The Operating System

POETRY MONTH 30/30/30 : Inspiration, Community, Tradition: DAY 23: Lauren Marie Cappello on Lorine Niedecker

The way it happens with water is like this: The beginning is unclear, maybe it happened first with rain, maybe the clouds made water from vapor or notes on dreams. Also, there is the way the water moves; it is sure of itself, searching the lowest point – steady in the breaking down of it retaining its structure to the smallest division. It asserts itself in seeking to fill its surroundings, tracing a path from one substance to the next leaving great distinction between where it is and where it is not. Lorine Niedecker’s poetry contains the essence of the water she lived by, moving across one phenomenon, seeking another in connection like a river, leaving a trail on the small portion of those places her poetry touches.

Niedecker’s work places the objects before the reader; it is in the selection of them by this poet that the scene is imbued with meaning. All else is relative. Throughout the objectivist movement, most avoided metaphor in their poetry. They took to the style of portraying the happening as it was with a feeling that in its conveyance to the audience the intended emotion would be transmitted. Niedecker’s work is a hybrid of objectivism blended with her interest in surrealism, which was contained and bubbling just below the surface. In a letter to Monroe in 1934, Lorine wrote”…the whole written with the idea of readers finding sequence for themselves, finding their own meaning whatever that may be, as spectators before abstract painting.”

Niedecker seamlessly interweaves personal subject matter with the outward quality of the Objectivist movement. She called this approach, “monologue tongue”, lending weight to the idea that series of sounds, their patterns and rhythms in correlation to human consciousness had enough of an effect to serve as a conduit for conveyance.

The vicissitude of Niedecker’s line breaks link one image with another seemingly disparate image. The spiraling shape of “Paean to Place” creates by the overlay of thought that spans stanzas and connects disparate ideas and images to each other while encompassing its meaning and highlighting individual pairings. Working in tandem with the precise line breaks, Niedecker also used the layout of the poem to make use of the heaviness of silence between them to guide the reader to a specific place, as water guides itself to the lowest point.

By washing away debris, leaving what is sturdy, she condenses images and events to their fundamental structure, and in doing so they are transformed into that which is both relatable and profound in the personal realm of the poet’s life. Through this purification the objects take on a surreal quality since this naked and crisp form, frequently present in dream-states, is so obscure, yet familiar that the essence draws upon the psyche to externalize it in the way it would with surrealist imagery. Through the use of conventional imagery she bypasses the conscious mind,creating an aura of emotion that textures the image with the reader’s subjective experience of archetypical phenomenon.

Paean to Place” was written in 1970, and within it the culmination of her life and growth as a poet are evident. Through the title she makes it known she is writing in homage to praise a place; “and the place was water”. Not only is she paying homage to the external water she lived by, but also to its general quality and influence upon her life. The altered renku form the “niedecku” is the form that moves this poem forward. In traditional renku, the first three lines and last two had different authors, being passed back and forth between the two writers. In the Niedecku, it is her own life experience that bring each stanza to a close. The first three lines of each stanza bears a tonal quality that evokes a particular mood based on the textural synthesis of the objects Lorine chose. The following two lines provide a sense of understanding of that quality. With the layout as serpentine, and spatially varied as the objects in her life, it seems as if she were looking around the room and creating maps of objects with words on pages.

Water shapes, erodes and changes that which it surrounds. Lorine Niedeker’s life by water molded her poetry. Through her liquid and flowing form, her poems define borders between subconscious and conscious states of mind the way a river divides land and sky. The rhythm of her words, and her silences, perpetuate motion.

[Editor’s note, #1: importing formatting from Word/Open Office to Word Press is the bane of my existence. Clearly, lacunae in my technical intelligence…there must be some obvious answer that continues to elude me. You can continue on to Niedecker’s poem below, but for a prettier, potentially more satisfying read, click here.]

Paean to Place
by Lorine Niedecker 

                                        And the place
                                        was water            

      Water lily mud
My life

in the leaves and on water
My mother and I
in swale and swamp and sworn
to water

My father
thru marsh fog
      sculled down
            from high ground

saw her face
at the organ
bore the weight of lake water
      and the cold—
he seined for carp to be sold
that their daughter

might go high
on land
      to learn
Saw his wife turn

and away
      who knew boats
            and ropes
no longer played

She helped him string out nets
for tarring
      And she could shoot
            He was cool
to the man

who stole his minnows
by night and next day offered
      to sell them back
            He brought in a sack
of dandelion greens

if no flood
No oranges—none at hand
      No marsh marigold
            where the water rose
He kept us afloat

I mourn her not hearing canvasbacks
their blast-off rise
      from the water
            Not hearing sora
rails’s sweet

spoon-tapped waterglass-
descending scale-
            Did she giggle
as a girl?

