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s Letters, and Yeats’s Autobiographies all function within Niedecker’s poems much the way Jenny Penberthy has shown us that Louis Zukofsky’s letters do with their anecdotes of Paul, their news of experiences she could only have vicariously but that, vicariously, she did in fact have.3 As poems make possible any number of vicarious understandings — and as they translate and evolve out of one world and into another — felt things, like seen things, begin moving onto dry land. Depending on one’s perspective and sense of intellectual property, Nie-

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decker’s use of personal material outside her own life may seem at times disconcertingly appropriative — as the “Poems for Paul” evidently seemed to Celia and Louis Zukofsky. But they’re also celebratory and communal, based in elective affinity and aesthetic kinship — the family one forms as an adult, not as a child — driven by intellectual eros, shared ironies and understandings. Niedecker clearly saw the abjection of the poet within American culture, but she also saw it countered by the dizzying freedom of working with others almost entirely beyond the bounds of the market economy, in the realm of barter and free exchange, where poems could be made “In Exchange for Haiku,” freely given “To Paul,” or turned into an occasion for private book-making as “Homemade” or “Handmade Poems.”4 Beyond her use of geographically local content, Niedecker was drawn to exploring genealogies of thought, tracing the sources and lines of influence that locate other artists’ intellectual commerce. Because of my ongoing interest in tracing Victorian and aestheticist roots in twentiethcentury modernism, this essay focuses on her reading and reworking of nineteenth-century materials with respect to her increasing attention to scenes of production and ownership. “Who was Mary Shelley?,” “Darwin,” and “His Carpets Flowered” all address writers of serious political imagination whose work is concerned in various ways with imperialism and/or industrialization. Niedecker’s poems treat each of these writers precisely at the crux of their own lives and art, as if in the process of writing these poems, she could expose the turmoil and dynamism of a life in art. In terms of composition, Darwin exemplified the poet’s role as observer of the evolutionary process by which the world makes itself and as condenser of the larger trans-historical record thereby revealed. William Morris and Mary Shelley suggested two distinct forms of collective composition with which Niedecker identified her own work: Shelley, the household industry (in other words, the kind of collaboration Niedecker shared with Zukofsky) and Morris the guild (a structure akin to a co­ operative condensery). In Niedecker’s poetic practice, poems — and other literary labors — often find their afterlives in other poems. Thus “Who was Mary Shelley?” may be read as a direct test of Mary Shelley’s own compositional methods and

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a furthering of them. Like Shelley patching together her Frankenstein, Niedecker composed poems out of “buried” and “unburied” matter, folding in lines from the letters she wrote, received, or read in printed volumes, and from the conversations she conducted, overheard, or imagined. The writers with whom her poems converse are connected to Niedecker through the elective affinities of devoted readership and through their common human interests, what amounts to a sympathy of both content and form. Referencing an earlier scene of reading, “Who was Mary Shelley?” is emblematic of Niedecker’s process, as it presents a doubly labored text, placing before us the difficult, metaphorically freighted circumstances of Shelley’s intellectual production in the context of the failed production of a nuclear household5: Who was Mary Shelley? What was her name before she married? She eloped with this Shelley she rode a donkey till the donkey had to be carried. Mary was Frankenstein’s creator his yellow eye before her husband was to drown Created the monster nights after Byron, Shelley talked the candle down. Who was Mary Shelley? She read Greek, Italian She bore a child Who died and yet another child who died. (CW 212–13)

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Inspired at least in part by Eileen Bigland’s biography of Mary Shelley, the poem mimics the concerns of Shelley’s Frankenstein as it recounts — in radically condensed form — the traumas of textual production in the context of both personal loss and the author’s failure to produce a culturally accepted model of the maternal,6 an issue that haunted Niedecker’s relationship with Zukofsky and the poems (rather than children) their relationship produced. In the process of reading the condensed facts of Shelley’s life, at least two things happen. First, we see the individual life in terms of repeated pattern: in the poem’s first stanza, the young exiled Mary Shelley, mother of an illegitimate child, blurs with the Virgin Mary. Second, we see the pared-down narrative as a placeholder for untold complications and losses. The richness of reading Greek and Italian is counterbalanced by the loss of her children, and in that juxtaposition we see the possibility of those deaths being interpreted as the result of an overly intellectual, insufficiently nurturing mother. The tension of the poem is heightened by both the singularity of its subject and the universality of its concern with gender roles, production, and reproduction. Her pregnancy with Zukofsky aside, Niedecker’s childhood and adulthood were circumscribed by the demands of a difficult mother, and the poems in which her mother appears are fraught with tensions concerning the legitimacy and efficacy of her own labor.7 The practice of borrowing biographical material from other writers was for Niedecker not a simple turning away from her own materials but a broadening of their field of reference, foregrounding the interconnectedness rather than the individual genius of literary enterprise and, beyond that, the common ground of the human record with its complex narrative variations and ongoing struggles for expression. In her sense of poetic labor and craft, Niedecker was perhaps less akin to the Romantics than to their late Victorian successors. She was a maker of art-work, in the original sense of the term introduced by John Ruskin in his 1877 essay entitled St. Mark’s Rest: the History of Venice, written for the help of the few travelers who still care for her monuments, a treatise that announced the double edge of its own specialness and cultural isolation and that prompted much of Morris’s architectural activism. As one might expect, “art-work” signified a direct confluence of art and labor — the

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kind of collective enterprise required in the making of great architecture  — whereby designers, masons, laborers, and craftspeople could collectively make something more significant than any one of them would have been capable of individually. The arts and crafts movement that developed out of Ruskinian and Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics defined itself increasingly by this shifting of the frame through which works of art were viewed and defined as such. In fact, it shifted the paradigm of art production in several important ways. First, it located aestheticism not with aristocratic decadence but with a vision of social progress. (Ruskin was instrumental in sustaining the Working-Men’s College, where he lectured on art for day laborers and promoted the belief that workers’ lives were improved by working on and understanding the making of the beautiful, a vision carried out with a stronger sense of the workers’ material needs by Morris.) Second, the arts and crafts aesthetic did not distinguish between what had previously been considered high art — especially painting and sculpture — and what had been considered decorative and domestic crafts — embroidery, weaving, interior design. Nor did it always distinguish these arts from various forms of industry — the making of furniture, dishes, tiles, windows, etc. — and thus bridged a fundamental gap between art and labor, wage work and parlor craft, women’s work and manufacturing. Third, it often turned to folk sources for direction in making art that syncretized traditional and contemporary designs, with an emphasis that was more regional than national and more legendary than historical. And fourth, it was anachronistic to Victorian politics and economics in significant ways; while its methods and scope were derived from the social model of the medieval guild, it was progressive in its protection of workers’ rights and profits and was thus at the avant-garde of Britain’s evolution toward socialism. While Niedecker’s politics were rarely explicit, her political views were in sympathy with Morris’s longing for the end of capitalism, though with quite different poetic results.8 Her view of poetry as a product of collective labor informed her use of anecdotal, incidental, and domestic materials and her setting of poems at the edges of anthropology, cultural criticism, natural science, philosophy, and gossip. One of the primary lines of tension running through her work stems from an awareness of the shifting

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status of things — from Pa’s spitbox to the granite pail, Mr. Van Ess’s 14 washcloths, the electric pump, Thomas Jefferson’s chestnuts, Abigail Adams’s chintz, Morris’s carpets. Depending on their context each of these items shifts in status between product, artifact, and work of art — just as the poem that frames it is likewise both process and product, art and work. As the act of spitting defines the social world of “Two old men,” the presence or absence of spitboxes becomes a cultural and aesthetic dividing line in “The museum man,” a poem grounded in the rich power dynamic between folk production and institutional authority: The museum man! I wish he’d taken Pa’s spitbox! I’m going to take that spitbox out and bury it in the ground and put a stone on top. Because without that stone on top it would come back. (CW 101) Announced in the wryly inflected shorthand of cultural difference, this “museum man” blurts onto the scene with exclamatory suddenness. Operating in a temporal register counter to the pace of the poem, he’s there and gone, having trawled for folk treasure and moved on. Since, amazingly, the museum man had the sense not to take Pa’s spitbox, the canny speaker recasts the occasion and presents a parallel alternative for the spitbox: burial, complete with gravestone, an equivalent of sorts to the museum with its collections of materials removed from use and recontextualized with explanatory markers. Though the spitbox as an object remains alive, in use, the museum man’s visit has turned it into something of a cultural zombie, unburied, still walking the earth with “Pa” as its host. But the crux of the poem is in the pleasure of producing art in the museum man’s aftermath; where he sought to take objects from use and “bury” them in museums, the visit itself is diverted from his purposes into a retelling that produces the speaker’s own kind of living art, an art that, like the spitbox, refuses to be buried but, unlike the spitbox, can’t (or, in any case, won’t) be purchased or taken away. Poems thus report on interconnecting systems

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of thought, often centering on aesthetic judgments and acts of cultural production: what one comes with, what can be taken away, and what can be gotten away with. In “To a Maryland editor, 1943,” a similar transformation occurs, beginning with the poem’s announcement of itself as an exercise in free speech, a letter to the editor, a complaint. The poem may serve as an annotation to Niedecker’s “New Goose” poems and their real or imagined rejection — “We couldn’t get away  /  with these down here  /  in the south on the brow  /  of Washington” — but it uses the occasion to fuel further art production, transferring our attention from the authority of a distant editorial “we” to the autonomy of the poem’s maker (CW 110). Instead of reshaping itself in accordance with the judgments coming from the capital, a process that would be transparently absorbed into the production of the revised poem, this poem makes visible its resistance to the conventions of any (high-, middle-, or low-) “brow” considerations, suggesting that perhaps one has to live in a wilderness to “get away” with poetic self-determination. The location of the poem — the brow of the capital in wartime — foregrounds the interconnectedness of political and aesthetic choices and the awareness that such choices are inextricable from their geographical, historical, and social context. This keen attention to acts of self-determination and art production is evident throughout Niedecker’s work. In “I knew a clean man,” the creative necessities of blue-collar life imbue ordinary objects with an erotic and utilitarian power. The poem’s speaker eschews access to the “clean” white-collar world in favor of a world of manual activity, recycled objects, the muddy water of work and well-earned leisure, the usefulness of books: I knew a clean man but he was not for me. Now I sew green aprons over covered seats. He wades the muddy water fishing, falls in, dries his last pay-check in the sun, smooths it out

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in Leaves of Grass. He’s the one for me. (CW 208) Like the “museum man,” the “clean man” is quickly dispensed with, placed in past tense in favor of a present world of heightened eros and invention. Here nothing is stuck in a prescribed role; words and objects perform multiple uses. Green aprons, something like the castoff fig leaves of Eden, can be recycled to serve as seatcovers. If the post-lapsarian, un-clean world is explicitly one of toil, it is at least a toil inextricably bound with knowledge and pleasure. Just as Niedecker’s words offer the pleasures of multiple “senses” — Whitman’s Leaves of Grass can be read in the Wisconsin grass and used to smooth out a paycheck that got wet on a fishing trip — labor is mixed with leisure, and accident turned into resonant, meaningful design. As in so many of Niedecker’s poems, pleasure is occasioned by the ingenuity that lies at the conjunction of art and use. Setting aside the dilemma of textual production and gendered identity in “Who was Mary Shelley?” as simply as choosing another book for the occasion, the poem reframes the celebratory stance and sexual electricity one finds in Leaves of Grass. Like the shifting incarnations of elements in Niedecker’s naturalist poems, the products of virtually all forms of human labor — including art-work — are judged largely by their flexibility and the extent to which they fit into a natural order, as Leaves of Grass fits into the scene described and performs multiple functions within it. Just as Zukofsky’s “test of poetry” was essentially a question of durability, Niedecker insists on poetry’s usefulness in ways that parallel Morris’s views in his “Hopes and Fears for Art,” in which he discusses the “hand of the craftsman” as not necessarily aspiring to imitate nature but being “guided to work in the way that she does, till the web, the cup, or the knife, look as natural, nay as lovely, as the green field, the river bank, or the mountain flint.”9 Further, the attitude toward the useful arts parallels that of political change in its evolutionary and revolutionary progress, which, Morris persistently hopes, will be a change for the better on both counts. In Niedecker’s view, poetry is an evolutionary end of the line, an ultimate container for labor beyond its market value and a useful product in its own right. Books can, of course, serve multiple readers, can delight and instruct, and can even dry paychecks.

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The convergence of poetic and practical function also drives the delicately weighted conversation between human and machine in the poem “To my small  /  electric pump.” With shadings of admiration and betrayal, the poem captures a reverence toward the machine world while offering the kind of advice one would expect more for, say, a reader of poetry: To sense and sound this world look to your snifter valve take oil and hum (CW 197) With its “snifter” at hand in the center of the middle stanza, the electric pump is both the perceiving, pumping, valved heart of the poem and the cordial-sipping lord of the manor whom the speaker serves and advises. The poem’s imperatives — “look,” “take,” and “hum” — are equally suggestive of an off-stage cast working at opposite ends of the food chain: the rapacious cool of the sequestered industrialist and the hungry, undercompensated work of the poet. The poem is funny in a familiar, folky way, but it is also an audacious rethinking of the intersection of art and manufacturing. Composed at the time of pop art’s national emergence, the poem’s perceived content is largely a matter of its framing. In creating a handmade portrait of the mass-produced pump within the humming sonic field of the poem, Niedecker not only reframes the pump as art but foregrounds the homespun artifice of the poem by placing these two made objects in tension with each other. The point of both objects is the transparency of their function, their well-oiled mechanics, their pleasing “hum.” Far from making machinemade and handmade items interchangeable, the poem serves, as Morris put it, to “call people’s attention and interest to the matters of everyday life in the present,”10 to make the presence of everyday design legible. In fact, the polemic implied by Andy Warhol’s pop-art Factory — that the age of single-author craftsmanship had passed and that art under capitalism was

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inseparable from capitalism — was in some respects a culmination of the late Pre-Raphaelite rethinking of the problematic relation between art and manufacture, a further evolution of the concept of art-work as defined by Ruskin and enacted by William Morris.11 Of Ruskin’s followers, none were so ardent, committed, or willing to work among the laborers whose cause they championed as Morris, and none were more convinced of the desperate straits to which both art and labor had been brought by the free rein of capitalism. Fueled by Ruskin’s rhetoric, Morris put the principles of this shift into action on various fronts. He organized a Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and established a guild through which all workers benefited from the general profits of Morris & Company, beyond their salaries. A deeply committed socialist and pacifist, Morris rallied anti-war sentiment throughout Disraeli’s hawkish years, and his essay “How I Became a Socialist” reveals something of the impassioned negativity that drove the activism within both his politics and his art: Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization. . . . What shall I say concerning its mastery of and its waste of mechanical power, its commonwealth so poor, its enemies so rich, its stupendous organization — for the misery of life! Its contempt for simple pleasures which everyone could enjoy but for its folly? Its eyeless vulgarity which has destroyed art, the one certain solace of labour? . . . . Think of it! Was it all to end in a counting-house on the top of a cinderheap? (The Collected Works, 279–80) Morris’s monumental distrust of capitalism was, of course, precisely what drove his vision of utopian alternatives. For Morris, the quality of a nation’s art might serve as an index for its overall well-being. For a nation to depend on the pointless toil of its working class amounted to slavery; to build an empire while depriving its worker of the art that was the right result of his labors was “folly” of the worst sort.12 Within each of his public lectures on art, Morris discussed the need for social change. He wrote in 1883, “I have only one subject . . . the relation of art to labour” (Letters 189). Beyond his politics, there are so many qualities Niedecker would have

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loved in Morris. His quiet good-natured way in the face of adversity; his love of fishing; his insistence on living on the banks of a flooding river. The way he worked, manually, most of his life but continued to lose money; his direct engagement with print and proofreading; his overwhelming desire to be useful (even as a student at Oxford he insisted on knitting or tying fishing nets during his tutorials). His love of birds and attention to weather; his desire to fix things; his troubled love life. The passion he felt for his drafty, impractical house. His wry humor. Even his use of others’ materials: his favorite epistolary closing was “wot larx,” borrowed from Dickens’s character Joe Gargery; and his motto “Si Je Puis” (“If I Can”) was a direct translation of Van Eyck’s “Als ich Kanne.” Not least of all, she would have recognized the informed and insistent optimism of his socialist vision despite party politics and personal distress. He wrote his utopian novel News from Nowhere almost immediately after the disastrous Bloody Sunday in 1877 when he marched toward Trafalgar Square among thousands of protestors, hundreds of whom were killed by police. Morris, in fact, worked so hard, he seemed almost to work in his sleep, and in “His Carpets Flowered” Niedecker captures his account of the monstrous and even humorous genesis of beautiful ideas. In a letter to his long-term friend and customer, Aglaia Coronio, Morris writes: I hope you are better to-day: as to what I am doing, I am drawing patterns so fast that last night I dreamed I had to draw a sausage; somehow I had to eat it first, which made me anxious about my digestion: however I have just done quite a pretty pattern for printed work. (Letters 78) And Niedecker condenses: “I’m drawing patterns so fast  /  Last night  // in sleep I drew a sausage — / somehow I had to eat it first. . . . ” (CW 293). On the tape Cid Corman made of her reading just before she died, she — like the mature Morris — remarks that her life has become so inseparable from her art that she “thinks in lines of poetry — all day long and even in the night.” In 1969, having read Morris’s letters and begun work on “His Carpets Flowered,” Niedecker writes to Cid Corman of rediscovering one of her notes about “the lines of growth, of life, unconsciously absorbed from fo­

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liage and flowers while growing up,” a note that explains both her personal engagement with Morris and her use of plants to evoke a sense memory steadily evolving into art (BYH 189). As in Morris’s letters we witness a sausage transformed into a “pretty pattern” or a dogtooth violet re-emerging in a wallpaper pattern, we find in Niedecker’s poem the progression from “Colorful shores — mouse ear . . .  /  horse mint” to “The Strawberry Thief  /  our new chintz” — with its explicit movement from botanical to manufactured pattern (CW 293). One of the most striking lines in the Morris letters, which Niedecker quotes in “His Carpets Flowered,” is “good sport dyeing.” Morris’s ebullience over the pleasure of working the dye-vats while he’s discouraged, depressed, and left alone by his wife and daughters must have struck a chord with Niedecker who, after all, had less than a year to live and had recently written “Why can’t I be happy  / in my sorrow” (CW 230). She had even used the dying/dyeing pun in an earlier poem about rug making (“Hand Crocheted Rug”). Perhaps Morris seemed an answer to the processes the earlier poem describes: Gather all the old, rip and sew the skirt I’ve saved so long, Sally’s valance, the twins’ first calico and the rest I worked to dye. (CW 102) Indeed, the Morris poem is made by ripping apart and reassembling old and overlooked materials and returning them to use through poetry. And, as for Morris & Co., “working to dye” echoes and rebuts the “useless toil” of merely “working to die.”13 In her note to Corman about the evocative possibilities of the foliage of childhood, she writes: “I’ve lost what it’s related to, probably Morris. I’m only glad to be taking the next breath, nowadays” (BYH 189). Her use of Morris’s letters, Henderson’s biography of Morris, and William Butler Yeats’s account of Morris in his own Autobiographies offers a fascinating example of the philosophy and method in her late poems. Even the most cursory glance at “His Carpets Flowered” reveals that we arrive at the poem through a complication in authorship, with William Morris appearing almost as the author of the poem, but with the title’s initial “his” that signals Niedecker’s intervention:

