Thursday, January 01, 2009

W.D. Snodgrass Birthday Reading

A poetical celebration of W.D. Snodgrass’s birth, life and poetry.
Monday, January 5
th, 2009 at 7:00 PM
Barnes & Noble Bookseller
3311 Tittabawassee Rd.
Saginaw , MI 48603
phone 989.790.9214
Who should comeJoin us if you love poetry or are curious as to what poetry is all about. Join us if you'd like to talk to people whose hearts and minds are more open than closed. Join us if you can agree or disagree with someone's opinion respectfully. Bring a book if you can. It’s OK if it’s from your library. Note: W.D. Snodgrass will not be joining our group.
Find out what poems sound like out loud. Listen in on the group and then find a place where you can jump in and read something yourself. Great fun for the whole family. If you have specialized knowledge regarding our poet, do not hesitate to regale us with your story. Don't expect to leave our event with a definitive understanding of the poet or the poems but please do seek to experience and communicate the joys of poetry with others. Join us as we talk about the craftsmanship of poems, the effect(s) of the poems and how those effects are achieved. Better readers make better writers. Visit with our group as we read poems we know and love and poems we are just discovering. Everyone's poetry is valued if not appreciated. If you have a smile to share be sure to bring it; otherwise be prepared to leave with one on your face and in your heart. If you're too far away to join us, create your own Birthdays of Poets Reader’s Workshop. Speak up now and forever share your peace. Tell (bring!) a friend.
How to find the organizer(s)We are in the Poetry section, near the window that affords a view of Tittabawassee Road. The staff at Barnes & Noble will put up a sign that says 'This space reserved for The River Junction Poets at 7 p.m.' We'll be getting a few folding chairs to add around the coffee table there.
DetailsThe Mouse by W.D. Snodgrass

I remember one evening – we were small –
Playing outdoors, we found a mouse,
A dusty little gray one, lying
By the side steps. Afraid he might be dead,
We carried him all around the house
On a piece of tinfoil, Crying.

Ridiculous children; we could bawl
Our eyes out about nothing. Still,
How much violence had we seen?
They teach you – quick – you have to be well-bred
In all events. We can't all win.
Don't whine to get your will.

We live with some things, after all,
Bitterer than dying, cold as hate:
The old insatiable loves,
That vague desire that keeps watch overhead,
Polite, wakeful as a cat,
To tease us with our lives;

That pats at you, wants to see you crawl
Some, then picks you back alive;
That needs you just a little hurt.
The mind goes blank, then the eyes. Weak with dread,
In shock, the breath comes short;
We go about our lives.

And then the little animal
Plays out; the dulled heart year by year
Turns from its own needs, forgets its grief.
Asthmatic, timid, twenty-five, unwed –
The day we left you by your grave,
I wouldn't spare one tear.

This poem is from Selected Poems 1957-1987
from accessed 12/30/08

In the poem The Mouse, Snodgrass uses imagery to relate a death of a loved one to a dead mouse he found as a child. He also uses free verse (the form of writing he went to after losing his daughter in a divorce). The first stanza he begins telling the reader about the mouse laying there by the steps. He describes the mouse as a "dusty little gray one." Snodgrass uses the word dusty to put the image of death in the reader's mind. They knew the mouse was dead but Snodgrass says "Afraid he might be dead.." talking about denial that we go through as one of the steps of accepting death. At the end of this stanza he explains to the reader how they put the mouse on a piece of tinfoil and walked around the house with it. This clearly relates how we have a funeral with carrying the body to the cemetery. In the second stanza he discusses how when we are children we cry about everything. We cry when we don't get our own way and when we are hurting. He tells the reader not to whine to get your own way. In the third and fourth stanzas he tells us how we get through the bad times and go about our lives as normal. The world doesn't stop for death or broken hearts. In the last stanza he tells us how after time goes by we tend to forget our pain and not cry about it as much.
From accessed 12/30/08

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 M.F.A. 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).
Excerpted from accessed 12/30/08.
Confessional poetry is the poetry of the personal or "I." This style of writing emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s and is associated with poets such as Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and W.D. Snodgrass. Lowell's book Life Studies was a highly personal account of his life and familial ties, and had a significant impact on American poetry. Plath and Sexton were both students of Lowell and noted that his work influenced their own writing.
The confessional poetry of the mid-twentieth century dealt with subject matter that previously had not been openly discussed in American poetry. Private experiences with and feelings about death, trauma, depression and relationships were addressed in this type of poetry, often in an autobiographical manner. Sexton in particular was interested in the psychological aspect of poetry, having started writing at the suggestion of her therapist.
The confessional poets were not merely recording their emotions on paper; craft and construction were extremely important to their work. While their treatment of the poetic self may have been groundbreaking and shocking to some readers, these poets maintained a high level of craftsmanship through their careful attention to and use of prosody.
Excerpted from accessed 12/30/08.

Elena Ceauçescu's Bed by W.D. Snodgrass, 2006 Not for Specialists: New & Selected Poems

Making ourselves at home in that broad bed
Elena left, we slept snug as the mouse
That, burrowing in guest room blankets, fed
Her brood last winter in our summer house.

What bed, through all our lives long, had we known
If not the tyrant's? How many had been driven
Homeless and hungering while I had my own
Bed, my own room? How many have been given

Lives at hard labor while our markets rose
And we had all we asked for in the lands
Of milk and honey? Where could you find those
Who hunted, once, that hill where my house stands?

There'll be just one bed, too soon, for us all.
What empire's hacked out by the meek, the kind?
The lioness kills; the lion feasts; the small
Bury their noses in what's left behind.

