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Jenny Penberthy

Introduction to


Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works. Edited by Jenny Penberthy

University of California Press, 472 pages, 6 x 8 inches, 2 b/w photographs Clothbound: $45.00 ISBN-0-520-22433-7 £29.95

You can read Jane Augustine’s review of this book in Jacket 21.

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), The Granite Pail (1985) and Harpischord & Salt Fish (1991).

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).


Introduction: Life and Writing

‘The Brontes had their moors, I have my marshes,’ Lorine Niedecker wrote of watery, flood-prone Black Hawk Island near the town of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, where she lived most of her life.1 Although few people endured for long the seasonal hardships of life on Black Hawk Island, Niedecker’s attachments to the place ran deep. Her life by water could not have been further removed from the avant-garde poetry scene where she also made herself a home.

Cover of Niedecker, Collected Works       Lorine was an only child born on 12 May 1903 to Theresa (Daisy) Kunz and Henry Niedecker. The Kunz family owned much of the island — low-lying land bounded by the Rock River and Lake Koshkonong — including the Fountain House Inn, which they operated until Daisy’s marriage to Henry in 1901. As a wedding gift, the couple were given several large properties on the island including the Inn, which they ran until 1910 when they sold it on account of Daisy’s illness. In the course of Lorine’s birth, her mother had lost her hearing and had gradually declined into isolation and depression over the following years.

      Even so, the collection of photographs from Lorine’s youth depicts a congenial childhood. There are many images of large family gatherings beside the river at the Inn, everyone dressed in turn-of-the-century finery. Lorine had a close relationship with her grandparents, particularly Gottfried Kunz, ‘a happy, outdoor grandfather who somehow, somewhere had got hold of nursery and folk rhymes to entrance me.’ After the sale of the Fountain House Inn, Henry divided up the Niedecker property into lots, sold some of them, and built and rented cabins on others. He turned the Inn’s pleasure launches into fishing boats and with a partner operated a very successful carp-fishing business. Lorine recalled, ‘I spent my childhood outdoors — red-winged blackbirds, willows, maples, boats, fishing (the smell of tarred nets), twittering and squawking noises from the marsh.’2 Her work is distinguished by its attentive use of sound, a consequence perhaps of her poor eyesight and her experience of her mother’s deafness, but also of her immersion in the rich soundscape of Black Hawk Island.


