The very variants: A few revisions to Lorine Niedecker's 'Collected Works'

This is a note to readers of Niedecker, particularly those who use the early printings of the Collected Works published by University of California Press in 2002.

A prefatory digression: in 1992, The Library Chronicle of the University of Texas published my account of the Lorine Niedecker holdings in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. I titled the essay “‘The Very Variant’: Lorine Niedecker’s Manuscript Collection,” meaning to echo her line “the very veery” in the poem that begins, “We are what the seas” (240) and to re-echo Niedecker’s play on Stein’s “The Very Valentine” — the precise, the singled out, the necessary, the insisted upon, etc.

I’m using the same title here (although this time in the plural) in order to correct the error I made back in 1992 where I put the “The Very Variant” in quotation marks as if I were quoting Niedecker. Given the small readership for the Chronicle, I have winced perhaps too often at that error. Using the same title here at least allows me to note my error while announcing a handful of far greater sleep disturbers in the Collected Works.

Before launching into those, I should mention another error in that 1992 piece in the Chronicle. There is, in fact, no “Lorine Niedecker Manuscript Collection” at the HRHRC. The collection that my essay described covered the Niedecker manuscripts that formed part of the 1964 Zukofsky bequest. Further papers were sent to the center by Niedecker and later by her husband, following Niedecker’s instructions. These papers were all absorbed into the Zukofsky collection. Look up Niedecker in the HRHRC catalogue and there’s no sign of her: a cataloguing error waiting to be addressed.

Errors and omissions in Lorine Niedecker’s Collected Works

1) Anne Kingsbury, stalwart executive director of Milwaukee’s legendary Woodland Pattern Book Center and brilliant multimedia artist, is misnamed Ann Kingsley in the acknowledgements (xxii).

2) The title of Niedecker’s “Xmas 1934” calendar poem (41) lacks a vital comma. It should read: “NEXT YEAR OR I FLY MY ROUNDS, TEMPESTUOUS.” Thanks to Elizabeth Willis for alerting me to the omission. Crucially, the comma allows the title to function also as an apostrophe, thus transferring the stormy epithet from the speaker to the addressee.

Pages where the comma is missing: vii, 41, 371, 469.

The note for this poem (371) lists the dimensions of the original pocket calendar as 5 ½ x 4 ⅜ inches when they should, in fact, be 3 ¾ x 4 ⅞ inches. Many thanks to Andy Oler for drawing my attention to this.

3) The final line of the penultimate section of “LAKE SUPERIOR” (236) should be an uncapitalized “home.” Regrettably the error has been reproduced in the elegant Wave Press production titled Lake Superior (2013) — a collection that includes several key texts related to Niedecker’s poem. 

I’ll take this opportunity to add to the notes on “LAKE SUPERIOR” (434) an excerpt from an early version of the poem:

from Circle Tour

Sault Sainte Marie
Old day pause for voyageurs,
bosho (bon jour) sung out
by garrison men

Now the locks, big boats
coal-black and iron-ore-red
topped with what white castlework

White-flying birds

Iron the common element of earth
in rocks and freighters —
and most things living

Arrowed rest room signs in the park
between us and the freighters —
the arrows of our day
and the momentary unsinging pause

The waters working together
gulls playing both sides

Niedecker’s 1966 Xmas card to Bob and Susan Nero includes the above excerpt “from Circle Tour.” Strange that she should still be using the title “Circle Tour” when she had revised it in October 1966 to “TRAVELERS / Lake Superior Region.” See my essay “Writing Lake Superior” in Radical Vernacular, edited by Elizabeth Willis (University of Iowa Press, 2008), 61–79.

4) “J. F. Kennedy after / the Bay of Pigs” (246) lacks a line space above “I’ve been duped by the experts.” Thanks to Jim Cocola for drawing my attention to this error, one which has unfortunately been reproduced in the wonderful French translation of Niedecker, Louange du Lieu et Autres Poèmes (1949–1970) translated by Abigail Lang and Maïtreyi and Nicolas Pesquès, published by José Corti in 2012.

While on the subject of the JFK poem, it might be worth adding further detail to the note (440) about the first surviving version of the poem. The six lines of the undated manuscript sent to Gail Roub are grouped in couplets.

5) Page 414, “I rose from marsh mud,” was conceived in June 1948, not 1945.

All but two of the corrected errors are already reflected in the 2011 reprinted paperback edition of Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works. The final two corrections (dimensions of the calendar poem and the spacing of the JFK poem) will appear in a reprint later this year (2013).

My apologies to those I’ve misled, and my thanks to the University of California Press for their willingness to respond to my requests for changes. I’m aware that most devoted readers of Niedecker will have copies of the earlier printings. Be warned! Either buy a paperback in 2014 or get out the marker pen!

to variants and …
emendations, …
Let me hear good night.
(“Ten o’clock,” 151)