At the recent CUNY Chapbook Fair, I picked up the newest Lost & Found Series facsimile edition of the great Lorine Niedecker’s Homemade Poems, edited by John Harkey. I’ve since become inseparable from this small, intimate, and erotic book, which Niedecker originally made solely for Cid Corman back in 1964. Yes, these poems have been featured in LN’s Collected Works for a minute, but let me assure you how singular an experience it is to absorb HP 1) in Niedecker’s handwriting, and 2) as she originally formatted it—published on one side of the page. Click here for a clear video of the new chap.
Props to the book’s editor, John Harkey, for re-introducing us to LN’s rarely seen/acknowledged masterpiece, so it’s only fitting that I leave you here with a selection from his brilliant afterword. Viva Niedecker!
from “Usable Dimensions: An Afterword”
by John Harkey
In October of 1964, having no other book prospects on the horizon for the poems she’d written during the first year of her marriage, Lorine Neidecker took action and assembled her own—a book of thirty poems inscribed into the pages of a dime-store sketch pad, whose front and back she had covered in wrapping paper. She carefully handwrote the small poems in blue-inked cursive, placing each one on its own unnumbered sheet of paper. She then sent the book, with the wry title “Homemade Poems” and her name inscribed on the cover, to her friend Corman, who was living in Japan at the time.
This simple facsimile edition of Homemade Poems is congruent to the original book in all fundamental ways, including the crucial matter of individual poems “planted” in their own pages, so that readers might best “get at” them. Thus, a whole spectrum of readers, from those new to Niedecker’s work to scholars who haven’t been able to visit The New York Public Library, now have a chance to consider Homemade Poems as a separate work, a chance to read Lorine Niedecker’s handwriting and to move through and around the book according to the same chief physical features, spaces, and tempos she originally built into it. Only when Homemade Poems is encountered as it was first constructed—with its meticulous handwriting, deployment of text in page-space, and the elegant austerity of its rhythmic interplay between discrete poems and liberal, charged blank spaces—can it articulate its fullest range of challenges and possibilities. Indeed, the “homemade” poems in Niedecker’s book are anything but charming handicrafts or domestic trinkets. They are devoted not to seeking order, tidiness, or cleanliness—one of the poems announces, like a motto, “I knew a clean man / but he was not for me”—but are devoted instead to alertness to all dimensions of untidy yet compelling realities. Home for Niedecker is akin to what Thoreau calls a sedes, a “seat” in the world (165) or Charles Olson’s “precinct”-like temenos of “sacred space” (in Duncan 25). That is, Homemade Poems does not show a poet retreating into a domestic bunker but rather one who uses home as a base from which to attend, vigilantly and critically, to events, gestures, disturbances, names, and possibilities in the world.
Homemade Poems exemplifies the trenchant challenge Niedecker offers to us, a challenge that now as during her lifetime speaks to American culture at large and also cuts across a whole spectrum of mainstream and avant-garde modes of poetic operation. Niedecker’s poems consummately “reject the grandiose” (Quartermain 220); her work “ridicules the significance of publicity or exposure” (Armantrout 105). More generally, Rachel Blau DuPlessis argues that Niedecker’s style “constructs a formal answer to Bigness” (129). This homemade/handmade book from 1964 articulately brings these vital resistances into cogent form. And not only does it oppose grandiosity and high-flown language, but it might be said to posit, conscientiously, its own dynamically “low-flown” language—close to the ground, resourceful, assured, entwined with place yet still, without question, aloft and moving, like the scouting dragonfly in one of Niedecker’s late poems (CW 242).