Photo of Lorine Niedecker when young

When Lorine was ready to start school, Henry built a large home on Germany Street (renamed Riverside Drive) in Fort Atkinson where the family lived until she entered high school. Her parents then moved back to Black Hawk Island and Lorine billeted with Fort Atkinson friends during the school week.
      After graduating from high school in 1922, she enrolled at Beloit College to pursue a degree in literature, but was called home in her second year to tend her mother, whose condition was deteriorating. Henry and Daisy’s marriage had long since broken down as a result of her illness and his extended affair with Gerte Runke, a Black Hawk Island neighbor referred to in several of Niedecker’s poems.
      In 1928, Niedecker married Frank Hartwig, a former employee of her father’s, and started her job as library assistant at the Dwight Foster Public Library in Fort Atkinson. Two short poems appeared in print that year. ‘Transition’ reflects her exposure to the Imagist program of Ezra Pound, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), and Amy Lowell. The second poem, ‘Mourning Dove,’ begins with a condensed sample of Imagist practice followed by a riposte to its confining limits. However, she did admire the extended Imagist poems of HD’s Heliodora (1924). According to the notes inserted into her copy of Wallace Stevens’s Harmonium (1923), she was drawn ‘to the Imagists, to the wordy ones and the strange rhythms.’3
      In 1930 both Niedecker and her husband lost their jobs to the Depression. Unable to pay the rent on their home in Fort Atkinson, they each returned to their parents’ homes, and the marriage effectively ended. Soon after, in February 1931, Niedecker read and was enthralled by Louis Zukofsky’s Objectivist issue of Poetry magazine. She wrote to him with her latest poems, one of which was ‘When Ecstasy is Inconvenient.’ Zukofsky responded with interest and referred her to the magazine’s editor, Harriet Monroe. This poem, which Monroe accepted for publication, reveals Niedecker’s early surrealism, a style she was exploring long before ‘Mr. Zukofsky referred me to the surrealists for correlation.’4 By this time, she had read the major modernist writers whose work was available to her in Fort Atkinson, principally Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, H.D., Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, D.H. Lawrence. But it was contact with the second- generation modernist Louis Zukofsky that gave her direct access to the American avant-garde.
      Though it was the Objectivist issue of Poetry that had initiated her contact with Zukofsky, Niedecker would never count herself among the original Objectivists — Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, and Carl Rakosi. At the time, she was drawn to its affinity with her own writing: ‘Thank god for the Surrealist tendency running side by side with Objectivism.’5 She admired the priority Objectivism gave both to the non-referential, material qualities of words and to a ‘non-expressive’ poetry that rejected a too prominent stance of the poet described by Zukofsky as ‘imperfect or predatory or sentimental.’6 It appears that her enthusiasm for an object-based poetics was limited. Instead, she pursued abstraction. Niedecker and her Fort Atkinson friend Mary Hoard — wife of Niedecker’s future employer — were fascinated by the challenge of registering experience without recourse to representational form. Poems such as the 1934 ‘Canvass’ series record the linguistic content of different levels of consciousness. According to Edward Dahlberg, it was Niedecker’s habit to ‘sleep with a pencil under her pillow so as not to miss any dreams.’7 Dream, she noted, is full of syntax: ‘in dream the simple and familiar words like prepositions, connectives, etc. are not absent, in fact, noticeably present to show illogical absurdity, discontinuity, parody of sanity.’8
      Niedecker and Zukofsky debated poetic strategies, he with little interest in the abstract or in surrealism but nevertheless impressed by the energy of her experiment. For the next thirty-five years they would continue their conversation in weekly letters, at times even more frequent. An edited selection of her letters to him is available in my book Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky 1931–1970. Early in the friendship, towards the end of 1933, she made her first visit to New York, stayed in Zukofsky’s apartment, became his lover, and fell pregnant. He insisted on an abortion, and she acquiesced. But the friendship survived these difficulties. Zukofsky continued to supply her with suggestions for reading, sent her copies of magazines and books that were difficult to obtain, read drafts of her poems, made suggestions for changes, and sent them to Ezra Pound, James Laughlin, and others for publication. For her part, Niedecker provided astute critiques of Zukofsky’s work, plied him with questions, typed his poems, and prepared notes on subjects of shared interest. The writing that originated in this dialogue conveys a strong sense of shared endeavor.
      Both poets wrote across genres. Niedecker gave the title ‘TWO POEMS’ to her play scripts ‘PRESIDENT OF THE HOLDING COMPANY’ and ‘FANCY ANOTHER DAY GONE,’ and wrote another play script called ‘DOMESTIC AND UNAVOIDABLE,’ which she imagined as a series of ‘print stills’ projected on a screen. In the same period, she also wrote a long semi-autobiographical prose piece, ‘UNCLE,’ based on her grandparents’ and parents’ lives. The work of her early years has a particularly strong and varied material presence: the prose-poems, the script-poems, the trilogy of ‘Canvass’ poems printed side-by-side in allusion to a triptych of abstract paintings, and the gift-book palimpsest, which superimposes her own holograph writings onto a conventionally printed pocket calendar. As she said in a letter to Mary Hoard, ‘This would of course be what no one else has written — else why write?’9
      During the period 1935-36, she made a shift from overt surrealist experiment towards a poetry attuned to political and social immediacies: ‘Looking around in America, working I hope with a more direct consciousness than in the past . . . .’10 She had read Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and, although not a member of the Communist Party, was committed to social reform. Her writing explored folk models and, in particular, the short metrical rhymes of Mother Goose — poems of anonymous authorship, of proletarian origin, and of subtly subversive intent. Another significant shift occurred in 1938 when Niedecker began work in Madison for the federal Work Project Administration (WPA). There she was a writer and research editor with the Federal Writers’ Project, helping to compile Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State. The job focused her attention on the local and added to her folk poems the vernacular of her Black Hawk Island/Fort Atkinson community and particularly of her mother, ‘descendant for sure of Mother Goose.’11 These poems offer a rich and subtle study of folk habits made by a poet with twin allegiances to a rural backwater and a metropolitan avant-garde.
