© Image by Kathleen Snodgrass

W.D. Snodgrass

(b. 1926)

"The term 'confessional' seems to imply either that I'm concerned with religious matters (I am not) or that I'm writing some sort of bedroom memoir (I hope I'm not -most people are deadly dull on such matters)."  WD Snodgrass

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Select bibliography

  • The Poetry of W.D. Snodgrass: Everything Human, University of Michigan Press, 1993
  • W.D.Snodgrass in Conversation with Philip Hoy, Between the Lines, 1998
  • Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems, BOA editions, 2006
William De Witt Snodgrass was born in Pennsylvania in 1926. He attended Geneva College and then served in the United States Navy until 1946. He then attended the State University of Iowa, where in 1953, he gained an M.F.A under the tutorship of Robert Lowell and Randall Jarrell. His honors include an Ingram Merrill Foundation award, a special citation from the Poetry Society of America, and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He now lives and writes in upstate New York after a long and distinguished teaching career .

Snodgrass is often credited along with Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and John Berryman , as being one of the founding members, of the 'confessional' school of poetry - a term which Snodgrass himself dislikes. David McDuff observes in Stand"Like other confessional poets, Snodgrass is at pains to reveal the repressed, violent feelings that often lurk beneath the seemingly placid surface of everyday life."

His first collection Heart's Needle , a sequence of poems expressing anger following divorce and the anxious difficulty of maintaining a loving relationship with his estranged young daughter, was published in 1959 and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. The impact of Snodgras's self-analytical approach is expressed in Stanley Moss's statement in the New Republicthat the poet "has found a place for emotions felt, but previously left without words and out of consciousness. He has identified himself with exquisite suffering and guilt and with all those who barely manage to exist on the edge of life."

The combination of the traditional and the confessional in Snodgrass's writing prompted Peter Porter to write in London Magazine: "Snodgrass is a virtuoso, not just of versification but of his feelings. He sends them round the loops of self analysis with the same skill he uses to corset them into his poetry."

W.D. Snodgrass has produced nineteen collections and poetry and also two books of literary criticism, To Sound Like Yourself: Essays on Poetry(2003) and In Radical Pursuit (1975), and six volumes of translation, including Selected Translations (BOA Editions, 1998), which won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award.

Paul Gaston notes that Snodgrass's critical essays and translations help develop his own writing "These endeavors," writes Gaston in his book W. D. Snodgrass, "reveal a poet intent on carefully establishing his creative priorities and perfecting his language." He continues, "Snodgrass's criticism gives the impressions of a mind reaching beyond the pleasures of cleverness to the hard-won satisfactions of wisdom." And finally, "[His] work with translations . . . has encouraged the increasing linguistic, metrical, and structural diversity of his own work."

Snodgrass is always alive to the drama of the poems he reads in this recording – capturing, for instance, the different tones and registers of 'After Experience Taught Me' so as to bring out the characters of the philosopher Spinoza, the combat instructor (who is more aggressive and edgy with a dark humour), and the confrontational irritated cry of the man who tried to make sense of them. As elsewhere, the reading voice accentuates the sense of intimacy between speaker and listener, thereby in a sense contradicting Snodgrass's express intentions by emphasising the confessional nature of the sequence.

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