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HIS CARPETS FLOWERED William Morris Just beyond the name, the poem begins with a numeral that looks like a pronoun, a singular emphatic “I” followed by a dash, a pause for contemplation in mid-run, a work stoppage: I — how we’re carpet-making by the river a long dream to unroll and somehow time to pole a boat So the poem opens into language with the wonderful rhetorical interrogative “How I Became a Socialist,” not the what of description or the why of philosophy or the who of biography — but the how of collective creation and social action: “how we.” Here “we” are caught in the act of labor preceding leisure, but it is the labor that is a “dream,” behaving like the object of our making, unrolling like a carpet. And the word “somehow” — followed by the marvel of both river and worker suddenly performing new roles — completes and echoes the initial “how” that pushes off-shore into the drift of the poem. This leisure occurs in the context of work and bears its satisfaction and wonder. Only then does the individual artist emerge out of collectivity: “I designed a carpet today,” an act of making that immediately turns to “dogtooth violets,” an interruption by the natural world now re-seen and translated into pattern, into use. Drawing further from Morris’s letters, the poem continues to move between individual and collective labor, imagination and reality, work and leisure, art and activism: I designed a carpet today —  dogtooth violets and spoke to a full hall now that the gall of our society’s corruption stains throughout Dear Janey I am tossed

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by many things If the change would bring better art but if it would not? O to be home to sail the flood I’m possessed and do possess Employer of labor, true —  to get done the work of the hand . . . I’d be a rich man had I yielded on a few points of principle Item sabots blouse —  I work in the dye-house myself (CW 292–93)14 Not only do politics and art compete for the attentions of the speaker and complicate his relation to labor, but they serve to demand greater things from each other. Just as Morris’s political vision demanded that his art take certain forms and not others and that wealth be forfeited for principle, “the great change” of revolution must be tested by judgments beyond the strictly political, called into question on the basis of the art that accompanies it. The poem is driven by diametrical tensions and counterpoints: the flood one longs to sail and the waves of personal and political turbulence that drive to distraction; the stains of “society’s corruption” and the honest labor of dyeing; the bleeding through of “society’s corruption” to the lessthan-dependable health and emotional allegiances of “Dear Janey”; the ancient tension between employer and employed; the secular, divine, artificial, natural, political, and economic “designs” held perpetually in tension; the artist’s imaginative possession and the owner’s material posses-

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sion. The subject-object tension between possessing and being possessed was particularly rich ground for Niedecker for whom ownership (of a few small cabins on Black Hawk Island) was an economic as well as a psychological burden. The riddle of creative and material possession spans her entire opus, running from the early poem “Progression” (“I must possess myself  /  get back into pure duration”) to the ominous one-word sentence that ends “I rose from marsh mud” (“Possessed”) to the late poems in which property seems to be playing tricks on its owner, possessing one rather than being possessed (CW 28, 170, 269, 291). The poem’s second section further complicates the ownership of the poem’s voice and elaborates the largely internal conflict between one’s allegiance to art and other belief systems. The two-stanza middle section of the poem relies heavily on Yeats’s autobiographical account of an encounter with Morris at a socialist meeting: Then gradually the attitude towards religion of almost everybody but Morris, who avoided the subject altogether, got upon my nerves, for I broke out after some lecture or other with all the arrogance of raging youth. They attacked religion, I said, or some such words, and yet there must be a change of heart and only religion could make it. What was the use of talking about some new revolution putting all things right, when the change must come, if come it did, with astronomical slowness, like the cooling of the sun, or it may have been like the drying of the moon? Morris rang his chairman’s bell, but I was too angry to listen, and he had to ring it a second time before I sat down. He said that night at supper, “Of course I know there must be a change of heart, but it will not come as slowly as all that. I rang my bell because you were not being understood.” (148–49) The scene’s tension lies in the disputed relation between political and devotional transformation, and in the failed deployment of a poetic construction within a political context. Niedecker again condenses, unseating the subjectivity of the source text so that we hear Yeats’s language used to voice Morris’s perspective in the first stanza and to voice Niedecker’s more distant historical perspective in the second stanza:

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Yeats saw the betterment of the workers by religion — slow in any case as the drying of the moon He was not understood —  I rang the bell for him to sit down Yeats left the lecture circuit yet he could say: no one so well loved as Morris (CW 293)15 As in the poem’s merged title and dedication, single authorship is confounded and here complicated further; while the poem passes seamlessly from line to line through a centrally situated, bell-ringing “I,” there is no single author who could voice both stanzas. We are left rather with a rhetorical sleight of hand that draws us into a deeply collaborative voicing. The poem’s mix of narrative, rhetorical, and poetic elements captures something of Yeats’s and Morris’s — and one might imagine, Niedecker’s  — frustration with both audience and voice, their desire to reconcile political vision and poetic expression. The passage pulses between understanding and misunderstanding; Morris clearly disagrees with Yeats’s vision of religious salvation but interrupts him on the basis of the obliquity of his language. Yet the figure of speech that is too oblique for the socialist meeting is perfectly at home within the poem, which proceeds through the rhetorical hubbub and emerges into music; “Yeats left” collapses into a wistful “yet,” and what Yeats could not say earlier in the poem is countered by what he could say in the end, with the beautiful canter of ordinary speech: “no one  / so well loved  /  as Morris.” The poem’s third section again mines Morris’s letters for passages that are closely aligned with Niedecker’s own experience and aesthetics. This section focuses on an act of emergence, a sailing away from solid ground: Entered new waters Studied Icelandic At home last minute signs

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to post: Vetch grows here — Please do not mow We saw it — Iceland — the end of the world rising out of the sea —  cliffs, caves like 13th century illuminations of hell-mouths Rain squalls through moonlight Cold wet is so damned wet Iceland’s black sand Stone buntings’ fly-up-dispersion Sea-pink and campion a Persian carpet (CW 294) The section moves from the launch of two telegraphic, end-stopped lines to an unstable, sea-like movement between radically enjambed lines and interrupted syntax. The first stanza flashes back from the present point of entry to the past preparation for the voyage (“studied Icelandic”) to lastminute tasks (“signs  /  to post”), creating the effect of being in two places  — or of two minds — at once. A full four lines are given to tending this homeland vetch after this entry into “new waters,” suggesting that one may be “at sea” even at home, as Morris certainly was at the time, displaced by Rossetti at his country manor. It was also at the moment of his ambivalent entry into Iceland that, Henderson notes in his biography, Morris’s writing suddenly leaps into modern English from the stilted prose of his Sagas and “reality breaks through into his writing for the first time” (119). As in Niedecker’s other works, the interconnectedness of geography, aesthetics, and the emotional life of the author necessitate a syntactical and linguistic interconnectedness within the poem. In his letters and journals, Morris repeatedly refers to Iceland as dreamlike — but Niedecker empha-

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sizes its marking of limits, using it to physically embody the concerns Morris expressed about both the politics and aesthetics of his period. Here it appears in the midst of a dream-like — and text-like — telescoping of past and future, evoking both the “illuminations” of a past Morris treasured and the post-capitalist utopian “end” toward which he worked. While the speaker “enters” in the first stanza, it is the object of his gaze that rises out of the sea to meet him with a new teleology: “We saw it — Iceland — the end  /  of the world rising out of the sea.” As meaning evolves through and beyond the linebreak, Iceland appears at the end of the world and as the end of the world, then as an experiential realm and as a visual representation of a mythic territory.16 “Vetch,” a plant whose flower was used in dyemaking, evokes the first section’s pastoral geography of home and work, but this steady ground is suddenly tossed by raw, oceanic extremity, an echo of the way Morris himself was “tossed  /  by many things.” These four final stanzas contain only one pronoun — “we” — and three mutations of Iceland, one in each of the first three stanzas, a small human presence within a wild, inhospitable landscape. But just when geographical fact threatens to overwhelm the authority of the maker within the poem, the roiling lines of the middle two stanzas settle into a series of condensed images poised between compressed potentiality and explosive enactment, between action and result, between making and being made. Iceland’s “black sand” is the result of volcanic action on an island still in the process of being made. “Bunting” is a fabric or a bird and suggests the sonic presence of British poet Basil Bunting, with whom Niedecker corresponded17; “stone” intensifies, gives it weight, holds it down; and thus the “fly-up-dispersion” of “stone buntings” pulls downward and upward in quick succession, concentrating then dissipating its linguistic energy, holding the poem in an almost impossible momentary suspension. This kinetic, destabilized landscape is completed by the poem’s final two lines, as they in turn complete the act of suspended carpet-making with which the poem begins. In his travel notes, as reported by Henderson, Morris records “a huge waste of black sand all powdered over with sea-pink and bladder campion at regular intervals, ‘like a Persian carpet’ ” (121). In Niedecker’s condensed version, “sea-pink” functions as noun and verb, and “campion” is both poet and weedy flower. “Sea-pink and campion” simply

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convey a natural manifestation but also a vision of nature as prototype, equivalence, and counterpoint of the work of art. The image carries forward the tension of the previous lines, evoking both a literally grounded space and the realm of imaginary flight — a dream, a magic carpet — and playing out the doubly meaningful “flowering” in the poem’s title. Like Ruskin’s “art-work” and Morris’s carpets, such a poem is something only a “we” could make.18 In reading Morris’s letters next to “His Carpets Flowered” we watch Niedecker watching Morris as words or tropes appear within his letters, are recombined and honed, emphasizing, as Niedecker’s poetry so often does, not so much the telling of an event as the event of a re-telling. The shift from Morris’s letters or Henderson’s biography to Niedecker’s poem is simply a further step in the evolutionary movement of language toward other forms of order, specifically the evolution from prose to poetry, a development Niedecker connects with the great project of political change and the dissolution of property. In “Foreclosure,” the short poem that immediately precedes the Morris poem, capitalism clearly aligns with the prosaic law, whose clawed clauses lie in wait to take on the speaker beyond the “bare walls” from which all art has presumably already been stripped. The predatory reality behind the otherwise comically alien white-collar world of clean men and museum collectors appears ready to claim ownership of whatever it can through legal prose. Poetry, on the other hand, remains on the side of an unownable wilderness at peace with itself: Tell em to take my bare walls down my cement abutments their parties thereof and clause of claws Leave me the land Scratch out: the land May prose and property both die out and leave me peace (CW 291) The poem reads as a last stand, converting, as so many of Niedecker’s poems do, a site of barely suppressed violence into a record of resistance.

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As a genre, poetry connects Niedecker to the deeper history of her place, to the wilderness that preceded layoffs and museums and abided instead by Native American reason, whereby territory was defined by use and thus akin to poetry’s open form rather than to the ever-encroaching rectilinear expansionism of prose.19 At the same time, the task of the poet connects her with a wishful future in which private property is dissolved in the service of a greater collective and collaborative good. In its ability to turn nothing into something, the economy of poetry produces the opposite of property’s diminishing returns. Properly agitated and condensed, “property,” whomever it belongs to, may be transformed into “poetry,” which belongs to us all — thus enacting through genre the international social transformation to which Morris referred longingly as “the great change.”

Notes 1. An earlier version of this essay was presented at the Lorine Niedecker Centenary Celebration in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in October 2003. My thanks to the conference organizers and sponsors at Woodland Pattern Book Center and the Milwaukee Public Library for providing this forum, and to Jenny Penberthy, without whom so much of Niedecker scholarship would be impossible. 2. I am especially grateful to Sue Hartwick of the Hoard Museum and to Mary Gates and Marilla Fuge of Fort Atkinson for their generous and generative discussions of Niedecker, the dairy industry, and Jefferson County history. Currently there are no operating condenseries in Jefferson County. 3. See Penberthy’s groundbreaking scholarship on Niedecker’s complex relationship with Zukofsky in her edition of their correspondence. 4. In 1964 Niedecker sent a small handmade volume entitled “Homemade Poems” to Cid Corman and a similar volume entitled “Handmade Poems” to Louis Zukofsky and Jonathan Williams (CW 426). 5. I might add that Frankenstein is a text whose central problem is that of balancing life and thought, a problem that surrounds the novel’s many scenes of reading and informs its discussion of literary form. The novel also repeatedly examines the relation between reader and text and the ways they inevitably mirror each other. 6. See especially Shelley’s Introduction to the 1831 edition, in which she refers to the novel as her “hideous progeny.” 7. See, for instance, “Old Mother turns blue and from us” (CW 149). Also of interest in this context is the poem “We know him — Law and Order League — ,” in which Niedecker puns on labor in relation to human reproduction and union politics (CW 99).

Elizabeth Willis  |  245 8. In 1964 she writes to Zukofsky about reading Ruskin — “his letters home from Venice to his Pa” — and his diaries: “I’ll take his derangement to a lot of peoples’ stupid orderliness. But I think if he’d had electric lights he might never have got melancholy — whose mind wouldn’t give if much of the time the days were so dark in his room he literally couldn’t see to read — and therefore, I suppose, to draw or even to write” (NCZ 345–46). In 1969 she writes to Cid Corman: “I’m absorbed in writing poems — sequence — on William Morris. I know how to evaluate  — Ruskin etc., their kind of socialism — paternalism — but the letters of Morris have thrown me. . . . I’d probably weary of all those flowery designs in carpets, wall papers, chintzes . . . but as a man, as a poet speaking to his daughters and his wife  — o lovely” (BYH 188). 9. Addressing specifically the “decorative arts” in which he was employed, Morris goes on to argue that “as these arts call people’s attention and interest to the matters of every-day life in the present, so also, and that I think is no little matter, they call our attention at every step to that history, of which, I said before, they are so great a part. . . . So strong is the bond between history and decoration, that in the practice of the latter we cannot, if we would, wholly shake off the influence of past times over what we do at present . . . ; they are connected with all history, and are clear teachers of it; and best of all, they are the sweeteners of human labour, both to the handicraftsman, whose life is spent in working in them, and to people in general who are influenced by the sight of them at every turn of the day’s work” (Collected Works 22:5–10). 10. See n. 9. 11. Think, for instance, of Warhol’s reproductions of money, Coke bottles, and soup cans, or Jasper Johns’s flags, which, in manually reproducing limited copies of images that have already been mechanically reproduced and extensively circulated, draw new attention to the work of the hand and make the familiar not only newly visible but imbued with expressionist presence. 12. See especially “Useful Work versus Useless Toil” (Collected Works 22: 98–120) and “How We Live and How We Might Live” (Collected Works 22: 3–26). 13. See n. 11. 14. Corresponding passages from Morris’s letters: “I work in the dye-house myself — you know I like that” (Letters 75–76); “I am working in Mr Wardle’s dyehouse in sabots and blouse pretty much all day long: I am dyeing” (76); “the strawberry bed is a mass of blossoms” (79). 15. Elsewhere in the Autobiographies, Yeats writes that Morris “had no need for other people. I doubt if their marriage or death made him sad or glad, and yet no man I have known was so well loved; you saw him producing everywhere organization and beauty, seeming, almost in the same instant, helpless and triumphant; and people loved him as children are loved” (144). 16. Morris’s account reads, in part: “the cliffs were much higher especially on

246  |  niede ck er a nd c ompa n y this side, and most unimaginably strange: they overhung in some places much more than seemed possible; they had caves in them just like the hell-mouths in thirteenth-century illuminations” (Henderson 122). Morris writes of Iceland as “horrid,” “desolate,” and “beastly,” though he classifies his experience there as dreamlike, bordering on a kind of possession: “It is all like a kind of dream to me, and my real life seems set aside till it is over” (Letters 57; Henderson 140). 17. The passage offers an example of the rich, trans-historical layering within Niedecker’s diction. A poet whose work is, like Niedecker’s, deeply entrenched in geography and sound, Bunting worked in British intelligence and served off the coast of Scotland during World War II. In a 1941 letter to Louis Zukofsky, Niedecker writes “Basil is over the North Sea with a machine gun in a balloon and he sees the end of the world” (NCZ 128). With its diametric tension between machine gun and balloon and its vision of “the end of the world,” her language anticipates — and may have been consciously referenced in — her later rendering of Morris’s account of seeing Iceland from the same North Sea. 18. For another reading of the troubled subjectivity in Niedecker’s work, see DuPlessis in LNWP. 19. See her poem in New Goose: “Black Hawk held: In reason  /  land cannot be sold” (CW 99).

Peter Middleton

The British Niedecker It ought to seem more strange than it does that over half the books Lorine Niedecker produced in her lifetime were published in Britain.1 If it doesn’t strike us as exceptional this is probably because we like to think of the New American Poets and the Objectivists as English language writers with an international audience dispersed across the world, and particularly strong in Canada and the United Kingdom. Yes, we might say to ourselves, these poets would inevitably find willing publishers and readers overseas; their work was in the vanguard of Anglophone poetry of the time, and helped articulate new aesthetic possibilities at a time when local cultures in parts of the world still rebuilding after the violence, destruction, and disorder created by World War II had not yet fully recovered the modernist vision. Or should we ask more questions about this history of overseas publication? Niedecker’s publication in the United Kingdom was after all part of a larger eastward drift of American poetry publications to Britain between about 1962 and 1973 when a significant number of American avant-garde poets published volumes of poetry in Britain before they appeared in their own country. Was this merely a pragmatic strategy of outsourcing production to a country where this was easier to achieve than in the United States while expecting the readership to remain largely American, or was this a more exilic form of publication depending on a European audience for its initial response?

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An earlier generation of American modernists had emigrated to Britain and Europe and many found publishers there ranging from Faber and Faber to Black Sun. This later cohort of poets such as Edward Dorn, Robert Duncan, Larry Eigner, David Meltzer, Charles Olson, George Oppen, Jerome Rothenberg, and Gary Snyder all had reputations in the United States, and remained primarily resident there, yet all of them published in the United Kingdom during this period of the 1960s and early 1970s. Despite their growing reputations, they had varying degrees of difficulty obtaining book contracts in a relatively conservative U.S. marketplace. In some cases, the problem was that the most salient publisher of modernist writing, New Directions, would not take their work (or would not reprint early material or risk a large collected poems); in others, small presses were too undercapitalized to manage larger books and print runs. Jargon kept some poets in print, including Niedecker, but it was not until the advent of Black Sparrow Press, and the expansion of the activity of New Directions, that the situation radically changed. It is easy to forget how few presses sustain major poetry movements (Language Writing has been primarily made available by just three presses: Roof, Sun and Moon, and The Figures). Eastward migration of poetry was not just driven by the trade cycles of a north Atlantic poetry turbine any more than modernist predecessors were economic migrants trying to gain access to printers. American avant-garde poems of the 1960s became migrants because for a short period an elective affinity between American and British poets, readers, and publishers emerged to shape the reception of this poetry. The British presses that published the Americans — Cape Goliard, Fulcrum (by far the most significant), Trigram, and Wild Hawthorn — also offered an exceptional integration of book design, quality, and responsiveness to the author whether American or British, allowing poets, artists, and printers to collaborate closely. Ian Hamilton Finlay’s books are now collected as artworks, and a number of the books produced by the British presses, such as Olson’s Archaeologist of Morning, Niedecker’s North Central, Snyder’s The Back Country, or David Meltzer’s Yesod, are outstanding examples of the craft of book production. Simply by being published in this company of expatriated books Niedecker’s poetry was for a time read as a part of this movement, whatever its differences and despite her distance from the newer generation of poets.

