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Lorine Niedecker: Biographical Sketch

Lorine Niedecker lived most of her life in a remote part of Wisconsin, on the Black Hawk Island of the turbulent Rock River near Fort Atkinson, Her father made his living seining carp out of Lake Koshkonong and tending bar. She attended Beloit College for two years (1922-24), but when her mother became totally deaf Nidecker returned home to help take care of her. A brief marriage to a local boy ended in divorce. She worked, first at the public library, then at a radio station, and from 1944 to 1950 as a proofreader for Hoard’s Dairyman, a job made difficult by her extremely poor eyesight. In 1951 her mother died, both deaf and blind; her father died three years later, leaving her with two houses that had to be foreclosed and very little money. From 1957 to 1962 she was employed by the Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital as a cleaning woman, sterilizing the dishes and utensils in the kitchen and scrubbing the cafeteria floors. Every day she walked the five miles or so to the hospital and back again to her one-and-a-half room cabin without plumbing on the riverbank. In 1963 at the age of fifty-nine, she married Albert Millen, a man who evidently had no idea she wrote poetry and who spent a good deal of time at the local tavern. But he also took her on trips to South Dakota and around Lake Superior and seems to have been the companion she needed at this stage of her life. She was looking forward to a period of less housework and more time to write when in 1970 she had a stroke and died.

from Marjorie Perloff, "Canon and Loaded Gun," in Poetic License: Essays on the Modernist and Postmodernist Lyric (Evanston: Northwestern U P, 1990), 41-42.

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