His skiff skimmed
the coiled celery now gone
      from these streams
            due to carp
He knew duckweed

toward Mud Lake bottom
      Knew what lay
            under leaf decay
and on pickerel weeds

before summer hum
To be counted on:
      new leaves
            new dead

He could not
like water bugs—
      stride surface tension
            He netted

As to his bright new car
my mother—her house
      next his—averred:
            A hummingbird
can’t haul

Anchored here
in the rise and sink
      of life—
            middle years’ nights
he sat

beside his shoes
rocking his chair
      Roped not “looped
            in the loop
of her hair”

I grew in green
slide and slant
      of shore and shade
thru weeds

Maples to swing from

Grew riding the river
      at home-pier
            Shelley could steer
as he read

I was the solitary plover
a pencil
      for a wing-bone
From the secret notes
I must tilt

upon the pressure
execute and adjust
In us sea-air rhythm
We live by the urgent wave
of the verse”

Seven year molt
for the solitary bird
      and so young
Seven years the one

for town once a week
One for home
      faded blue-striped
as she piped
her cry

Dancing grounds
my people had none
      woodcocks had—
air around

such as what flower
      to take
      to grandfather’s grave

water lilies—
he who’d bowed his head
      to grass as he mowed
      Iris now grows
on fill

for the two
and for him
      where they lie
      How much less am I
in the dark than they?   

Effort lay in us
before religions
      at pond bottom
            All things move toward
the light

except those
that freely work down
to oceans’ black depths
            In us an impulse tests
the unknown

River rising—flood
Now melt and leave home
      Return—broom wet
            naturally wet

soak-heavy rug
water bugs hatched—
      no snake in the house
            Where were they?—

who knew how to clean up
after floods
      he who bailed boats, houses
            Water endows us
with buckled floors

You with sea water running
in your veins sit down in water
      Expect the long-stemmed blue
            speedwell to renew

O my floating life
Do not save love
      for things
            Throw things
to the flood

by the flood
      Leave the new unbought—
            all one in the end—

I possessed
the high word:
      The boy my friend
            played his violin
in the great hall

On this stream
my moonnight memory
      washed of hardships
            maneuvers barges
thru the mouth

of the river
They fished in beauty
      It was not always so
            In Fishes
red Mars

rides the sloughs and sluices
      of my mind
            with the persons
on the edge

& as homage to Neidecker, and in celebration of Poetry Month, a poem of my own.

A childhood
            summer, though
                        barefoot we

Did not have
            exact change to
                        build a castle

From time as sand
            or breath as wet
                        as prayer or fog

On glasses, spent
            where orange is
                        not a flavor, or color

My walls have
            yet to weaken,
                       but a chair

In procession.
The downtown R
to Brooklyn.

Lauren Marie Cappello ventures to achieve a state of non-duality within each poem. She is a contributing editor for Eratio Poetry Journal, and her work has appeared in Uphook  Press’s Gape-Seed, & Polarity Magazine. Aside from performing her poetry at a variety of local venues she teaches yoga, & dances burlesque. A former New Yorker, she now resides in New Orleans, LA.

Editor’s note: for more Niedecker-inspired work and critical inquiry, please enjoy this digitally rendered version of I Was the Solitary Plover, from 2006, put out by the Friends of Lorine Niedecker. What I’ve added below, as well, is a quiet look inside the beautiful edition of Handmade Poems, the book she made and sent to Louis Zukofsky, which was recently (re)issued as part of the Lost and Found document initiative, with wonderful editorial vision and notes by John Harkey. Handmade Poems was produced in collaboration with A Longhouse Birdhouse, who also have issued A Cooking Book, another of Niedecker’s handmade pieces.


And on a more personal note, I met Lauren in that way familiar to the cultural class in NYC and everywhere: which is to say, working together at a restaurant. We immediately identified each the other as simpatico, and to discover we were both poets was no great surprise… but always a great delight, to know you can catch an eye across the room and speak, as it were, your language. We’re sorry to have lost Lau to New Orleans, but admit it’s a natural place for her unique energies and vision.

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