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Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works

Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works

by Lorine Niedecker

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"The Brontës had their moors, I have my marshes," Lorine Niedecker wrote of flood-prone Black Hawk Island in Wisconsin, where she lived most of her life. Her life by water, as she called it, could not have been further removed from the avant-garde poetry scene where she also made a home. Niedecker is one of the most important poets of her generation and an


"The Brontës had their moors, I have my marshes," Lorine Niedecker wrote of flood-prone Black Hawk Island in Wisconsin, where she lived most of her life. Her life by water, as she called it, could not have been further removed from the avant-garde poetry scene where she also made a home. Niedecker is one of the most important poets of her generation and an essential member of the Objectivist circle. Her work attracted high praise from her peers--Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukofsky, Cid Corman, Clayton Eshleman--with whom she exchanged life-sustaining letters. Niedecker was also a major woman poet who interrogated issues of gender, domesticity, work, marriage, and sexual politics long before the modern feminist movement. Her marginal status, both geographically and as a woman, translates into a major poetry.

Niedecker's lyric voice is one of the most subtle and sensuous of the twentieth century. Her ear is constantly alive to sounds of nature, oddities of vernacular speech, textures of vowels and consonants. Often compared to Emily Dickinson, Niedecker writes a poetry of wit and emotion, cosmopolitan experimentation and down-home American speech.

This much-anticipated volume presents all of Niedecker's surviving poetry, plays, and creative prose in the sequence of their composition. It includes many poems previously unpublished in book form plus all of Niedecker's surviving 1930s surrealist work and her 1936-46 folk poetry, bringing to light the formative experimental phases of her early career. With an introduction that offers an account of the poet's life and notes that provide detailed textual information, this book will be the definitive reader's and scholar's edition of Niedecker's work.

Editorial Reviews

Not since the appearance of the facsimile version of The Waste Land in 1971, which clearly established how T.S. Eliot's poem had been transformed by Ezra Pound's editing, has a new edition of an American poet's work shattered the prevailing sense of that writer's art.
Times Literary Supplement
[M]ajestic and overdue . . . .
Independent UK
[T]he definitive edition of the oeuvre of one of America's finest 20th-century poets. . . . Splendid.
Penberthy . . . provides a complete portrait of her [Niedecker's] wide-ranging aesthetics . . .
Boston Review
[Penberthy's] extraordinary efforts to bring to light Niedecker's importance are utterly invaluable . . .
Publishers Weekly
A great modernist finally gets a full tribute with the publication of Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works. A lifetime resident of Wisconsin, Niedecker (1903-1970) was a sort of satellite member of Zukofsky's Objectivist circle, though currents of surrealism, folk poetry and haiku run through her work. Edited by Capilano College English professor Jenny Penberthy (Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet), this comprehensive collection of all of Niedecker's surviving verse includes her well-known New Goose folk poems, as well as early poetry that Niedecker had omitted from the collected works published in her lifetime. It is an indispensable book for anyone interested in modernist writing: "What a scandal Christmas What a scandle Christmas is, a red stick-up to a lily." (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Collected Works

By Lorine Niedecker, Jenny Penberthy


Copyright © 2002 the Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-93542-6



    Colours of October
    wait with easy dignity
    for the big change—
    like gorgeous quill-pens
    in old inkwells
    almost dry.

    * * *

    Mourning Dove

    The sound of a mourning dove
    slows the dawn
    there is a dee round silence
    in the sound.

    Or it may be I face the dull prospect
    of an imagist
    turned philosopher

    * * *


    Promise of Brilliant Funeral

    Travel, said he of the broken umbrella, enervates
    the point of stop; once indoors, theology,
    for want of a longer telescope, is made
    of the moon-woman passing amid silk
    nerve-thoughts in the blood.
    (There's trouble with the moon-maker's union,
    the blood-maker's union, the thought-maker's union;
    but the play could be altered.)

    A man strolls pale among zinnias,
    life and satin sleeves renounced.
    He is intent no longer on what direction herons fly
    in hell, but on computing space in forty minutes,
    and ascertains at the end of the path:
    this going without tea holds a hope of tasting it.
    (Chalk-faces going down in rows before a stage
    have seen no action yet.)

    Mr. Brown visits home.
    His broker by telephone advises him it's night
    and a plum falls on a marshmallow
    and sight comes to owls.
    He risks three rooms noisily for the brightest sconce.
    Rome was never like this.
    (The playwright dies in the draft
    when ghosts laugh.)

    * * *

    When Ecstasy is Inconvenient

    Feign a great calm;
    all gay transport soon ends.
    Chant: who knows—
    flight's end or flight's beginning
    for the resting gull?