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What might the effect have been on the reception of Niedecker’s poems by American readers as a result of these overseas publications? Her poems did appear in a few U.S. magazines so it was not that her poems were unavailable.2 Did overseas publication mean that the majority of Niedecker’s readers were initially British, or simply that the poems were imported into the United States with their British imprints lending an international (and perhaps specifically British) aura to the text? Two of her British books were self-consciously crafted with an eye to dominant pictorial values and could almost be described as artist’s books: My Friend Tree (Wild Hawthorn Press, 1961) and North Central (Fulcrum Press, 1968). Did such publication help or hinder the reception of her poetry, and in particular did the distinctive production values of these small press publications color the way the poems were read? It is not fully possible to answer these questions given our lack of knowledge of the communities of readers both for Niedecker’s own work and for the work produced by the presses themselves, yet I think it is possible to offer some tentative conclusions by limiting discussion to just two issues: the significance of the visual field of the page in these two key publications; and the shaping of expectations caused by her poetry joining the Gulf Stream of poetry from West to East. The first of these British publications was in many ways the most important to her, despite the modest scale of the book. My Friend Tree, one of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s first Wild Hawthorn Press books,3 was a selection of sixteen of Niedecker’s poems taken mainly from New Goose and accompanied by a few more recent poems such as the title poem and “Paul  /  when the leaves,” alongside linocuts designed by Walter Miller. It was followed a year later by a selection of Louis Zukofsky’s poems 16 Once Published (1962) with linocuts by James Gavin, and then Gael Turnbull’s A Very Particular Place (1963) with linocuts by Alexander McNeish, and Ronald Johnson’s Sports and Divertissements in 1965 with drawings done by John Furnival. After this the press concentrated almost entirely on publishing Finlay’s own work, although the magazine Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. continued until 1968.4 Finlay’s own first book of poems, The Dancers Inherit the Party (1960), had impressed Niedecker, and she was apparently “convinced that Finlay had read her own writings and had been influenced by them,” although, according to Yves Abrioux, “this was certainly not the case” (71). More likely, Finlay knew poetry by William Carlos Williams,

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Louis Zukofsky, and other poets whose work had influenced Niedecker, although he may have read magazines such as New Directions or Black Mountain Review where she was published and been slightly influenced by her example without specifically recalling her. The publication of My Friend Tree was very important to Niedecker and she is said to have inscribed a copy to Jonathan Williams in 1969 with the words, “Jonathan: My best book so far (Sept. 3, ’69).”5 Just how much publication meant to her is also evident in the droll poem, written in 1962, that compares the satisfaction of seeing the book in print to her feelings about improvements to her home. This poem reveals complex reactions to publication that are far from simply celebratory, and is therefore a reminder of the tensions generated by seeing her poems made into a distinctive book shaped by the vision of others (tensions that might have been even greater had she known all about Finlay’s campaign against Hugh MacDiarmid who had attacked Wild Hawthorn Press — including Niedecker’s book): Now in one year   a book published and plumbing —  took a lifetime   to weep a deep trickle (CW 195)6 These last three lines, whose visual shape could be an icon of a trickle of water dropping down stepped ground, play with the reader’s expectations of imminent closure: “a lifetime to weep” — a life full of grief and its attempted catharsis; a lifetime to weep a deep — a grief that is deeply felt and also sublimated as a profound text; and then the shock of the final trochee “trickle” (a word whose etymology involves “running” and therefore paradoxically evokes the new running water while limiting its flow) that appears to contradict the direction of these interim conclusions because instead of the deeps we have only a trickle. Trickle is a tricky word, since the first syllable elicits a characteristically self-deprecating, or at least selfquestioning idea, that this work is a trick anyway, and the addition of the second syllable “le” that sounds like the first letter of her name, suggests

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that the outcome is a trick L or tricky, creative Lorine. Or perhaps the weeping and the writing are deceptive trickery, and there is more gush than appears. The word refracts the reader’s gaze back onto the earlier lines again, to discover other less obvious leaks from her questioning about the worth of art. There is the wryness of the extended “now,” an ostensive term usually pointing to the immediate present, or a slight extension, not a period as long as a year. The following two lines, “a book published  / and plumbing — ,” have already told us that here is someone poor enough and realistic enough to value an improvement in her domestic circumstance as much as recognition of her art. The expected parallelism between the two lines makes us look for a passive verb after the second noun, “plumbing,” which is withheld, and this missing verb creates a backwash, a chiasmus in our understanding. Instead of the book being published it is plumbed, and the plumbing is what — published, publishing, publication? — a reading that is not quite as absurd as it first appears, since plumbing the depths of poems is what readers are encouraged to do (the spatial layout of the poem represents depth) even if this means seeing depths in trickles. At this point we are likely to notice a faint echo of the idiom that this time has felt like a lifetime, alongside the explicit assertion that this book took the experience of a lifetime to produce and metaphorically contains its precious essence within the plumbing of the poem. Underlying such intimations is a more bleak suggestion that writing this book has stolen her life, a doubt that is countered by the thought that it’s the effort to earn the money to pay for the plumbing that did this. Such reflections remind us that Niedecker was a grand master of rich inference in a terse phrase. Such inferential intensity creates a sensitivity to possible meaning that may amplify the significance of paratextual material added by editors. Isn’t this what happens with the linocuts that illustrate the Wild Hawthorn edition?7 They employ a visibly simple method of production, a cutting away of surface with a tool whose traces remain evident, that connotes a certain pre-technological purity and hints that the accompanying poems could also be thought of as primitively abstract despite their surface meanings. Examined closely these abstract shapes create quasi-glyphic shapes that appear to belong to a symbolic, yet indecipherable code inviting, like a Rorschach blot, projections of possible affinities

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to recognizable objects and shapes; and this in turn implies that the poems might similarly invite multiple readerly interpretations, as if their deeper meanings were being withheld just as pictorial references are withheld in the non-iconic images. The book’s template encourages such interpretative parallels because it juxtaposes an abstract linocut image and a poem on each page, creating an impression that the abstract shape is equivalent to the poem. This symmetry encourages the idea that the poems are themselves, just like the linocuts, variations on a core set of elements. Miller’s images have a visual counterpart in the powerful glyphic shape that was used opposite the title page of the Jargon/Corinth edition of The Maximus Poems, presumably as an allusion to Olson’s interest in Mayan glyphs (and perhaps more distantly to the black and white abstracts of Franz Kline or even the hexagrams of the I-Ching), although there is nothing Mayan about it, since it was actually based on the enlargement of a photograph of a piece of corroded metal. The fashionable contemporaneity of the visual component’s style would have helped a reader incorporate Niedecker into the international avant-garde of 1961, and might even have subliminally connected her with such artists as Kline or Olson. There was nothing new about illustrating poetry, even that of the most influential modernists with the most fully articulated poetics of the centrality of text. Jerome McGann argues that Ezra Pound, the greatest influence on Anglophone modernist poetry, “felt that the renewal of the resources of poetry in an age of mechanical reproduction required the artist to bring all aspects of textual production under the aegis of imagination” (137). His early editions of the Cantos were thick with “bibliographical homage” (138) and visual allusion to William Morris’s Kelmscott Press and to what it signified for book production. “The ambition of a project like the Cantos forced Pound to pay the closest attention to the semiotic potential which lay in the physical aspects of book and text production,” argues McGann (141), but in a sense Pound failed at this, because the “industrial text” that followed in the 1930s and remains in print today jettisoned all this textual design. A similar fate befell David Jones. This happened not only because of the commercial imperatives of the mass-market publishers; literary aesthetics deeply mistrusted the mingling of different media and their different sensory responses. New Critical writing on poetry in-

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creasingly emphasised the importance of text and its fidelity to the linguistic condition, and implied that fine printing was frippery. Subsequent developments in literary theory have until recently had relatively little to say about the different dimensions of paratextual practices, whether audio, visual, or distributive. At the same time, poets and publishers have continued to create art books to the point where a substantial proportion of the major poetry of the past century has appeared at some time or other in visually elaborate editions, many of which remain uncatalogued and certainly unexamined by literary historians and critics, and only in the past two decades has there been a renewed literary critical interest in the potential meaningfulness of illustration, book design, printing styles, and book construction.8 The full history of visual texts in modern and contemporary poetry remains unwritten. Niedecker and Finlay chose the poems for this edition very carefully. What can we learn by reading this choice closely, especially about the interweaving of linguistic and textual meaning? To pursue this question it is necessary to begin with a deceptively simple question: what are the means used by the poems to make statements, outline metaphors, generate implications, invite inferences, and exemplify orientations toward potentially meaningful evidences of cultural and individual practices? A discussion of some of the subtleties in the title poem, “My Friend Tree,” will show what is involved in considering this issue. A beguilingly literal apology co-exists with an apostrophizing of a non-sentient organism unable to participate in any linguistic exchange. This apology may be simply stated and easily understood and yet it is an impossible apology because it asks a reader to imagine a conversational context in which this regret could actually be uttered. Such contexts only exist outside everyday social norms, in fantasies where trees are conscious and may need to be placated, the primeval worlds of hunter-gatherers who think of plants and animals as spirit beings, or the deranged anthropomorphizing of mental illness, a context that given Niedecker’s mastery of inference and her capacity for self-mockery, is no less possible. The literal meaning of the text therefore immediately raises complex problems of context for a reader — is this childishness, animism, or madness? — that compel a transformation of the message into an allegorical register. Perhaps the poem alludes to an

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ordinary difficulty of social life, the way that sometimes our intimacies and encounters with others appear to have the character of a zero sum game. Sometimes spending time in a relationship with one friend appears to exclude another friend from the same opportunity, and for time you can also substitute confidences, intimacy, or emotional ties. One friend must be sacrificed to another, although one hopes not by actually killing the superfluous friend as is necessary in the case of the tree. This poem also alludes more distantly to solar myths and the experience of following orders from powers that we cannot evade, a trace interpretation partly conveyed by one possible meaning of the verb “attend,” the now largely anachronistic sense of attending court or acting as an attendant to a powerful person. Despite these nuances in the poem, and not forgetting its exacting rhythms that start up a pattern of rhyme which intimates an extending sequence brought up short by the final line’s iamb, the poem is also an indirect narrative of recent events in the poet’s life: she has cut down a tree that was shading the house too much. An answer to my opening question might then be that the poem is about the way that sometimes precious attachments have to be sacrificed for a greater good, and that this is what a responsive stance towards ecology may entail. This account, though minimally adequate to the poem’s combination of rhetorical address and anecdotal report on her gardening activities, clearly misses something significant about the poem. “My Friend Tree,” like the other poems in My Friend Tree and most of her poems from the late 1940s onward, exemplifies an ambivalent stance towards the possibility of finding meaning in the world. Value and significance need not be entirely lost in the face of destruction, even when one is oneself the agent of death for the tree, because the poem’s ordering of sound, rhythm, and the failed attempt to apologize to the tree (a failure that is a sign of the larger failure to keep it alive) suggest that a different mode of significance can emerge from such acts, though at considerable emotional cost. By mapping the memory of a quite ordinary act of chopping down a tree near one’s house onto the idea that amity creates shared obligations, the poem offers an instance of transformation that it quietly insists is entirely ordinary, a transformation of everyday observation into metaphors of social relations. Vital self-knowledge of the way the interde-

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pendence of one’s ability to grasp the value of specific social connections and one’s alertness to the the natural world manifests itself as a nexus of metaphor and intent description.9 To grasp the poems as more than contingent diaristic jottings it is necessary to reflect on these poems at some length, a process that Finlay’s edition might be said to be trying to encourage, though at the risk of also suggesting that the poems are all composed to one formula. This risk is evident in the accompanying note by Edward Dorn tipped into the book on a separate sheet, in which he wrote: “I like these poems because first they attach an undistractable clarity to the word, and then because they are unabashed enough to weld that word to a freely sought, beautifully random instance — that instance being the only thing place and its content can be: the catch in the seine” (23). His comment on the randomness of the images suggests that he had difficulty finding the core formula that the book’s material structure seemed to indicate was there, and this reinforced his perception that the poems were probably to be read as contingent poetic entries from a journal. Closer reading reveals that the observations in the poems are far from random. Sometimes mortality is the threat that the poem resists, as in “Along the river,” where there are hints of drowning (in the phrase “over my head”) and images of “floods” that overwhelm the land even if they eventually leave behind “our rich friend  /  silt” where sunflowers grow (CW 168). Sometimes history is the threat. In “Black Hawk held: In reason” the Native American distinguishes between portable and therefore alienable possessions and the inalienable relation to inhabited land, only to have his conviction set aside by the actions of Lincoln’s brigade, “and to this day, Black Hawk,  /  reason has small room” (CW 99). The poems offer their stanzas, their small rooms, for such reason, which they exemplify by their own practice of reasoning. Even when the voice is that of the sharecropper or her mother, the horizon remains the same, vulnerable to flooding and poverty, and the verse speaks with a verbal art that can sail on the water like the “daughter, writer” who “sits and floats” on this dangerous fluidity of meaning. It is a world where one can drown in meaninglessness or bring forth new significance, as when she finds “Along the river  /  wild sunflowers  /  over my head,” just as a reader can bring out a different meaning in these lines by introducing a pause after the word “sun” so that it is the sun

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that flowers overhead, rather than the river that threatens to close over her head, or the blossoms that loom taller than her head (“Well, spring overflows the land” [CW 107]). Even the pun on “well, spring” contributes to the imminence of being overwhelmed, as it threatens to overflow the level of literal meaning. Behind these singular moments the poems perceive the danger not so much of extinction, or some specific risk posed by a river or a government, as of a complete loss of significance, in which one loses one’s head or ceases to be the head of one’s people. This is the kind of existential anxiety imagined by Heidegger: “Nothing which is ready-to-hand or present-athand within the world functions as that in the face of which anxiety is anxious. Here the totality of involvements with the ready-to-hand discovered within-the-world is, as such, of no consequence; it collapses into itself; the world has the character of completely lacking significance” (Pippin 68).10 Niedecker’s poems can be thought of not as repairs to a torn fabric of universal meaning, but as metaphorical investigations into the conditions that make such losses appear imminent. Hence the meanings elicited by her poems are neither wholly referential, nor wholly subjective and metaphoric; these are not moments either of sublimity sparked by the inability of conceptualization to contain experience nor are they moments of acute perceptual clarity. Unlike the “Niedecker tribe,” these poems do not “hang or fall by the whiteness of their all” (“The clothesline post is set” [CW 100]). The family she remembers from childhood needed its laundry to be as white as possible to signify its cleanliness and therefore its right to be considered as having some social status, and this makes them vulnerable so that they hang and fall because of it. Imagining the universe as the creation of a God manifest as light and known by the spotlessness of grace will, the poem intimates, lead to inevitable falls from grace for these whites. These are poems that have no single “all,” are neither black nor white, and don’t encourage readers to imagine a totality of either subjectivity or objectivity. This anti-dualism is figured in the tension between what I have called the wider horizon, a metonym for that “all,” and the local horizon of the substantive communication of the poem. I have spent time eliciting layers of resonance in these poems because the history of her publications shows that a poetry that attempts to provide

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such spacious opportunities for intricate self-reflections on the back-andforth transformations of trope and perception risks encouraging ambitious editors, publishers, and critics to assist with lots of good will in trying to complete what they understand to be its task, only to exclude crucial dimensions of its working. Here, they will want to say, is its meaning more fully realized, while they actually halt its process (this essay itself cannot claim special privilege here, though it can try to be explicit about the scope and import of the inferences being drawn). There are signs of this in the Wild Hawthorn book, especially in the way that the book production and its close association with concrete poetry constrain a specific response to the visual and spatial ordering of the texts, to the degree that some of the poems could be readable as sharing the aims of the concrete poets such as Ian Hamilton Finlay himself. “There’s a better shine” is one of the most obvious of the would-be concrete poems; it uses two pairs of periods to represent the movement of the pendulum bob (CW 101). Looking for spatial patterns one soon sees many in these short poems. “My Friend Tree” has a shape that could represent the trunk on its side, and the middle line begins with what is seemingly an unnecessary conjunction, “but,” until one realizes that there is a hint of a pun on the word “butt” and the idea that this is all that is left of the tree. “Along the river” can be read as two interleaved columns forming two distinct parts of the poem, so that the river is “over my head” and the sunflowers are “the dead.” The play on the etymology of the word “stanza” in “Black Hawk held” is another example of this latent concretism that Finlay’s book invites. Even the folksy anecdote about men’s willingness to blame their own ineptitude at fishing on adverse winds offers a spatial relation between the position of the words “south” and “east” and the page: the first use of “south” is in the opening line but this is not a true south wind as it turns out, and its positioning at the top of the page, where a map would locate north, is a hint at the man’s misapprehension. The word “east” is on the left or east side of the page, and the second use of the compass point “south” refers to what the man thinks would be a good wind, and so does belong at the bottom of the page. Niedecker’s poems lent themselves to a strong editorial intervention that shaped them into a poetry capable of being read as a development of

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concrete poetics. The poems were presented as if they were stanzas or sections in a single work, permutations on a theme. Above all, this production by Ian Hamilton Finlay made the poetry look extremely avant-garde. No wonder that Edward Dorn also wrote in his accompanying note: “I don’t ‘understand’ the poems very well. The ‘meanings’ are always a little mysterious to me. So much is said, and heard, portrayals of a landscape with seas and boats, and water, wood, the size is of some kind of nation (people)” (23). The Wild Hawthorn book creates enigma. Other critics have since done much to move us beyond the masculine assumptions behind the idea that she is unembarrassed by the domesticity of her world, or the hint that her choice of topics is unconnected with her life as a woman struggling with neglect and sometimes poverty in rural Wisconsin. Dorn does rightly notice the degree to which the poems work because they are so subtly self-conscious of their own instantiation, and this, coupled with the dissonances created by the editorial contexts, is the source of the mystery he notices. It was a mysteriousness that would continue to fluoresce around Niedecker’s poems for another two decades and in much more influential ways, for My Friend Tree had limited circulation and is now an extremely rare book, so it is likely that its direct impact as a material text has been relatively restricted. By the time that Fulcrum Press published North Central, Niedecker had developed a different poetic persona, one that the press consolidated and helped promulgate. Niedecker made a deep impression on the publisher of Fulcrum Press, Stuart Montgomery. A poet himself, he wrote only two poems about other poets, one of which was an elegy for Niedecker, called simply, “Lorine Niedecker,” as if even her name needed to be memorialized. She is depicted as an isolated figure who “lives  /  with few words,” whose mortal stroke can be compared to “a snow fall.” No friends go to the funeral, and she dies alone in hospital, “eyes turned  /  to the side  /  of the bed” (Montgomery 21). Fulcrum Press helped foster this idea of the solitary, unacknowledged poet living in rural poverty that came to dominate reception of her work in Britain. A biographical note on the dust jacket of North Central contributed to this: “Lorine Niedecker has lived most of her life on Rock River in Wisconsin, where it empties into Lake Kosh­ konong. ‘My father seined for carp in the lake. Grew up smelling tarred nets, climbing thru the leaves of that lush low country . . . ’ Now lives

