I spent Monday evening sitting on my living room floor, cutting an old pink-heart-flecked bathrobe into narrow strips. It felt destructive--but only at first. I cut and cut and cut and bits of terrycloth confettied my floral area rug.
Maybe it was a sort of poetry nesting that compelled me to cut my bathrobe into shreds. In three days, Madison-based visual artist Karen Laudon and I will be presenting Lost & Found, our collaborative installation of poetry, sculpture, and paintings, at the Lorine Niedecker Wisconsin Poetry Festival in Fort Atkinson, WI.
The bathrobe strips became ties for a D.I.Y. chapbook of my poems and Karen's studies for her sculptures.
In 1935, Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker became pregnant after an extended visit to her lover and mentor Louis Zukofsky in New York. The story goes that she wanted to keep the baby and raise it on Blackhawk Island in Wisconsin. Zukofsky insisted she have an abortion, and it was discovered that Niedecker had been carrying twins. According to Jerry Reisman, a friend of the couple, Niedecker "ruefully named them 'Lost' and 'Found.'" Reisman claims that "Physically, [Niedecker] recovered quickly; but I think she must have ached for her twins all the years of her life" (qtd in Peters 49).
Lost & Found explores Niedecker's missed motherhood, her conflicted relationship with her mother Daisy, and thoughts on loss and unrealized potential.
Did Lorine Niedecker wear a bathrobe? I'm not sure. The pink heart bathrobe that we used for the Lost & Found chapbook was with me through three miscarriages. After the third time, it sat washed and clean in a laundry basket for months.
For Christmas 2013 my husband surprised me with a new bathrobe--plush pink and dotted with owls. Did I wear it while writing poems that imagine Lost & Found as mischievous 27-year-old ghost daughters, as invisible literary socialites of Blackhawk Island? Maybe I was wearing it when I received photos of Karen's new studies for sculptures. Maybe I wore the fresh-start owl bathrobe while I wrote poems that responded to Karen's artwork.
By the time I had written all of the poems for Lost & Found, I found out my husband and I were expecting our first child. Baby S. is kicking (in utero) as I type this.
Lost & Found (the installation) is on display at the Dwight Foster Library in Fort Atkinson until October 16. Karen and I will discuss our collaborative process during the 9 a.m. Wisconsin Poetry Festival session on Saturday, October 11.
Peters, Margot. Lorine Niedecker: a Poet's Life. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011. Print.