Monday, April 12, 2010

Early Niedecker

From the Collected Works

Please read:

Life and Writing
Poems of 1928-1936
Poems of 1936-1945

Please include the finishing poems of the "New Goose" manuscript

From Radical Vernacular

Please Read:
Eleni Sikelianos:
Life Pops from a Music Box Shaped Like a Gun: Dismemberments and Mendings in Niedicker's Figurines

Lisa Robertson: In Phonographic Deep Song: Sounding Niedecker

Please check back by Wednesday for possible additions,

As always post once by Sunday, April 18th.



  1. As I was reading this weeks assignment, I began to think of Niedecker as what I would call a Secular Objectivist (as opposed to Z's more fundamentalist approach -- although I'm still certain he was making it up on the fly most of the time). In fact, aside from their sometimes "bare-bones" stylings, or perhaps it's just that some of these poems have such astounding brevity, i don't really see much of Niedecker's early work as what we've come to understand as "capitol O" Objectivist. I see a greatly appreciated and startling amount of, well, imagination to her earlier poetry:

    A man strolls pale among zinnias,
    life and satin sleeves renounced.
    He is intent no longer on what direction herons fly
    in hell, but computing space in forty minutes,
    and ascertains at the end of the path:
    this going without tea holds a hope of tasting it.

    The meandering voice of this, and much of her work, even in New Goose, seems quite a prominent reflection of what she's been reading in Fort Atkinson. The way the poetic voice dips in and out of objectivist tone and stream of consciousness reassures me personally, it is familiar (thank you Virginia Woolf for your influence here). And I think Niedecker, in her more "secular" approach to Objectivism, speaks more to the public at large, people who, I feel, our other poets slowly forgot about over the course of their lives. I'm impressed by her Irish folk poems, so based in something other than Z's poetic self-reliance, loneliness. Although he was a continued influence on Niedecker and her poetry, I feel little of Z in here, and when I do have the sense of him between the lines, it's usually in a poem which has somehow lost Niedecker's voice, or at least part of it. The Canvess poems, for instance, do this for me, and correspond to a time when Z was just beginning to be a part of her life. I'm also reassured at Z's discomfort with Niedecker's "For Paul" poem, and her increasingly personal content. For me it's kinda like a big ol' F-You to Zukofsky, which makes me chuckle. I think Niedecker, in a way, was evolving what Objectivism was, and perhaps Z and others were uncomfortable with that. As the book says, Niedecker, as not "among the original Objectivists," was what I would imagine as a sort of "next generation." Perhaps her poetry includes more personal content, more speculation, more supposition, for a purpose; perhaps she was aware of all this while drafting, living, brainstorming, and was able to be clear and objective about her own experiences, enough so to be able to write them as they had occurred, as she supposed, imagined, and was therefore able to remain within the Objectivist laws. Hope that makes sense... I’m not sure if I'm writing it out right. :/

  2. Brandon- I think you’ve struck something in observing that Niedecker is very different than the rest of the ‘objectivists,’ although I would not go as far to call her a secular objectivist- even though its an attractive term. First, because there wasn’t much spirituality in Z., R., or Oppen. In fact I would go as far as to argue that Oppen’s embrace and interest in the material world would be a sort of inverse or anti-spirituality. Nevertheless, my objection (ha!) to the term comes mostly from the fact that the more I think about ‘objectivism’ the more I think that there are no ‘objective’ poets, only ‘objective’ poems. Even more, there are more ‘objective’ moments than ‘objective’ poems. And really, I’m less concerned about how Niedecker’s work fits into the frame of ‘objectivism’ than how it fits into the frame of poetics in general- and I think she might have shared my concerns.

    To avoid inevitable backlash- I’m not going to deal with the gender differences in ‘folk’ poetry, or ‘folk’ art in general. Although I am curious about the term ‘domestic’ coming up a lot in terms of Niedecker’s work, while Zukofsky’s poetry dealt intimately with family and would never be given the term ‘domestic.’ I wonder if this is a difference in scale, location or language, or of course gender. I’m going to contradict myself later- but on an immediate level Niedecker’s work is very specific in terms of location. She remains in WI (especially in New Goose) in terms of space while Zukofsky’s familial poems are less concerned with location as much as ambition and relationship. On a language level, Niedecker is concerned with the colloquial (read: regional) while Z.’s is more universal. I actually find it strange that the terms domestic and folk haven’t come up earlier in the semester. What we’ve read is concerned with Things and material; most of the work has focused on tangible and “small-scale” concerns that are often associated with the domestic or folk.

    I also wonder if one of the main domestic is used to describe Neidecker is her frequent use of the personal “I.”

