Lorine Niedecker

1903–1970
Lorine Niedecker

Niedecker's verse is praised for its stark, vivid imagery, subtle rhythms, and spare language, which Kenneth Cox described as "whittled clean." Concerned with the distillation of images and thoughts into concise expression, Niedecker described her work as a "condensery," and several critics have compared her poetry to the delicate yet concrete verse of Chinese and Japanese writers. Although Niedecker's long correspondence with Louis Zukofsky, who frequently submitted her poems to the journal, Origin, and contact with such respected writers as Cid Corman and Basil Bunting, brought her some critical notice, her work was generally overlooked until late in her life. Since her death in 1970, several critics have identified Niedecker as a significant and original voice in contemporary American poetry.

Niedecker was born in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and lived in this wilderness area for most of her life. Her isolation from other writers and the austere beauty of her natural surroundings had a notable impact on her work. Niedecker chose to write in seclusion, and many of her closest relatives and neighbors were unaware that she was a poet. Her first book, New Goose (1946), was privately printed, and her second, My Friend Tree, which did not appear until 1962, was published in England. Niedecker attracted significant critical attention with North Central (1968), a volume which collects several of her best-known poems, including the long sequences "Wintergreen Ridge" and "Paean to Place." Critics noted in North Central Niedecker's stylistic affinities to William Carlos Williams, particularly in her use of short lines and colloquial speech, and to Louis Zukofsky. The verse in this volume features terse language, which conveys with precision and vibrancy her observations of the natural world as well as abstract concepts. This duality of substance and thought is strongly present in both of the volumes published shortly before Niedecker's death: T & G: The Collected Poems (1970) and Collected Poems, 1968 (1970). Also evident in these books is Niedecker's interest in history, which she tends to approach from a personal perspective rather than from a broad, collective viewpoint. Among her later poems are sequences about such historical figures as Thomas Jefferson and Charles Darwin.

Four volumes of Niedecker's poetry have been published since her death: Blue Chicory (1976), From This Condensery: The Complete Writings of Lorine Niedecker (1985), The Granite Pail: The Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker (1985), and Lorine Niedecker Collected Works (2002), which collects all of Niedecker's poems as well as reviews and other prose. Evaluating her achievement, Michael Heller observed that "[Niedecker's] gift . . . has been the courage to breach her reticence, to speak simply and accurately as few poets do today. Thus despite their often bitter quality, these poems are peculiarly consoling to the reader, for they offer, above all, the comfort of substance, of authentic possession."

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