    Heart, be still.
    Say there is money but it rusted;
    say the time of moon is not right for escape.
    It's the color in the lower sky
    too broadly suffused,
    or the wind in my tie.

    Know amazedly how
    often one takes his madness
    into his own hands
    and keeps it.

    * * *



    Here's good health, friends,
    and soothing syrup for sleeplessness
    and Lincoln said he thought a good deal
    in an abstract way
    about a steam plow;
    secure and transcendental, Emerson avowed
    that money is a spiritual force;
    the Big Shot of Gangland declared he never really believed
    in wanton murder;
    Shelley, Shelley, off on the new romance
    wrote inconsolable Harriet,
    "Are you above the world?
    And to what extent?"
    And it's the Almanac-Maker joyous
    when the prisoner-lad asked the pastor
    "Who is Americus Vespucius?"
    and an artist labored over the middle tone
    that carried the light
    into the shadow.
    But that was before the library burned.


    As one Somnambulist to another
    our sleep could be more perfect.
    Surmising planed squares of wood with legs are tables,
    or poppies watched and brooded over flare finally
    out of bud-shell hatched
    is admitting such superstitions only wait
    to beset us outright.


    Home is on the land
    though drought be solid fact,
    though you tell by the summer sky
    how you'll pare your potatoes next winter;
    you murmur your magic (what help is the past?):
    opera is an oversight
    on the part of the Milky Way
    and the squash blossom subsides
    with the Fourth Internationale
    and it's obviously not theatre.
    But what can you do that yellowing season of earth
    with more than nine hundred ninety
    recombinations of yellows
    since rain crossed the modes
    of your brooding?


    Last lines being sentimental, reaction
    is in the first of the cold. The contemporary scene is,
    said the green frog by the charcoal wood, false
    in every particular but no less admirable for that,
    and isn't it humorous to designate at all?
    I take into my hole, said he, the curse
    that hangs over more than one critic, this
    that if forgiven tassels are lost.
    Well, and the sun does set short in winter....
    What's the play? The sensitive lawyer would have told
    any woman her hands were as beautiful as if gloved
    but for fear of having been quoted.
    At the Capitol, cheese legislation only sets silk hats
    tipping, rats divine, toward feline waistbands.
    At home, it's blizzard or a curved banana-moon
    on a window sash, soap flakes on wash day
    and door knobs wet; hornets' nests in tobacco pipes.

    I must possess myself, get back into pure duration,
    or I should like to be an orator and rise
    to my full height, or now that roads are closed
    stop quietly in print the one available weather:
    how the head hums, men of Ireland, and it goes
    the next log on the hearth from violins to harlequins
    to modern women and violins again, and the last
    determination coincides with the first, and so then
    summer has not been since the bliss and doll's house lady
    and all that waxing of the lily and sweet care
    of people on the stem.... I remember a garden:
    exigential, or violet, I've forgotten, but delphinium
    with suspect of turquoise, formulosos deterred
    at the start from interval form by trick of eye
    or soul or sun and since by whom ... you
    swinging your cape too far to the left, the effect
    is blue, not periwinkle; you triumphant over cauliflower
    polonaise; you full of principles; and you crying
    crush infamy when you should be shaking hands
    with the Cardinal. The most public-cant-and-cabbage-interruption
    comes, however, from circles where
    the farm question is discussed,—a white dome logic
    no wayside strabismic house, rafters owling out
    the night would recognize; no talk there, none,
    of why there's nothing like a good warm cow
    when the wind's in the west.


    It comes out in March by the back fence, the full
    and true Relation of the present State of new country
    and the coming of the world green. Some believed
    she was immune from such a Thing being they had adopted
    a youngster in dispare, most persons, you find,
    peck and peck and seldom really lay any eggs, red
    though suns set for windy to-morrows. Spring looms also
    in phonographic deep song on a level with the water
    and in spoken acknowledgment of carved humidor
    so calm what is this woman a man should say: woman.
    Complaints differ: trees have their roots in China;
    it was tried there three thousand years ago and failed.
    April a silver symbol is of rain and universal love;
    April ergo lost integral if not grey gone. New
    reviews use the dusking nounal (how do you die, thrush,
    this afternoon) with a lamp and aluminum forecast
    (light gets mooned in a clouded river, and frogs
    are out scouring, one ratchet ahead of cracked piccolos).
    My dear May: I should like to buy myself flowers,
    arrive at the door and give them to you. May, again,
    I believe to have seen in my best swooning moments,
    but I might easily have been prejudiced by a slow heart
    or what the porcelain painter said in that nerve-ray
    or by the Slumbrous my shadow spoke, going by. This swale
    can only be the mode by which we condense all exposition
    to a green blood-beat and bleach intact. Let no man say
    from grass to grass he never to himself has sunk
    is the first tremble of an old vibration orioled
    at dandelion heat. In Swalery I forget my face,
    beyond that it's something to have under a sunbonnet
    when aphorists and haymakers meet. And doctor,
    nothing so good I know for intricate rhyme schemes
    in six-syllable lines within ten-syllable lines
    of an evangelical staple as bug-sing and carrot seed,
    observe now, while perspective is the next show
    in the gallery, it's a fervid shade, and there'll be
    stricken areas in the throat waiting for the blowing.
    A touch of noon? Try then: each man to his own sleep
    in the night skies. Gaspaciousness enmillions
    dread-centric introspectres. Future studies
    will throw much darkness on the home-talk.