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isolated in Fort Atkinson, Milwaukee with her husband.” This somewhat misleading description (no hint of the author who was in constant touch with Louis Zukofsky, visited New York, and whose Milwaukee home was nearly sixty miles from the small town of Fort Atkinson and so forth), along with the information that this is Niedecker’s “first book for seven years,” creates a distinctive impression of an outsider, marginal author. The bibliographical note also flatters the reader, saying that she is “the best and most subtle living American poetess” who “has been followed by the discerning ever since” she was published in An “Objectivists” Anthology. Fulcrum published Niedecker along with Basil Bunting, Edward Dorn, Robert Duncan, Larry Eigner, Allen Ginsberg, David Jones, George Oppen, Jerome Rothenberg, and Gary Snyder, amongst others in a list comprising more than forty volumes. About a third of their poets were American along with about half the books. The press was very much the creation of Montgomery, a medical student from Rhodesia (now Zim­ babwe) studying in London (and today an eminent, recently retired, neurologist who became an expert on depression). August Kleinzahler says of this publisher of “adventurous and neglected poetry in the late Modernist tradition from both sides of the Atlantic”: “I don’t know of a more important or influential publisher of poetry in recent history, or one which achieved so much in so narrow a window of time” (27). Roy Fisher remembers the emergence of the press as a short-lived cultural phenomenon closely connected to the resurgence of interest in modernism: The Fulcrum Period was co-terminous . . . with the late Sixties open culture everybody knows about. It was possible to publish all kinds of material — and sell it. That market faded rapidly soon after 1970. Fulcrum was, you might say, the gravitas (proven names, good paper) of the poetry scene, devoted not to ephemerae, but to making available in the UK the work of founding fathers of the modernism which was, for a while, found interesting over here before the boot came down again. Stuart, as a cultural alien, fresh in from Rhodesia-as-was on a medical Ph.D. grant (he had a newt-project at UCL, and I saw the creatures) was free to know American modernism, and with a very sharp, non-academic eye. (e-mail to the author)11

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Montgomery himself gives an interesting view of the aims of Fulcrum Press in his introduction to a public reading of his poems. Tonight I’ll try and read from this latest book of mine Shabby Sunshine. This is one of the books that Fulcrum Press spent a very long time bringing out. This was actually in production for seven years, the longest of all the books, in fact the first book we ever took on for Fulcrum Press. The whole reason for founding Fulcrum Press was because it was impossible to get any work out at all and none of the contemporary friends I knew who were poets here in England or America were getting published at all. So . . . I decided to bring this book out. But then I’m very obsessional and I like going over things again and again and so I changed the book from time to time and other books had priority and they came out first and then we ran out of money and then we got more money so I changed it. It’s a long story. [ . . . ] I think too many books are brought out too fast particularly in America, and I might use that as a point to differentiate if I can the Americans that you had last year, [they] wrote too many books too fast.12 It is revealing to hear this view that the Americans need a careful editor. Fulcrum prided itself on the care it gave to the books and, given Montgomery’s dislike of prolific writers, would be drawn to a poet like Niedecker. Montgomery’s position as a cultural outsider from Africa enabled him to think of American and British poets as part of a common community of writers, instead of seeing them, as a British or American editor would have done, as belonging to inherently different cultures. North Central was published in the two-edition format that Fulcrum was using to finance its ambitious program. One edition was printed for the bookshops, and another hundred copies “on deckle edged paper and bound in buckram . . . signed by the author,” (as the publisher’s copyright note says) were sold to collectors as a way of underwriting the entire edition. It can be risky to do this because sufficient collectors have to be found who are willing to pay the high price for the special version and they need to be persuaded that this really is a first edition and not just fancy pack-

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aging of a book already published elsewhere. The jacket of North Central announced plans to publish P & G (not T & G) in the future, a book which actually appeared in 1969 from Jargon, less than a year before the appearance of Fulcrum’s version, My Life by Water, which did not mention the existence of T & G in its credits. The trade edition of My Life by Water called itself a “first edition” and accompanied a collectors’ edition “printed on Glastonbury antique laid paper.” To claim it as a first edition was therefore to be economical with the truth because only two poems, “Paean to Place” and “My Life by Water,” were not included in either T & G or North Central. Giving away a publisher’s nervousness about the claim to first edition status, the Fulcrum edition puts these poems at the very beginning of the volume, as if to say, look, here is some new work that justifies our claim to precedence. This understandable practice of crosssubsidization may have been at the heart of the problem that led to the collapse of the press in the Finlay case. Even the trade edition of North Central was extremely attractive, printed on thick gray paper, with orange end papers and a repeating design based on a silhouette of bracken, sometimes black and sometimes green. There is plenty of space, and text is placed with great care on the page using the central axis as the left margin, so that the writing appears to be accompanied by a visually represented silence. The image of bracken is life-like yet also echoes the cover of the Auerhahn Press edition of Philip Whalen’s Memoirs of an Interglacial Age, which has a similarly green yet more stylised plant silhouette, a wood block print designed by Robert LaVigne rising in a rough flat triangle to a bent-over point just below the author’s name.13 Once again I don’t know quite how to consider this verbal echo: as an indication of shared design values, or a deliberate allusion, or mere co-incidence. Asa Benveniste who designed Niedecker’s book along with Paul Vaughan would certainly have been aware of the Whalen book. On the whole, I doubt that any direct allusion is intended and suspect that the similarity between the book designs is due largely to a shared ethos amongst book designers, yet once again the book design could convey to well-read readers of contemporary poetry the impression that here was a poet to be associated with the currently glamorous generation of young American poets.

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After crossing a double page spread with no words, just a strong contrast of colors, rust orange paper on the left and a dusty pale gray on the right, the reader of North Central finally encounters language at the farthest bottom corner of the next spread, now entirely gray (where a reader might have expected a transition to normal white paper, the remainder of the book until the orange end papers will continue to be printed on this same thick paper), and has three words in a small font: “Lorine Niedecker” and “Poems” separated by a cloverleaf symbol. This is not the title of the book and its purpose is unclear, although it reads somewhat like a short catalog entry, so it is not until the following double page that we learn the actual title, signalled by the positioning of the words listing the book’s name, author, and publisher at the top of the right hand page. The title and author are given in a larger, more obviously titular-sized typeface, below which, in a smaller typeface corresponding to that used previously for the catalog-style entry, is the name of the publisher. Such increase in the size of a pictorial element is commonly a visual code for an increase in proximity to what is represented; here this code works quietly to suggest that we have arrived closer to the author and her book. The words are set out approximately like this: North Central by Lorine Niedecker

  Fulcrum Press London

In a text that has already sensitized the reader to nuances of scale, position, and spatiality by the emphases created by placing a handful of words in a large empty frame, this arrangement invites the attention a reader would ordinarily reserve for the layout of open field poetry. The words “North Central” are set carefully to begin on the same vertical as the author’s name, an arrangement that carries the faint suggestion that this is a book called “Lorine Niedecker” by “North Central,” a visual pun that will become more visible once we meet the poem “My Life by Water.” The slightly odd placement of the preposition also makes possible another visual connection between publisher and author or book. Lorine Niedecker by Fulcrum Press. This book, rather than the poetry within it, is of course what has been produced “by” the Fulcrum Press London, and yet the vi-

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sual design of these pages suggests a more complex authorship combining writer and publisher. Even these possibilities do not fully encompass the authorship at work. Another visual element is in play: opposite the text is the dark green imprint of a branching stem of bracken that disappears into the gutter and off the bottom of the page, almost as if a piece of foliage had been pressed between the pages. The image appears to continue somewhere else in an unseen picture plane, suggesting strongly that what we are seeing is only a part of some larger living organism. Will we have the same response to the poetry, thinking of it as a pressed leaf from a larger branch? The bracken is partly an illustration of a reference in one of the poems in the volume, “Wintergreen Ridge”:   When visited   by the poet From Newcastle on Tyne I neglected to ask   what wild plants have you there   how dark how inconsiderate of me (CW 254) She has been listing some of the wild plants and flowers found in this park that was saved by a campaigning group of women, plants that include several insectivorous ones, others that have survived since the Jurassic, the pipsissewa or “grass of Parnassus,” and finally the lichen that slowly demolishes rock. The poem effectively affirms that it is polite or light, and considerate to acknowledge the wild plants indigenous to a poet’s location and it is as if the book tries to do this for her and speaks up for the British poet. Bracken could seem an obvious wild plant to represent the foliage of the high countryside of Teesdale and Wensleydale where Bunting sets his memories and histories in another Fulcrum book, Brigg flatts. It’s hard otherwise to account for the choice of this visual motif, a weed that is a

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danger to livestock and sometimes human beings and therefore contributes a strong image of wildness to the book’s character. Perhaps bracken’s potential malignity is also meant to be a counterpart to the carnivorous tendencies of some of the Wintergreen Ridge plants. The botanical illustration carries another meaning within the book’s structure because on the next page, in the same area of the left-hand page where the greenery appeared, is instead a paragraph of acknowledgments that summarizes the nature of the commodity that we are reading, making the bracken a visual equivalent for this act of establishing the trade credentials of the edition. Some poems we are told have already appeared in American magazines (and Japanese too in the sense that Origin was published in Japan by Cid Corman), the photographer, typographer, and printer are all credited, the copyright established, and a warning is issued about illegal reproduction. Finally, we are told about the special collectors’ edition of “one hundred copies on deckle edged paper and bound in buckram” and signed by Niedecker herself. Some versions of the book are more highly valued than others, but even this trade edition has already insisted on its sumptuousness and therefore by association asserted the value of the texts that are beginning to appear in the gray spaces. When the two words “Lake Superior” appear on the bottom far right of the next otherwise void double page, the name carries another message too: this is what superior poetry is like. And then at last on the next (still unnumbered) double page the poems finally begin to appear, the first three sections of “Lake Superior” placed on the right-hand page with the center of the page as their left-hand margin, giving the impression that there is a corresponding empty space for each stanza. Separating the texts are tiny stylized flower sigils, and opposite the text is a reversed image of the earlier bracken icon, this time in a lighter, greener colored ink, that uses only the bottom margin, off which it is apparently falling. The next two double pages are unaccompanied by any image. Poetry has supplanted entirely the bracken weed of trade and industry. Slow motion analysis opens up the bibliographical codes at work here. When “Lake Superior” finally begins, its statement folds back into the material of the book immediately. “In every part of every living thing  /  is stuff that once was rock” are lines whose meaning is tied to the stone gray

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pages, lines that blend rock and geography in a manner that was integral to what Fulcrum Press represented: Iron the common element of earth in rocks and freighters [. . .] The waters working together   internationally Gulls playing both sides (CW 232) The poet who wrote “My Life by Water” and liked to identify herself with this fluid element implicitly claims affinity with the poets or waters of other countries, a sentiment that the expatriate editor of Fulcrum Press — who wanted international poets and readers to work together — would be keen to endorse. The only British review that I have found was highly critical of the book’s production. An anonymous reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement wrote: “Miss Niedecker is a modest, cheerful writer whose publisher has served her ill in North Central with an oversized format and lopsided layout, confusing the beginnings, middles, and ends of her poems” (Anonymous 212). This criticism of excessive attention to visual values in the production of Niedecker’s book has continued even after her death. It was echoed in a review of Harpsichord and Salt Fish in Sulfur: “Given these themes and depths, it is a little triste that Pig Press’s presentation is illustrated and wrapped/covered with artsy efforts that are not attuned to the contents (with the possible exception of one pen & ink fish), and moreover that the book sports unsubtle bright blue end papers” (DuPlessis, review in Sulfur, 222).14 Richard Caddel, the publisher of Pig Press, had asked Walter Miller, the artist who illustrated My Friend Tree, to create illustrations for the book, and he produced three line drawings of a fish, a group of tulips, and a pair of fish lying amongst leaves and bones. Visual adornment of Niedecker’s work has been a recurrent temptation for publishers and equally often a goad to reviewers. The Times Literary Supplement reviewer compared Niedecker’s poetry in North Central to that of an English poet: “the method is like Bunting’s in Brigg flatts but less erudite and pretentious — though not more reliable”

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(Anonymous 222). Simplicity is valued because it avoids pretention, that English middle-class fear of acting above one’s station in life, and Niedecker avoids it partly because she writes about “the wildness of mountain landscape, creatures, and flora as life-giving and sacramental,” although this reviewer is not convinced by such an overly familiar trope, even if Niedecker avoids “oracularity” (222). Another review of Gary Snyder’s Fulcrum editions of The Back Country and Six Sections from Mountains and Rivers without End underlines how important it was for such British reviewers to see Niedecker’s poetry as wild. Peter Levi describes Snyder as “an utterly unGeorgian, regenerated, post-Poundian writer” who is “a poet of nature as it now is, particularly American nature” (72). Edward Dorn called it the “North Atlantic turbine.” More recently, cultural historians have called it the Black Atlantic, and there are many more colloquial nicknames for this emulsion of history, geography, economics, and mutual fascination/misunderstanding, depending on the historian’s focus — the brain drain, the mid-Atlantic accent, the special relationship. And poetry has had its own turbine, of which Dorn was a knowing instance. The Gulf Stream is so metaphoric of these entanglements it can be hard to remember that warm water does flow up and across this ocean border between the nations and keeps the ice off Britain and Ireland, completing its revolution by pushing a cold counter-current back south. Emily Dickinson is writing about the spirit of a woman in a marriage of flesh or spirit but her image of the sea as a form of awareness that projects nothing beyond itself resonates with such reflections on this turbine: It lay unmentioned — as the Sea Develop Pearl, and Weed, But only to Himself — be known The Fathoms they abide — (“She rose to His Requirement — dropt” 359) Has the counter-current generated by the modernist North Atlantic turbine of poetry by H.D., Eliot, Pound, and others whose publications migrated back from Europe, continued to flow through a later generation of modernist poets? British publishers and readers were attracted to the vision of a society not entirely devastated by war, a country whose culture opened onto wilderness still and was spacious enough for democratic vistas and inventive dissent. By importing its poetry and incorporating it deftly

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through imaginative bibliographic productions they could help bolster the local poetry too. North Central was followed two years later by My Life by Water, which claims to be a first edition of her “Collected Poems.” Even though she had published the slightly different U.S. volume T & G, we should still be surprised by her British publication. How is it that this American poet based halfway across the continental United States should have her most representative collection published in London? This is really a rhetorical question of course. This is a turbine collection: an entire dimension of transatlantic cultural exchange is figured here. Consider a smaller question. How did Fulcrum come to publish Niedecker in the first place? Both Finlay and Bunting would have recommended her, and we know that Montgomery made a visit to see her, accompanied by Tom Pickard, but the underlying reason is the intense interest in the New American Poets at this time. Pickard catches this magnetic pull towards modernist American poetry shared by his generation of poets coming of age at the end of the 1950s in an interview with Eric Mottram. “I had always written, and what excited me, what was immediately acceptable to me — I don’t think it was anything being written in England — it was almost totally American. It seemed to me that what the Americans had to say was much more applicable to the kind of life I was leading” (“Pickard” 40). The material books I have described frame Niedecker as the subtle observer of a distinctive wild and authentic pastoral, whose poetry in the British context countered the violence of Ted Hughes’s natural world and provided direct access to the landscapes seen from the distances of Charles Tomlinson’s artist’s eye. What influence did Niedecker have on British poets? Pickard’s own poetry shows some possible influence, as in this poem, “You come again this spring”: You come again this spring   throwing off black clouds and sleet oppressions your familiar warm weather gestures   seem new (The Order of Chance 18)

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Direct influence is hard to pinpoint. A more lasting but indirect influence was: the confirmation that poetry could continue in the absence of support from the academy, the reviews, and literary marketplaces. Many poets — Anthony Barnett, Richard Caddel, Thomas A. Clark, Andrew Crozier, Tony Baker, Ken Edwards, Wendy Mulford, Maggie O’Sullivan, Peter Riley, and Gael Turnbull to name a few — drew sustenance from examples like Niedecker’s of the possibility of flourishing despite neglect. They would probably all at times have concurred with Niedecker’s sentiment that “so much of the literary world has gone on for so long without indicating that we exist” (NCZ 162). Her craft, her attention to the historical depths in the local, and her balancing of natural world and human culture, all made her a powerful exemplar. British poets read Niedecker as a Wild Hawthorn poet, a Fulcrum poet and a Pig Press poet, and they learned both poetic skill and an image of the marginalized poet from these editions that offered a transfer of poetic potentiality from the United States to the United Kingdom. They provided a tangible, redemptive image of the North Atlantic turbine, as well as an image of resistance to American cultural domination by symbolically taking over the cultural production of Americana and helped allay some of the fears latent in British culture of the power of the great English language competitor whose enormous economic influence made it hard to emulate or compete with. By producing visually textured editions the British publishers could assert some cultural authority and also promote a counter poetics of the page. Niedecker’s poetry was malleable enough to enable such editorial treatment to make a strong impression, and the plasticity created by its subtle treatment of metaphoric transformation gave it sufficient resilience to survive such remakes. Questions remain. Why did Niedecker and other American poets turn to U.K. publishers in the 1960s, when it would seem that American culture and readers were keen to see these poets in print and their nation had far greater wealth? What were the consequences for the American readership and how did they compare to the impact on the British poetry scene into which these poets were invited? Why didn’t the traffic go the other way, and American publishers take up some of the British counterparts like Bunting, or the younger generation (Lee Harwood, for instance, whose

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association with John Ashbery might have led to significant publishing opportunities)? Niedecker’s repeated publication in the United Kingdom points to a close association with British culture whose wider history still remains to be explored.

Notes 1. I say Britain deliberately, and not England, because the first book to appear outside America was published in Edinburgh, Scotland, which had a distinct literary culture of its own. 2. The case of Origin, published in Japan but publishing almost entirely American poets, and then shipped back in sufficient quantities that it was virtually an American magazine, is interesting. Leaving aside the situation of its editor, Cid Corman, there does seem to be a sense in which its success depended partly on the cultural distance that geographical separation made possible. 3. The first was Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Glasgow Beasts, an a Burd (1961). 4. The pun on “horse” and “hoarse” suggests a certain mythologizing of the poet as a figure looking back from the margins of a long life and barely able to speak except with brevity, that might have informed Finlay’s understanding of his American poets. 5. This information is taken from a bookseller’s catalog (James S. Jaffe Rare Books) as listed on ABE books, 2 July 2007 . 6. The poem appeared in both T & G and in My Life by Water. An early draft was lineated less generously and obscured some of the inferences that I have been discussing, though it used the identical words (CW 424). Niedecker also emphasized the rightward and downward sloping shape more in the published version. 7. I should admit that I have no certain evidence they are linocuts, only their appearance. It is just possible they were printed with wood blocks or some similar method. 8. It is conceivable that given this historical context, the recurrent use of illustration in British editions of Niedecker’s work might have had some negative effects as well as enriching its contexts; illustration might have encouraged readers to think of the poetry as somehow deficient without such visual support. 9. These comments were inspired by Roy Wagner’s brilliant and too little known Symbols that Stand for Themselves. He argues that trope is the organizing principle of culture, not trope in the usual poetic sense but rather in myth and its rituals, where “meanings elicited in its successive tropes are realized only in the process of their exhaustion, and exhausted in that of their realization” (xi). Metaphors are better understood as emergent rather than structural: “The force of the generic lies not in some ‘family resemblance’ among the constituent images of a ritual, but in the

270  |  niede ck er a nd c ompa n y holography of part and whole — the closure of the constituents to form a trope or metaphor in a larger frame of cultural significance. The whole is, in fact, the condensation, via the order of the generic, of the constituents, and condensation becomes, in this way, the order of cultural construction” (30). Wagner’s work suggests that it is possible to read Niedecker’s poems as subtle ways of eliciting such transformations and provoking a reflexive awareness of the cultural dimensions of trope. 10. See Robert Pippin’s essay “Necessary Conditions for the Possibility of What Isn’t,” especially pp. 67–68 where he cites this passage from Heidegger (Being and Time 231/186), and discusses the case of an existential loss of meaningfulness for the world. 11. Dated September 3, 2003. Roy Fisher was at pains to emphasize that these were recollections several decades later and he did not want them to appear, as he put it, “categorical.” I think they do, however, convey the spirit of the enterprise well. There is no reliable history of Fulcrum yet. Many readers of contemporary poetry will be aware that it became engulfed in a bitter controversy with Ian Hamilton Finlay at its center. See for instance his interview with Nagy Rashwan in Jacket 15, “The Death of Piety.” 12. Introductory remarks from a recording made at the Polytechnic of Central London conference May 31–June 2, 1974. From Eric Mottram collection, Kings College London archives ref. MOTTRAM: 14/1/335 (1974). In the booklet issued for the conference, the featured poets each write a short introduction for a selection of their poems; Montgomery’s entry reads: “Born 1938 — Rhodesia. Founded the Fulcrum Press with his wife Deidre, in the early ’60s with the publication of works by Basil Bunting, Ed Dorn and Jerry Rothenberg amongst others. The Fulcrum Press has continued to publish many of the major poets of England and America in some of the best and most carefully designed books. In 1970 he returned to his studies and is now completing his medical training” (Brookeman 21). From this standpoint, publication by Fulcrum is a measure of Niedecker’s status as a major poet. 13. Auerhahn Press was probably one of the models for Fulcrum and Trigram Press. The Whalen edition has a note at the back saying: “This book has been hand set in Garamond Roman and Italic type and printed on a Hartford letterpress at The Auerhahn Press, 1334 Franklin, San Francisco, California. It was designed and printed by Dave Haselwood and J. McIlroy. The cover wood block cuts are by Robert LaVigne. The binding was done by The Schuberth Bookbindery.” These are the details that appeal to those who collect books as much for their production values as for their content. 14. Thom Gunn reviewed the book in the Times Literary Supplement and began by saying: “It is appropriate that this last collection by Lorine Niedecker should be published, so attractively, in Britain, where more of her books appeared during her lifetime than in her own country, the United States” (Gunn).

