Writing in the New York Times Book Review, reviewer William Logan described Gjertrud Schnackenberg as "the most talented American poet" of her generation, and praised her for what the critic termed "an enriched and image-soaked language." The essayist for Contemporary Women Poets grouped Schnackenberg with the poets of the New Formalism, contemporary poets who favor the traditional modes and subjects of poetry. "Some of the poets associated with the New Formalism," wrote the essayist, "demand serious attention, not least Gjertrud Schnackenberg, who has used meter and rhyme without subduing emotional currents."
Schnackenberg's preoccupation with "family cycles, legendary material and epic forms has been clear from her earliest collection," 1982's Portraits and Elegies, commented Phoebe Pettingell in New Leader. Noting that "passion is a quality that pervades her work," Pettingell commented that Schnackenberg "writes intensely, weaving together strands whose repetition in different contexts ultimately deepens the resonance of her verse." Within her most successful poems, the reviewer added, "the densely packed images that work on their own as symbols take on additional layers of meaning when you are familiar with what the poet is discussing, be it literature, history, art, botany, myth, or some other subject in her cornucopia of disciplines." Praising Schnackenberg as a "gifted stylist," Rosetta Cohen added in her review of the poet's first full-length poetry collection, The Lamplit Answer, that her "talent for creating small, intricate worlds . . . seems to place Schnackenberg within a tradition that has less to do with a particular poetic mode than it does with the nineteenth-century novel."
Among Schnackenberg's most respected collections is A Gilded Lapse of Time, in which she writes of a trip to Ravenna, Italy, the place where the writer Dante died. Dante's character Virgil guides Schnackenberg through the ancient monuments of the city and its Renaissance art museum, before she finally awakens at poem's end to find herself at home. Other poems in A Gilded Lapse of Time concern the nature of artistic creation and, in a long poem titled "A Monument in Utopia," the life of Russian dissident poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in a Soviet labor camp. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found Schnackenberg's verse to be "regal and elegant, and her imagery—evoking the glorious, hammered-gold realm of dripping honeycombs, spinning celestial globes and glittering mosaics—repeatedly dazzles and delights." Logan called A Gilded Lapse of Time "one of the most difficult and moving books to appear in recent American poetry." Phoebe Pettingell, reviewing the book for the New Leader, stated: "Although there are innumerable features to praise in A Gilded Lapse of Time—intellectual, esthetic and technical marvels—what impresses above all is Gjertrud Schnackenberg's compassionate depiction of human suffering and accomplishment."
Bunting Institute, Radcliffe and Cambridge, MA, fellow, 1979-80; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, lecturer in writing, 1980-81; Washington University, St. Louis, MO, Hurst Professor of Poetry, 1987; Conkling Writer-in-Residence, Smith College; visiting fellow, St. Catherine's College, Oxford, 1997, and Getty Research Institute, 2000.
- Portraits and Elegies, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1982, revised edition, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1986.
- The Lamplit Answer, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1985.
- A Gilded Lapse of Time, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1992.
- The Throne of Labdacus, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.
- Supernatural Love: Poems, 1978-1992, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.
- Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
- Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
- Antioch Review, fall, 1993, Daniel McGuiness, review of A Gilded Lapse of Time, p. 656.
- Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2000, review of The Throne of Labdacus, p. 847.
- Nation, March 20, 1982; December 7, 1985, Rosetta Cohen, review of The Lamplit Answer, p. 621.
- New Leader, September 23, 1985, Phoebe Pettingell, review of The Lamplit Answer, p. 15; November 30, 1992, Pettingell, review of A Gilded Lapse of Time, p. 15; September, 2000, Pettingell, "Painful Mysteries," p. 38.
- New Republic, September 13, 1993, Rosanna Warren, review of A Gilded Lapse of Time, p. 37.
- New York Times Book Review, November 15, 1992, William Logan, review of A Gilded Lapse of Time, p. 15.
- Parnassus, fall, 1993, Dorothy Barresi, review of A Gilded Lapse of Time, p. 296.
- Poetry, December, 1985, Sandra M. Gilbert, review of The Lamplit Answer, p. 165; November, 1993, Bruce Murphy, review of A Gilded Lapse of Time, p. 97.
- Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1992, review of A Gilded Lapse of Time, p. 60; August 14, 2000, review of Supernatural Love, p. 346.
- Yale Review, January, 1993, Stephen Yenser, review of A Gilded Lapse of Time, p. 163; April, 2001, Rachel Hadas, review of The Throne of Labdacus, p. 170.
Poems By GJERTRUD SCHNACKENBERG
LIFE SPAN 1953–