      Her attention to local and international politics, visible though not prominent in her early surrealist work, coalesced in the folk project with its poems about the Depression, the growth of Fascism, the Spanish Civil War, the Vichy government in France, the American involvement in World War II, the atomic bomb, and so on. Her engagement in current events and politics was matched by an interest in American history. Much of her research would be reflected in her poems in the form of quotation, a practice familiar to her from her reading of Zukofsky, Pound, and Marianne Moore. Between 1935 and 1944 she wrote more than 80 folk poems. Many of these would appear in New Goose, published in 1946 by the Press of James A. Decker.
      Upon completion of the Wisconsin guidebook in 1942, Niedecker worked briefly as a script-writer for the Madison radio station WHA. Then, in 1944 she began work in Fort Atkinson as a stenographer and proofreader for the local journal Hoard’s Dairyman. Her poor eyesight would force her to give up the job in 1950. While she had known material comforts in her youth, her circumstances had become increasingly straitened. Her earnings were minimal and intermittent, and her parents’ resources were dwindling. Her father’s carp fishing business failed in the late 1930s, and his property management was notoriously reckless, so that by the time of her parents’ deaths in the early 1950s, Niedecker inherited no more than two cabins on the island. These brought in little income and proved a great headache to manage.
      In 1939, Louis Zukofsky had married Celia Thaew, and the birth of their son, Paul, in 1943, was a great pleasure to Niedecker. Zukofsky’s letters gave her detailed accounts of Paul’s childhood. In 1949 she began the long poem project ‘FOR PAUL,’ where ‘[t]he central figure is a child of six or seven who composes music and plays the violin. . . . [T]he poem undertakes the child’s further instruction, offering a middle ground between Paul’s very personal world and the real world of history, wars, depressions, art and science.’12 The project was not unlike New Goose, which located the local and immediate within the global. Over four years, Niedecker composed 51 poems in a sequence of eight groups, each group a varied collection of forms and styles: quotation-based poems, persona poems, ballads, blues songs, riddling rhymes, and nonsense ephemera. Free verse is positioned alongside tightly organized stanzas; individual poems range in length from 4 to 204 lines. The result is remarkably spirited and assured. Her pace of composition was brisk, and the first two groups quickly appeared in print. Then followed a sudden stalling of publication explained, perhaps, by Zukofsky’s increasing discomfort with the personal content of the poems. With this project, he had assumed and was allowed a more proprietary role. His relation to the poems was, of course, close, and when he experienced them as intrusive, his criticism was barbed.
      The ‘FOR PAUL’ poems are an assertion of Niedecker’s own poetics, ‘the outcome of experimentation with subconscious and with folk — all good poetry must contain elements of both or stems from them — plus the rational, organizational force.’13 They are also insistently personal, at times extended and uncondensed, and in some cases focused on the less than idyllic qualities of life on Black Hawk Island. By 1956 Niedecker had abandoned the eight-group structure and rearranged the poems within a larger manuscript titled ‘FOR PAUL AND OTHER POEMS.’ Some poems were removed and others added, resulting in a collection of 72 poems. This was intended to be her second book, ten years after the first, but despite her efforts, ‘FOR PAUL AND OTHER POEMS’ was never published. Zukofsky’s ambivalence was an important obstacle. As late as September 1960, Niedecker told Cid Corman that she had ‘ready, a book not yet printed, under title of For Paul.’14 Soon after she would dissolve the collection and instead publish the individual poems in magazines. Several of these were substantially revised, others remained unpublished, and still others such as ‘What horror to awake at night’ and ‘Sorrow moves in wide waves’ had to wait 18 years for their first publication in her T&G: The Collected Poems (1936–1966).
      Until the 1960s, publication — even in magazines — was a rare satisfaction for Niedecker. She told Edward Dahlberg in 1955, ‘Creeley has now accepted 4 [for Black Mountain Review]. I’m almost overcome, this would make my 6th publication in 10 years!’15
      In the mid–1950s, after the expansive form and energetic, personal disclosure of the ‘FOR PAUL’ poems, she shifted toward an astringent, condensed haiku form, developing her distinctive five-line stanza. The choice of a minimalist form also coincided with the start of her job, in 1957, as a cleaner at the Fort Atkinson Hospital. Until she retired in 1963, time for writing would be rare. Her friendship with neighbor Aeneas McAllister and with the Milwaukee dentist Harold Hein sustained her through the 1950s and early 1960s. An important friendship by mail with Cid Corman began in 1960. Niedecker’s side of the correspondence can be found in Lisa Pater Faranda’s edition, ‘Between Your House and Mine’: The Letters of Lorine Niedecker to Cid Corman, 1960 to 1970.
      When Ian Hamilton Finlay in Scotland read New Goose in 1961, the folk poems struck an immediate chord with him, caught up as he was in the Scottish folk poetry revival. He wrote to Niedecker with lavish praise and offered to reprint some of the poems. Within a year My Friend Tree was published. It reprinted nine of the original New Goose poems and added seven new ones. Niedecker planned the book as a selected poems including several more from New Goose; however, budget constraints kept the book trim. Buoyed by the sudden interest from a publisher, Niedecker returned to thinking of herself as a folk poet. She made the too-modest comment to Jonathan Williams that her folk poetry might be her only claim to difference between herself and other poets.
      In 1963, Niedecker married Al Millen, a housepainter from Milwaukee. The marriage allowed her to retire from the hospital job (she identified herself as ‘laborer’ on her marriage license) and return to full-time writing. She moved to Al’s apartment in Milwaukee; they spent their weekends on the island and their summers on road trips into the surrounding states and Canada. In 1964 she collected her current short poems — the product of ten months of new freedom — into three handmade, handwritten gift-books for Corman, Zukofsky, and Jonathan Williams, an acknowledgement of friendship but also of the difficulty of finding a publisher.


