In her review of the poetry of Louis Zukofsky, Lorine Niedecker quotes William Carlos Williams: “You cannot express anything unless you invent how to express it. A poem is not a Freudian ’escape’ (what childishness) but an adult release to knowledge, in the most practical, engineering manner.” Niedecker used her poetry to invent herself, to discover her own wholeness. This quest for wholeness has been a persistent theme in the writing of American women since the time of Margaret Fuller. A glass cutter of words, Niedecker discards traditional poetic modes of expression en masse, yet selects those devices that best help her construct small stained-glass pieces, later combining some of these reflective objects into longer poems. She trims her glasslike achievements often, arranges them variously, and finally creates two outstanding large pieces: “Wintergreen Ridge” and “Paean to Place.” Niedecker appropriates glass of many colors from several sources: the men and women whom she knew and read about, American society during her lifetime, nature, and art.
Of the men and women whom she knew, her father and mother engaged her most fully. In her early poems, she depicts her father building and losing houses, rocking in his chair, seining to finance his daughter’s education, and wondering about the meaning of life. In “For Paul,” she recalls her father’s description of a warm Thanksgiving Day...
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