November 29, 2012

Lorine Niedecker

Lorine Niedecker (USA)

Born on May 12, 1903 on Black Hawk Island near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Lorine Niedecker lives most her life in a rural world dominated by the river, birds, trees, and marshland that were central to many of her poems.

      On graduating from Fort Atkinson high school, Niedecker went to Beloit College to pursue studies in literature, but when her father was no longer able to pay her tuition, she dropped out, spending many years caring for her deaf mother, deeply depressed by her husband’s sexual relations with a neighboring woman.

      In 1928 Niedecker married Frank Hartwig, but after two years of marriage, during which Hartwig’s construction business failed and Niedecker was dismissed from her job at the Fort Atkinson Library, the couple separated, finally divorcing in 1942.

     In 1946, Niedecker’s first book of poetry was published, New Goose, by a private publisher in Prairie City, Illinois. But she had already come into contact with the Objectivists as early as 1931, when she read the Objectivist issue of Poetry, edited by Louis Zukofsky. Admiring the work, Niedecker wrote to Zukofsky, sending him some of her recent poems. Zukofsky suggest she send them to Poetry magazine, where they were accepted, suddenly putting the isolated poet into contact with the American avant-garde.

     Two years later, Niedecker visited Zukofsky in New York City, and the two engaged in a short affair, the result of which resulted in Niedecker’s pregnancy. Despite his insistence upon an abortion, to which she complied, they remained friends, carrying on a long correspondence upon her return to Wisconsin.

     After the publication of New Goose, Niedecker once again fell into obscurity, working at a job scrubbing floors for the Fort Atkinson hospital, reading “proofs” for a local magazine, and renting cottages, leaving her in near-poverty. Although she continued writing, working on a sequence titled For Paul, the name of Zukofsky’s son, Zukofsky himself felt uncomfortable with the seeming family intrusion and discouraged its publication. More than previously, Niedecker felt her deep isolation, having published poems only six times in ten years.

     By the 1960s, however, poets began rediscovering her work. Two British publishers, Wild Hawthorn Press and Fulcrum Press, published books, and magazines suddenly became open to her work, in part, because of the intercession of poets such as Cid Corman, Basil Bunting, and younger English and American writers. My Friend Tree (1961), North Central (1968), and, most importantly, T&G: The Collected Poems (1936-1966), published by Jonathan Williams’ The Jargon Society, returned Niedecker to the literary map.

     Also in 1963 Niedecker remarried, this time to Albert Millen, an industrial painter, which returned her life to financial stability and brought her to Milwaukee’s south side, where it was easier for her to communicate with her literary friends. When in 1968, Millen retired, they moved back her beloved Blackhawk island, living in a cottage Niedecker had inherited.

      After her death of a cerebral hemorrhage, Neidecker’s career gained new attention, with presses publishing new poems and, in 2002, her Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy by the University of California Press.

       As the only female “member” of the loosely-aligned Objectivists, Niedecker’s reputation, issuing from the intense, concise, and somewhat surrealist images of her work, has continued to grow, allowing us to now see her as one of the most original of American poets.



New Goose (Prairie City, Illinois: James A Decker, 1946); My Friend Tree (Edinburgh: Wild Hawthorn Press, 1961); North Central (London: Fulcrum Press, 1968); T&G: The Collected Poems (1936-1966) (Penland, North Carolina: The Jargon Society, 1969); My Life by Water: Collected Poems 1936-1968 (London: Fulcrum Press, 1970); Blue Chicory, ed. by Cid Corman (New Rochelle, New York: The Elizabeth Press, 1976); From This Condensery: The Complete Writings of Lorine Niedecker, ed. by Robert Berthoff (Highlands, North Carolina: The Jargon Society, 1985); The Granite Pail: Selected Poems of Lorine Neidecker, ed. by Cid Corman (Berkeley, California North Point Press, 1985); Harpsichord and Salt Fish (Durham, North Carolina: Pig Press, 1991); Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works, ed. by Jenny Penberthy (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2002)
For a selection of poems by Lorine Niedecker, click here:

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