Peter Quartermain

Take Oil  / and Hum Niedecker / Bunting

Here are two poems. Basil Bunting wrote the first, “Ode 1.7,” in 1928. The day being Whitsun we had pigeon for dinner; but Richmond in the pitted river saw mudmirrored mackintosh, a wet southwest wiped and smeared dampness over Twickenham. Pools on the bustop’s buttoned tarpaulin. Wimbledon, Wandsworth, Clapham, the Oval. ‘Lo, Westminster Palace where the asses jaw!’ Endless disappointed buckshee-hunt! Suburb and city giftless garden and street, and the sky alight of an evening stubborn and mute by day and never rei novae inter rudes artium homines.   never a spark of sedition amongst the uneducated workingmen. (Complete Poems 103) Lorine Niedecker wrote the second in 1948. I rose from marsh mud, algae, equisetum, willows,

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sweet green, noisy birds and frogs to see her wed in the rich rich silence of the church, the little white slave-girl in her diamond fronds. In aisle and arch the satin secret collects. United for life to serve silver. Possessed.   (CW 170; see also notes 414–15 and NCZ 151) They’re such very different poets you’d never mistake one for the other. Niedecker’s language is unmistakably spoken, conversational, at times almost casual — don’t get me wrong, she’s an extremely careful writer of very great skill indeed — but she does not display her consciousness of her art. Bunting’s a different story. He started out as more-or-less a satirist, moreor-less focussing in his earliest Odes on social and political absurdities, the passage of time and how we waste it, his own desolate condition having turned his back on love. A bit of posturing about some of those earlier poems, something of the poète maudit, the doomed poet, a self-conscious literariness about it all. “Everybody says it is extremely disagreeable of me,” he wrote to Pound in 1928, “to be unpleasant about sunrise and the loud chorus of complaints encourages me to think that I must have done something of my own at last” (Yale).1 Four years before that he wrote the opening poem of the First Book of Odes: Weeping oaks grieve, chestnuts raise mournful candles. Sad is spring to perpetuate, sad to trace immortalities never changing. Weary on the sea for sight of land gazing past the coming wave we see the same wave;

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drift on merciless iteration of years; descry no death; but spring is everlasting resurrection. (Complete Poems 97) Could he perhaps be feeling a little sorry for himself, a little rueful, the last lines an attempt to lift the poem out of that particular rut? That depends at least in part on whether you read the opening sentence as imperative or descriptive. In 1970, he would point to this poem as an example of how to write in quatrains — instructive as a technical example. There’s a highly formal quality, almost oratorical, to his language — it may be, as he put it, words in their natural order (whatever that may mean), but it’s not the language of ordinary speech — indeed I’m not at all sure that the inversion of “sad is spring” doesn’t violate that natural order. Bunting’s language — syntax and vocabulary — is more like that of formal public speech, though too compressed for that, and overall his poems have something close to the flavor of the periodic and balanced sentences of the prose writers he so admired, Halifax and Swift — satirists both. Perhaps there’s a touch, too, of the prose of David Hume’s essays. There’s a strong deliberative quality in his poems, purposiveness, control. In choosing which poems to put in Writing #6 in 1970 (it was a generous selection, twenty-two pieces altogether), he clearly had one eye firmly on their usefulness to young poets learning their craft. He chose three to demonstrate Technical: The Quatrain and three, Technical: Quantity.2 A year later (November 25, 1971) he talked about one of the “quantity” poems, the ode “To Helen Egli,” which has an almost display-case opening: Empty vast days built in the waste memory seem a jail for thoughts grown stale in the mind, tardy of birth, rank and inflexible: love and slow self-praise, even grief ’s cogency, all emotions timetamed whimper and shame changes the past brought to no   utterance. (Complete Poems 101) “Greater Sapphics,” he said, which “are not used much in Greek even. But they have a kind of terse hardness”; and a month after that, with a

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quietly mischievous gleam he told me that when he read it to Pound (Bunting was with Pound in Rapallo when he wrote it) “Ezra just grunted; he couldn’t make out what it was,” and looked at the text. “He just sat there, and I could see him counting it out on his fingers” and he laughed. “It’s a Sapphic,” he said, “turned upside down. It reverses the Greek. I never told Ezra about that in the poem. He never asked” (December 20, 1971). That sort of story is a long way from Niedecker. But then Bunting had a pretty strict formal education that included Latin and Greek, French and German, and in his bookishness he is mischievous and controlling — the quotation in Latin in the Whitsun poem is not hard to puzzle out if you know a little Latin: “a new thing to [or among] men unacquainted with the arts” is one reading; his closing lines offer another.3 When the poem was at last published, in 1950, Bunting included a footnote he’d added (so far as I can tell) in 1935, but it’s not at all the sort of thing you find in Niedecker’s work. Jonathan Williams in 1976 remembered Bunting saying that “Pound’s generation, and perhaps mine, were a little too bookish.” “I think that’s true,” Bunting responded. “The world doesn’t spend all its time reading books, and we all assumed that they do. We have far too many references to things” (Williams and Meyer 40). Niedecker has her own bookishness, of course,4 but she will not be bullied, especially by her reading. In her delighted trust in lives, letters, biographies, casual utterance, she is Emerson’s Reader. She does not place her trust in books as Authorities (with a capital A) but as companions, as direct voices in her life. Even in late poems like “Darwin” or “His Carpets Flowered” she does not seem to have embarked on a Project, “I am going to write about X, therefore I must get on with some research.” Such poems arise out of her reading;5 the short poems I think without exception arise from direct experience — what happened today — a visit with Al Millen to a nightclub built in the shape of a lily; seeing Winston Churchill’s funeral on TV; a trip to a big fancy wedding in church6 — and she hangs the poem on that. Books offer direct experience, because words offer direct experience  — witness the play of parts of speech in “collects” (verb/noun) and the syntactic ambiguities in “united for life to serve.” Reading, for Niedecker, is an activity, a conversation, and books are simply something she’s doing, like listening to gossip in the street about Ed Van Ess (CW 95) perhaps.

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She takes whatever’s to hand, she writes what is under her nose, no pretension, no disguise, and her attention is focussed on the objects under hand, eye, ear — language, and the poem, “saying the lines to myself before sleep at night and on waking” to get the sound right (CW 414). Bunting’s pretty close to that — these are both poets of the ear — and especially in his early work relies on traditional and classical (English, Latin, Greek, French) forms and metrics even as he plays around with them. But in a poem like “The day being Whitsun” I get the notion that the trigger for the poem was quite possibly the quote from Livy, possibly popping into his head the way things do after a miserable rainy day, penniless and jobless Bunting out for lunch at someone’s house, the wet cold bus ride back to his digs at 5, Osnaburgh Terrace, London NW1, his job as music critic for The Outlook down the tubes now that the magazine’s folded, him scrambling to make ends meet, worried.7 I very much doubt, at any rate, that he spent days or even hours scrambling through Livy looking for those words or words like them. He, too, is using what comes to hand, but the inclusion of Livy is a gesture towards “making something out of that,” enlarging the significance of the poem, linking it to larger social issues, sharpening the satiric edge. It’s a young man’s poem, and the method of composition seems to me somewhat different from Niedecker’s. Her techniques are far less obtrusive. It has something to do with what they think poems are, how they work or ought to work. Bunting’s footnote hides far more than it reveals: “The quotation might not be readily identified without a hint. It is from Livy.”8 That’s a trick he learned from Pound, and it’s characteristic of Bunting’s desire to maintain a fairly complex sort of control over the reader, like Pound (and Zukofsky later) partially withholding the poem from the reader, in ways which Niedecker cheerfully and I think constantly declines. It may be that the practice of withholding matter from the reader is designed to force the reader’s attention to the sound, but it also has the effect of subordinating the reader to the writer in a way that Niedecker generally shuns. It is a privileging of the poet and an implicit claim to mastery. In this respect, Bunting’s conscious and deliberate dedication to poetry as a formal craft is crucial: through the 1920s and 1930s, frequently if not constantly living — after his father died in 1925 — in great poverty,9

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he devoted himself pretty well full time to learning poetry in a kind of apprenticeship in London, Paris, and New York, including some years at the Ezuversity in Rapallo, “poet appointed dare not decline  /  to walk among the bogus,” says the opening of Brigg flatts, Canto II, “nothing to authenticate  / the mission imposed . . . ” (Complete Poems 65). And it flavors the work. Late in 1971, embroiled in what he called a “hellish year” in that “foul place” Victoria, he read through his Collected Poems and identified Ode 21, “Two Photographs,” as the “central work.” Written in 1932, it was a “turning point” in his writing, he told me; “before that, if it comes off, it’s pretty much almost by accident, you could say. They hit it by chance.” But in “Two Photographs,” — and I’m quoting — “and in every subsequent poem, I knew what I was doing; the poem does what I want it to do. It’s the first poem I wrote that does exactly what it’s intended to do. And all the rest, after that, do that too” (December 20, 1971). But the poems didn’t necessarily come easy. It took him, he said, “six months or more” to find the last half of a line in The Spoils, the three words “Halt, both, lament” (Complete Poems 49) — it’s a translation from the Mu’allaqát of ’Amr al Qais, he said, two Arabic words to his three English, though “four syllables in somewhat the same rhythm.”10 And again and again, in interviews, he pooh-poohs the notion of writing as discovery. “I have never supposed a poem to be organic at all. I don’t think the thing grows, it’s built and put together by a craftsman,” he told Dale Reagan in 1977: “The nearer you can stick to the plan you’ve started with the more likely the poem is to have a real balance, an effective kind of architecture” (78). But “there is no doubt,” he told Paul Johnstone in 1975, “many things coalesce at the time of writing that you are not fully aware of before you sit down to write” (79). And he scorns the personal: “I don’t go in for personal confessions. I like describing things I see, but if it goes beyond that, you can be fairly sure it’s not necessarily me that’s supposed to be making these remarks. . . . I don’t give a damn whether I falsify experience or not. I’m out to make a good poem. I’m not there to provide raw material for psychologists” (Reagan 77–78). All this is a far cry from Niedecker, who frequently opts for openness and the untidiness of possible meanings rather than strict control of meaning and response. “Very delicate,” Bunting commented of her work,

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“many implications, none obvious” (Basil Bunting to Tom Pickard 28 August 1967, qtd. Bunting on Poetry 180 n82). And Niedecker is very far indeed from claiming mastery, witness among other things her to my mind quite astonishing remark, in a letter of July 2, 1965, to Cid Corman on the two lines: I picked a leaf up Yes, I see — ‘I picked a  /  leaf up’ — I get for the first time that meaning has something to do with song — one hesitates a bit longer with some words in some lines for the thought or the vision —  but I’d say mostly, of course, cadence, measure make song. And a kind of shine (or sombre tone) that is of the same intensity throughout the poem. And the thing moves. But as in all poems everywhere, depth of emotion condensed, I’d say. (BYH 64) Bunting and Niedecker are startlingly different. So why and how do we link them together? In what ways might they be kindred spirits? Well, there are some pretty obvious and superficial connections and parallels, most of them implicit in what I’ve already said. And there’s a Wisconsin connection, of course — Bunting’s marriage to Marian Culver, from Eau Claire;11 his children growing up there after 1937; his two visits in 1966 and 1967; his first and only meeting with Niedecker in 1967; his brief and abortive plan in early 1938 to set up a carp-fishing business with Niedecker’s father; and even, some time in the late 1960s or was it in 1970, his being made an Honorary Citizen of the State of Wisconsin — part of Brigg flatts was read into the state Congressional Record. There’s his and Niedecker’s mutual high regard for each other’s work, the letters they wrote each other (now lost), the poems they wrote for each other.12 There’s the role of sound in their poetry (I’m not going to talk about that — it’s a pretty familiar topic). There’s their shared experience of poverty, both coming from fairly comfortable lives in their youth, Niedecker reading proof for Hoard’s Dairyman and then after her eyesight deteriorates, washing hospital floors; Bunting after his return from Persia in the 1950s relying in part on food parcels sent by Pound from St. Elizabeths Hospital

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for the Criminally Insane, reading proofs of railway timetables, and after that working as “a night-shift drudge” (Makin 317) on Newcastle newspapers until obliged to retire — after which he was virtually blinded by cataracts.13 Frugal necessity had its effect on their poetry, which — whatever else it may be — is pretty clear of all sentimentality, is hard-headed, practical, suspicious of government and institutions, and remarkably free of abstraction — there’s a close but not necessarily obvious connection between their writing and their life. And there’s the isolation and neglect. Bunting did indeed achieve considerable fame and celebrity late in his lifetime while Niedecker did not. Niedecker spoke of “my overloaded loneliness” in a letter to Louis Zukof­ sky dated March 23, 1956 (NCZ 227), and Bunting said of her ten years later (December 11, 1966, to Jonathan Williams — Some Jazz) that “nobody else has been buried quite so deep.” But Bunting was almost completely isolated and unknown until the publication of Brigg flatts (1966): stuck in the Canaries in the 1930s, unable to find a publisher, rejected by Eliot at Faber who, he understood, would help him — the work in Caveat Emptor, sent to Eliot in 1935, remained unpublished until Poems 1950 was finally published by an obscure press in Texas and then again rejected by Peter Russell in London. It got only one review in Britain (by G. S. Fraser in Peter Russell’s little magazine Nine).14 But nevertheless, like Niedecker, Bunting appeared in the pages of Poetry and similar magazines. “You and I,” he wrote to Zukofsky on November 12, 1950, “have more than the whole ruck of others who have done well out of poetry. And I’m not even noticeably eccentric on the page! Why? What has dogged us?” (Texas). Niedecker  — like many another poet we might name — struck some (male) readers as trivial — no rich thick cadence, no finely wrought phrase, no grand significant themes, no high seriousness as found in the canonical masters. And Bunting? Lightweight. Referring to his “Aus Dem Zweiten Reich” (Complete Poems 36–38) without saying so, and certainly without noticing that the poem offers a sharply satiric view of life in the Weimar Republic, an early reviewer of Bunting’s Collected Poems (1968) dismissed the early poems as merely about kissing girls in the back of taxicabs, not worth bothering with. But if inattention has its price, life on the outside its penalties, there are

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compensations. Richard Caddel, another writer on the outside, thought that a major advantage of working outside the mainstream is that you’re thereby free to pursue your own devices, over a period of years perhaps, without continual and in his view damaging interference. You end up driven to your own resources — always a risky business — and if you lack the company of your fellow writers, if you lack the conversation and stimulus of let’s call them your peers, working alone, you can’t (or don’t wish) to hang onto the coat-tails of others, you have to make do with what you find around you, you have to accept the situation in which you find yourself. And you write, you have to write, “toward silence” (Oppen, “The Philosophy of the Astonished” 215). This makes perhaps for a certain kind of bookishness; in Bunting and Niedecker’s case it makes for an affinity with borders and border creatures, the overlooked and the unrespectable — “a kinship,” as Elizabeth Robinson says, “with persons on the edge.” It also makes for constant struggle; you “slug it out” (Oppen, “The Circumstances” 12) with letters, words, sounds, rhythms, sense, to get it right, confronting the very nature of your text in order to disseminate it at all.15 Not, that is to say, to get it right in the eyes of others, but in one’s own, an absolute reliance on one’s own ear and eye. “I was born,” says one of Niedecker’s poems, “with eyes and a house” (CW 172). The price an attentive eye (ear) might pay is subjection to the immediate: it is attentive to it, and vulnerable to it, to the particularity of things, their quiddity and presence. Her poetry is so grounded in physical detail, crammed with the names of things and people, colors and creatures and scraps of conversation overheard or made, that — along with her meticulous attention to sound — the poems inescapably place before us and within us the materiality of words, the materiality of language. As do Bunting’s, through concreteness of reference and turbulence of consonantal clusters. “Can knowledge be conveyed that isn’t felt?” Niedecker asks in a poem (CW 150), and she comments (of a summary she sent to Zukofsky along with a couple of nuggets from Leibniz) that “what they say is all I know about philosophy after all my vast reading on the universe and its animals and us. Can anybody feel surer or know more about all this? Materialist (not much purpose) but as Santayana said the material is wonderful” (NCZ 258) — what Rachel

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Blau DuPlessis called, following Niedecker, the “Materialist sublime.” “I feel,” said Niedecker, “that I think this way not thought but everything in a movement of words” (NCZ 84–85, 157) — and I take that word feel literally, its connection of sense to the senses. “Abstraction is the enemy of poetry at all times,” Bunting ruled, and continued: “a word like sincerity seems to me to be almost without any assignable meaning at all” (Johnstone 74, 75). Both writers, clearly, have a profound distrust of philosophy, Niedecker (as Jenny Penberthy notes [NCZ 84]) characteristically undercutting such “high seriousness” in her work, Bunting dismissing with scorn “the imbeciles who imagine philosophy is a higher wisdom than rhyme” (to LZ, December 1, 1947 — Texas)16 and deriding, in a letter to Pound, “the common lunatic notion that abstract nouns have other than a grammatical significance” (1934 — Yale). Neither, too, can abide the notion of rules. For Niedecker it is a matter of feeling it out — that letter to Corman I quoted earlier on, about linebreaks —  I get for the first time that meaning has something to do with song — one hesitates a bit longer with some words in some lines for the thought or the vision — but I’d say mostly, of course, cadence, measure make song. And a kind of shine (or sombre tone) that is of the same intensity throughout the poem. And the thing moves. (BYH 64) Understanding comes from looking, touching, listening, thinking, not from dictionaries and discussion, not from laying down the law. And Bunting harks back in Brigg flatts to the time of Aneurin and Taliesin, “before rules made poetry a pedant’s game” (Complete Poems 75). Hence, I believe, both poets firmly resisted the temptation publicly to explain what they were up to. So far as I know, Niedecker never wrote any general or even specific statement of poetics outside occasional sentences or paragraphs in letters, or in other than sundry private expostulations. And Bunting I think possibly came to regret “The Poet’s Point of View,” which to all intents and purposes is the only one he wrote. It is, at any rate, the only one that anybody ever paid any attention to while he was alive, he seems to have written it on demand,17 and he seems subsequently to have distrusted it. Distrusted it because nobody seems to have understood what

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he said — or, perhaps, what he meant. “I’ve never said that poetry consists only of sound. I said again and again that the essential thing is the sound. Without the sound, there isn’t any poetry. But having established it and kept it clear that the sound is the essential, the main thing, you can add all sorts of stuff if you want to” (Mottram, “Conversations” 5). And he did indeed have to say it, again and again, with more or with less impatience: “I’ve said often enough that without the sound there isn’t a poem; but if you want to involve some sense in the sound and have the skill to do it, why not?” (Heyward and Craven 28). Bunting famously said that “there is no excuse for literary criticism.”18 It’s true, surely, that no (good) poem generalizes beyond itself. And it’s certainly true, after all, that any statement about any poem is inevitably more abstract, more general than the poem under view. Any such statement is, finally, a retreat from the poem. Neither Niedecker nor Bunting theorized a poetics, theorized their position.19 I think it was impossible for them to do so, and I think that impossibility freed them into writing the poetry they were indeed able to write. Would that there were more such.