    Meanwhile surviving burial and the garden with too many
    tall stones entails backroads, berries and what is socialism.
    If I had two pigs, said the farmer, and you hadn't any,
    I'd have to give you one, and the gardener said, fist
    to mahogany, no more petals would fall from the silver vased
    red poppy than enough. Meanwhile coming in the afternoon,
    one wakes about the beaches long-summering. A girl's hair
    lies in a neat droll along the back of the neck, a man
    can't rest unless he's tired; another eats between dinner
    and tea to stimulate the circulation, this class of ideas
    brown bodied, pistoned and cogged and nowhere dissembled.
    To retire to the wood out of glaring might mean freedom
    from the blue pressure of my fellow magnetoes, and nothing
    less to lift plants from the habits of their whorls
    than a storm passage in the strings, the brass being silent
    for many bars. I should say the social behavior of the individual
    should be thoroughly rained on, and in the same rheumatism
    the Introspect's Umbrella Mender waved good-bye. Of course,
    I shall meet people here, my antecedents perhaps. But how
    shall I know them? If I am fernal, it's fern country, then;
    fern fever has been spread by mono-men I shall pass in the air
    of my time and whose main frond cuts I shall have to regret.
    Someone has said: rapid lighted pimperly advanced; I've forgotten
    who. A little false for a person in my position: gloom-elmed,
    gloam-owned, retreating. (Cuckoo, that juggling of hollow nuts)
    Memory is blue in the head? Heads are easily taken off.
    Move on from brown laterals of the same day, ascertain oneself
    center of climatic being and fall all energy gone yellow.
    For the emotion of fall has its seat in the acoustic gland;
    wind: strong distance in closest places. On the life side then,
    I stand out in the open again as do houses and barns.
    I hear it from hand to hand there's been death on the road,
    he, not finding where the flowers were, seized a tree.
    If this is a game there must be refreshments, but if
    dessert be fragile sky, trees pink-rust, crisp as a pie
    with a butter-crust, I ought to be going home.


    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 church bell or locomotive volubility, what, so unto
    the one constriction: what am I and why not. That
    was my start in life, and to this day I touch things
    with a fear they'll break. A cricket and poplar tradition
    has me standing instead of running. Of course, no one cares
    about my troubles except those who let themselves fall
    into the determinism I've been so careful to create.
    (Having fallen, cease to care—blue jay variants
    have their own mode of call.) But who am I to observe
    myself? Dynamist for being out of dream?
    It's what comes of looking way back on the upper right
    shelf of the lower left cupboard; never be witty
    with any finality. From here, it takes so many stamps
    to post the most modern researches.


    Close the door and come to the crack quickly.
    To jesticulate in the rainacular or novembrood
    in the sunconscious ... as though there were fs
    and no ings, freighter of geese without wings.
    I know an ill for closing in, a detriment to tie-ups.
    They pop practical in a greyfold, bibbler and dub—
    one atmosnoric pressure for the thick of us.
    Hurry, godunk, we have an effort to wilt.
    I shall put everything away, some day,
    get me a murmurous contention, and rest.

    * * *

    Stage Directions

    The window woman whose dress has been hung and draped
    looks out. There's a wax-wing on every leaf, hay background,
    statecraft, salve smell and lavish retort. Shh ...
    the man with the juniper growth to his beard,—bankers
    leave their wives to their safes and redouble openings.
    They walk around the oblong and Oh is the heart of the modern
    furniture. Once out the knock is on the other side.
    I seem to take un ciel, a circle in another tongue.
    Have we experienced a cycle from which we are likely
    to recover, or have we seen the death of an era? A loop
    of blue light shows white organdie ruffles herself.
    My hat—it was taken for a flight—too sad for my face
    to assume. Young escort bows. I can't pick a thing up
    and bring it to successive stages. Yet for what we see
    the mind has to sink down out of sight—perhaps not possible
    for us. But think how paultry: the common black and white,
    the breakfast table and then all the rest of the meals.
    We have our limberger but we mustn't bring it to the table.
    Have you been married? Yes, I've been attacked.
    The ring of light flames as on comes the night scene
    from Tremulus Asps. Somebody sleeps under the oatshed
    and resets his pudding. Ticci Tape-over's buttons shine.
    He points. I wish there was something to listen to
    particularly. Wuzz or whir. His wife says he used to work
    in a factory; now he's a gentleman—runs a beer tavern.
    But he doesn't exercise enough. If only he could
    make himself tired. Blackness soughs as a matter
    of lighting. Fanatic acid. Constructions gleam—
    triangles and verbal arra. Inimical Pop-its down front
    kneeling in swift, strange prayers assure the world
    they're dangerous. See how it brings the red swing closer.

