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Friday, 17 September 2010

John Vachon/Lorine Niedecker: In the Condensery


Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Barrels of powdered milk at condensary, Antigo, Wisconsin: photo by John Vachon, July 1941

Poet's work

...advised me:
......Learn a trade.

I learned sit at desk
......and condense.

No layoff
...from this

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Barrels of powdered milk at milk condensing plant, Antigo, Wisconsin: photo by John Vachon, August 1941

Lorine Niedecker: Poet's work from Origin II.6, 1963

Photos from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress


manik sharma said...

grimly beautiful you've connected with the caged entropy of these barrels....i would soon be moving into the employment assembly line cubelet of this massive corporate cube...that we all are a part of...i will be moving onto the inside now...get a desk probably...and what they do is pin motivating posters on them these we may remind ourselves there is so much that can be done sitting behind that desk....except for walking away from it altogether ofcrse....

tke cre !!!

TC said...


Lorine Niedecker came from a dairying area of Wisconsin. In that region, a condensery is a place where milk is processed into an evaporated or powdered form. But here she was also thinking about an approach to poetry, one in which condensation, distillation, paring-down, is of the essence. That was her approach.

Anonymous said...

I'm as knocked out as Manik with the visual and poetic force and elegance of this. It's remarkable and unmistakable when you see something really new and I think you've done it here. I'm entering a seven-week study period ahead of a late-in-life state licensing exam that I'm determined to take only once and am about to become grimly determined, but I hope not continually ill-tempered. I think my outside reading will be confined to short pieces of work. Is most of Niedecker as abbreviated as these two poems? She may become a constant companion.

Manik: I love the word cubelet

TC said...


Yes, most of Niedecker's poems are quite short: "cubelets", indeed, to employ Manik's nifty term. And this one I've always considered an absolute cool-as-a-cucumber classic. Making a lifetime of effort appear to dissolve in an instant of poetic prestidigitation into nine perfect lines: few poets have ever been capable of such magic. (Of course, as the poem implies, the source of the genius is mostly hard work.)

manik sharma said...


and this approach could almost be regarded as the chemical formula of poetry...almost how you generate a compound or obtain a residue that is desired...and probably that is poetry itself...i think poetry is something that has hope and promise in every alley....this reminds me of
"The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream." -jack kerouac(on the road)

poetry may be found in each of those....the approach as you said has to be recreated...

thanku for the mention.....i have been burdened by books for a month now....i've forgotten to look up to the night sky to see the stars...i surmise they won't be out each night so i may concentrate .....