Notes An abbreviated form of this paper was given at a panel on “Niedecker and Company,” in the Lorine Niedecker Centenary Celebration 1903–2003, Milwaukee, 09–11 Oct. 2003. 1. Quotations from Bunting’s letters and manuscripts are from the American Literature Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University (abbreviated Yale), or from the Bunting papers in the Louis Zukofsky papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin (abbreviated Texas), and are copyright the Estate of Basil Bunting. 2. Technical: The Quatrain: “Weeping oaks grieve” (97); “To Helen Egli” (101); and “Dear be still!” (105); Technical: Quantity: “Two Photographs” (118); “Fruits breaking the branches” (115); “Mesh cast for mackerel” (119). 3. The typescript of Caveat Emptor  — sent to Pound and to Eliot in 1935 — places the final two lines at the bottom of the page, suggestive of a footnote and implying their status as translation of Livy (Typescript at Yale). 4. Ron Silliman recently wondered whether one can “write usefully from ‘book learning,’ or, for that matter, any mode of secondary material?” and called Niedecker’s “Thomas Jefferson” (CW 275–82) a “noble shipwreck” of a poem. 5. With Al Millen’s destruction of most of Niedecker’s archive, this assertion

282  |  niede ck er a nd c ompa n y is necessarily somewhat speculative. As Jenny Penberthy reports (“Writing Lake Superior”), over 270 pages of research notes for “Lake Superior” are extant; they may have originated in her plans to explore the northern shores of the lake with Al Millen, but it is clear that they rapidly became a large project intended to lead to a long poem. The relationship between the finished poem and the notes is rather unclear. 6. “Club 26” (CW 196; see also NCZ 317); “Churchill’s Death” (CW 219–20); “I rose from marsh mud” (CW 170; see also 414–16). 7. Whit Sunday (the seventh Sunday after Easter) in 1928 was on May 27th; The Outlook ceased publication earlier that month. 8. And was identified by Karl Müller, Die Lyrik Basil Buntings, who reports that the context adds nothing to the meaning of Bunting’s poem (Makin 58n), and later by Barbara Lesch, who points out that Evander (whose name Euandros is Greek for Good Man), to whom Livy’s words refer, was (according to Livy) “revered for his wonderful invention of letters, a new thing to men unacquainted with the arts, and even more revered because of the divinity which men attributed to his mother Carmenta, whom the tribes admired as a prophetess before the Sibyl’s coming into Italy” (Livy 1, 29). Evander “taught the rude inhabitants of the country writing, music, and other arts” according to Seyffert’s Dictionary of Classical Antiquities [the standard reference in Bunting’s youth], and governed his region “more through personal influence than through sovereign power.” As Lesch observes, the quoted Latin links Evander, the inventor of the Roman alphabet, to the arts, which grew out of his wisdom; he is the man/god whose activity made possible the existence of man as poet (52). 9. Bunting had — at least until his father died in 1925 — a small allowance (of £10 a week). 10. December 20, 1971. See also Makin 111, note 29. 11. On July 9, 1930, in Riverhead, Long Island, Bunting married Marian Culver, the daughter of an Eau Claire, Wisconsin, merchant. They had met in Venice in 1929. When Marian returned to Eau Claire in 1937, she was pregnant with their son Rustam, whom Bunting never saw; their daughters Roudaba and Bourtai, though Bunting rarely saw them after 1937, spent a great part of their lives there. 12. “Ballad of Basil” (CW 282–33). “To abate what swells” (Complete Poems 198). 13. One removed in California in 1967, one in England the following year. 14. There were six reviews altogether in North America (two of them in Canada), principally in little magazines such as Montevallo Review, Imagi, and the Northern Review of Writing and the Arts in Canada. There was a brief notice in Sewanee Review (by Vivienne Koch), and just over four pages by Hugh Kenner along with an unsigned note, in Poetry (Guedalla 79–80). 15. For further discussion, see Caddel and Quartermain xvi and passim. George

Peter Quartermain  |  283 Oppen — another outsider — put it this way: “If a man — or a woman, of course; you’ll forgive the generic ‘man’ — goes rowing in the park, tho he may row as well as anyone who ever lived, tho he may row so well that he seems to be ice-skating, waltzing round the lake to the strains of the Blue Danube — still, he cannot row around and around that lake forever. But suppose he sets sail across a sea which, so far as he knows, has never been crossed — I am thinking of Columbus, of course, but a columbus alone in a small boat. He too may turn back after a while, but if he does so it can only be a failure of nerve. He will be tempted to turn back, but he will also be tempted not to. And he will not be tempted to continue only by the hope of approval. He will want to keep going, if only his nerve does not fail, even tho he has only his bare and anxious self in the boat. ¶ Like the poet, if he becomes distracted by the desire to display his virtue, his grace, his anything at all — he will not get there. Because what he has to do is slug it out. A voyage in the open sea — unlike a row in the park — is no joke. It is also not virtuous. Nor can he recommend it to the world at large. If he makes the trip, that’s his own affair, and in his heart he knows it.” (“The Circumstances” 12–13). Bunting commented that the poet must be “pretty clear about himself, about what he has to say” (Reagan 76). 16. “Zukofsky has always had a very warm spot for philosophers; I have nothing but the coldest dislike for the most part. My philosophy is English eclecticism  — Locke, and Hume who proved that they all knew nothing; in fact one could say the same almost of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, which I read when it was first published and was immensely struck by” (Johnstone 72). 17. He did, of course, in his early years write two others: “Some Limitations of English” (which appeared, October 1932, in an obscure magazine that died a year later and was virtually impossible to find before the reprint in Three Essays, 1994) and “The Lion and the Lizard,” not published until more than a decade after his death. Other than sundry private expostulations against abstraction in letters to Zukofsky, Bunting’s only statement of what nowadays is called poetics was in 1965, “The Poet’s Point of View.” 18. Reported by Jonathan Williams, “Note One.” Descant, n.p. 19. “There is no need of any theory for what gives pleasure through the ear, music or poetry,” said Bunting in “The Poet’s Point of View” (Three Essays 34).

Selected Bibliography

Abrioux, Yves. Ian Hamilton Finlay: A Visual Primer. Edinburgh: Reaktion Books, 1985. Adorno, Theodor. “Looking Back on Surrealism.” The Idea of the Modern in Literature and the Arts. Ed. Irving Howe. New York: Horizon Press, 1968. Aitkens, Hugh G. J. Syntony and Spark: The Origins of Radio. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1976. Anonymous. “A Poetry of Plunder.” Review of Collected Poems by Basil Bunting, Shifts of Being by Richard Eberhart, North Central by Lorine Niedecker, and Plans for an Orderly Apocalypse and Other Poems by Harvey Gross. Times Literary Supplement 27 February 1969: 211–12. “Arenaria tetaquetra.” Rocky Mountain Rare Plants. 22 Apr. 2002, http://www .rmrp.com/Reference/OnlineRefAA.htm. Ballowe, James. “Little Press on the Prairie.” Illinois Times (Springfield) 3 July 2003, http://wwwillinoistimes.com. Barbiero, Daniel. “Reflections on Lyric before, during, and after Language.” The World in Time and Space. Ed. Edward Foster and Joseph Donahue. Jersey City, New Jersey: Talisman House, 2002. Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. 1973. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975. Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy. Vol. I. Consumption. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Zone Books, 1988. Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. 1949. Trans. and ed. H. M. Parshley. New York: Knopf, 1953. Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Trans. N. M. Paul and W. S. Palmer. New York: Zone Books, 1991. Blake, William. Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion. Ed. Morton D. Paley. Princeton: The William Blake Trust/Princeton University Press, 1991. Bourdieu, Pierre. Language and Symbolic Power. Ed. John A. Thompson. Trans. Gino Raymond and M. Adamson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991. Breslin, Glenna. “Lorine Niedecker: Composing a Life.” Revealing Lives: Autobiography, Biography, and Gender. Ed. Susan Groag Bell and Marilyn Yalom. Albany: SUNY Press, 1990. Breton, Andre. Manifestoes of Surrealism. Trans. Helen Lane and Richard Seaver. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969.

286  |  Selected Bibliography Brinkley, Douglas. “On the Road with Writers of the WPA.” International Herald Tribune 7 Aug. 2003: 18. Brookeman, Christopher. Modern British Poetry Conference: May 31st, June 1st and 2nd, 1974. London: Polytechnic of Central London, 1974. Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995. Bunting, Basil. Basil Bunting on Poetry. Ed. Peter Makin. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. ———. Complete Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 2000. ———. Three Essays. Ed. Richard Caddel. Durham: Basil Bunting Poetry Centre, 1994. Burns, Gerald. A Thing about Language. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. Caddel, Richard. “Consider: Lorine Niedecker and Her Environment.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 281–86. ——— and Peter Quartermain. “Introduction — A Fair Field Full of Folk.” Other: British and Irish Poetry since 1970. Hanover and London: Wesleyan University Press  /  University Press of New England, 1999. xv–xxix. Cage, John. Empty Words: Writing ’73–’78. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1979. ———. M: Writings ’67–72. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1973. ———. Silence: Lectures and Writings. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1961. Conte, Joseph. Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. Corman, Cid, trans. One Man’s Moon: Poems by Basho and Other Japanese Poets. Frankfort: Gnomon, 2003. Cox, Kenneth. “The Longer Poems.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996: 303–10. Cox, Paul Alan. “The Unfinished Journey of Carl Linnaeus.” Plant Talk 16 (1999). 22 Apr. 2004, http://www.plant-talk.org/. Crase, Douglas. “Niedecker and the Evolutional Sublime.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 327–44. Crnkovic, Gordana P. “Utopian America and the Language of Silence.” John Cage, Composed in America. Ed. Marjorie Perloff and Charles Junkermann. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Davie, Donald. “Lorine Niedecker: Lyric Minimum and Epic Scope.” The Full Note: Lorine Niedecker. Budleigh Salterton, Devon, UK: Interim, 1983. 64–73.

Selected Bibliography  |  287 ———. “Niedecker and Historicity.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 361 – 75. Davis, Angela. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998. Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. New York: Verso, 1996. Dent, Peter, ed. The Full Note: Lorine Niedecker. Devon, UK: Interim Press, 1983. Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1960. Dorn, Edward. “Introduction.” The Full Note: Lorine Niedecker. Ed. Peter Dent. Devon, UK: Interim Press, 1983. 23. Duncan, Robert. A Selected Prose. Ed. Robert J. Bertholf. New York: New Directions, 1995. DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. Blue Studios: Poetry and Its Cultural Work. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006. ———. “Lorine Niedecker’s ‘Paean to Place’ and Its Fusion Poetics.” Contemporary Literature 46.3 (Fall 2005): 393–421. ———. “Lorine Niedecker, the Anonymous: Gender, Class, Genre and Resistances.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation Press, 1996. 113–37. ———. Review of Sappho’s Lyre: Archaic Lyric and Women Poets of Ancient Greece, trans. Diane Raynor, Harpsichord & Salt Fish by Lorine Niedecker, Lone Dog’s Winter Count by Diane Glancy, and Selected Poems: 1963–1973 by David Antin. Sulfur 30 (1992): 221–24. ———, and Peter Quartermain, eds. The Objectivist Nexus: Essays in Cultural Poetics. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999. Eliot, T. S. The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909–1950. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962. ———. Four Quartets. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Selected Essays, Lectures and Poems. Ed. Robert D. Richardson, Jr. New York: Bantam, 1990. Ericson, D. W. Floods in Wisconsin: Magnitude and Frequency. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey, 1961. Eshleman, Clayton. Indiana. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1969. Faranda, Lisa Pater. “Lorine Niedecker.” Dictionary of Literary Biography, second series. Vol. 48, American Poets, 1880–1945. Ed. Peter Quartermain. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1986. ———, ed. “Between Your House and Mine”: The Letters of Lorine Niedecker to Cid Corman, 1960 to 1970. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1986. Fetterley, Judith and Marjorie Pryse. Writing Out of Place: Regionalism, Women,

288  |  Selected Bibliography and American Literary Culture. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003. Finlay, Ian Hamilton. “The Death of Piety.” Interview with Nagy Rashwan. Jacket 15 (2001). http://jacketmagazine.com. ———. Glasgow Beasts, an a Burd. Edinburgh: Wild Flounder, 1965. Foucault, Michel. Les Mots et les Choses. Paris: Gallimard, 1966. Frampton, Kenneth. “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance.” The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Ed. Hal Foster. Port Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, 1983. 16–31. Gass, William. “The Nature of Narrative and Its Philosophical Implications.” Tests of Time. New York: Knopf, 2002. Guedalla, Roger. “Basil Bunting: A Bibliography of Works and Criticism.” Poetry Information 19 (Autumn 1978): 73–89. Gummere, Francis B. The Popular Ballad. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1907. Gunn, Thom. “Weedy Speech and Tangled Bank.” Review of Harpsichord & Salt Fish by Lorine Niedecker. Times Literary Supplement 14 February 1992. H. D. Selected Poems. Ed. Louis Martz. New York: New Directions, 1988. Handy, W. C. Father of the Blues: An Autobiography. Ed. Arna Bontemps. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1957. Hass, Robert, ed. and trans. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa. New York: Ecco Press, 1994. Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell, 1962. Henderson, Philip. William Morris: His Life, Work and Friends. London: Thames and Hudson, 1967. Herr, Cheryl Temple. Critical Regionalism and Cultural Studies: From Ireland to the American Midwest. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. Heyward, Michael, and Peter Craven. “An Interview with Basil Bunting.” Scripsi 1 (April 1982): 27–31. Holmstrom, B. K. Low-Flow Characteristics of Streams in the Rock-Fox River Basin, Wisconsin. Washington, D.C.: United States Geological Survey WaterResources Investigations. Open-File Report 1978. Honig, Edwin. “A Memory of Lorine Niedecker in the Late ’30s.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 43–47. Irigaray, Luce. Speculum of the Other Woman. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985. Jameson, Fredric. A Singular Modernity. London: Verso, 2002. Jensen, Peter R. In Marconi’s Footsteps 1894 to 1920. Kenthurst, Australia: Kangaroo Press, 1994.

Selected Bibliography  |  289 Johnson, Carol. “The Poetics of Disregard: Homage to Basil Bunting.” The Disappearance of Literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1980. 49–57. Johnson, Robert. The Complete Recordings. New York: Sony Music Entertainment, 1990. Johnstone, Paul. “Basil Bunting: Taken from Two Interviews, recorded by Paul Johnstone in April 1974 and April 1975.” Meantime (April 1977): 67–80. Kadlec, David. “Early Soviet Cinema and American Poetry.” Modernism/Modernity 11.2 (April 2004): 299–331. Kaufman, Robert. “Sociopolitical (i.e., Romantic) Difficulty in Modern Poetry and Aesthetics.” Romanticism and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. Romantic Circles Praxis Series. Ed. Orrin Wang. June 2003, www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/ poetics.ns/kaufman/kaufman.html. Kerouac, Jack. Scattered Poems. San Francisco: City Lights, 1971. Kleinzahler, August. “Toss the Monkey Wrench.” London Review of Books 27:10 (19 May 2005): 27. Kostelanetz, Richard. Conversing with Cage. New York: Limelight Press, 1979. Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Lacan, Jacques. The Language of the Self: The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis. Trans. Anthony Wilden. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981. Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949. Lesch, Barbara. Basil Bunting: A Major British Modernist. PhD dissertation, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1979. Levi, Peter. Rev. of The Back Country and Six Sections from Mountains and Rivers without End by Gary Snyder. Agenda 6:2 (Spring 1969): 72–74. Livy (Titus Livius). Ab Urbe Condita Libri. Trans. B. O. Foster. Loeb Classical Library, 1929. Makin, Peter. Bunting: The Shaping of His Verse. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992. Marion, Jean-Luc. “In Thy Name: How to Avoid Speaking of ‘Negative Theology.’ ” God, the Gift and Postmodernism. Ed. John Caputo and M. Scanlon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. Marx, Karl. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto. Trans. Martin Milligan. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1988. Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967. McGann, Jerome. The Textual Condition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. Middleton, Peter. “Niedecker Elsewhere: Reflections on Publishing Niedecker’s

290  |  Selected Bibliography Poetry in the UK.” Paper presented at conference, Lorine Niedecker: A Centenary Celebration, at Milwaukee Public Library, 10 Oct. 2003. ———. “Lorine Niedecker’s ‘Folk Base’ and Her Challenge to the American Avant-Garde.” The Objectivist Nexus: Essays in Cultural Poetics. Ed. Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Peter Quartermain. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999. Montgomery, Stuart. Shabby Sunshine. London: Fulcrum Press, 1973. Morris, William. The Letters of William Morris to His Family and Friends. Ed. Philip Henderson. London: Longmans, 1950. ———. Collected Works. 24 vols. New York: Russell & Russell, 1910–1915. Mottram, Eric. “Conversations with Basil Bunting on the Occasion of his 75th Birthday.” Poetry Information 19 (Autumn 1978): 3–10. ———. Interview with Tom Pickard. Poetry Information 18 (Winter/Spring 1977–78): 40. Nero, Bob. “Remembering Lorine.” Truck 16 (Summer 1975): 136–40. New, Elisa. The Line’s Eye: Poetic Experience, American Sight. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. Nicholls, Peter. “Lorine Niedecker: Rural Surreal.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 193–217. Niedecker, Lorine. Collected Works. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. ———. “Extracts from Letters to Kenneth Cox.” The Full Note: Lorine Niedecker. Budleigh Salterton, Devon, UK: Interim, 1983. 36–42. ———. From This Condensery: The Complete Writing of Lorine Niedecker. Ed. Robert J. Bertholf. N.P.: Jargon Society, 1985. ———. The Granite Pail: The Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker. Ed. Cid Corman. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985. ———. Harpsichord & Salt Fish. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Durham: Pig Press, 1991. ———. “Lake Superior Country.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 311–26. ———. Letters to Clayton Eshleman. Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University. ———. Letters to Charles Reznikoff. Mandeville Special Collections, University of California at San Diego. ———. Letters to Edward Dahlberg. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. ———. “Letters to Poetry Magazine, 1931–1937.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 175–92.

