Lorine Niedecker

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Lorine Niedecker (May 12, 1903 - December 31, 1970) was born on the Black Hawk Island near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. She lived most of her life here in rural isolation. She was the only woman associated with the Objectivist poets and is widely credited for demonstrating how an Objectivist poetic could handle the personal as subject matter.


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Early Writings
  • 3 Neglect
  • 4 Late Flowering
  • 5 Selected Bibliography
    • 5.1 Poetry
    • 5.2 Letters
    • 5.3 Poetry & Prose
  • 6 External links

Early life

Niedecker grew up surrounded by the sights and sounds of the river until she moved to Fort Atkinson to attend school. This world of birds, trees, water and marsh was to inform her poetry for the rest of her life. On graduating from high school in 1922, she went to Beloit College to study literature but left after two years to take care of her ailing mother. She married in 1928, but this relationship lasted only two years.

Early Writings

Niedecker's earliest poetry was marked by her reading of the Imagists, whose work she greatly admired and of surrealism. In 1931, she read the Objectivist issue of Poetry. She was fascinated by what she saw and immediately wrote to Louis Zukofsky, who had edited the issue, sending him her latest poems. This was the beginning of what proved to be a most important relationship for her development as a poet. Zukofsky suggested sending them to Poetry, where they were accepted for publication. Suddenly, Niedecker found herself in direct contact with the American poetic avant-garde.

From the mid 1930s, Niedecker moved away from surrealism and started writing poems that engaged more directly with social and political realities and on her own immediate rural surroundings. Her first book, New Goose (1946), collected many of these poems.


Niedecker was not to publish another book for fifteen years. In 1969, she began work on a poem sequence called For Paul, named for Zukofsky's son. Unfortunately, Zukofsky was uncomfortable with what he viewed as the overly personal and intrusive nature of the content of the 72 poems she eventually collected under this title and discouraged publication. Partly because of her geographical isolation, even magazine publication was not easily available and in 1955 she claimed that she had published work only six times in the previous ten years.

Late Flowering

The 1960s saw a revival of interest in Niedecker's work. Wild Hawthorn Press and Fulcrum Press, both British-based, published books and magazine publication became regular. She was also befriended by a number of poets, including Cid Corman, Basil Bunting and several younger British and US poets who were interested in reclaiming the modernist heritage. Her books published in the last few decades of her life included My Friend Tree, T & G: The Collected Poems, 1936-1966, North Central, and My Life By Water.

Encouraged by this interest, Niedecker started writing again. She had previously earned her living scrubbing hospital floors, "reading proof" at a local magazine, and renting cottages, and had lived at the edge of poverty for years. However, her marriage in 1963 to Al Millen brought financial stability back into her life. She died in 1970 leaving several unpublished typescripts. Her comprehensive Collected Works, as masterfully edited by Niedecker scholar Jenny Penberthy, were published by the University of California Press in 2002. A centennial celebration of Niedecker's life and work, held in Milwaukee and Fort Atkinson in 2003, included treks to her Rock River-edged homes on Black Hawk Island and a symposium of scholars and poets in Milwaukee. Corman, Niedecker's literary executor, made his last appearance in the United States during this event.

Selected Bibliography


New Goose (Prairie City, Ill.: Press of James A. Decker, 1946).

My Friend Tree (Edinburgh: Wild Hawthorn Press, 1961).

North Central (London: Fulcrum Press, 1968).

T&G: The Collected Poems (1936-1966) (Penland, N.C.: The Jargon Society, 1969).

My Life by Water: Collected Poems 1936-1968 (London: Fulcrum Press, 1970).

Blue Chicory, Editor: Cid Corman (New Rochelle, N.Y.: The Elizabeth Press, 1976).

The Granite Pail: Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker (1985)

Harpsichord & Salt Fish (1991)


Between Your House and Mine: Letters of Lorine Niedecker to Cid Corman, 1960-1970 (1987)

Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky 1931-1970 (1993)

Poetry & Prose

From This Condensery: The Complete Writings of Lorine Niedecker (1985)

Collected Works, ed. Jenny Penberthy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002) ISBN 0-520-22433-7

  • Lorine Niedecker at Modern American Poetry
  • Exhibit at the Academy of American Poets
  • Lorine Niedecker Home page at EPC
  • Web guide
  • Facsimile of complete "Paean to Place" autograph edition
  • Who Was Lorine Niedecker? essay by Elizabeth Willis
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