Photo of Lorine Niedecker in later life

In August 1965, Jonathan Williams offered to publish the manuscript of collected poems that she had prepared and titled T&G. She explained the title as an abbreviation of Lawrence Durrell’s ‘Tenderness and Gristle’ to which Williams added, much to her delight, ‘Tongue and Groove (if you’re a carpenter).’ But Jargon Society financial troubles kept the book in production limbo for four years. Niedecker waited with growing despair until it appeared in 1969. Meanwhile, in 1967, Stuart Montgomery of Fulcrum Press in London solicited poems for another collection. In 1968, North Central was published. It included her two travel- and research-based poems, ‘LAKE SUPERIOR’ and ‘WINTERGREEN RIDGE.’ The same year Stuart Montgomery accepted My Life by Water, which Fulcrum would publish in 1970. Originally planned as the British edition of T&G, it was now expanded to include the contents of North Central plus ‘PAEAN TO PLACE,’ her extended reflection on Black Hawk Island. T&G appeared in 1969, and soon after, Niedecker received Cid Corman’s offer to publish a selected poems. She prepared two typescripts, ‘THE EARTH AND ITS ATMOSPHERE’ and ‘THE VERY VEERY,’ both of which select from the same work represented in North Central, T&G, and My Life by Water. Neither of the typescripts was published. Her final manuscript, ‘HARPSICHORD & SALT FISH,’ ready in 1970 and including the text-derived poems such as ‘THOMAS JEFFERSON,’ ‘HIS CARPETS FLOWERED,’ and ‘DARWIN,’ was also unpublished at the time of her death.
      Throughout the 1960s, she was regularly published in little magazines. Her preference for quiet led her to refuse offers to read in public, but she enjoyed enormously visits from fellow poets such as Jonathan Williams, Basil Bunting, Tom Pickard, Carl Rakosi, Stuart Montgomery, and a month before her death, Cid Corman. She savored her contact with local friends Gail and Bonnie Roub and her correspondence with Clayton Eshleman, Bob Nero, and  Kenneth Cox. After the mid–1960s, letters to Zukofsky were less routine. Niedecker died of a cerebral hemorrhage on December 31, 1970 at the height of her career. Two weeks before her death she had told Cid Corman, ‘I think lines of poetry that I might use — all day long and even in the night.’16
      During her life, she attracted high praise from her peers. Her work was much admired by Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Edward Dahlberg, Charles Reznikoff, Jonathan Williams, Cid Corman, and many others. On 5 January 1971, six days after her death, the Wisconsin State Journal published the following letter, written by Basil Bunting from his home in Wylam, UK:

