Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Immortal Cupboard: Lorine Niedecker Film Review

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.


Ed Baker said...

I have not seen this film..

the LZ "knock-up" surely should have been included... I guess LN "loved" him..

was at the LN 100th in 2003 check out the photos of
on my site

thanks for 'clueing" me about this film

I guess that make real-people into Gods of Poetry and negate their humanity/reality..maybe

"clean" things up for a grad school course in an MFA program? and be "politically correct"

thanks, Ed

Ed Baker said...

pee est

isn't Cathy Cook now teaching/doing at Johns Hopkins?

I went there (Writing Seminars) 1971-72
pre MFA's

maybe she will show this film near me say U of Md

that's about as far a drive from here these days I do

Mark Scroggins said...

Good to learn about the film; will have to get to see it somehow.

Nobody knows the *facts* of the early LZ/LN relationship -- they destroyed all their correspondence from that period. The story of their affair & the abortion comes from a disgruntled former friend of LZ's, who also claimed to be LN's lover (& the object of Celia Zukofsky's desire, to boot). Other than his story -- no evidence one way or another.

Classic example of how if you repeat a story long enough -- especially a juicy story that involves sexual victimization -- it becomes accepted as "fact," no matter how tenuous the evidence is. Sure, you could make a movie about it, but it wouldn't be a documentary -- it'd be speculation.

Raymond Bianchi said...

Zukofsky's loyalists tend to downplay the problems with the corpus of his writing and life.

I think that is because so many are looking for a substitute for Pound who had obvious problems with a contemporary political sense.

But Zukofsky for all his
supporters wish him to be perfect has a black mark when it comes to Niedecker if it is true?

The bigger issue is Zukofsky and Niedecker's place in the canon. I would argue that Pound, Williams, Olson, Levertov, Duncan and Creeley and the whole Black Mountain/SF Renn project are more important and innovative than the objectivist group. But that is just my own preference and what do I Know I am just a poet and not an academic....

Ed Baker said...

just what is needed : another Poet. Elevated
to God status!

ya'll shld have been in attendance at the LN 100th

lots of folks there who knew both LN and LZ..


why not ask Paul about "things"?

Mark Scroggins said...

Thanks for responding, Ray. I'm not downplaying problems -- just pointing out lacks of evidence. I'm not a loyalist to anything but evidentiary standards.

Nobody *knows* what went on with LZ & LN in the 1930s. Period. Even all those folks, Ed, who knew them both. But boy LZ didn't treat LN particularly well in later life, I'm happy to agree. Despite this incredible affection from some people (Creeley is the one person I know who I'd describe as an LZ "loyalist"), LZ seems to have been a pretty unpleasant & prickly human being.

Yes, lots of people fasten on LZ as a kind of plaster saint of left-wing modernism. My opinion: in his early career a kind of interesting if blinkered leftism, later succeeded by a total political quietism. I don't really give a shit about his politics in the end. Pound is probably a better poet all round. Room on the shelves for both.

The problem in the end is that LN & LZ are both really interesting poets, but in radically different modes, despite whatever superficial similarities & personal ties. & too often people judge one's work on the basis of the other, which is as useless as slamming Dickinson because she's not Whitman or Pound because he's not Moore etc.

The "canon" or the "tradition" or whatever you want to call it is a big place, room for lots of different things. I'm not into privileging LZ over LN, or Objectivists over Black Mtn. They're all out there, all valuable in different ways. It's when you get over to Harvard or Yale that you discover that *none* of these people have any currency at all with the people who "make" the taste & the curricula -- which just shows that real poets always have a better sense of these things than academics...


Ed Baker said...

thanks, Mark I'm just "in it" for the poetry...

not for any religion or politics.

check out here

Issue # 7 Winter 2008 page 12.. re the "baby"


Issue Summer 2007 pages 5-7

hang in, and

a good post/several points of clearly seeing-saying from you...

Ed Baker said...

actually pick this article in #7 winter 2008

at bottom of page 11 Fog-Thick Morning by John Lehman


lucky me/you

I got a piece on page 8!

Raymond Bianchi said...

I loved your LZ book and I think in the end it is a matter of taste rather than quality. A great Barolo is a great Barolo and a great Champaign is a great Champaign- that is kind of like comparing these guys.