Selected Bibliography  |  291 ———. “Local Letters: Selected Letters to Morgan Gibson, 1963–1970.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 88–94. ———. “Local Letters: Letters to Ron Ellis, 1966.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 94–99. ———. “Letters to Gail Roub (1967–70).” Lorine Niedecker. Ed. Cid Corman. Special issue of Origin 16 (1981): 38–47. ———. Lorine Niedecker Personal Library. Ed. Tom Montag. 22 Apr. 2004, www .lorineniedecker.org/nieddb.htm. ———. New Goose. Prairie City, Ill.: Press of James A. Decker, 1946. ———. “Next Year or I fly my rounds, Tempestuous.” Sulfur 41 (Fall 1997): 42–71. ———. North Central. London: Fulcrum Press, 1968. ———. “The Poetry of Louis Zukofsky,” Quarterly Review of Literature 8.3 (1955): 198–210. ———. Paean to Place. Replica of autograph book. Ed. Karl Gartung. Milwaukee: Woodland Pattern and Light and Dust, 2003. Nielsen, Aldon. Black Chant: Languages of African-American Postmodernism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Noland, Carrie. “Phonic Matters: French Sound Poetry, Julia Kristeva, and Bernard Heidsieck.” PMLA 120.1 (January 2005): 108–27. Olson, Charles. The Maximus Poems. New York: Jargon/Corinth Books, 1960. ———. Selected Writings. Ed. Robert Creeley. New York: New Directions, 1966. Oppen, George. “The Circumstances. A Selection from George Oppen’s Uncollected Writing.” Ed. Rachel Blau DuPlessis. Sulfur 25 (1989): 10–43. ———. “The Philosophy of the Astonished.” Sulfur 27 (1990): 202–20. Palmer, Robert. Deep Blues. New York: Viking Press, 1981. Peattie, Donald Culross. An Almanac for Moderns. New York: Putnam, 1935. Penberthy, Jenny. “Brief Words Are Hard to Find: Basil Bunting and Lorine Niedecker.” Conjunctions 8 (1985): 160–64. ———. “A Little Too Little: Rereading Lorine Niedecker.” How2 1.1 (March 1999), http://how2journal.com. ———. “Life and Writing.” Collected Works. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Berkeley: California University Press, 2002. ———. “Lorine Niedecker: ‘Next Year or I Fly My Rounds, Tempestuous.’ ” Sulfur 41 (Fall 1997), http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/niedecker/calendar.html. ———, ed. Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. ———, ed. Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky, 1931–1970. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

292  |  Selected Bibliography Perloff, Marjorie. “L. before P.: Writing For Paul for Louis.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 157–70. ———, ed. Poetic License. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1990. Peterson, Jeffrey. “Lorine Niedecker: ‘Before Machines.’ ” Lorine Niedecker Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 245–79. Peterson, Roger Tory. A Field Guide to the Birds: Eastern Land and Water Birds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947. Phillips, Adam. Darwin’s Worms. New York: Basic Books, 2000. Pickard, Tom. The Order of Chance. London: Fulcrum, 1971. ———. “Pickard.” Interview with Eric Mottram. Poetry Information 18 (1977–78): 40–49. Pippin, Robert. “Necessary Conditions for the Possibility of What Isn’t: Heidegger on Failed Meaning.” The Persistence of Subjectivity: The Kantian Aftermath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 57–78. Prince, Sue Ann. Stuffing Birds, Pressing Plants, Shaping Knowledge: Natural History in North America 1730–1860. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 93.4. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2003. Reagan, Dale. “An Interview with Basil Bunting.” Montemora 3 (1977): 68–80. Reznikoff, Charles. Five Groups of Verse. New York: C. Reznikoff, 1927. ———. Poems 1918–1975: The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff. Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1989. ———. Testimony: The United States (1885–1915): Recitative. 2 vols. Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1978–1979. Ricoeur, Paul. “Narrative Time.” On Narrative. Ed. W. J. T. Mitchell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Rilke, Rainer Maria. “Primal Sound.” Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose. Ed. Steven Mitchell. New York: Modern Library/Random House, 1997. Roub, Gail. “Getting to Know Lorine Niedecker.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 79–86. Ruskin, John. St. Mark’s Rest: The History of Venice, Written for the Help of the Few Travelers Who Still Care for her Monuments. New York: Merrill, n.d. Seyffert, Oskar. Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. 3rd ed. Ed. Henry Nettleship and J. E. Sandys. London: n.p., 1894. Shearer, Benjamin F., and Barbara S. State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. The Complete Poetical Works. Ed. Thomas Hutchinson. London: Oxford, 1929.

Selected Bibliography  |  293 Shetler, Stanwyn G. “Twinleaf ( Jeffersonia diphylla).” 1999 Virginia Wildflower of the Year. Virginia Native Plant Society. 5 Mar. 1999. 22 Apr. 2004, http://www .vnps.org/twinleaf.html. Silliman, Ron. [untitled] Silliman’s Blogspot. 29 Aug. 2003. http://ronsilliman .blogspot.com. Smith, Bessie. “Wasted Life Blues.” Bessie Smith: The Complete Recordings. Vol. 4. Columbia Recordings: 1993. Smith, W. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 3 vols. London: Murray, 1873. Sorrentino, Gilbert. “Misconstruing Lorine Niedecker.” Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1996. 287–92. Sterne, Jonathan. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003. Thoreau, Henry David. The Journal of Henry David Thoreau. 1906. Ed. Bradford Torrey and Francis H. Alden. New York: Dover, 1962. Wagner, Roy. Symbols That Stand for Themselves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. Waldman, Anne. Iovis I. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1993. Waldrop, Rosmarie. The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter and a Form of Taking It All. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2002. Watten, Barrett. The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2003. Whalen, Peter. “ ‘How to Keep the Earth’: Lorine Niedecker and Wisconsin’s Environmental Tradition.” Ecopoetics 6/7 (forthcoming). Whalen, Philip. Memoirs of an Interglacial Age. San Francisco: Auerhahn Press, 1960. Williams, Jonathan. Descant on Rawthey’s Madrigal: Conversations with Basil Bunting. Lexington, KY: Gnomon Press, 1968. ———, ed. Some Jazz from the Baz: Excerpts from Basil Bunting’s Letters to Jonathan Williams: 1963–1985. Scaly Mountain, North Carolina: Press of Otis the Lamed-Vovnik, 2000. ———, and Tom Meyer. “A Conversation with Basil Bunting.” Poetry Information 19 (Autumn 1978): 37–47. Williams, William Carlos. In the American Grain. New York: New Directions, 1956. Willis, Elizabeth. “The Arena in the Garden: Some Thoughts on the Late Lyric.” Telling It Slant. Ed. Mark Wallace and Steven Marks. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002. ———. “The Milk Separator and the New Goose: Niedecker, Eisenstein, and the Poetics of Non-indifference.” How 2 1.7 (2002), http://www.scc.rutgers.edu/ however/v1_7_200/current/readings/willis.shtm.

294  |  Selected Bibliography ———. “Possessing Possession: Lorine Niedecker, Folk, and the Allegory of Making.” Xcp: Cross-cultural Poetics 9 (2001): 97–106. Wisconsin Writers’ Project. Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1941. Wolfe, Cary. Animal Rites. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Yeats, W. B. Autobiographies. London: Macmillan, 1955. ———. The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1960. Zizek, Slavoj. On Belief. London: Routledge, 2001. ———. Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel and the Critique of Ideology. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1993. Zukofsky, Louis. Prepositions+: The Collected Critical Essays. Hanover, New Hampshire: Wesleyan University Press, 2000. ———. “Sincerity and Objectification.” Poetry 37.5 (1931): 272–85. ———. A Test of Poetry. New York: Jargon/Corinth Books, 1964. ———, ed. An “Objectivists” Anthology. New York: To Publishers, 1932.


Rae Armantrout is a poet who teaches at the University of California–San Diego. Her latest book of poetry is Next Life. Glenna Breslin first read Lorine Niedecker’s poems while living in a one-room cabin on the coast of northern California. This is her fourth publication on the poet’s life and writings. She is professor of English at Saint Mary’s College and lives in Berkeley, California. Michael Davidson is a professor of literature at the University of California–San Diego. He is the author of The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-century, Ghostlier Demarcations: Modern Poetry and the Material Word, and Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics. He is the editor of The New Collected Poems of George Oppen. His new book is Concerto for the Left Hand: Disability and the Defamiliar Body (2007). Rachel Blau DuPlessis is a poet-critic, whose long poem project is collected in Torques: Drafts 58–76 as well as in Drafts 1–38, Toll, and “Drafts 39–57, Pledge,” with “Draft, unnumbered: Précis.” In 2006, she published Blue Studios: Poetry and Its Cultural Work and a reprint of The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice. Other critical books include Writing beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of TwentiethCentury Women Writers and Genders, Races, and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry, 1908–1934. She also edited The Selected Letters of George Oppen. Ruth Jennison is an assistant professor of modern and contemporary American poetry at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her current book project, “The Zukofsky Era: Modernity, Margins and the Avant-Garde” lays the basis for a new sociology of literary modernism. “The Zukofsky Era” provides a political economic analysis of revolutionary American modernism and materialist avant-garde poetic form in Objectivists Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, and Lorine Niedecker. Peter Middleton is a professor of English in the School of Humanities at the University of Southampton. He is the author of The Inward Gaze: Masculinity and Subjectivity in Modern Culture; Literatures of Memory, co-authored with Tim Woods; and Distant Reading: Performance, Readership and Consumption. He has also written many essays on modern and contemporary poetry, and a collection of poems entitled Aftermath.

296  |  Contributors Jenny Penberthy’s edited works include New Goose; Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works; Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet; Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky 1931–1970; and Harpsichord and Salt Fish. She is a professor of English at Capilano College in Vancouver, Canada. Mary Pinard is a poet and associate professor of English at Babson College. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, Harvard Review, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. Patrick Pritchett is the author of several books of poetry, including Burn, Antiphonal, and Lives of the Poets. He is a lecturer in the History and Literature Program at Harvard University. Peter Quartermain is emeritus professor of English at the University of British Columbia, where he taught twentieth-century poetry written in English. He has edited several books, including the anthology Other: British and Irish Poetry since 1970 (co-edited with the English poet Richard Caddel) and is the author of Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe as well as several dozen articles. He met Basil Bunting in 1970; they were friends until Bunting’s death in 1985. Lisa Robertson is a Canadian poet whose books include XEclogue, Debbie: An Epic, and The Weather. Robertson’s most recently published works include Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture, a book of prose essays and reports on the decorative art of walking, and The Men: A Lyric Book. She is currently artist-in-residence at California College of the Arts. Elizabeth Robinson is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently Under That Silky Roof and Apostrophe. She is also a coeditor of Instance Press and EtherDome Chapbooks. The Orphan and Its Relations is forthcoming. Eleni Sikelianos’s most recent books are The California Poem and The Book of Jon. Previous books include The Monster Lives of Boys & Girls, Earliest Worlds, and The Book of Tendons. Forthcoming is Body Clock. Jonathan Skinner edits the review ecopoetics and is an assistant professor of environmental studies at Bates College. His recent poetry collections include Political Cactus Poems and Warblers. Anne Waldman is a poet, professor, editor, and cultural activist whose books include the epic Iovis project, Marriage: A Sentence, Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble, and In the Room of Never Grieve. She is the cofounder with Allen Ginsberg of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, where she is chair and artistic director of the Summer Writing Program. She also coedited

Contributors  |  297 the Naropa anthology Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action and is the editor of The Beat Book. She makes her homes on Manhattan island and the Front Range of Colorado. Eliot Weinberger’s books of literary and political essays include Karmic Traces, What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles, and An Elemental Thing. He is the editor of The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry and World Beat: International Poetry Now from New Directions. Elizabeth Willis is the author of four books of poetry: Second Law, The Human Abstract, Turneresque, and most recently Meteoric Flowers. She grew up mostly in Wisconsin near the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers. She teaches poetry and poetics at Wesleyan University.


Abrioux, Yves, 249 Adams, John and Abigail, xiv, 187 Adorno, T. W., 109, 146–47, 148 Agassiz, Louis, 45 Agee, James, 20n10 Algren, Nelson, 8 Apollo, 165, 166 Armantrout, Rae, xxii Arnold, Bob, 77 Arts in Society (periodical), 70, 71 Ashbery, John, 156, 269 Audubon, John James, 45, 57n2 Auerhahn Press, 261, 270n13 Augustine, Jane, 19n7 Aurelius, Marcus, 216 Babb, Sanora, 7 Baker, Tony, 268 Barbiero, Daniel, 114–15 Barnett, Anthony, 268 Barthes, Roland, 172–73, 179n30 Barton, Benjamin Smith, 57n3 Bartram, William, 57n3 Basho, 73, 213, 214–15, 217 Bataille, Georges, 95 Beard, Charles, 177n20 Becket, Saint Thomas, 18 Beckett, Samuel, 96 Beethoven, Ludwig van, 201 Beinecke Library, 131 Bell, Alexander Graham, 83 Benjamin, Walter, 18 Benveniste, Asa, 261

Berger, Victor, xviii Bergson, Henri, 56 Bertholf, Robert J., xvi Bigland, Eileen, 225, 228 Black Hawk, Chief, 48, 51–52, 225 Black Mountain, 152, 176n11 Black Mountain Review, xvi, 250 Black Sparrow Press, 248 Blake, Clarence, 83 Blake, William, 83, 168, 213 Blegen, Theodore C., 64 blues, 91–95, 99–100, 101 Bonpland, Aimé, 187 Bourdieu, Pierre, 93–94 Breslin, Glenna, xxiii Breton, André, 149n2, 154 Bronowski, Jacob, 77n6 Brooks, Gwendolyn, 18 Brooks, Van Wyck, 215 Browning, Robert, 186 Buddhism, 207–10, 217 Bulosan, Carlos, 7 Bunting, Basil, xv, xviii, xxiii, 43, 174, 178n21, 242, 246n17, 259, 263, 265, 267, 268, 270n12, 271–83 Bunyan, John, 165 Burns, Gerald, 171 Caddel, Richard, 4, 43, 46, 265, 268, 279 Cage, John, xxiii, 207, 209–10, 215–17, 219–21 Cahun, Claude, 132

300  |  Index Cape Goliard, 248 capitalism, 97, 111, 133–34, 229, 233–34, 243 Carson, Rachel, 45 Caterpillar (periodical), 18, 158 Cather, Willa, 4 Champlain, Samuel de, 75 Cheever, John, 8 Chesnutt, Charles, 4 Chopin, Frederic, 199, 201, 202–03 Chopin, Kate, 4 Churchill, Winston, 274 Clark, Thom A., 268 Conte, Joseph, 50, 124 Contemporary Literature (periodical), 151, 175n2, 175n4 Coolidge, Clark, xvi Copland, Aaron, 201 Corman, Cid, xxi, 32, 50, 66, 89, 152, 163, 177n16, 178n21, 215, 225, 264, 269n2; Niedecker’s correspondence with, xvi, 7, 23–24, 25, 34, 59n21, 61– 63, 69, 72, 73, 75, 76, 77, 93, 130, 131, 156, 157, 158, 161, 173, 177n17, 178n23, 178n25, 189, 210, 218, 219, 235, 236, 244n4, 245n8, 277, 280 Cox, Kenneth, 72, 76, 77, 79n21, 79n22, 126, 152, 177n19, 215 Crase, Douglas, 43, 49, 58n11, 71, 78n18 Creeley, Robert, xvi Crèvecoeur, Michel de (pseud. J. Hector St. John), 45, 57n2 Crnković, Gordana P., 221 Crozier, Andrew, 268 cummings, e. e., 184 Cunningham, Merce, 215 Dahlberg, Edward, xvi, 44, 63 Daive, Jean, 173, 179n31 Dante Alighieri, 213

Darwin, Charles, 14, 42, 48–49, 56, 103, 116, 165, 167, 178n25, 207, 225, 226 Davidson, Michael, xxii, xxiii Davie, Donald, 74, 78n14, 78n18, 128 Davis, Angela, 94 de Beauvoir, Simone, 169–70 Debs, Eugene, xviii Decker, James A., 51 Dembo, L. S., 59n20, 151 Denning, Michael, 7, 18 Dent, Peter, xxi Derrida, Jacques, 59n19 Descartes, René, 52 Deusing, Merl, 206n2 Dickens, Charles, 235 Dickinson, Emily, xiv, 4, 13, 57, 105, 106, 172, 266 Diderot, Denis, 73, 210 Dorn, Edward, 248, 255, 258, 259, 266, 270n12 Dos Passos, John, 10 Dunbar, Paul Laurence, 4 Duncan, Robert, 55, 72, 78n13, 158, 167, 170, 174, 178n28, 187, 248, 259 DuPlessis, Rachel Blau, xv, xxi, xxiii, 56–57, 59n20, 93, 115, 149n5, 279–80 Durrell, Lawrence, xix Edwards, Ken, 268 Eigner, Larry, 178n21, 248, 259 Eiseley, Loren, 45, 77n6 Eisenstein, Sergei, 149n3 Eliot, T. S., xx, 12, 18, 86, 96, 186, 187, 266, 278, 281n3 Ellington, Duke, 93 Ellis, Ronald, 178n24 Ellison, Ralph, 8 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 57, 217, 274 Engelbert, Nick, xix Engels, Friedrich, 210

Index  |  301 Epitaphs for Lorine, 185 Eshleman, Clayton, xvi, 18, 70, 152, 156–57, 158, 173, 174, 176n7, 176n11 Fabre, J. Henri, 45 Faranda, Lisa Pater, 17 Federal Writers’ Project, 8 feminine identity, 93–95, 96, 97, 98, 101, 145, 169–70, 258 feminism, 94, 129, 134 Ferry, Marcelle, 132 The Figures (book publisher), 248 Finlay, Ian Hamilton, xvi, 215, 248, 249, 253, 255, 257–58, 267, 269n3, 269n4, 270n11 Fisher, Roy, 259, 270 folk poetry, xiii, 52, 53, 111, 131, 154, 159– 60, 163, 176–77n15 Fontanelle, Bernard Le Bovier de, 73 Foucault, Michel, 15, 58n5 Frampton, Kenneth, 5 Fraser, G. S., 278 Fulcrum Press, 248, 258–68, 270n11, 270n12, 270n13 Fuller, Margaret, 116, 187 Furnival, John, 249 Gartung, Karl, 115–16, 175n5 Gass, William, 116 Gaudier-Brzeska, Henri, 185 Gavin, James, 249 Gibson, Morgan, 70, 71 Ginsberg, Allen, 259 Gray, Asa, 42, 45, 57n2 Gray, James, 64 Gunn, Thom, 78n14, 270n14 H.D., 100–101, 184, 266 haiku, 163, 208, 209, 211–15, 221 Handy, W. C., 91

