Vital Signs

The Poet as Cleaning Lady

Kristine Thatcher's play Niedecker, produced earlier this year by the Women's Project at the Apple Corps Theatre in New York, is about paradoxes. It is the story of the reclusive poet Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970). She has been dead almost twenty years and is largely forgotten, but when she was alive Ezra Pound championed her. Basil Bunting said that she was "the best living poetess. No one is so subtle with so few words," and Peter Yates called her the "most absolute poetess in our language since Emily Dickinson."

Thatcher's play focuses on the last three years of Niedecker's life, spent (like most of her 67 years) in the small rural community of Ft. Atkins, Wisconsin. For those unaware of the reallife story of Lorine Niedecker, the play raises more questions than it answers. For instance, why would this talented woman choose to live in such an anti-intellectual atmosphere, where her husband and neighbors undermine her poetry, which she feels is essential to her life?

The play does not do justice to reality. It accentuates the small, the remote, and the alienated in Lorine Niedecker's life. It makes us wonder how she ever became known, much less an emerging star in the constellation of poets. Thatcher leads us to believe that Niedecker only had a few poems published in obscure periodicals, that she was completely out of touch with any literary scene, and that no one of any...

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