When I first moved to Milwaukee in 1980, Lorine Niedecker and her work was a sort of glorious secret kept between the very few "in the know." This select group consisted of Karl Gartung of Woodland Pattern Book Center, the critic Karl Young, Morgan Gibson (Japan), Cid Corman (Japan), Ian Hamilton Finlay (U.k.), Basil Bunting (U.K.), and a very few others who had known Lorine and her writing. One fine day in early spring Karl Gartung took me up to see the famous cabin on Blackhawk Lake, the misspelled tombstone of gray granite. We visited Gail Roub in Fort Atkinson, a kind man, and heard him tell of rescuing Lorine's pictures and manuscripts left behind in the abandoned cabin at flood time after her death. It all came home to me that here was a woman passionately convinced of the importance of poetry in a world that largely passed her by. Living, in the main, by herself, surrounded by lush nature--frog croaks and mosquito bites and the lazy gulp of flies by the lake fish--she daily sat at a small table and worked hard to find the right word for the right place at the right time. No, she does not have the verbal gifts and dazzlingly unexpected insights into science and religion and fear and love and loss that Emily Dickinson had. Lorine Niedecker's gifts were of a far different, homelier kind. Where Emily Dickinson blazes, Lorine Niedecker glows; where Emily Dickson takes the breath, Lorine Niedecker affirms the bedrock certainty--the aptness--of the form she chooses to express her thought. In 1980 only a few of Lorine's publications were available--I picked up a rare Lorine Niedecker special issue of Truck Magazine from the 1970's and felt lucky to have it. Now, since the publication of Jenny Penberthy's edition of Niedecker's complete works, and the editions of letters--especially those to Louis Zukofsky, an academic industry has begun. Among the spate of ensuing theses, monographs, anthologies, translations and miscellaneous publications, John Lehman's America's greatest Unknown Poet is one of the finest introductions to the poetry and the life of Lorine Niedecker that I know. As well as providing context for the work, Lehman gently leads the reader past the central tragedy of Lorine's life: her relationship with the great second generation modernist poet Louis Zukofsky, who comes across in all accounts as a bit of a heavy. Lehman also provides a good anthology of Niedecker's best work, as well as a cogent discussion of her theory of art: her practice of condensing language in poetry. Lehman gives any potential student of Lorine's poetry the kinds of tools that they would need to consider both the strengths and weaknesses of the work, and to write knowledgeably about it. In short, Lehman side-steps the layers of interpretation of various critical stances that have begun to accumulate about the image of this modest worker with words and opts to keep the discussion simple--free of the encrustations of jargon that are now hardening, loop on loop and band on band, around the sincere writing of a rather remarkable person who made her living by cooking and scrubbing floors in a small town in central Wisconsin, but who still managed to create some of the most compelling poetry of 20th century America. Highly recommended.