Hartwig, Ernest, xxiii, 189, 190–93 Hartwig, Frank, 176n13, 189–96 Harwood, Lee, 268 Hass, Robert, 212 Hatcher, H. H., 64 Hatlen, Burton, 131 Havighurst, Walter, 64, 74 Heidegger, Martin, 116, 256, 270n10 Henderson, Harold G., 215 Henderson, Philip, 225, 236, 241, 242, 243, 246n16 Herr, Cheryl, 5 Hertz, Heinrich, 83–84 Hoard, Mary, 159, 173, 174, 176n13 Honda, H. H., 78n13 Hone, Vivian, 8 Honig, Edward, 51 Hopkins, G. M., 173, 178n29, 187, 225 Howe, Susan, 187 Hughes, Ted, 267 Hume, David, 273, 283n16 Hurston, Zora Neale, 8 Irigaray, Luce, 96 Jameson, Fredric, 150n7 Jargon Society, xvi, 248, 252 Jeffers, Robinson, 48 Jefferson, Thomas, xiv, 57n3, 116 Jefferson County Union (newspaper), 193–94 Jennison, Ruth, xxiii Jewett, Sarah Orne, 4 Joglars (periodical), xvi Johns, Jasper, 245n11 Johnson, Robert, 93 Johnson, Ronald, 249 Johnstone, Paul, 276 Jolas, Eugene, 149n4

302  |  Index Joliet, Louis, 187 Jones, David, 252, 259 Kadlec, David, 177n20 Kaufman, Robert, 130 Keats, John, 208 Kelly, Robert, 156 Kelmscott Press, 252 Kenner, Hugh, 282n14 Kepler, Johannes, 187 Kleinzahler, August, 259 Kline, Franz, 252 Koch, Kenneth, 156 Kostelanetz, Richard, 216 Kristeva, Julia, 103, 109, 179n30 Kumlien, Thure, 57n2 Kunz, George Frederick, 79n19 La Follette, Robert M., xviii, 10 Lacan, Jacques, 99 Lamont, Corliss, 177n20 Lao Tzu, 215 Lapham, Increase, 42, 57n2 LaVigne, Robert, 261, 270n13 Lawrence, D. H., 54 Lawrence, T. E., 187 Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 216, 279 Leopold, Aldo, 51, 58n13, 78n17, 151, 177n20 Levi, Peter, 266 Lincoln, Abraham, 52, 255 Linnaeus, Carolus, 45, 46–47, 57n3, 187 Li Po, 211 Livy, 275, 281n3, 282n8 Locke, John, 283n16 Lodge, Oliver, 84 Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 62 Lucretius, 216

MacDiarmid, Hugh, 75, 250 Mallarmé, Stéphane, 79n22 Marconi, Guglielmo, 84 Marquette, Jacques, 75 Marx, Karl, xiv, 83, 186 Marx, Leo, 53 Masters, Edgar Lee, 185–86 Maxwell, James Clerk, 84 McAllister, Aeneas, xvii, 189, 196, 198–206 McCarthy, Joseph, xviii, 5 McGann, Jerome, 252 McNeish, Alexander, 249 McWilliams, Carey, 7 Meltzer, David, 248 Michaux, André, 45 Michelangelo, 187 Michigan: A Guide to the Wolverine State (WPA), 64 Middleton, Peter, 55, 99, 176n15, 218 Millen, Al, 49, 61, 69, 77n1, 77n3, 205, 274, 281–82n5 Miller, Walter, 249, 252, 265 Minnesota: A State Guide (WPA), 64 modernism, xxi–xxii, 15, 100, 132, 133, 134, 167, 252, 259 Monroe, Harriet, xviii, 132, 135–36, 141, 146, 158, 176n9, 176n13, 193, 196 Montgomery, Stuart, 258, 259–60, 267, 270n12 Moore, Marianne, xiv, xx, 184 Moraga, Cherrie, 18 Morris, William, xiv, xix, xxiii, 223, 225, 226, 228, 229, 232, 233, 234–44, 245n8, 245n9, 245n14, 245n15, 245–46n16, 252 Mottram, Eric, 267 Mozart, W. A., 88 Mulford, Wendy, 268 Müller, Karl, 282n8

Index  |  303 nature, 13–14, 21–30, 41–57, 61–77, 206, 210 Nelson, Gaylord, xviii Nero, Bob, 63, 72, 75, 76, 77, 78n13 New, Elisa, 58–59n14 New Directions (publisher), 248 New Directions (periodical), 8, 250 Newton, Isaac, 73 New York school, 156 Nicholls, Peter, 4, 20n11, 149n4, 154, 179n31 Nicolet, Jean, 73 Niedecker, Lorine: birth of, 85; death of, 77n3, 152, 163, 184; employment of, xiii, 5, 6, 11–12, 19n6, 20n9, 37, 85, 193–94, 224, 277; father of, xviii, 5, 190, 196, 199, 203, 204, 205, 277; marriage to Al Millen, 49, 61, 69, 77n1, 77n3, 205, 274, 281–82n5; marriage to Frank Hartwig, 176n13, 189–96; mother of, 6, 15–16, 103, 107, 172, 195, 225, 228; posthumous destruction of papers, 77n3, 163; voice recording of, 89, 215; and Wisconsin Writers’ Project, 8, 51–52, 64, 77n7 Niedecker’s works: “Alliance,” 213–14; “Along the river,” 27, 37–38, 255–56, 257; “Asa Gray wrote Increase Lapham,” 42; “Asa Gray wrote Increase Lapham” (unpublished version), 45, 58n4; “Ash woods, willow, close to shore,” 27; “As praiseworthy,” 109; “Autumn Night,” 198; “Bashō,” 213, 214–15; “Beautiful girl,” 36–37, 221; “Beyond what,” 33, 143–44, 145, 150n8; “Black Hawk held,” 44, 48, 52, 53, 255, 257; “Bombings,” 32–33; “The brown muskrat, noiseless,” 54–55, 58n9; “Canvass,” 13, 33, 136–39, 142, 144, 148, 150n6; “City Talk,” 108–09;

“The clothesline post is set,” 256; Collected Works, xiii, xvi, xx, xxi, 7, 31, 32; “Cricket-song,” 105–06; “Darwin,” 42, 48, 85, 103, 187, 227, 274; “The death of my poor father,” 208; “Depression Years,” 98; “Domestic and Unavoidable” (play), 88; “Don’t shoot the rail!” 38, 51; “Easter,” 38; “For exhibition,” 139–41, 150n6; For Paul and Other Poems, xvii, 97–98, 107–08, 205, 226; “Frog noise,” 44, 53; “Get a load,” 53–54; The Granite Pail, xvi, 32, 33; “Hand Crocheted Rug,” 236; Harpsichord & Salt Fish, xvi, 89, 178n25, 265; “His Carpets Flowered,” 187, 223, 226, 235–43, 274; “Homemade”/”Handmade Poems,” 226, 244n4; “I don’t know what wave he’s on” (unpublished fragment), 199; “If I were a bird,” 184; “I heard,” 144–45, 150n8; “I knew a clean man,” 231–32; “I lost you to water, summer,” 198; “I married,” 5, 34, 110–11; “In the great snowfall before the bomb,” 11–12, 37; “In the transcendence,” 212; “I rose from marsh mud,” 97–98, 239, 271–72; “I said to my head,” 33–34; “J. F. Kennedy after / the Bay of Pigs,” 41, 42; “Lake Superior,” xx, xxii, 13, 39, 43, 44, 49, 50, 61–77, 78n13, 264–65; “Library Notes” (newspaper column), 193–94; “Linnaeus in Lapland,” 44, 46; “Look close,” 210–11; “Lugubre for a child,” 35–36; “Memorial Day,” 145, 150n8; “Mother is dead,” 98; “Mourning Dove,” 193; “The museum man!” 230; “My father said, ‘I remember,’” 27; “My friend tree,” 116–17, 253–54, 257; My Friend Tree, xvi, 58n4, 176n10,

304  |  Index 249, 250–58, 265; “My Life by Water,” 27–29, 261, 265; My Life by Water, xvi, 202, 261, 267, 269n6; “My life is hung up,” 104; “New!” 35; New Goose, xvi, 7–8, 32, 33, 42, 51, 53, 184, 231, 249; “Next Year or I fly my rounds, Tempestuous,” xxi, 25–26, 96, 118–24, 125, 129, 131; North Central, xvi, 39, 44, 187, 248, 249, 258–67; “Not all harsh sounds displease,” 55; “Now in one year,” 250–51, 269n6; “Nursery Rhyme,” 56; “The obliteration,” 40; “Old Hamilton hailed the man from the grocery store,” 219; “Old Mother turns blue and from us,” 244n7; “Paean to Place,” xv, xx–xxi, xxiii, 3, 6, 25, 29, 38, 41, 42, 43, 55, 71, 74, 104, 107, 111, 124–29, 152, 157, 158, 162–74, 175n5, 177n18, 178n26, 205, 216, 218, 261; “Paul,” 113–14; “Paul / when the leaves / fall,” 205, 249; “Pioneers,” 26; “Poet’s work,” xvii, 19n8, 58n10, 106, 224; “Progression,” xxi, 32, 56, 85, 87, 131, 132, 134, 147, 223, 225, 239; “She grew where every spring,” 5, 27; “Sky,” 213; “Some float off on chocolate bars,” 47–48, 53; “Something in the water,” 112; “Sorrow moves in wide waves,” 27; “Springtime’s wide,” 29; “Subliminal,” 106; “Swept snow, Li Po,” 211; “Switchboard Girl” (play), 85; “Synamism,” 33; T & G: The Collected Poems, xiii, xvi, xix, 34, 161, 261, 267, 269n6; “Tea,” 141–43, 145, 150n6; “Tell me a story about the war,” 36; “Ten o’clock,” 108; “Their apples fall down,” 43; “There’s a better shine,” 257; “They came at a pace,” 33, 34; “Thomas Jefferson,” xix, 76, 187, 281n4; “To Aeneas who closed

his piano,” 202–03, 205; “To a Maryland editor, 1943,” 231; “To my small / electric pump,” 233; “To Paul now old enough to read,” 187; “Traces of Living Things,” 39, 43, 78n13, 105; “Transition,” 193; “Two old men,” 184, 224, 230; “Uncle” (short story), 8–10; “Van Gogh could see,” 111; “Voyageurs,” 77–78n7; “Wartime,” 98; “We know him—Law and Order League,” 244n7; “Well, spring overflows the land,” 256; “What horror to awake at night,” 92–93, 94–95, 96, 97, 100, 101, 107; “Who was Mary Shelley?” xix, 226–28, 232; “Why can’t I be happy,” 236; “Wild Pigeon,” 50; “Wintergreen Ridge,” xx, 13–18, 20n13, 39– 40, 41, 54, 71, 104, 117, 125, 158, 263 Niedecker Centenary, xx–xxi Nielsen, Aldon, 93 Nine (periodical), 278 Noland, Carrie, 179n30 Nuttall, Thomas, 57n3 Objectivism, xiv, xv, 40, 53, 151–56, 158–59, 162, 163, 164, 170, 173–74, 175n4, 176n7, 259; and Bunting’s work, xxiii, 174; and Oppen’s work, xvi, 155, 158, 174; and politics, xviii, 8, 10; and projectivism, 162, 170, 173, 174; and Reznikoff’s work, xv–xvi, xxiii, 185, 186; and surrealism, xxiii, 44, 56–57, 134–35, 146–48, 149n2, 149n4, 152–54, 156, 158, 159, 173–74, 175n4; and Zukofsky’s work, xiv, xv, xvi, 134–35, 154–55, 175n4, 185 Oliveros, Pauline, 86 Olsen, Tillie, 7 Olson, Charles, 18, 50, 158, 170, 178n27, 187, 248, 252

Index  |  305 Oppen, George, xiv, xvi, xvii, xx, 59n20, 151, 155, 158, 163, 174, 177–78n21, 225, 248, 259, 279, 283n15 Origin (periodical), xvi, 50, 66, 175–76n6, 179n31, 264, 269n2 Orpheus and Eurydice, 100–01, 164 O’Sullivan, Maggie, 268 Ozenfant, Amedee, 159 Palmer, Michael, xvi Palmer, Robert, 99 Peattie, Donald Culross, 45 Penberthy, Jenny, xvi, xxi, xxii, xxiii, 7, 20n13, 20n16, 25, 31, 50, 51, 56, 58n4, 98, 106, 107, 120, 131, 158, 161, 175n4, 176n14, 177n17, 210, 211, 225, 280, 282n5 Perloff, Marjorie, 98, 114 Peterson, Jeffrey, 14, 20n15 Pickard, Tom, 267, 277 Pig Press, 265, 268 Pinard, Mary, xxii, 57n1 Plato, 216 Poetry (periodical), xiv, xv, xviii, 24, 132, 135, 176n14, 196, 278 politics, xviii, 7, 8, 10, 12, 54–55, 111, 229, 234, 235, 238, 239, 242 Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. (periodical), 249 Popular Front, 7, 18, 53, 55 postmodernism, 118 Pound, Ezra, xv, xvii, xviii, xx, 12, 131, 178n21, 186, 187, 214, 223, 252, 266, 272, 274, 275, 277, 280, 281n3 Pre-Raphaelites, 229 Pritchett, Patrick, xxii projectivism, 50, 152, 156, 158, 161, 162, 163, 170, 173, 174, 176n11 Quarterly Review of Literature, 162 Quartermain, Peter, xxi, xxiii, 175n4

Radisson, Pierre Esprit, 71, 75, 187 Rakosi, Carl, xiv, 8, 59n20, 151 Ramsey, Anna, 191, 192 Ray, Nicholas, xix Reagan, Dale, 276 regionalism, xix, xxii, 3–5, 7, 14–15, 19n3 Reisman, Jerry, 177n16 Rexroth, Kenneth, 8, 187, 215 Reznikoff, Charles, xiv, xv, xvi, xvii, xx, xxiii, 59n20, 131, 176n14, 178n21, 183–87 Ricoeur, Paul, 115, 116, 125, 127–28 Riley, Peter, 268 Rilke, Rainer Maria, 84–85 Robertson, Lisa, xxii Robinson, Elizabeth, xxii, 279 Rochester, Anne, 177n20 romanticism, xv, 130, 167–69, 174, 224 Roof Books, 248 Roosevelt, Franklin D., xviii Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 241 Rothenburg, Jerome, 248, 259, 270n12 Roub, Gail, xvii, 72, 77n3; Niedecker’s correspondence with, 15, 42, 44, 48, 50–51, 52, 73, 151, 153, 155, 177n17 Rukeyser, Muriel, 187 Rusch, Herman, xix Ruskin, John, xiv, 228, 229, 234, 243, 245n8 Russell, Bertrand, 73, 177n20 Russell, Peter, 278 Sand, George, 203 Sanders, Ed, 187 Santayana, George, 187, 216, 279 Sappho, 213 Schneider, Herman, 77n6 Schneider, Nina, 77n6 Schoessow, Julie, 77n3

306  |  Index Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, 66, 67, 75, 187 science, 63, 64, 72–77, 178n25 seriality, 118, 163 Shakespeare, William, 213 Shelley, Mary, xiv, 187, 225, 226–28 Shelley, P. B., xiv, xv, 167, 168–69, 173, 225 Sikelianos, Eleni, xxii Silliman, Ron, 281n4 Simon Fraser University, 89 Skinner, Jonathan, xxii Smith, Bessie, 93, 94 Smith, Fred, xix Snyder, Gary, 178n21, 248, 259, 266 Sorrentino, Gilbert, xviii, 4 sound, xv, xxii, 49, 55, 83–90, 171–73, 178n29, 179n30, 281 Spicer, Jack, 163 Spinoza, Baruch, 186 Stein, Gertrude, 219 Steinbeck, John, 7, 8 Stevens, Wallace, xiv, 59n16, 178n21, 179n31, 184, 187 subjectivity, 32, 55, 87, 114, 126, 129–30, 140, 142, 144–46, 162, 170, 172, 209 sublime, 74, 169–71, 173, 174, 280 Sulfur (periodical), 265 Sun & Moon Press, 248 surrealism, xxiii, 13, 44, 56, 57, 131–35, 144, 146–48, 149n2, 149n4, 152–54, 156, 158, 159, 160–61, 162, 163, 173, 174, 175n4, 176n13, 176n14, 179n31 Swedenborg, Emmanuel, 187 Swift, Jonathan, 273 Teale, Edwin Way, 77n6 Tennyson, Alfred, 173 Thoreau, Henry David, 3, 45, 55–56, 215–17, 221

Times Literary Supplement, 265, 270n14 Tomlinson, Charles, 267 transition (periodical), 149n4, 152 Trigram Press, 248, 270n13 Trotsky, Leon, 149n2 Truck (periodical), xxi Turnbull, Gael, 249, 268 Turner, Myron, 179n31 University of Wisconsin, 3, 59n20, 151, 152 Vaughan, Paul, 261 Wagner, Roy, 269–70n9 Waldman, Anne, xxiii, 163 Waldrop, Rosmarie, 128–29 Walker, Margaret, 4, 8 Warhol, Andy, 233, 245n11 Watten, Barrett, 19n3 Weinberger, Eliot, xxiii Welles, Orson, xix Wells, H. G., 73 Whalen, Peter, 45 Whalen, Philip, 261, 270n13 White, Gilbert, 45 Whitman, Walt, xvii, 72, 232 Whittier, John Greenleaf, 9 Wild Hawthorn Press, 248, 249, 250, 251, 268 Wilk, David, xxi Williams, Jonathan, xvi, xvii, 25, 71, 161, 176n10, 184, 244n4, 250, 274, 278 Williams, William Carlos, xiv, 12, 15, 19n5, 154, 178n21, 183, 186, 249 Willis, Elizabeth, 114, 149n3 Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State (WPA), 8, 51, 64, 77n7, 78n17 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 283n16 Wolfe, Cary, 59n19

Index  |  307 Woolf, Virginia, 176n13 Wordsworth, William, xiv, 224 Wright, Frank Lloyd, xix Wright, James, 18 Writing (periodical), 273 Yeats, W. B., xiv, 167, 173, 178n26, 178n29, 225, 239, 240, 245n15 Yu-t’ang Lin, 215 Žižek, Slavoj, 98–99, 109–10 Zukofsky, Louis, xiv, xx, xxiii, 59n20, 124, 152, 155, 156, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 172, 174, 177n20, 178n21, 193, 232, 275, 283n16; Niedecker’s correspondence with, xiv–xv, 7, 20n16, 23, 24–25, 36, 37, 43, 44–45, 53, 56, 57n2, 58n4, 70, 88–89, 93, 131, 134, 152, 161, 175–76n6, 176n10, 176n13, 177n17, 178n29, 184,

189, 196, 199, 210, 216, 225, 244n4, 245n8, 246n17, 278, 279–80; Niedecker’s personal relations with, xv, 20n16, 23, 53, 97, 98, 107–08, 151, 161, 166, 176n13, 177n16, 183, 185, 196, 203–05, 217, 228 Zukofsky’s works: “A,” xv, 8; All: The Shorter Poems, xvi; Anew, 51; Little, 177n17; “An Objective,” 38, 40, 43, 44; An “Objectivists” Anthology (editor), 186, 259; Prepositions, 31, 42, 43, 44, 48, 54, 56, 135, 185; “Sincerity and Objectification,” 134–35, 154, 176n14, 185, 186–87; 16 Once Published, 249; Some Time, 106; A Test of Poetry, xiii, 8 Zukofsky Collection (University of Texas at Austin), 26, 131

Contemporary North American Poetry Series Industrial Poetics: Demo Tracks for a Mobile Culture By Joe Amato Jorie Graham: Essays on the Poetry Edited by Thomas Gardner University of Wisconsin Press, 2005 Gary Snyder and the Pacific Rim: Creating Countercultural Community By Timothy Gray History, Memory, and the Literary Left: Modern American Poetry, 1935–1968 By John Lowney Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews By Nathaniel Mackey University of Wisconsin Press, 2004 Frank O’Hara: The Poetics of Coterie By Lytle Shaw Radical Vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the Poetics of Place Edited by Elizabeth Willis