Thursday, February 2, 2017

Du Bois and Niedecker

W. E. B. Du Bois, addressing the National Colored League of Boston, March 10, 1891:

Grandfather says, “Get a Practical Education, learn a trade, learn stenography, go into a store, but don’t fool away time in college.”
Lorine Niedecker, in a 1962 poem:
It’s almost certainly nothing more than coincidence, but it’s a telling coincidence, with Du Bois and Niedecker both dissenting from ancestral authority.

Condensery is a wonderful name for a poet’s workplace. It owes something to Ezra Pound’s discovery in a German–Italian dictionary of condensare (to condense) as an equivalent of dichten (to write a poem). So making poems means condensing: a maximum of imagery, meaning, and music in the words, with nothing extraneous or redundant. Having always assumed that condensery is a nonce word (formed along the lines of, say, cannery), I was floored when a student discovered that it’s a word outside this poem: “an establishment where condensed milk is prepared” (Century Dictionary). Holy cow! That makes the word even better, with one kind of workplace turning into another.

Another Niedecker post
Keillor and Niedecker

[The source for Du Bois: “Does Education Pay?” in Writings by W. E. B. Du Bois in Periodicals Edited by Others, ed. Herbert Aptheker, vol 1., 1891–1909 (Millwood, NY: Kraus-Thomson, 1982). I came across the passage I’ve quoted in Russell Jacoby, Dogmatic Wisdom: How the Culture Wars Divert Education and Distract America (New York: Doubleday, 1994). Du Bois goes on: “Learn a trade, by all means, and learn it well, but Get a Liberal Education.”]

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