Lorine Niedecker: A Poet's Life

Lorine Niedecker: A Poet's Life

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by Margot Peters
     
 

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Lorine Niedecker (1903–70) was a poet of extraordinary talent whose life and work were long enveloped in obscurity. After her death in 1970, poet Basil Bunting wrote that she was “the most interesting woman poet America has yet produced . . . only beginning to be appreciated when she died.” Her poverty and arduous family life, the isolated home in

Overview

Lorine Niedecker (1903–70) was a poet of extraordinary talent whose life and work were long enveloped in obscurity. After her death in 1970, poet Basil Bunting wrote that she was “the most interesting woman poet America has yet produced . . . only beginning to be appreciated when she died.” Her poverty and arduous family life, the isolated home in Wisconsin that provided rich imagery for her work, and her unusual acquaintances have all contributed to Niedecker’s enigmatic reputation.
    Margot Peters brings Lorine Niedecker’s life out of the shadows in this first full biography of the poet. She depicts Niedecker’s watery world on Blackhawk Island (near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin), where she was born and spent most of her life. A brief college career cut short by family obligations and an equally brief marriage were followed in 1931 by the start of a life-changing correspondence and complicated thirty-five-year friendship with modernist poet Louis Zukofsky, who connected Niedecker to a literary lifeline of distant poets and magazines. Supporting herself by turns as a hospital scrubwoman and proofreader for a dairy journal, Niedecker made a late marriage to an industrial painter, which gave her time to write and publish her work in the final decades of her life.
    During her lifetime, Niedecker’s poetry was praised by a relatively small literary circle, including Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, Denise Levetov, and Allen Ginsberg. Since her death much more of her surviving writings have been published, including a comprehensive edition of collected works and two volumes of correspondence. Through Margot Peters’s compelling biography, readers will discover Lorine Niedecker as a poet of spare and brilliant verse and a woman whose talent and grit carried her through periods of desperation and despair.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A nuanced and insightful account of the life of this Wisconsin poet, focusing in particular on Niedecker’s relationship to the objectivist circle, her family history, her relationship to her Fort Atkinson community, and her engagement with the natural world of Blackhawk Island.”—Faith Barrett, Lawrence University

“Eminently readable and thoroughly researched, the biography illuminates Niedecker’s isolated, rural life and portrays a likeable, complex woman whose poetry was scarcely recognized during her lifetime but is now enjoying a resurgence of appreciation.”—Sara Rath, author of H.H. Bennett, Photographer

“Peters’ groundbreaking biography will bring a new wave of readers to this solitary heartland poet.”—Booklist

“This biography renders an eccentric and challenging poet accessible and profoundly sympathetic.”—The Atlantic

“Peters writes as a feminist as well as a resident of Niedecker’s home state, Wisconsin; she knows the lake country of Blackhawk Island at first hand. Her chapters on Niedecker’s early life are thus especially valuable. . . . [H]er narrative largely makes its case, showing us how this poet’s ‘condensery’ was the product of a clear-sighted, good-humoured, and remarkably unsentimental sense of the poet’s own deprivation.”—Marjorie Perloff, Times Literary Supplement

“Peters has written an exemplary biography. . . . She steers readers through the controversies and allegiances of modern poetry and illuminates Niedecker’s work as well as her life. . . . Highly Recommended.”—CHOICE

“Peters writes as a feminist as well as a resident of Niedecker’s home state, Wisconsin; she knows the lake country of Blackhawk Island at first hand. Her chapters on Niedecker’s early life are thus especially valuable...[H]er narrative largely makes its case, showing us how this poet’s ‘condensery’ was the product of a clear-sighted, good-humoured, and remarkably unsentimental sense of the poet’s own deprivation.”—Marjorie Perloff, Times Literary Supplement

“This biography renders an eccentric and challenging poet accessible and profoundly sympathetic.”—The Atlantic

Library Journal
This is the first full-length biography of this critically acclaimed but little-known American poet. Niedecker (1903–70) was an obscure figure during her lifetime, living mainly in rural Wisconsin. She refused public appearances and worked menial and clerical jobs. It was not until her second marriage late in life that she was able to spend focused time on her writing. Her reputation has increased as more of her poetry has been published posthumously. Peters (May Sarton), an award-winning biographer and Wisconsin resident, provides insight into the life of this resilient writer, including her interesting local relationships and the influence of the Wisconsin landscape on her work. Despite her relative isolation, Niedecker maintained a decades-long correspondence and friendship with modernist poet Louis Zukofsky, and her spare, intense verse was praised by William Carlos Williams, Denise Levertov, and Allen Ginsberg. VERDICT A welcome and long-overdue addition to any biography, American literature, or women's literature collection.—Alison M. Lewis, Drexel Univ., Philadelphia

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780299285005
Publisher:
University of Wisconsin Press
Publication date:
10/06/2011
Edition description:
1
Pages:
334
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Margot Peters is an accomplished and award-winning biographer whose many books include Unquiet Soul: A Biography of Charlotte Bronte; The House of Barrymore; Design for Living: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne; May Sarton: A Biography; and Bernard Shaw and the Actresses. She lives in Lake Mills, Wisconsin.

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