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This article is taken from PN Review 82, Volume 18 Number 2, November - December 1991.

Postmodernism and Lorine Niedecker Donald Davie

TEN YEARS AGO, when considerations of Niedecker's poetry were few and far between, I published in P-N- Review a brief appreciation of her 'Lake Superior' under the title, 'Lyric Minimum & Epic Scope'. Quite by accident and much to my astonishment I discover that this modest piece has been made a casus belli between me and Joseph M. Conte, in the latter's Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry (Cornell University Press). I am used to being misunderstood, and would not bother with this if it were only a squabble between me and Joseph Conte. But Conte from the first raises the ante: my essay, he says, 'so thoroughly undervalues and misinterprets the intentions of the "Lake Superior" series that it seems … to be of some use; at the very least it teaches us how not to read Niedecker' (my italics). So if I seem at first to engage in in-fighting with Conte, it's on the understanding that more is at stake than his or my standing as commentators.

What sticks in Conte's gullet is my having found it useful to bring to bear on Niedecker's poem such other accounts of Wisconsin and the Lake Superior region as can be dug out of Francis Parkman's France and England in North America and Janet Lewis's The Invasion, among other sources. 'It should not have to be said', Conte contends with a flourish of metaphor, 'that he grinds the delicate pebbles of Niedecker's series to dust under the weight of such multivolume nonfiction mortars'. But I have more respect ...


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