Lorine Niedecker's spare, "whittled clean" poetry (so-called by Kenneth Cox) is surely a big reason for her steadily growing popularity since she passed away, in relative obscurity, in 1970. Who could resist lines like these, for instance, from "Poet's Work"?

advised me:
Learn a trade

I learned
to sit at a desk
and condense

No layoff
from this

But beyond her stark, vivid verse, the strange pathos of her life also contributes to her allure: the fact that she made a living as a hospital cleaning lady and the proof-reader of a dairy journal, writing her poetry in semi-seclusion on the remote Blackhawk Island in Wisconsin, where she lived for almost her entire life. Most of her closest neighbors and relatives didn't know she was a poet at all.

The first full chronicle of Niedecker's life was published just last month by the University of Wisconsin Press. The biography explores her Wisconsin roots, her relationship with Objectivist Louis Zukofsky, her late-life marriage to an industrial painter from Milwaukee, and more. Biographer Margot Peters describes Niedecker  as "one of the mentally toughest, most strong-willed and appealing twentieth-century voices. She is both intricate and basic, acerbic and profoundly musical."

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Originally Published: November 7th, 2011