Poetry Monday: Lorine Niedecker
External imageLast week in ModPo, we learned so much and covered so much ground (this week looks even richer) that it’s hard to know where to begin in picking just a tidbit from it to share with you. Before I get lost in Imagism, which is where we’re headed this week, I thought it might be fun to just present my favourite poem from the Whitmanians and Dickinsonians we covered (I think you can guess which camp I’ve fallen into, though I’m a little of both, and of course it’s something of an artificial dichotomy). There was much that I enjoyed, but the biggest challenge for me was in learning to understand and even take pleasure in Rae Armantrout’s “The Way”, which you can hear the author read at PennSound. This was a difficult poem that I began by rejecting, almost angrily. Working at it and finding my own “way” into the work was a revelation and opportunity for growth for me. I will cover more of that topic later, but for now, I’d like to share with you Lorine Niedecker’s “Grandfather Advised Me” or “Poet’s Work”, a poem that indeed sums up, for me, the job of the poet in a few words, condensed perfectly:
Grandfather advised me: Learn a trade
I learned to sit at desk and condense
No layoff from this condensery
All writing is about condensation in one form or another (we pick from the chaotic vastness of human experiences and condense it into specific, powerful meaning) . Though I never thought of it in quite this way before, I think that Niedecker is absolutely and profoundly right. The poet, even more than other writers, condenses (selects, coalesces, combines, unifies, and then eliminates all wastage so that what’s left is absolutely, utterly shining and essential). In a scientific sense, condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from gaseous phase into liquid and/or solid phase (deposition). In that loose vastness, matter disperses, disintegrates, and entropy takes over. The poet gives form, structure, connectiveness, and above all permanence to this dispersion of life that surrounds us - reshaping the entropy and disintegration into meaning that lasts. It’s an act of creation, or to coin Auden, “poetry makes nothing happen” - with the emphasis on “happen” as in, turns nothing into something (I knew my Audenitis would resurface again at some point).