Lorine Niedecker Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Born on May 12, 1903, on Blackhawk Island, near the Rock River and Lake Koshkonong, three miles from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Lorine Niedecker, the only child of commercial fisherman Henry E. Niedecker and his swamp-bound housewife Theresa Daisy Kunz Niedecker, never strayed far from her roots. Lorine Niedecker was educated in Fort Atkinson and Beloit, where she went to Beloit College to study literature from 1922 until 1924. Returning home because her mother was becoming increasingly deaf, Niedecker married Frank Hartwig in 1928, but the couple separated in 1930 when Hartwig defaulted on a loan and lost their house. Niedecker assisted in the Dwight Foster Public Library during this period. From 1928 until 1942, she worked in Madison for the Works Progress Administration’s state guide as a writer and research editor, exploring the early history of her region. She began writing radio plays during the 1930’s, her interest leading her in 1942 to a brief job as scriptwriter at station WHA in Madison. She returned that year to Blackhawk Island and in 1944 began work as a stenographer and proofreader at Hoard’s Dairyman, publishers of a national journal, remaining there until 1950. Her mother, completely deaf, died in 1951, and her father, in 1954. Niedecker inherited two houses on Blackhawk Island and spent some time overseeing her property while living in a small cabin nearby, which she had built in 1947; then she scrubbed floors and cleaned the kitchen at the Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital from 1957 until 1962. In mid-1960, she started keeping company with Harold...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

It was only after her death in 1970 that the poetry of Lorine Niedecker (NEE-deh-kur) became well known to readers. During her lifetime, no one in her hometown of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, was aware that she had been writing poems for more than forty years. She did not want any of her neighbors to know that she had established a small but highly respected reputation among the poets of the day. Much of her poetry, however, came out of her contact with the common folk with whom she lived. She lived and worked “right down among em/ the folk from whom all poetry flows/ and dreadfully much else.” Like Wallace Stevens—another poet who kept his poetry secret from his associates—Niedecker toiled in silent obscurity much of her life.

Poetry, however, was her primary connection to the world about her and her most crucial means of participating in it. Like Stevens and Ralph Waldo Emerson, she was an unapologetic American romantic poet whose work was grounded in a particular geography, that of the area around Blackhawk Island, near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. She spent much of her life on Blackhawk Island, near where the Rock River empties into Lake Koshkonong. The contents of that marine area—fish, birds, floods, trees, plants, flowers, animals, all “the little thin things,” and the human beings involved in the movement of those endless cycles—became thematic material for much of her poetry. However, she also wrote poems about people such as Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, William Morris, John Adams, Matsuo Bash, and—especially—Louis Zukofsky’s brilliant young son, the violin virtuoso Paul Zukofsky.

Her father was a carp fisherman, and Niedecker frequently accompanied him on his fishing trips. Her mother’s deafness often kept her at home performing household duties, even though she attended Beloit College from 1922 to 1924. In 1928, she married Frank Hartwig, and the couple moved to Fort Atkinson, where she worked as a librarian’s assistant at the local public library for several years. The marriage fell apart in 1930 as the result of financial difficulties, and Niedecker moved back in with her ailing parents in 1930.

It was about that time that she discovered the work of Louis Zukofsky and the Objectivist poets in Poetry magazine. She was thus exposed not only to Zukofsky’s unique work but also to the poems of...

(The entire section is 969 words.)