Lorine Niedecker: Collected Worksby Lorine Niedecker
"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 It includes many poems previously unpublished in book form plus all of Niedecker's surviving 1930s surrealist work and her 1936-46 folk poetry, bringing to light the formative experimental phases of her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.
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By Lorine Niedecker, Jenny Penberthy
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2002 the Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
Colours of October
wait with easy dignity
for the big change—
like gorgeous quill-pens
in old inkwells
* * *
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
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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?
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
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
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,
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.
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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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