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Lorine Niedecker: from "Switchboard Girl"

[Niedecker wrote radio plays in the 1930s – which led to her employment at WHA in Madison from 1942 to 1944 – and experimented with works like the following two-page sketch which appeared in the New Directions annual of 1951. It blends dramatic voicing, compressed description, and word-play to create a sketch that is neither play nor poem nor autobiography but something in-between all of these, and that captures the tension and anxiety of applying for a job. These are the opening paragraphs.]

I divined this comedy, Dante, before I went in. But I had to have a job. "Like one who has imperfect vision, we see the things which are remote from us." O brother, we saw tho the eyes were shot. We had light if not love. We had business.

Nystagmus ("the poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling"), the searching movement, combined with 80% vision. You’ll have to use a magnifying glass, we can’t give you glasses to reach print. Good-bye to proof reading. Good-bye to a living. No! That low, rangy, glass-walled office and plant in the Frank Lloyd Wright setting, clean-mowed acres, tulips, petunias, evergreens – I would apply there. Not literature but light fixtures and pressure cookers. Out of daylight into Wade Light.

I was the September dandelion – forty, female – seeking a place among the young fluorescent petunias. I kept cropping up in the world’s backyards while here in America, on all sides they shear civilization back to the seventeen-year-old girl, not yet young shall we say.

I entered the window-walled office of personnel. Or was it a corner of a little theater? What would the director be like? A properly places man may expand his influence over the whole of your sight. We met ideally, as strangers do, without prejudice, without violence …

from Lorine Niedecker, "Switchboard Girl," in James Laughlin, ed. New Directions in Prose and Poetry 1951 (Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1951), 87-88.

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