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"Wild green arts and letters" : Niedecker’s North Central poems as ecotones of text and environment Houglum, Brook Louise

Abstract

Niedecker's work in North Central (1968) examines and constructs relationships between ecology and textuality . In this volume, Niedecker's attention to the specific landscapes of Lake Superior, Midwest and Wisconsin locales in "Traces," and "Wintergreen Ridge" of the Ridges Sanctuary employs an ecological epistemology: one that investigates the biodiversity, evolutionary history, present conditions, and processes of organisms in each particular habitat. Niedecker's profound familiarity and interest in these landscapes creates a text that demonstrates, in the words of Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, an ecological portrayal of "interdependent communities, integrated systems, and strong connections between constituent parts" (xx). Environmental writer and critic John Elder suggests that one way to conceive of a conversation with a natural space is to enter an ""ecotone between literature and the natural world" (Ecopoetry x). "Ecotone" signifies the meeting and overlap of two habitats, such as a shoreline of beach and water, where species of each separate habitat interact and create unique spaces of biodiversity and exchange. This paper examines Niedecker's poetics and argues that the poems in North Central are ecotones where specific landscapes meet and influence the texts in which they occur. Each chapter focuses on one section of North Central (with the exception of the poem "My Life by Water") and examines Niedecker's poetics and method of composition through the lens of the particular ecotone of the poem. Chapter one considers Niedecker's manuscript "Notes to Lake Superior" and delineates some aspects of her poetics, such as the use of recurring words to establish connections and shift meanings, the instability of the text, and incorporation of discourses of history and geology it engages. The chapter suggests that the Lake Superior bioregion and its geological and historical layers constitute the form of the "Lake Superior" poem. Chapter two focuses on the "Traces of Living Things" section of North Central and argues that the "reflective" poetics Niedecker developed in the 1960's are aligned with Taoist and Zen traditions and haiku form. The poems of "Traces" brush-stroke landscapes, demonstrating relations between organisms, humans, sounds, and sights of the Wisconsin and Black Hawk Island environment. Chapter three looks at "Wintergreen Ridge" as an ecotone where the preserved landscape of the Ridges Sanctuary provides an opportunity for Niedecker to advocate for conservation and demonstrate conservationist composition by acknowledging biodiversity through multiple discourses of language, and delineating specific processes performed by plants, bugs, and humans.

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