On Friday night at Loyola University here in Chicago the new film project Immortal Cupboard by filmmaker Cathy Cook was screened. I must give the proviso that I have never had much affection for Niedecker but she is an important poet especially for a whole generation of Gen X poets who are my contemporaries. There are many midwestern poets who have been profoundly influenced by LN and Woodland Pattern, Milwaukee's great bookstore did a seminal conference a few years ago so she is in vogue at the moment.
The film Immortal Cupboard is at the same time innovative and conservative. It has lots of rich images and has a kind of post-modern Voices and Visions feel. If you have ever seen that PBS series there are lots of boots crunching snow and poems superimposed over lovely images of place. We are lead to understand the importance of her home and her ambient to her writing and this is important.
This film takes the genre a little further and also brings into play a sense of place for Ft Atkinson the Wisconsin town that Niedecker called home. The years she spent in Ft Atkinson are strongly described. The area where this film is weakest is in her intimate poetic relations. There are lots of images of her letters and poetry but there is little controversial here. Niedecker's real victimization by Louis Zukofsky is all but ignored. The fact that Zukofsky forced Niedecker to have an Abortion is not mentioned and I cannot but imagine that this caused pain to Niedecker?
The rejection of her poems as too personal for Zukofsky also must have stung but this is not mentioned?
I was also disappointed by the coverage of her relationship with Cid Corman and Objectivist poets. Her time in New York is described but not developed. I think that this weakness ignores her real community which was poets and letters. I also think that the coverage of her marriages is given short shrift
On the whole the film comes across as a meditation. It reminds me a little bit of the film A Great Silence about the Carthusian Monks. It is a homage to a fine poet and a great voice of the Midwest. But the omissions are glaring and I don't know if that will effect the validity of the film as scholarship?
When I asked the filmmaker about these omissions she was clear that she chose to ignore these realities. How is it possible that a 30 year correspondence- and an intense romance that resulted in much pain and abuse for Niedecker is not explored fully? This is the Achilles heel of this film. It would be like ignoring Pound's Fascist period as unimportant.
As a work of art this film is beautiful but the omission of the Zukofsky effect makes it flawed and makes one wish someone would do a film on Niedecker's most important relationship. I would urge the Filmmaker- who said that work is still being created to rethink her omission of these painful realities and add them to her fine film and give us a picture of Niedecker which is three dimensional rather than two dimensional.