“That’s it—this poetry is the Earth with its atmosphere // as it lies in us, in the poet.”
-Lorine Niedecker on Jean Daive’s Decimale Blanche
When Jean Daive’s Decimale Blanche was first published in 1967, it was a significant leap from previous writings in France. The words on the first page (translated):
at the edge of space
Pow! White decimal. White decimal . . . on a page? or at the edge of space (what space, what understanding will we ever have of this “space” of Daive’s?). Forget “write what you know”; Daive writes a new landscape (or concept of a landscape).
As an experimental poet, Daive writes into what none of us knows how to articulate. Adhere to rules of writing, and you inhabit a limited space. Plunge forward into new, unknown spaces and you write poetry like this:
between refusal and insistence
looking on the ground
name unmakes form
the thaw the avalanche
Consider the poet Lorine Niedecker, homegrown in the Wisconsin marshland, working menial jobs and reading and writing poetry. Words like humble, homespun, ego-less, have been used to describe her. Intellectually curious, connected mainly through correspondence to the Objectivist group of poets centered in New York, Niedecker read and wrote voraciously. Like other Objectivist-labeled poets, Niedecker had read the Imagist and Surrealist poets, and from the remote Wisconsin marshland was in indirect intellectual correspondence with French writers in general.
Daive later learns that Lorine Niedecker wrote about her impressions of Decimale Blanche in her letters to Cid Corman. “Nothing new matters after Daive”, she wrote.
20 or so years after reading her comments about his work, Jean Daive visits Niedecker’s Wisconsin cabin. He “absorbs” the places she embodied in her poetry. Then asks San Francisco avant-garde poet and translator, Norma Cole, to translate une femme de quelques vies (a woman of many lives) utilizing Niedecker’s vocabulary. From a woman of many lives (2009):
in a corner of the room
is not in her plan.
With this smile
How thoughtful, and enobling, to devote 170 pages to a serial poem in Niedecker’s style and sense, her world.
I am particularly intrigued by the deep rootedness of Niedecker in her lifelong place, her cabin in the marsh lands of Wisconsin, and the pull toward “abstractionism” as she called it. Daive’s creation of unembodies spaces in his experimental poetry, is unrooted in any particular place or earthly space. Niedecker uniquely and obliquely is a poet of place, while venturing on original adventures into abstractions of her own creation. A poem from the early 1960’s, pre-Daive, but a lovely pre-echo of an indirect correspondence to come:
In Leonardo’s light
the sun does not love
the weight falls
I am at rest
hold a doctorate
You are my friend—
you bring me peaches
and the high bush cranberry
you water my worms
you patch my boot
with your mending kit
nothing in it
but my hand
Niedecker, Lorine. Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works (p. 189). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
Excerpts from Daive:
trans. Norma Cole. a woman with several lives, Jean Daive. La Presse, 2012.
trans. Norma Cole. White Decimal, Jean Daive. Oakland, CA: Omnidawn Publishing, 2016.