    This was one of the most (among many) interesting elements of Sikelianos’ essay. She mentions the letter that Niedecker sent to Cid Corman: “Sorry it is another I poem. My god, I must try to get away from that.” I find this statement very strange- but it gives away a certain tendency among poets- a sort of insecurity of the I. This might be attributed from Z’s influence- if the poem is objective how could a self exist inside it, since the self is unstable/unrested? He rejected a too prominent stance of the poet, and her common use of the personal, using a personal I often, as well as direct family references, works outside of that. This is not to suggest that Zukofsky didn’t do this often as well. He did, but I think his poems reject/alter his own poetics often.

  3. Which is why I find it so interesting that Z was not fond of the personal detail in the poems about Paul. I’m not sure Neidecker writing these poems was a “f-you” to Z. I think she might actually have been surprised at his discomfort. Sikelianos doesn’t directly address this in her essay, but I think the main thesis of her essay might shed some light. Sikelianos points out how Niedecker uses poetry often to sew or attempted to address the rift between different aspects of our lives. In New Goose this is done by talking about bombs and the war in the same poems/collection as domestic scenes and local concerns. For Niedecker, the personal and the political are constantly pushing on each other. They think locally, and act globally. The personal is political, or is it the other way around? They talk about bombs colloquially. The war doesn’t come home, it is home. So perhaps for Neidecker writing personal details about Paul was another way to sew (another domestic term) the realms of the personal and the public. This stitching of multiple concepts might be why Neidecker’s work can simultaneously be more personal and more political than anything we’ve seen this semester.

  4. I was fascinated by Lisa Robertson’s essay, so I hope we can spend a good amount of time here and in class discussing it. To start, here’s a longish passage that I found interesting in context with Niedecker’s “Domestic and Unavoidable” (68): “Sound’s perception is itself part of an active shaping, and this shaping constitutes a cognitive feedback pattern. The mimetic subtraction of sound from its originating environmental matrix by recording devices, and the spatial and temporal displacement effected by broadcasting, introduce a caesura into the continuum of perception” (85). If we consider the artifact of a written poem as a kind of recording, something that is stored in a certain medium and can be played back (or read or recited) in perpetuity, then “Domestic and Unavoidable” is doing a fair amount of playful self-reflection in that regard. Niedecker relates the scene of the poem as “a confused murmur of voices of men and women from [a] dining room” which “soon becomes a mere suspicion of sound as of air in a tunnel or as a loud speaker of a radio turned on but not speaking—” (68). What one gets essentially while reading this poem is a recording of background noise, creating an especially wide rift, or “caesura,” to use Robertson’s term, that distances the reader from the situation’s “originating environmental matrix.” This is something I think about often when I’m listening to certain kinds of live album recordings—in the background of Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” you can hear all kinds of murmurings, clinking of glasses and silverware against plates (at one point you can hear very faintly someone fumble a dish—I always imagine it coming from the kitchen), and I wonder about these kinds of sounds, all these inadvertently captured resonances that, unlike the music, were only meant to be heard once. They play with our sense of what is meaningful in both music and poetry, because although we are forced to approach and contemplate them (because they do exist side by side with what was intentionally recorded in their respective atemporal media), we often perceive them as unintelligible—the hint of some kind of significance that is dangled at us just out of reach. I guess that’s how I interpret Niedecker’s idea of “movement in stillness” (68), this static buzz that’s suggestive of a potentiality, a record caught in the moment before the first song begins, which I see as strangely related to the objective idea of a rested totality.

  5. i don't mean secular in a literal way. i'm using it figuratively.

  6. Brandon - I'd have to disagree with you on one point, that Z isn't an apparent influence on N. I can see him in the chewiness of N's language - that seductive play of sound and word that resists the first attempt at making sense. Her poems are full of that minute attention to the function of sound. I think that influence probably ends there, though - N feels much more readable, even in these early poems, than Z - and that's not a bad thing or a good thing - it just is, for me. I love Z's complete incomprehensibility and I'm really enjoying N's marginally less incomprehensible but equally intricate poems.

    I would have to concur, though, that it feels like N is much more "secular" about her objectivism - she doesn't hold rigidly to Z's or Rezi's ideas of the object, she allows herself more leeway in the pursuit of these ideas. Maybe she's more like Oppen in this regard? She lets her objects burst forth - the pursue their tangents. Not that she's unspiritual while the others were, but if Objectivism were to be the "religion" (the fundamental guideline, which is ridiculous in itself because there's really no guideline) then what N is doing is the other side of that dichotomy - the "secular" - or perhaps the loosely interpreted, more personal version. Now that I've got the term and the distinction in my head, I'm not sure how else to say it, though I'm aware it has nothing to do with spirituality in the least. There is a difference between her and the other three Objectivists we've read.

