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Lorine Niedecker Portrait

Niedecker lived most of her life on Black Hawk Island. It is on the Rock River near where it flows into Lake Koshkonong by the town of Fort Atkinson in Wisconsin. For her it is the place evoked in her poem "Paean to Place." But it is also a place from which we can all draw a lesson about the interconnectedness of natural process and human endeavor. Her father netted carp for a living; her mother helped, struggling with deafness that came on after her daughter's birth. There were the boats, the marshes, birds, and trees, and the uncertainties of a marginal economic existence, vulnerable to floods and market fluctuations. Niedecker attended Beloit College for a year, but returned to help her family, then worked as a library assistant at the end of the 1920s. She read Zukofsky's "Objectivist" issue of Poetry magazine in 1931 and began an extended correspondence with him. Her spare diction and intense focus on the spatial effects of the page resonated with elements of Zukofsky's aesthetic, though neither her evocation of a rural woman's experience nor her depictions of "Muskrats / gnawing / doors" raised many echoes with the metropolitan subjects the Objectivists typically treated. Late in her life she began to have some contact with other writers, but she mostly avoided the poetry establishment. Indeed, she often struggled to support herself, cleaning kitchens and scrubbing floors at Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital from 1957 to 1963.