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.”

Aimless Reading

Michael Kelleher

A few days ago, Michael Kelleher celebrated the one-year anniversary of his “Aimless Reading” project, which he’s been writing in daily increments and posting on his blog, Pearlblossom Highway. The idea is brilliant: an A to Z working through of his library, by way of brief notes that are as much autobiography as commentary (and the commentaries are nearly always based on memory; Kelleher’s rereading is minimal). I love the literalness with which Kelleher enacts a basic principle of autobiography — looking outward to see inward, inward to see outward — and I also love the charming way he equates autobiography with a display of possessions. These two qualities place “Aimless Reading” in the tradition of Joe Brainard’s I Remember, which was also written in small increments. The smallness, I think, is essential to the charm, partly because the equation of a life with its possessions would become unbearable if the text belabored their weight with its own weight, partly because it makes you want to write a book like that yourself — it makes autobiography seem like child’s play, like a version of show and tell.

One year in, Kelleher has written some 400 entries, and gotten as far as William Faulkner, about 20% of his library. He expects to be working on the project until 2013.

Several of his entries touch on authors dear to the NPF (Basil Bunting, Robert Creeley, H.D.), and a few reference the NPF directly, most recently “The E’s, Part 11 (Theodore Enslin),” which is keyed to Theodore Enslin‘s Nine and refers to our 2004 conference on Poetries of the 1940s, where Enslin was one of the featured poets. Here’s an excerpt:

On the second to last day of the conference, Jonathan Skinner suggested that Matthew Cooperman and I skip out of the conference to go visit Ted at his farm in rural Maine, a suggestion to which we happily agreed. We drove up the coast about an hour and then inland slightly to arrive a ways down a very secluded roaded at his house, which is about 250 years old, if not older.

Ted came downstairs and welcomed us and we all sat in his living room talking about poetry and so forth. He then took us out for a walk and showed us his property. As we walked toward the woods he pointed to a small house, which he said was his wife’s potting shed. Further on into the woods we came upon a clearing, in which were planted, quite a ways apart from one another, 8-10 different varieties of young trees. He explained that this was a kind of literary arbor he had been cultivating, meaning that each variety of tree was chosen because it had made an appearance in some literary work that was important to him — for example, he had planted a lotus blossom in honor of William Carlos Williams.

As befits an autobiography written in catalog form, this anecdote is continued in another entry that the alphabet placed first. In “The C’s, Part 34 (Matthew Cooperman),” Kelleher had this:

One afternoon, Matthew, Jonathan Skinner and myself skipped out of the conference for an afternoon to visit Ted Enslin’s farm deep in the Maine Woods. Enslin entertained us in the living room of his 200-year old farmhouse and then took us on a walk through a clearing in the woods to his writing cabin, a little A-frame filled with books and cd’s and trunks full of manuscripts. (I’ll write more about this visit when I get to Enslin’s books).

After visiting Ted, the three of us drove back toward Orono. I recall we stopped at a lobster shack by the side of the road and ate a very messy dinner while talking about Enslin, Creeley, Mac Low and many of the other old poets that had made their way to the conference — Creeley and Mac Low for the last time. In fact, I am pretty sure Mac Low’s reading at the conference was his final reading, period.

The 1940s Conference took place in the summer of 2004, when Mac Low was just short of his 82nd birthday. He passed away in December of that year.