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Friday, 17 September 2010

Mother Goose Is On Relief: Wisconsin, 1936-1939


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Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Abandoned farm and snow fence, Wisconsin: photo by John Vachon, September 1939


The land of four o'clocks is here

the five of us together

......looking for our supper.

Half past endive, quarter to beets,

seven milks, ten cents cheese,

......lost, our land, forever.



Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Baby of Daisy Heath, near Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Mrs. Heath lives alone on two acres of land: photo by Russell Lee, June 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Alonzo Heath with two of his children. He is a farmer near Black River Falls, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, June 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Barn on Alonzo Heath's cut-over farm near Black River Falls, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, June 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Backporch of Henry McPeak's house, Black River Falls, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, June 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Art Simplot and his family in front of their house near Black River Falls, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, June 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Art Simplot's children, near Black River Falls, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, June 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Art Simplot's sons in the kitchen and washroom of their house near Black River Falls, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, June 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Art Simplot's youngest child in her home at Black River Falls, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, June 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Abandoned farm buildings near New Lisbon, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, June 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Abandoned farm buildings near New Lisbon, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, June 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Barn on the Bodray farm, Tipler, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, May 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Abandoned farm on the road from Tipler to Long Lake, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, May 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Bed in William Howell's home near Tipler, Wisconsin. He is a cut-over farmer on relief: photo by Russell Lee, May 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Attic bedroom in Max Sparks's house near Long Lake, Wisconsin: photo by Russell Lee, May 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Barn with roof in need of repair, Chippewa County, Wisconsin: photo by John Vachon, September 1939

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Abandoned farmhouse, Chippewa County, Wisconsin: photo by John Vachon, September 1939

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Abandoned farmhouse, Chippewa County, Wisconsin: photo by John Vachon, September 1939

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Abandoned automobile on farm, Chippewa County, Wisconsin: photo by John Vachon, September 1939


Lorine Niedecker: "The land of four o'clocks is here" from Mother Geese in New Directions 1, 1936

John Vachon came from St. Paul, Minnesota. Russell Lee came from Ottawa, Illinois. Lorine Niedecker came from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. In the late 1930s Vachon and Lee went to work for the Farm Security Administration, Niedecker for the Federal Writers Project.

Photos from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress

4 comments:

Lisa Hoffman said...

I came to you by way of Marylinn Kelly's Blog.

What a feast for the eyes, leaving one to step back and just...think. Oh yeah, I remember "thinking".

I'll be back.

TC said...

Thanks for coming, Lisa, you and your thoughts are very welcome.

curtisroberts said...

Niedecker is brand new to me and I love these two poems. I've never read anything quite like them. "Half past endive, quarter to beets,/ seven milks, ten cents cheese," is remarkable. The title you've given this collection is devastating. Working from a slightly confused state this evening (sure to be carried over to tomorrow morning), I needed my daughter to confirm that the two June 1937 Russell Lee shots in New Lisbon are reverse images with different exposures. I assume that is how you found them and then you decided to pair them. Am I correct? Do you come across other examples of FSA photographers doing this in the archives?

TC said...

Curtis,

Delighted that you are appreciating Lorine, and she too would have been pleased I am sure. She wrote all through her adult life, but was always at a considerable distance from the "scenes" of literary production, so published her poems only occasionally until in her later years she was "taken up". True recognition only came to her work after her death (1970). So hers was largely a career in isolation. But indeed that distance from the scenes is intimately related to the strengths in the work, rooted as it is so strongly in the common and the local.

I had read her work and written to her from Cambridge over the winter of 1963-1964 to ask for poems. She was extremely happy to get her work into an international publication, something that had not happened before. She sent three terrific short pieces. Two came out in The Paris Review in the Spring of 1964. There was some question then at the magazine about the "nobodies" I had been soliciting, so it took another year or so to get that third poem into the magazine. But even if she'd sent twenty, I think I'd have found a way.

After the collapse of a first marriage in the early Depression years she moved back in with her parents in Fort Atkinson. It was in that period, just after turning thirty, that she penned this little beauty, with its telling numerologies. It's one of a series of pieces conceived after the manner of Mother Goose rhymes (she once said she believed her mother to be a descendant of Mother Goose). It was around the time she wrote this poem that she went to work for the WPA (a few years later she would write a guidebook on Wisconsin for the Federal Writers Project, one of a wonderful series of books on the local cultures of the various states, writ by resident writers -- another part of the great heritage of the arts programs of the New Deal).

I believe Jane is right about those two photos being reverse images. The darkness and the light: it's hard to tell whether loss appears more grievous in the darkness or in the light.

On this post I deliberately mingled the work of Russell Lee, whose photography is distinguished by a unique human sensitivity and respect, and John Vachon, who stood off a bit more, and invested in his images a sense of ironic distance that moves toward the "cool" end of the spectrum, while Lee, to my eye, is "warm".

Between them these two great photographers capture truths about the land and its people that continue to arrest the attention and give pause for contemplation of and meditation upon the meaning of this crucial period in our history.