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About this poet

William De Witt Snodgrass was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, on January 5, 1926. He attended Geneva College and then served in the United States Navy until 1946. He then attended the State University of Iowa, where he earned his MFA in 1953. His early work was compared to the work of Robert Lowell and Randall Jarrell, both of which were his teachers.

His first collection of poetry, Heart's Needle, was published in 1959 and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. Since then, he has published numerous books of poetry, including Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2006); The Führer Bunker: The Complete Cycle (1995); Each in His Season (1993); Selected Poems, 1957-1987; The Führer Bunker: A Cycle of Poems in Progress (1977), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and produced by Wynn Handman for The American Place Theatre; and After Experience (1968).

He is often credited as being one of the founding members of the "confessional" movement, though he did not consider his poetry as fitting in that school. About his own work, Snodgrass said, "I first became known for poems of a very personal nature, especially those about losing a daughter in a divorce. Many of those early poems were in formal metres and had an 'open' surface. All through my career, however, I have written both free verse and formal metres."

He also produced 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.

His honors include an Ingram Merrill Foundation award and 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 lived in upstate New York and died on January 13, 2009.


A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Heart's Needle (1959)
After Experience: Poems and Translations (1968)
Remains (1970)
The Führer Bunker: A Cycle of Poems in Progress (1977)
If Birds Build with Your Hair (1979)
These Trees Stand (1981)
Heinrich Himmler (1982)
The Boy Made of Meat (1983)
Magda Goebbels (1983)
6 Minnesinger Songs (Burning Deck, 1983)
D. D. Byrde Callying Jennie Wrenn (1984)
The Kinder Capers (1986)
A Locked House (1986)
Selected Poems: 1957-1987 (1987)
W. D.'s Midnight Carnival (1988)
The Death of Cock Robin (1989)
Each in His Season (1993)
The Führer Bunker: The Complete Cycle (1995)
Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems (2006)

Prose

In Radical Pursuit: Critical Essays and Lectures (1975)
De/Compositions (2001)
To Sound Like Yourself: Essays on Poetry (2002)

Anthology

Gallows Song (1967)
Six Troubadour Songs (1977)
Traditional Hungarian Songs (1978)
Six Minnesinger Songs (1983)
The Four Seasons (1984)
Five Romanian Ballads, Cartea Romaneasca (1993)
Selected Translations (1998)

Drama

The Führer Bunker (1981)

Lasting

“Fish oils,” my doctor snorted, “and oily fish
are actually good for you. What’s actually wrong
for anyone your age are all those dishes
with thick sauce that we all pined for so long
as we were young and poor. Now we can afford
to order such things, just not to digest them;
we find what bills we’ve run up in the stored
plaque and fat cells of our next stress test.”

My own last test scored in the top 10 percent
of males in my age bracket. Which defies
all consequences or justice—I’ve spent
years shackled to my desk, saved from all exercise.
My dentist, next: “Your teeth seem quite good
for someone your age, better than we’d expect
with so few checkups or cleanings. Teeth should
repay you with more grief for such neglect”—

echoing how my mother always nagged,
“Brush a full 100 strokes,” and would jam
cod liver oil down our throats till we’d go gagging
off to flu-filled classrooms, crammed
with vegetables and vitamins. By now,
I’ve outlasted both parents whose plain food
and firm ordinance must have endowed
this heart’s tough muscle—weak still in gratitude.

From Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by W. D. Snodgrass. Used with permission of BOA Editions.

From Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by W. D. Snodgrass. Used with permission of BOA Editions.

W. D. Snodgrass

W. D. Snodgrass

William De Witt Snodgrass was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, on January 5, 1926.

by this poet

poem

 

For Cynthia
When Suibhe would not return to fine garments and good food, to his houses and his people, Loingseachan told him, "Your father is dead." "I'm sorry to hear it," he said. "Your mother is dead," said the lad. "All pity for me has gone out of the world." "
poem
The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven't learned
A blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.

The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every
2
poem

These lawn chairs and the chaise lounge
of bulky redwood were purchased for my father
twenty years ago, then plumped down in the yard
where he seldom went when he could still work
and never had stayed long. His left arm
in a sling, then lopped off, he smoked there or slept
while the