Lorine Niedecker . . . will be remembered long and warmly in England, a country she never visited. She was, in the estimation of many, the most interesting woman poet America has yet produced. Her work was austere, free of all ornament, relying on the fundamental rhythms of concise statement, so that to many readers it must have seemed strange and bare. She was only beginning to be appreciated when she died, but I have no doubt at all that in 10 years time Wisconsin will know that she was its most considerable literary figure.

Notes

1. Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky 1931–1970, ed. Jenny Penberthy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993) 146.

2. ‘Extracts from Letters to Kenneth Cox,’ The Full Note: Lorine Niedecker, ed. Peter Dent (Budleigh Salterton, U.K.: Interim, 1983) 36.

3. Lorine Niedecker Collection, Dwight Foster Public Library.

4. Lorine Niedecker: Woman & Poet, ed. Jenny Penberthy  (Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 1996) 177.

5. Lorine Niedecker: Woman & Poet 85.

6. Poetry 37.5 (February 1931): 292.

7. Noted by Edward Dahlberg on his copy of New Directions 12 (1950). Eliot Weinberger’s private collection.

8.Lorine Niedecker: Woman & Poet 182.

9.Lorine Niedecker: Woman & Poet 88.

10. Lorine Niedecker: Woman & Poet   188.

11. The Full Note 36.

12. New Mexico Quarterly (Spring 1951): 205.

13. ‘Editor’s Corner,’ New Mexico Quarterly (Summer 1950).

14. ‘Between your House and Mine’: The Letters of Lorine Niedecker to Cid Corman,

1960 to 1970, ed. Lisa Pater Faranda (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1986) 24.

15. Edward Dahlberg Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.

16. Cid Corman’s transcription from his brief tape-recorded interview with Niedecker. The recording is held at Simon Fraser University in the Contemporary Literature Collection. The quotation appears in Blue Chicory (New Rochelle, NY: Elizabeth, 1976), n.p.