From accessed 12/30/08

The combination of the traditional and the confessional in Snodgrass's writing prompts Thomas Lask of the New York Times to write, "In Heart's Needle, . . . Snodgrass spoke in a distinctive voice. It was one that was jaunty and assertive on the surface but somber and hurt beneath. . . . It is one of the few books that successfully bridged the directness of contemporary free verse with the demands of the academy." Peter Porter echoes this opinion when he writes 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." The impact of Snodgrass's self-analytical approach is clearly felt in Stanley Moss's statement in the New Republic that 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."
Excerpted from accessed 12/30/08.
The following is an excerpt from Magda Goebbels (30 April 1945) by W. D. Snodgrass
This is the Doctor who has brought
Your needle with your special shot
To quiet you; you won’t get caught
Off guard or unprepared.
I am your nurse who’ll comfort you;
I nursed you, fed you till you grew
Too big to feed; now you’re all through
Fretting or feeling scared.
Excerpted from accessed 12/30/08.

This diversity is apparent in Snodgrass's third volume of original poetry, The Fuehrer Bunker, which uses dramatic monologues to recreate what was said by the men and women who shared Hitler's bunker from April 1 to May 1, 1945. "In these poems," writes Gertrude M. White in Odyssey: A Journal of the Humanities, "we are overhearing people talking to themselves, each character speaking in a verse form expressive of his or her personality, revealing who and what they are with a dramatic power that carries conviction almost against our will." Robert Peters, writing in the American Book Review, believes that the volume is "a rare example of ambitious, on-going verse sculpture. . . . It will be around for a long time to inspire writers who've come to realize the sad limitations of the locked-in, private, first lesson, obsessional poem."

However, the subject matter of the poems troubles critic Laurence Goldstein, who fears that the writer's choice of subject overwhelms the artistry of the writing. Goldstein, writing for the
Southern Review, believes that writing about Nazism in the way that Snodgrass does in The Fuehrer Bunker violates the poetic aesthetic. "When a poet as skilled in sweet rhetoric as Snodgrass," Goldstein declares, "who can charm and disarm his audience at will, presents twenty-two dramatic monologues spoken by the most despised Nazis, nothing less than ultimate questions about the enterprise of contemporary poetry loom before us." "Is there a shameless sensationalism involved in trying to change belief on that dreadful subject?" the critic asks. "Shouldn't the poet pass by the Medusa head of that modern horror lest he petrify, or worse entertain, himself and his readers by staring at vipers?" The Fuehrer Bunker, which was first published as a work in progress in 1977, was finally released as a completed cycle of poems in 1995. Critics who reviewed the revised edition recognized its power, but their conclusions differed from Goldstein's fears. Frank Allen writes in Library Journal that "to hear these voices imaginatively re-created is purgative," while Booklist contributor Elizabeth Gunderson calls it "an astonishing work that lets us see with clarity the fall of the Third Reich—and wonder."
Excerpted from accessed 12/30/08.

The Poet Ridiculed by Hysterical Academics by W. D. Snodgrass

Is it, then, your opinion
Women are putty in your hands?
Is this the face to launch upon
A thousand one night stands?

First, please, would you be so kind
As to define your contribution
To modern verse, the Western mind
And human institutions?

Where, where is the long, flowing hair,
The velvet suit, the broad bow tie;
Where is the other-worldly air,
Where the abstracted eye?

Describe the influence on your verse
Of Oscar Mudwarp’s mighty line,
The theories of Susan Schmersch
Or the spondee’s decline.

You’ve labored to present us with
This mouse-sized volume; shall this equal
The epic glories of Joe Smith?
He’s just brought out a sequel.

Where are the beard, the bongo drums,
Tattered T-shirt and grubby sandals,
As who, released from Iowa, comes
To tell of wondrous scandals?

Have you subversive, out of date,
Or controversial ideas?
And can you really pull your weight
Among such minds as these?

Ah, what avails the tenure race,
Ah, what the Ph.D.,
When all departments have a place
For nincompoops like thee?

W.D. Snodgrass, “The Poet Ridiculed by Hysterical Academics” from Selected Poems, 1957-1987 (New York: Soho Press, 1987). Copyright © 1987 by W.D. Snodgrass. Reprinted with the permission of the author.from accessed 12/30/08.

The following is excerpted from Pacemaker by W. D. Snodgrass:

I thought I'd always favor rubato
Or syncopation, scorning fixed rhythms;
Thought my old heartthrobs could stand up to stress;
Believed one's bloodpump should skip a few beats
If it fell into company with sleek young women;
Believed my own bruit could beat with the best.

Wrong again, Snodgrass! This new gold gadget,
Snug as the watch on my wife's warm wrist,
Drives my pulsetempo near twice its old pace—
Go, nonstop startwatch! Go, clockwork rabbit,
Keeping this lame old dog synchronized,
Steady, sparked up, still in the race.
Source: Poetry (October 2002).

Parting Thoughts
Research indicates that better readers make better writers. Maybe this is why, in the
Poet's Market, editors of literary magazines often recommend poets read more poetry. Are you not aware? You are a cultural event, and so is everyone else.


Anonymous said...

On behalf of my husband W. D. Snodgrass, many thanks for the upcoming birthday reading.
Kathy Snodgrass

Andrew Christ said...

You're certainly welcome! We are grateful for the opportunity. I have so much respect for his efforts in 'The Fuehrer Bunker', and I love the title 'Not for Specialists'. Warm wishes for your continued success in 2009.