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."
- New Goose, James A. Decker, 1946.
- My Friend Tree, Wild Hawthorne Press, 1961.
- North Central, Fulcrum Press, 1968.
- T & G: Collected Poems 1936-1966, Jargon Society, 1969.
- My Life By Water: Collected Poems 1936-1968, Fulcrum Press, 1970.
- Blue Chicory, edited by Cid Corman, Elizabeth Press, 1976.
- From This Condensery: The Complete Writings of Lorine Niedecker, edited by Robert J. Bertholf, Jargon Society/Inland Book Company, 1985.
- The Granite Pail: Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker, edited by Cid Corman, North Point Press, 1985.
- Between Your House and Mine: Letters of Lorine Niedecker to Cid Corman, 1960-1970, edited by Lisa Pater Faranda, Duke University Press, 1987.
- Harpsichord and Salt Fish, Pig Press (Durham, NC), 1991.
- Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky 1931-1970, edited by Jenny Penberthy, Cambridge University Press, 1993.
- Lorine Niedecker Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2002.
- Lake Superior, Wave Books (Seattle, WA), 2013.
Poetry also published in literary magazines, including Origin, Quarterly Review of Literature, Arts in Society, and New Directions in Prose and Poetry.
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Bertholf, Robert J., ed., Introduction to From This Condensery: The Complete Writing of Lorine Niedecker, Jargon Society/Inland Book, 1985.
- Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2, Gale Research Inc., 1978.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 10, Gale Research Inc., 1979.
- Corman, Cid., Editorial Note to Blue Chicory, 1976.
- Corman, Preface to The Granite Pail: The Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker, North Point Press, 1985.
- Dent, Peter, ed. The Full Note: Lorine Niedecker, Interim Press, 1983.
- Dorn, Edward, Introduction to My Friend Tree, Wild Hawthorne Press, 1961.
- Faranda, Lisa Pater, "Lorine Niedecker," Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 48: American Poets, 1880-1945, edited by Peter Quartermain,, Gale Research Company, 1986, pp. 304-19.
- Heller, M., Conviction's Net of Branches, 1985.
- Williams, Jonathan, ed., Epitaphs for Lorine, Jargon Society, 1973.
- Penberthy, Jenny, ed., Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet, National Poetry Foundation, 1996.
- Willis, Elizabeth, ed., Radical Vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the Poetics of Place, University of Iowa Press, 2008.
- Peters, Margot, Lorine Niedecker: A Poet's Life, University of Wisconsin Press, 2011.
- Agenda, Spring, 1969.
- Choice, May, 1986; June, 1986.
- London Magazine, April-May, 1971.
- Library Journal, November 1, 1985.
- Line, Fall, 1985.
- Nation, April 13, 1970; March 15, 1986.
- New York Times, March 19, 1989.
- New York Times Book Review, February 13, 1977; January 29, 1986.
- Origin, July, 1981.
- Parnassus, Spring-Summer, 1977.
- PN Review, Winter, 1981.
- Poetry, May, 1972.
- Times Literary Supplement, February 27, 1968; September 6, 1985; September 25, 1987.
- Truck, Summer, 1975, Memorial Issue for Lorine Niedecker.
Poems By LORINE NIEDECKER
- “A monster owl”
- ("(The park/"a darling walk...)")
- ("(To my pres-/sure pump...)")
- ("Consider at the outset...")
More poems by Lorine Niedecker (39 poems)
- ("Now in one year...")
- ("Prosperity is poverty...")
- ("Smile/to see the lake...")
- ("Spring/stood there...")
- ("We are what the seas...")
- ("Young in Fall I said...")
- Five Poems
- Four Poems
- His Carpets Flowered
- Linnaeus in Lapland
- Paean to Place
- Poet’s work
- Promise of Brilliant Funeral
- Thomas Jefferson
- Three Poems
- Watching dan-/ cers on skates
- When Ecstasy Is Inconvenient
- [He Lived—Childhood Summers]
- [I married]
- [I rose from marsh mud]
- [Keen and lovely man moved as in a dance]
- [Mr. Van Ess bought 14 washcloths?]
- [My mother saw the green tree toad]
- [Old Mother turns blue and from us]
- [Popcorn-can cover]
- [The wild and wavy event]
- [What horror to awake at night]
Articles About LORINE NIEDECKER
Audio & PodcastsPoetry Off the Shelf
Charles Darwin Condensed
Lorine Niedecker's take on the great naturalist.
Less is More, More or Less
Poems by Lorine Niedecker and Brooklyn Copeland from the new Poetry magazine anthology.
Subway Poetry is Back
Alice Quinn discusses the return of the Poetry in Motion program in New York.
Lorine Niedecker: Essential American Poets
Recordings of poet Lorine Niedecker with an introduction to her life and work. Recorded at home in 1970. Recording courtesy of PennSound.
POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern
SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist
LIFE SPAN 1903–1970