This Edition

In the last two years of Niedecker’s life, two books of her collected poems were published — T&G: The Collected Poems (1936–1966), prepared in 1965 and published in 1969, and My Life by Water: Collected Poems 1936–1968, an expanded edition prepared in 1968 and published in 1970. Jonathan Williams’s timely offer to publish her collected poems reached Niedecker in 1965, when she was sixty-two years old. Since her first magazine publication in 1928, she had seen two books to press: New Goose in 1946 and My Friend Tree in 1961. Given this spare publication record, the collected poems she now had to compile could not be a conventional alignment of previously published books. Instead she chose to organize an edited selection of poems in a loose chronology of named categories — generic in the case of ‘Ballads,’ ‘In Exchange for Haiku,’ and the folk poems ‘New Goose/My Friend Tree,’ and thematic in the case of ‘For Paul,’ ‘The Years Go By,’ and ‘Home/World’ — a schema that provided the barest allusion to the ambitious provenance of poems written in the course of thirty-five years. The usual autobiographical or biographical cues of an edition of collected poems are muted in T&G to the point where the collection gives the impression of an authorless text. This was perhaps a deliberate choice, consistent with her anti-authorial practice throughout her career — and a locus of her appeal for many readers. However, it was also a choice that may explain her near invisibility on the American scene.
      This new edition of Niedecker’s collected works aims to establish her position among twentieth century American poets. Furthermore, it aims to restore the profile of her writing life. To this end it dismantles the previous attempts at selected and collected Poems and presents the work in the sequence of its composition. The collection adds previously omitted work such as all the surviving instances of her early surrealism, the impulse that Zukofsky and Pound would disparage in her work but that would remain a steady influence throughout her career. It supplements the published New Goose volume and the even smaller selection of folk poems from T&G and My Life by Water with the many unpublished poems from the same project. It recovers the ‘FOR PAUL AND OTHER POEMS’ manuscript, which she had planned as her second volume, ten years after the first, New Goose.
      This edition organizes the work chronologically by collections, both published and projected. Not all of these can be represented here because of their overlapping content — a particular problem with the 1960s books and typescripts. I have included as many of the major groupings of her work as chronology and the need to avoid duplication will allow: collections published in her lifetime (New Goose, North Central), manuscripts intended for publication (‘NEW GOOSE,’ ‘FOR PAUL AND OTHER POEMS,’ ‘HARPSICHORD & SALT FISH’), and the gift-books made by hand for her poet-friends at a time when publication still seemed unlikely (‘HOMEMADE POEMS’ and ‘HANDMADE POEMS’). In between these collections, the remaining poems are placed in the chronology by first traceable date of composition — dates of manuscripts and letters; dates of magazine appearance; or, in very few cases, conjectured dates. There are five cases where duplication has been necessary in order to maintain the integrity of a collection. These are flagged in the notes at the back of the book. The arrangement of the 1960s collections not represented in the text can be found in the contents lists that follow the notes.
      Smaller groupings of poems are also acknowledged in this edition. When Niedecker submitted her work to magazines, she typically arranged the poems in groups. In many cases, however, the groupings were retrospective and transitory, made in fresh attempts to see the poems into print. ‘The poems in this envelope are chosen from many,’ she told Robert Creeley in January 1955,  ‘If you wish to make a further choice you may do so, re-numbering them.’ She told Creeley again in June 1955, ‘You need not hold to my groupings. . . .’ 1 To Cid Corman in September 1960, she said, ‘The short poems with Roman numerals have no real sequence in case you want to break them up.’ 2 Her openness to intervention is surely the pragmatism of a poet eager, if not desperate, to be published. Partly because she was published so irregularly, she had a growing body of work to draw from when she made submissions to magazines or when she compiled her books. As she revisited her poems — both published and unpublished — she revised them and altered their groupings. These groupings are always interesting and revealing — inevitably the poems accrue meaning through their proximity with others  — but because of their fluctuating boundaries, they are difficult to preserve in a collection such as this. They can, however, be reconstructed with the help of the notes.
      The frequently revised individual poems present further challenge to an editor’s desire for a stable text. T&G and My Life by Water stand at the end of a much-edited life’s work. Marianne Moore’s pronouncement — ‘Omissions are not accidents’ — at the start of her Complete Poems (1967) could as well function as an epigraph for Niedecker’s work. But unlike Moore, Niedecker left no published record of her early versions. The drama of Niedecker’s omissions and revisions occurred off-stage. This edition aims to restore that record by presenting all the surviving drafts and their revisions.
