Born in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, in 1903, poet Lorine Niedecker wrote in relative seclusion and anonymity for most of her life. Most of her neighbors and friends, in fact, did not even know she wrote poetry. Her poems are characterized by their sparse, almost Japanese-influenced character. She described her own work as “condensory,” a word she made up. Generally overlooked during her life, her poems are now widely considered to be an important and unique contribution to the canon of twentieth-century American poetry. No one would, I think, categorize her as a practitioner of protest poetry. Yet, I’ve included her work here because four volumes of her work has been published since her death and, in many ways, a large portion of her readership has grown in the twenty-first century. Her words are few, but I like to imagine they echo over the charred landscape of war and terror in the past century.
“I notice fruit flies rise…”
The poem, “The Radio Talk This Morning,” is a very short poem, almost haiku-like in its form. There is no punctuation. The lines seem to drift along like the sounds of a nearby radio, alternating between news and music. The poem, in some ways, has no beginning or end; it’s all middle. And much, in fact, is left out. Yet, as simple as it appears, there is a tenseness and obvious deliberation in her unusual word choices. Why, for example, does she include the word “recommended” in the second stanza? Why does she focus on fruit flies and melons? What is the connection, if any?
The Radio Talk This Morning [The Obliteration]
The radio talk this morning
was of obliterating
I notice fruit flies rise
from the rind
of the recommended