Thursday, June 07, 2007

Reading, Researching, and Pulling Weeds

Sweet Pea glances up at me this afternoon as I write my blog entry.
The nest I found on the ground as I was pulling weeds in my flower garden this morning. Finding the nest made me think of Lorine Niedecker's life and poems.

I'm sitting at my computer after a morning of pulling weeds in my flower garden. Sweet Pea is in her basket at my feet. She's been romping with Buddha all morning, and she's very content to be still. Soon, she'll be sleeping.

The flower garden was far gone. It's a simple garden of hardy perennials, which explains why there was anything in the garden left worth saving. It'd been neglected for two years: 2005 because of the Ohio River float and 2006 because of some family health issues. Allen and I have a swinging bench overlooking the garden. We sit and have our coffee there most days.
I've been embarrassed to look out over the garden. Its sorry state makes me feel neglectful and inept. So this morning, I finally went out there and started hoeing and pulling. Yesterday was cool and beautiful: why didn't I do it yesterday? Today, heat is churning up from Texas (I'd been warned about this by the weatherman yesterday) and it wasn't long before I was sweating, although I was doing the work during the cool of the day and while the garden was in shade.

Most of the weeds were easy to pull. There's a kind of sticky weed that gets all over everything that put hitchers all over my pants, some thistle, field daisies.

I got a start when I yanked a canopy of brush and weeds and saw a beautiful little bird's nest. What kind of bird builds its nest on the ground--does anybody out there know?
This is how it works for me: my mind gets in a groove, a rut. It's the kind of mindset that says that weeds are bad and I'm a lazy woman. Then something seemingly small leads me to epiphany. It happened during a walk in Southern Ohio a few years ago. I was hot and my hip ached. I sat on a cool rock to rest and noticed tiny sedum growing on the rock's surface. Touching the sedum gave me strength and made me feel connected to life.
This morning, I gasped when I saw the nest, and then I felt my whole body relax. Although, I felt like an intruder on something intimate and sacred, I felt awakened and alive to that intimacy, to that sacredness.

The experience made me think of some reading and research I'd been doing last night. I'd been reading about Lorine Niedecker. I'll be teaching her work in the class on Modern Poetry in the fall. Anyone who has ever studied Modern Poetry knows it's dominated by men, very powerful men: Pound, Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Jeffers, Wallace Stevens and the likes of them. (These men are worthy of study!)
There are a few women whose names everyone knows, like Moore and Millay. Anthologies sometimes boast of adding more women poets to the mix, but women are still not well represented in any anthology. (I read that Hugh Kenner, a scholar in the field who was hard of hearing, and a critic I greatly admire, used to turn off his hearing aid when women complained that he neglected women writers.)
Unlike Moore and Millay, Lorine Niedecker is not well known and her work is seldom read. She lived a solitary life in Wisconsin, in a rustic cabin that often flooded. In one of her poems she wrote about how little possessions meant to her, saying that she was willing to give her things to the flood. She wrote about things she saw every day, short poems of great beauty and power. She had an affair with Louis Zukofsky whose poetry is better known than hers and whom--if you can believe what you read--she never really got over.
I've read Zukofsky's work and--on a personal level--much prefer Niedecker's.
She did editing work for a time, but when her eyesight became poor, she made a living scrubbing hospital floors. The people who lived near Lorine Niedecker didn't even know until after her death that she was a poet. She thought if they knew, they'd hold her at a distance and hide all the aspects of themselves that she loved observing.

This is one of my--so far--favorite poems of hers:


You are the man
You are my other country
and I find it hard going
You are the prickly pear
You are the sudden violent storm
the torrent to raise the river
to float the wounded doe


I don't know that I'd have the courage to live as she did, geographically and socially isolated, without amenities that make life so easy and nice. But when I found the bird's nest, I felt Niedecker's wilderness in an instant. I saw that nature is my other country.
And I thought of Lorine Niedecker, living alone, writing of the things I ignore on a daily basis, writing of the great sacred things I miss because my mind is in a groove, on a selfish and boring plane.


V said...

........I sat on a cool rock to rest and noticed tiny sedum growing on the rock's surface. Touching the sedum gave me strength and made me feel connected to life..........

Er,.......And I thought of Lorine Niedecker, living alone, writing of the things I ignore on a daily basis, writing of the great sacred things I miss because my mind is in a groove, on a selfish and boring plane.......[So far from the truth!!]

Cynthia said...

when you have an epiphany that opens your mind, it just spreads. Sitting by a fan that's blowing hot air, I found myself with chills of recognition.

Judith HeartSong said...

There are at least three ground-nesting birds... I am sure there are more because I have found so many nests in the woods over the course of years....

I had to search to find names....

worm-eating warblers
hooded warblers

all nest on or near the ground.

Wonderful post as always Theresa.

GreenishLady said...

This post brought me to that other country.

Though I'm no ornithologist, I think here, meadow-larks nest on the ground.

I'm due to clear the weeds from my border this weekend, too. (Rain stopped me the last time I planned to do it). It's very satisfying to clear when the weeds are well-grown. Probably not good gardening, but satisfying.

Anonymous said...

What fertile ground: pulling weeds,
plowing the earth, exploring perceived weakness, surprise discovery. Sounds like a rich glowing account of writer's process.

Anonymous said...

But what vitality! The women hold jobs--
clean house, cook, raise children, bowl
and go to church.

What would they say if they knew
I sit for two months on six lines
of poetry?
Lorine Niedecker

Thanks for the recommendation!

some chick said...

I like her is simple and true, not easy to do.

Simple is not always muddy.

Anonymous said...

About the birds nesting on the ground, Kingfisher, maybe? There's so much good in this entry, and I appreciate being introduced to poets even though it shames me that I had not found them myself. What I really wanted to say was that Sweet Pea loves you. It's in her eyes. She loves you like a baby loves its mother. Teagrapple

Erin said...

Theresa: I also find so much strength and re-centering power from nature. The smallest thing in nature can make the biggest difference. I enjoyed this post very much!
Love, Erin

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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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