Pausing Life with Niedecker’s The Granite Pail

Lorine Niedecker’s style struck me as a collection of short snippets. The first section I could see as a long poem comprised of short parts. I found it interesting that Niedecker moved from the first section being entirely short poems to then the second and third sections being both short poems and long poems with the third section being more heavily focused on long poems. I think the poem length went along with the time. Most of her short poems tend to be about nature and the yearned for simple life, and so it makes sense for the poem to be simpler in the sense that it is shorter. While the long poems still talked about nature, I felt a greater conflict of nature versus people and nature versus machine. For example, “Wintergreen Ridge” includes a sign that says, “Flowers/ loveliest/ where they grow/ Love them enjoy them/ and leave them so,” (78) showing how the greatest danger to nature can be people doing something as simple and thoughtless as picking flowers. Another message that came through to me was the idea that we need to look at nature and appreciate nature. Niedecker’s poems acted as a way for me to see nature without picking the flowers. Within the same poem, Niedecker details the process of the fly eating plant, how the fly “stimulates leaf-plasma/ secretes a sticky/ clear liquid/ the better to eat you/ my dear/ digests cartilage” (80). Describing the plant is a way to appreciate nature, but Niedecker also has a fun style of conjuring up the fable of Little Red Riding Hood with “the better to eat you my dear” to show how mythical the process of a plant eating flies sounds.

I felt like this collection of poems was speaking to the past of living with the land and it’s present, which I think could continue to apply today, of commercialism. The first poem that struck me with the idea of commercialism was the first line “I am sick with the Time’s buying sickness” (26). I felt a yearning for a time that was simpler before we were bombarded with products and advertisements.

The beginning of “Traces of Living Things” with the Museum and TV reminded me of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, which was also published in 1985. With a “Far reach/ of sand/ A man/ bends to inspect himself/ a shell/ Himself/ part coral/ and mud/ clam,” I saw with time humans contemplate who they are and their place in the world (63). A human is a shell because we put so many social constructs around ourselves to attempt to categorize and define who we are such as through gender, race, and class all of which are outside, surface appraisals. Saying that humans are “part coral/ and mud,” Niedecker invoked the idea that humans and vegetation and animals are all made out of the same fundamental elements and so we are all a part of each other. The end of the Museum section with the word “clam” grabbed my attention because I found describing a human being as a clam is very appropriate. We will hold our shells sealed tight against outside currents and other people in order to protect our soft interior.

The Granite Pail made me want to look more at nature, to take the time to stop and look. I think the act of stopping to read her poems is one way of looking at nature as well as human beings, but I feel Niedecker may have wanted her poems to spur the physical observation and protection of nature in the real world as well, which it did for me.

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