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Remembering W.D. Snodgrass

By Harriet Staff


Over the weekend, William McDonald posted a remembrance of W.D. Snodgrass at the New York Times. McDonald reflected on his days as a journalism student at Syracuse University and his first “professional” publication—an interview with the poet W.D. Snodgrass—that earned him enough dough for dinner (at a diner!). McDonald reflects on a second interview with Snodgrass conducted in the final weeks of the poet’s life:

So on a brisk fall morning, I again drove deep into central New York, now heading north from New York City on a trip that began in sunshine and a wildfire of foliage but soon, predictably, cooled and clouded over.

William DeWitt Snodgrass spent a half-century or more writing poetry, most of it vigorous and plain-spoken. In the 1960s, the poet and critic Gavin Ewart was unequivocal in calling him “one of the six best American poets today.” (“Who the other five are would be arguable,” Ewart added.) Some critics placed Snodgrass in the confessional school, which by his lights was a wrongheaded and too-easy label, as if his poems were nothing more than a coming clean about his transgressions. His verse was a one-man soul-baring operation — honest, sometimes piercingly frank, often wry and witty — that might uncover universal truths along the way.

He could mock himself (“Your name’s absurd,” he wrote in an early poem); proclaim his presence (“Snodgrass is walking through the universe”); and mine his anguish, as he did in “Heart’s Needle,” probably his best-known poem, about the loss of a child through divorce. He wrote:

Winter again and it is snowing;

Although you are still three,

You are already growing

Strange to me.

His was an inward-turning art that appealed to a generation younger than his — one torn between communitarian ideals and a self-involved thirst for emotional and professional fulfillment.

Head to the New York Times to read about the interview, Snodgrass’s passing shortly thereafter, and other details about life and work of the poet.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.