Thursday, March 11, 2010

Collected Works

Niedecker, Lorine. Collected Works. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. Berkeley, CA: University of
California Press, 2002.

This collection of Niedecker’s work spans her entire oeuvre, beginning in 1928 and concluding in 1970. The poems at the inception of her writing career exhibit distinct Surrealist tendencies, with pieces such as “For exhibition,” which references the “subconscious,” “wakeful states,” and “full consciousness,” not to mention absurd imagery such as “curved banana-moon” and “hornets’ nest in tobacco pipes” (27). Other characteristics of her early poetry are long lines, as in the poem “Stage Directions,” conflating genres, which can be seen in the play-poem “Domestic and Unavoidable,” as well as a “particularly strong…material presences” (5), evident in “Next year or I Fly My Rounds, Tempestuous,” which she wrote and presented in published form on a pocket calendar. Her mid-career manuscript, one of two published during her lifetime, titled New Goose, established a remarkably different aesthetic and marked a new stage in her writing life. Poems from this collection are most often less than ten lines in length and contain considerably shorter lines, most usually no more than a few words long. Just as evident as the shortened spatial arrangements is the sing-song quality of the pieces. To wit, the “Mother Goose” nursery rhymes and stories of Niedecker’s childhood acted as inspiration for most of the poems. Additionally, New Goose offers a “rich and subtle study of folk habits” (11) by concentrating on subject matter, such as “Ash woods, willow” (39), “clothesline post[s],” (100), and “spitbox[es]” (94), that were emblematic of the “Niedecker tribe” (93) residing in Atkinson, WI. She wrote her next collection, For Paul and Other Poems, in honor of Zukofsky’s son and she attempts more fully to incorporate Objectivist tendencies into her material, particularly by jettisoning the hard rhymes of her previous collection for a more natural, rhythmically inclined musicality. In this sense, her poems more fully capture the music inherent to nature, or “the full note/ the moon// playing/ to leaves” (156), than prescribed meter and rhyme are capable of achieving. Toward the latter half of her career, Niedecker appears to abandon matters outside of her own life and locale (excepting her Thomas Jefferson poems) and focuses on an aesthetic that exhibits an intimate, haiku-like quality in their brevity and simplicity. North Central’s “My Life by Water” and “winter Ridge” embody this new style rather well in their desire to represent the “wild green/ arts and letters” (237) of nature in an effort to harness “light/ and silence// which if intense/ makes sound” (253). Her poetry, then, is a culmination of a “life/ in the leaves and on water” (261).

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