W. D. Snodgrass

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Snodgrass, W(illiam) D(e Witt) 1926–

Snodgrass is an American poet, critic, essayist, and translator. Although linked to the confessional school of poetry, Snodgrass prefers to view his work as a reaction against impersonal, intellectual poetry. His poetry, which is characterized by a straightforward poetic voice, is drawn from personal experience and frequently expresses anguish and despair. Snodgrass received the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1960 for his first collection, Heart's Needle. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Gertrude M. White

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Mr. Snodgrass's modest hope [for In Radical Pursuit: Critical Essays and Lectures]—"I hope my own essays lean toward a broader humanism (than that of the New Critics)—one less concerned with being right, and more concerned with enrichment"—[has] indeed been fulfilled. His personal involvement, his personal style, his conviction that "the world, and we ourselves, are far too complex to be accounted for in any political doctrine, philosophical doctrine, conscious ideation," his sense "that every important act in our lives is both propelled and guided by the darker, less visible areas of emotion and personality"—all [stand] triumphantly vindicated by the light he [sheds] on the processes of creation of literature and on the product of those processes, literature itself.

The "Four Personal Lectures" which make up the first section of this book are studies in how poetry achieves its effects. They deal with its nature, its material, and its aim; with its manipulation of words, of rhythms, of images to communicate the imaginative truth of experience with the greatest precision and power. Much of Mr. Snodgrass's material here comes from his own poems and the personal experiences which gave rise to them and which they reflect. With candor and sensitivity he discusses his own deepest feelings. With absolute integrity he uses these, not to exhibit himself or to comment on his own life, but to illuminate his subject; to show us how poetry is made, where it comes from, what it does and how. It is to make manifest this life of poetry that Mr. Snodgrass is concerned. His own life is merely a means to that end.

"Poems About Paintings," the last essay in this section, seems to me an extraordinary achievement. I know of nothing quite like it…. What is really noteworthy is the poet's eye which sees the painting, the poet's sensibility which relates what he sees to his own deep, unconscious associations and motive, the poet's mind, cultivated, humane, wide-ranging, which links the painting and his own personal world to the larger world, outside, yet reflected in both. Art, history, philosophy, religion, psychology, the physical sciences: these brief thirty pages are a microcosm of the world in which we live, the world of thought and experience which shapes our perceptions and governs our lives, the world of which art, whether painting or poetry, is the expression and the revelation.

The essays which follow … are closer to what we usually think of as literary criticism…. But though the subject-matter is less personal, the point of view, the method, and above all the tone and manner remain unconquerably, and gloriously, Mr. Snodgrass's own. It is a manner that is personal without egotism, intimate yet objective, individual but obedient always to the facts, to the evidence of the text. In these studies the author draws on his own experience of psycho-analysis, on his insights into psychological truths, to illuminate levels of the work inaccessible to ordinary critical analysis. And the proof of point of view and method is that he does illuminate them, without distorting time-honored perspectives, without perverting plain sense and meaning. (pp. 373-74)


(This entire section contains 543 words.)

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M. White, in Criticism (reprinted by permission of the Wayne State University Press; copyright 1975 by Wayne State University Press), Vol. XVII, No. 4 (Fall, 1975).

Robert W. Daniel

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The style of W. D. Snodgrass is not consistent enough to be readily categrorized, and I am at a loss to account for his title, In Radical Pursuit. In a few essays, but not many, Snodgrass may be the pupil of, say, Ernest Jones. (p. xc)

In Radical Pursuit begins with "Four Personal Lectures" about contemporary poetry in general, and large parts of them concern the development of Snodgrass's own work…. Rightly defined, irony, in Brooks & Company's extended use of the term, is markedly similar to what Snodgrass praises as tact, in his essay "Tact and the Poet's Force." (pp. xci-xcii)

Six of the other essays in this collection plod their way through Roethke, Ransom …, Lawrence's "Rocking-Horse Winner," A Midsummer Night's Dream, Don Quixote, and the Inferno. I except the pieces on Crime and Punishment and on the gods in the Iliad, both of which quickened my interest and left me enlightened. Psychoanalytic criticism can be exasperating, applied to a work that is clear without it. But Crime and Punishment is a novel of perplexing motives and mysterious dreams; and Snodgrass, whose knowledge of Freudianism seems impressive at least to a reader with little of it, illuminates many of Dostoevsky's dark corners….

These examples illustrate the miscellaneous nature of In Radical Pursuit. Literary criticism apparently is something for Snodgrass to dip into occasionally. (p. xcii)

Robert W. Daniel, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1976 by the University of the South), Summer, 1976.

Harold Bloom

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W. D. Snodgrass began in the shadow of Lowell's Life Studies, but with an individual lyricism that presaged a turn away from confessional verse. The turn is very evident in The Führer Bunker …, a cycle-in-progress of 20 dramatic monologues, spoken by Hitler, Goebbels, Eva Braun et al…. His audacity is more than matched by his astonishing skill in ordering his intractable material, and in combining his own inventions with the verifiable details of the last days of Hitler. Granted the immense difficulties he has taken on, Snodgrass demonstrates something of the power of a contemporary equivalent of Jacobean drama at its darkest. (p. 25)

Harold Bloom, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1977 by The New Republic, Inc.), November 26, 1977.




Snodgrass, W(illiam) D(e Witt) (Vol. 18)