    * * *


        Berceuse, mediphala
    and the continent. German and therefore unidentified.
    Cricket night, seismograph and stitch. All tongues backed
    by a difference. Likelihood without of left-overs cooling,
    weatheroid and furor occult, functionary tri-mundane. And
    the scientific equiptical left nerves on the floor.
    people have to have an attachment. It's all very tiresome.
    To wag addenda. Add and add and you'll see it,
    and there's nothing less.
        The most famous resort
    should know better than develop a scene around the face
    of its beholder. Speaking of why a cherry orchard
    has to become a world, why become a gabbling humanity?
    Nobody attests a grove of titles. Are you an emblem
    of discount? Superhoned? Assumptions taxed are most related
    when untangled, the horn playing a thread, cows untended.
    The best always stays where it is. Others have to break it
    down to see it. Why dig when the dug is present? That holds
    for silence. Light facades its works, ambulates in a single
    area, tension regold. If you forget, remember: a wire fence
    conceals a tree if it came first to the eye. Judgement:
    a menstrualoid broke its shell, I was born.
        It must be
    not just a synamism between black and retreat but
    a savage displacement in silk centre, these roundings
    where a flower pulls embattlements down, displeasure
    enlightens great eagles. Dancing the blood rim. Could hope
    make it thinner? Reverse it and you have my offer to pay.
    Galactic numena, eye floats and recitative. Pepitte,
    this papering evening I want a theatre.

    * * *

    Will You Write Me a Christmas Poem?

    Will I!

    The mad stimulus of Gay Gaunt Day
    meet to put holly on a tree
    and trim green bells
    and trim green bells

    Now candles come to faces.
    You are wrong to-day
    you are wrong to-day,
    my dear. My dear—

    One translucent morning
    in the development of winter
    one fog to move a city backward—
    Backward, backwards, backward!

    You see the objects and the movable fingers,
    Candy dripping from branches,
    Horoscopes of summer
    and you don't have Christmas ultimately—
    Ultima Thule ultimately!

    Spreads and whimpets
    Good to the cherry drops,
    Whom for a splendor
    Whom for a splendor

    I'm going off the paper I'm going off the pap-

    Send two birds out
    Send two birds out
    And carol them in,
    Cookies go round.

    What a scandal is Christmas,
    What a scandle Christmas is,
    a red stick-up
    to a lily.

    You flagellate my woes, you flagellate,
    I interpret yours,
    holly is a care divine
        holly is a care divine

    and where are we all from here.
    Drink for there is nothing else to do
    but pray,
    And where are we all from here.

    Throw out the ribbons
    and tie your people in
    All spans dissever
    once the New Year opens
    and snow derides
    a doorway,
    its spasms dissever

    All spans dissever,
    Wherefore we, for instance, recuperate
    no grief to modulate
    no grief to modulate
    Wherefore we, Free instance

    The Christmas cacophony
    one word to another,
    sound of gilt trailing the world
    slippers to presume,
    postludes, homicles, sweet tenses
    imbecile and corrupt,—
        failing the whirled, trailing the whirlled

    This great eventual heyday
    to plenty the hour thereof,
    Heyday! Hey-day! Hey-day!

    I fade the color of my wine
    that an afternoon might live
    foiled with shine and brittle
    I fade the color of my wine

    Harmony in Egypt,
    representative birthday.
    Christ what a destiny
    What a destiny's Christ's, Christ!


Excerpted from Collected Works by Lorine Niedecker, Jenny Penberthy. Copyright © 2002 the Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Lorine Niedecker was born in 1903 and died in 1970. Among her published work is New Goose (1946), My Friend Tree (1961), North Central (1968), T&G: Collected Poems, 1936-1966 (1969), My Life by Water: Collected Poems, 1936-1968 (1970), Blue Chicory (1976), From This Condensery (1985), and The Granite Pail (1985). Jenny Penberthy is Professor of English at Capilano College, Vancouver. She is editor of Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet (1996) and of Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky, 1931-1970 (1993).

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