Ice Fishing with Lorine Niedecker

Although ice fishing season is far behind us, I was excited nonetheless to read a poem by Lorine Niedecker on the topic, posted on Jonathan Skinner‘s blog Ecopoetics (read the post here).

The poem, from New Goose, reminded me of the vast stores of Niedecker material the NPF has published and promoted throughout the years. This includes printed scholarship, as with Elizabeth Savage‘s essay, “Love, the Lyric, and History in Lorine Niedecker and Susan Howe,” published in a special issue of Sagetrieb on women poets of the 1950s, edited by Savage and Lynda Szabo. Skinner chaired a panel on Niedecker at our 2004 conference on poetries of the 1940s, featuring work by Jayne Marek, Mary Pinard, and Judith Schwartz. New material on the poet is forthcoming in Paideuma 37, which includes an essay by Jeffrey Westover entitled “‘My Sense of Property’s / Adrift’: Attitudes toward Land, Property, and Nation in the Poetry of Lorine Niedecker.”

The NPF has also included Niedecker in our Person and Poet series (link). That volume, edited by Jenny Penberthy and published in 1996, includes the following excerpt from a letter from Niedecker to Paul Zukofsky on ice fishing, dated February 7, 1952:

Let me see what stories I can tell you from way out here in Wisconsin….

The other evening when Henry had a party at his place, after packing away inside the people all his headcheese till their heads were solid cheese and tying a beer stein around each one’s neck with a hose that ran to the stein from the upstairs kitchen, and after they’d all bid him a merry but bleary good night – and after he’d washed the dishes till three o’clock in the morning – a knock sounds on the door. Henry goes to answer it and there stands a stranger who was wandering – Odysseus himself – in search of his home. He had been walking from the taverns below us up toward the fishing shacks where he works and in the dark imagined he had got off our road. Seeing a light in a house he thought he’d better stop and inquire where he was. The stranger put his hand up to Henry’s face to show how cold it was outdoors. This could only happen at my father’s house.

Everybody is going out on the ice on the lake to fish. They take little huts along to sit in while their lines and hooks hang outside, down through the holes in the ice. The huts are heated and there the people sit and play cards. Someday I’ll get tired of trying to write radio scripts and jump into my waste basket which I’ll have on skids and I’ll skedoodle out onto the lake.



It seems a shame, speaking as someone with a keen interest in ice fishing, that Niedecker chose not to participate in the sport save in poetry. I will allow that Niedecker makes up for this with the cheeky last line of her poem: “well, we never go fishing, so they can’t catch us.”