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Lorine Niedecker, "October 1935", in Sulfur 41


An addendum to the previous post: When composing it I had in mind a sort of poem I'd seen somewhere, but couldn't figure out where seen. At some point I thought to thumb through the first volume of the American Poetry series put out by the Library of America. That volume prints a selection of the earliest poetry written here by colonists and other interlocutors, including a poem of sorts by one Benjamin Harris, who according to David S. Shields, compiler and editor of that volume, had published The New England Primer (c. 1690), which, he notes, "became the standard textbook for New England children for generations". That belated discovery might have provided an opportunity to supply an image from Harris's Primer -- exposing yet another angle on the letter Q. But it's also enabled me to mention that while looking for what eventuated as the Harris poem I at first vaguely remembered a poem by Lorine Niedecker that Clayton Eshleman had published in Sulfur 41 (1997), composed in a format similar to the Harris primer (as I said, my memory was vague). The Neidecker piece wasn't as I remembered, not exactly anyway, but was instead a set of poemed calendar sheets which Niedecker sent to Louis Zukovsky at "Xmas 1934" [sic]. The calendar was later found among Zukovsky's papers by Jenny Penberthy (who reprints the calendar entire, in Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works). The Letter Q was not featured there, but I've plowed ahead and reproduced a page from the Niedecker sequence, scanned from my copy of Sulfur 41 -- sidetracking the Harris "poem", at least for now.


Here I want to share something from John Jay Chapman, whose 1897 essay on Emerson is quoted by Christopher Benfey in a recent issue of New York Review of Books:


What difference does it make whether a man who can talk like this is following an argument or not?...People are not in general influenced by long books or discourses, but by odd fragments of observation which they overhear, sentences or head-lines which they read while turning over a book at random or while waiting for dinner to be announced. These are the oracles and orphic words that get lodged in the mind and bend a man's most stubborn will. Emerson called them the Police of the Universe. His works are a treasury of such things.


Helpful context can be found in First We Read Then We Write, Robert D. Richardson's expert gathering of Emerson's thoughts on the writing process. "I expect a man to be a great reader...or", Emerson adds, "there must be a serviceable equation at work within the writer: in proportion to the spontaneous power, should be the assimilating power." Richardson glosses this with some words from Goethe: "What is a genius...but the faculty of seizing and turning to account everything that strikes us?"


And so...as Kurt Vonnegut might say...it goes. I've plugged in Niedecker where Harris ostensibly was the better fit, stubbornly faithful to an early hunch that it was Niedecker, not Harris, I'd been looking for. With thanks... to RWE.


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