    Genna - I'm kind of wishing you had gone into the gender differences in folk poetry. I find it rather interesting, especially as N is the only woman we've read in this course and she's the one writing the so-called folk poetry. Is she rewriting the rules of this boy's club? :D

    I like what you point out about the domestic and folk - it's a great question, why haven't these terms come up earlier? Can we say Rezi is a "folk" writer with his reworking of the Old Testament? They're some of the oldest "folk" stories in human history, but because it's the Bible and (possibly?) because he's a man, they're given a more serious, elevated status than simple folk poems. N is using Mother Goose as her launching point, there are quick lilting meters and snappy rhymes - so much more "folk" than the Old Testament. N gets classed a "folk" writer in some circles and Rezi never seems to be - strange, when you really think about it.

    The more I think of the term "domestic," the harder it is to reconcile it to N, though. She's concerned with so much more than the family and home - these are the things that come to mind when I think "domestic" - perhaps I'm not seeing enough dimensions of the term? As you said, Z is the one really writing about his family, and I don't think I'd ever consider calling him a domestic writer. Perhaps you're right, Genna, in that the "I" is what makes N so domestic - that still doesn't sound entirely right to me, but I'm not sure why. Even if N is nothing more than a folk writer (and I'm aware she is so much more), she just demonstrates the inherent power in the local, the folk, the things that we take for granted - Sikelianos points this out in the way N takes the ripped apart bodies and patches them together into some sort of humanly understandable image, spoken in colloquial phrases.

  7. Like Zach, I'm also fascinated with the Lisa Robertson essay (doesn't hurt that her voice is fresh in my mind and I can hear her probable inflection as I read it). I found the part

  8. Katherine, that's just so tantalizing!

    I'm just reminding everyone that we will meet in the Multi-Porpoise Building, room 201, for tonight's class. See you there!

  9. Is it possible that we are disparaging a connection between Niedecker and Zukofsky because of a perception of outsider/underdog vs. insider/topdog? Because I see really interesting parallels in the structure and tone of these poems, particularly between "Progression" and "Poem beginning 'The'". Both of them are personal statements about being in the world and embarking into it heavy laden with cultural baggage. Their poetics are different (Niedecker, for instance, will occasionally make a complete phrase), but they are both nested in reference.

    While "New Goose" is unique, it shares a spare musicality with Zukofsky's Songs. Both of them use rhyme to create and undermind a reader's expectations, and both of them deal in 'realities', whether it's crickets chirping in a feild or a grandfather's spitbox. Also, as we see at the end of the New Goose manuscript, she is willing to work directly with the economic conditions of her time. They may not seem "Objective" because she makes use of her thoughts and imagination within the poem, but if I remember back to "Mantis", Zukofsky was capable of making use of his personal thoughts as well.

    This is personal I suppose, but I'd like to talk about those last two poems of New Goose in order to say something that's just kind of been on my mind. Sorry. Neidecker is commenting directly about the economic and social conditions of the time in a way that is interesting. Sometimes when I hear someone say that, it sounds like what they mean is that the poem is talking about the subject in a way that has not been done before or that feels different or clever, or purhaps by talking about the subject without mentioning it. While this can be the case, I know that is not the end of the story. What really makes a poem interesting to me is not how clever it is, but how "true". Take the poem that begins "Their apples fall down". Much of the poem is taken up in conversation about the price of an apple, as if it could be happening in a store or in a conversation with a farmer. The poem is not about how the costs of apples is high dispite an overwhelming supply, but about the alienation of the consumer from the forces that facilitate that consumption, about the human need being superceded by the theoretical mechinations of some distant thought-process. The same is at work in the next poem, where "government men" are encouraging the opposite of what people need. For people, the need is and always has been food, but the needs of economists and policy makers is the stability of the economy. This subject is brought to it's formal perfection in the use of these doggerel rhymes, which give the speaker of these poems a "bumpkin" character.

    What is great about it is Niedecker is not a bumpkin. She uses that diction to comment on the silliness of it and its potential for dehumanization. This poem is "true" because it works against our expectations (light verse about serious subjects) in a way that illustrates reality.

  10. AArgh! Sorry about that. Amber even pointed it out last night and I was so distracted I promptly forgot to fix it. What I was going to say is that I was fascinated with this thought, which I hadn't heard articulated before (you've all probably discussed this in other contexts, but I'm still new to this) and hope you can give me some additional insight on it.

    "Perhaps the acoustic gland is sometimes outside the body, like the seductive technologies of radio or phonograph. I'm not referring to the feminized lure of the consumption of popular culture that finds its place in early modernist poems..."

    Wow! What does this mean,the feminized lure of the consumption of popular culture? What can I read to contextualize this statement, other than the Eliot she refers to? This may be the most obvious question to you all, but I feel like I just opened a magic box.