Lorine Niedecker’s Writing

Selections from Niedecker’s Poetry

Poems included here are from Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy, published by the University of California Press, 2002 and reprinted by permission of the University of California Press.

Remember my little granite pail?
The handle of it was blue.
Think what's got away in my life—
Was enough to carry me thru.

Black Hawk held: In reason
land cannot be sold,
only things to be carried away,
and I am old.

Young Lincoln's general moved,
pawpaw in bloom,
and to this day, Black Hawk,
reason has small room.

There's a better shine
on the pendulum
than is on my hair
and many times
          .. ..
I've seen it there.

Asa Gray wrote Increase Lapham:
pay particular attention
to my pets, the grasses.

In moonlight lies
          the river passing—
it's not quiet
          and it's not laughing.

I'm not young
          and I'm not free
but I've a house of my own
          by a willow tree.

In the great snowfall before the bomb
colored yule tree lights
windows, the only glow for contemplation
along this road

I worked the print shop
right down among em
the folk from whom all poetry flows
and dreadfully much else.

I was Blondie
I carried my bundles of hog feeder price lists
down by Larry the Lug,
I'd never get anywhere
because I'd never had suction,
pull, you know, favor, drag,
well-oiled protection.

What horror to awake at night
and in the dimness see the light.
          Time is white
          mosquitoes bite
I've spent my life on nothing.

The thought that stings. How are you, Nothing,
sitting around with Something's wife.
          Buzz and burn
          is all I learn
I've spent my life on nothing.

I've pillowed and padded, pale and puffing
lifting household stuffing—
          carpets, dishes
          benches, fishes
I've spent my life in nothing.

     when the leaves

from their stems
     that lie thick
          on the walk

in the light
     of the full note
          the moon

     to leaves
          when they leave

the little
     thin things

The death of my poor father
leaves debts
and two small houses.

To settle this estate
a thousand fees arise—
I enrich the law.

Before my own death is certified,
recorded, final judgement

taxes taxed
I shall own a book
of old Chinese poems

and binoculars
to probe the river

where her snow-grave is
the You
          ah you
of mourning doves

My friend tree
I sawed you down
but I must attend
an older friend
the sun


A robin stood by my porch
      and side-eyed
            raised up
                  a worm

Get a load
    of April's

frog rattle—
     lowland freight cars
       in the night

Poet's work

    advised me:
            Learn a trade

I learned
    to sit at desk
           and condense

No layoff
    from this

Now in one year
    a book published
          and plumbing—
took a lifetime
    to weep
          a deep

I knew a clean man
but he was not for me.
Now I sew green aprons
over covered seats. He

wades the muddy water fishing,
fall in, dries his last pay-check
in the sun, smooths it out
in Leaves Of Grass. He's
the one for me.

Popcorn-can cover
screwed to the wall
over a hole
       so the cold
can't mouse in

Your erudition
the elegant flower
of which

my blue chicory
at scrub end
of campus ditch


(Excerpt from "Lake Superior")

I'm sorry to have missed
      Sand Lake
My dear one tells me
      we did not
We watched a gopher there

My Life by Water

My life
   by water—

   first frog
       or board

out on the cold


to wild green
   arts and letters

   my lettuce
       One boat

   pointed toward
       my shore

thru birdstart

of the soft
   and serious—

Far reach
   of sand
         A man

bends to inspect
   a shell

part coral
   and mud


We must pull
the curtains—
we haven't any

I walked
New Year's Day

beside the trees
my father now gone planted

evenly following
the road


Katherine Ann
             A poor poet
             divining Gail

The baby looked toward me
and I was born—
to sound, light
lift, life
beyond my life

She wiggles her toe
I grow
I go to school to her
and she to me
and to Bonnie


You are the man
You are my other country
and I find it hard going

You are the prickly pear
You are the sudden violent storm

the torrent to raise the river
to float the wounded doe


For permission to reproduce or use Lorine Niedecker’s work please contact her literary executor:

Bob Arnold
Longhouse, Publishers & Booksellers
P.O. Box 2454
West Brattleboro, Vermont 05303
email: poetry@sover.net

Books by Lorine Niedecker:

Lorine Niedecker published five books of poetry during her lifetime, and several more collections have appeared since her death in 1970. Wherever books are in print, we’ve tried to include links to the publisher, and have included links to the WorldCat library record where possible, so you can find these books in a library near year. We strongly recommend Jenny Penberthy’s Collected Works for the serious reader of Niedecker’s work, as it offers a definitive, meticulously edited collection of nearly everything Niedecker wrote or published in her lifetime. We recommend The Granite Pail is the best ‘selected’ Niedecker volume available.

New Goose. Prairie City, Ill.: Press of James A. Decker, 1946. | Library

My Friend Tree. Edinburgh: Wild Hawthorne Press, 1961. | Library

North Central. London: Fulcrum Press, 1968. | Library

T & G: Collected Poems 1936-1966. Penland, N.C.: Jargon Society, 1969. | Library

My Life By Water: Collected Poems 1936-1968. London: Fulcrum Press, 1970. | Library

Blue Chicory. Edited by Cid Corman, New Rochelle, N.Y.: The Elizabeth Press, 1976. | Library

From This Condensery: The Complete Writings of Lorine Niedecker. Edited by Robert J. Bertholf, Jargon Society/Inland Book Company, 1985. | Library

The Granite Pail: Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker. Edited by Cid Corman, North Point Press, 1985. | Library

Harpsichord & Salt Fish. Edited by Jenny Penberthy, Durham, England: Pig Press, 1991. | Library

New Goose. Edited by Jenny Penberthy, Berkeley: Listening Chamber, 2002. | Library

Collected Works. Edited by Jenny Penberthy, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. | Library

Homemade Poems. Edited by John Harkey. New York: Center for the Humanities, Graduate Center, City University of New York, 2012. |  Library

Lake SuperiorEdited by Wave Books. Seattle: Wave Books, 2013. | Library


Between Your House and Mine: Letters of Lorine Niedecker to Cid Corman, 1960-1970. Edited by Lisa Pater Faranda. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1986. | Library

Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky 1931-1970. Edited by Jenny Penberthy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. | Library

Video Reading of Paean to Place

Read by Sarah Day
Directed by Brent Notbohm
Produced by Nicholas Owen Langholff, Brent Notbohm, Robert Saba
Cinematography by Andreas Wagner
Film Editing by Brent Notbohm

Audio Recordings

Lorine Reads Her Poetry

This recording is the only known recording of Lorine reading her poems. It was recorded by Cid Corman during a visit to Lorine’s home in Wisconsin in November 1970, one month before her death. At the end, the audio cassette tape runs out.

Musical Interpretations

Three poems by Lorine Niedecker

Composed by Jerry Hui.
Performed by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, conducted by Scott MacPherson, August 3, 2012, Luther Memorial Church, Madison, Wisconsin.

Ann Engelman, Narrator
Jeff Wagner, Pianist