Lorine Niedecker 1903-1970
Since the late 1960s Niedecker's reputation and importance have grown steadily and scholars have increasingly made her work and life the subject of critical studies. Her work is frequently discussed in connection with the “objectivist” poetics of Louis Zukofsky, a contemporary, friend, and correspondent of Niedecker. Her major works include several collections of poetry published during her life and posthumously: New Goose (1946), My Friend Tree (1961), North Central (1968), T&G (1969), My Life by Water (1970), and Granite Pail (1985). Her complete writings have been published in a volume entitled From this Condensery (1985). Her themes as poet range from the intensely personal to the historical and geographical.
Niedecker was born in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, part of that state's southeastern marshlands. She spent most of her life in the Fort Atkinson area and her poetry has a strongly local flavor. Niedecker attended Beloit College for two years but dropped out in order to care for her ailing mother. She was married briefly in 1928 and worked several jobs in Fort Atkinson, including a stint at the public library. From 1942 to 1944 she worked for a local radio station in Madison composing radio plays. For six years following she worked as a proofreader. Although she has been described as a recluse, Niedecker made several trips to New York throughout her life, where she pursued a literary friendship with the modernist poet Louis Zukofsky. The form of her poetry, critics observe, was strongly influenced by him. The content of some of Niedecker's poetry also owes much to her relationship with Zukofsky: many of her poems from the 1950s feature his son, Paul, as their subject. She also became friends with the writer Cid Corman in the 1950s. These relationships, pursued largely through correspondence, proved crucial to the publication of Niedecker's work. She remarried in 1963, and died in 1970, the same year that her My Life by Water was published.
Niedecker began publishing poems occasionally in the 1920s, and her work showed a creative poetics at work from its first appearance. She herself acknowledged, later in her career, that Objectivism had been a guiding force in her writing. Beginning in the 1930s, Niedecker also became interested in surrealism, an influence that shows clearly in the fragmentary quality of her verse. Although her poetry presents strong images of the natural world, the real “object” of much of her work is language itself. Many of the poems in New Goose deal with the subject of war and were composed at the height of World War II. The volume also includes poems that focus on local history and her Wisconsin home. Niedecker also contributed poems to several literary journals, including Origin and Poetry. She published the poem “Lake Superior” in 1968 in England. This poem, long by comparison with most of Niedecker's work, richly combines a portrait of geographic place and historical perspective that is characteristic of much of her work.
Many critics have noted that Niedecker's work partakes in an inventive modernist poetics in the tradition of William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky. Much of Niedecker scholarship has tended to examine her poetry with reference to her personal and literary life, especially her friendships with other poets. Because of the strongly autobiographical turn of her work, some critics have examined her poetry as a kind of autobiography in itself. Others have turned their attention to the ways her work creates a poetics of place through its depiction of the landscape and history of the upper Midwest. If there is a critical consensus on Niedecker, it is perhaps best summed up by Donald Davie, who in a 1985 review of Niedecker's Granite Pail and From this Condensery collected works called her “a highly idiosyncratic poet unlike any other of her time or of any other time.”