      For copytext, I have settled on My Life by Water (1970) as Niedecker’s latest and most substantial revised text, or, when a poem is not included in My Life by Water, the last extant version. This is a gesture toward recording final intentions made with the awareness that Niedecker’s final intentions are often difficult to assess. Since, at times, her intentions are masked by the convolutions of her close relationship with Zukofsky, the original form of the poems, recorded in the notes, will be of interest to many readers. Some begin in lengthy drafts and emerge years later much condensed. Her ambivalent statements about the practice of ‘condensery’ suggest that this compositional record should be preserved.
      My choice of the last version for copytext is in some ways at odds with my decision to preserve collections that pre-date My Life by Water, a particular problem when many earlier poems are substantially revised for My Life by Water. The most striking example is ‘Dear Paul,’ which was condensed from its 198 lines in the ‘FOR PAUL AND OTHER POEMS’ typescript to 33 lines in My Life by Water. In all such instances, the revised poem displaces the earlier poem, whose text can be found in the notes. This practice is less than ideal, but must suffice until an electronic edition can present all of her published and unpublished collections intact.
      In the notes, each work is listed by title or first line followed by a list of book and major typescript appearances. A poem listed as ‘Unpublished’ did not appear in print during her lifetime, and a poem listed as ‘Unpublished in book form’ appeared only in magazine form. The note then cites in chronological order the poem’s composition and publication record. All drafts and variants are listed except for minor revisions of lineation and punctuation. Posthumous publications are ignored unless they constitute the first or a variant appearance of a poem. Some notes include relevant comments by Niedecker or others.
      The disposition of Niedecker’s manuscripts is not entirely known. Few manuscripts and papers from her own collection have survived: her husband followed her instructions to destroy them after her death. Those in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin formed part of Louis Zukofsky’s large bequest to the Center in 1964. In the collection are early surrealist poems from the 1930s, the unpublished ‘NEW GOOSE’ manuscript, the ‘FOR PAUL’ poems in their eight groups and in the ‘FOR PAUL AND OTHER POEMS’ collection, the ‘HANDMADE POEMS’ gift-book, and roughly two dozen other poems written between the years 1956 and 1964. The largest concentration of manuscripts belongs to the ‘FOR PAUL’ project that occupied her between 1949 and 1956 and that generated a substantial traffic of manuscripts between the two poets. Niedecker’s revisions can be traced from one manuscript to another. At times, Zukofsky noted his suggestions directly on the manuscript. Why then did these annotated manuscripts remain in his possession? Very likely he asked her to return them to him. But given the indeterminate character of this exchange of manuscripts, his annotations need to be read with care. In at least two cases, he appears to have inscribed onto early drafts subsequent revisions that are clearly Niedecker’s own. It is easy to mistake these annotations for his revisions of the poems. See the notes to ‘Thure Kumlien’ and ‘In Europe they grow a new bean.’ Throughout the notes, I have indicated apparent interventions by Zukofsky.
      In the same section as the poems, I include Niedecker’s early plays. Both ‘THE PRESIDENT OF THE HOLDING COMPANY’ and ‘FANCY ANOTHER DAY GONE,’ titled ‘TWO POEMS’ in their first published appearance, were part of her experiment in expanding the boundaries of poetry. This was true of ‘DOMESTIC AND UNAVOIDABLE’ too. There is no evidence of these pieces being composed for radio. Reluctantly I have positioned ‘UNCLE, ‘ the long prose piece from the same period, in a separate section devoted to prose and radio plays later in the book. While I’m keen for the piece to be read as part of her multi-genre experimentation, its length would make a significant intrusion in the poems section. The two other prose pieces — ‘SWITCHBOARD GIRL’ and ‘The evening’s automobiles . . .’ — are placed in the later section too. They appear alongside the scripts written explicitly for radio, ‘AS I LAY DYING’ and ‘TASTE AND TENDERNESS.’ Space constraints have prevented me from including her critical essays on the poetry of Zukofsky and Corman.
      Many of Niedecker’s poems are untitled; with the few that are, the titles tend to be placed off center: ‘in all cases I prefer subtitle at right and no main title.’3  Longer poems and sequences retain her fully capitalized titles. Niedecker’s blend of American and British spelling conventions are retained.
      There have been several posthumous publications of Niedecker’s poems. The first was Blue Chicory, Cid Corman’s 1976 edition of the poems not yet published in book form. The volume draws on those published in the poetry magazine Origin and her 1964 holograph gift-book to Corman, ‘HOMEMADE POEMS,’ plus Corman’s transcription of his cassette tape recording of her November 15, 1970, reading from the ‘HARPSICHORD & SALT FISH’ typescript. Discrepancies of lineation occur in the transcriptions from Corman’s tape recording. Blue Chicory was followed in 1985 by From This Condensery: The Complete Writing of Lorine Niedecker, a highly flawed and unreliable text. Because of its pervasive textual errors — mistranscriptions, misattributions, inaccurate dating, misunderstood sequencing, etc. — I have avoided all reference to it. Cid Corman’s edition of The Granite Pail: The Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker also appeared in 1985. (An expanded edition published by Gnomon in 1996 is still in print.) In 1991, Pig Press in Durham, U.K., published my edition of Niedecker’s final collection, Harpsichord & Salt Fish.


Notes

1. Robert Creeley Papers, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.

2. ‘Between Your House and Mine’ 23.

3. Lorine Niedecker: Woman & Poet 89.


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