W. D. Snodgrass Snodgrass, W(illiam) D(eWitt)

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Snodgrass, W(illiam) D(eWitt)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Snodgrass, W(illiam) D(eWitt) 1926–

Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, best known for Heart's Needle. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

W. D. Snodgrass, whose first volume, Heart's Needle …, has been widely acclaimed, wears his heart on his sleeve, unashamedly. Yet his superb artistic control mutes the lyric cry in his poems and makes the emotion bearable. The content of his poetry seems to have been found almost entirely in his own experience….

Willard Thorp, "Poetry, Raw or Cooked?" (reprinted by permission of Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1962 by Robert E. Spiller), in A Time of Harvest, edited by Robert E. Spiller, Hill & Wang, 1962, pp. 154-64.

Snodgrass' … poetic stand is something to behold. For all I know, it marks a new series of attitudes in American poetry. For example, it can establish the new poet, the university poet, only to recall us to an ancient ideal of education that has all but disappeared. It also condemns our bustling, moneyed civilization only to expose it as less vigorous and alive than the poet. And it mocks the received belief in America's world superiority only to show us to be a world minority of frightened upstarts who deny our souls and content ourselves with looking down. I think specifically of the poems "A Cardinal," "April Inventory," and "The Campus on the Hill."…

To be sure, Snodgrass has gone to school with Auden, Robert Lowell, and Marianne Moore. His wit is that of most modern poets. He can load his poems with the best of them. His verses abound with the metaphoric crockery of mid-century life, realistic diction, symbolic landscapes, double-dealing language, outrageous puns, partial rhymes, stretches of dead-pan prose, syllabic metres, sudden line breaks, accent groupings, and a most polished surface. But he has not stopped there, as have so many of his workshop compatriots. He has assimilated his influences; these devices are not ends in themselves. He doesn't play solemn games with words, and hence with life. Nor is his facility that of the schoolboy at his exercises…. In his current effort to write poetry in the larger tradition of Wordsworth, Hardy, and Chaucer, he has gone beyond his Iowa mentors, especially after working with Randall Jarrell at Colorado. Consequently, you can find in his work the unabashed presence of Midwest farmland, the deceptively simple rhythms and statements of nursery rhymes, along with many an unblushing use of such words as "loveliness" and "gentleness." This combination of hard indirection and simplicity gives a tone of dreamy precision to his work, especially in his momentary human scenes, like snowdrops in water, that are so full of implications.

Donald T. Torchiana, "Heart's Needle: Snodgrass Strides Through the Universe," in Poets in Progress, edited by Edward Hungerford, Northwestern University Press, 1962.

In his first book of poetry, "Heart's Needle," (1959) W. D. Snodgrass spoke in a distinctive voice. It was one that was jaunty and assertive on the surface ("Snodgrass is walking through the universe"), but somber and hurt beneath. His work had a colloquial ease but was traditional in form. It was one of the few books that successfully bridged the directness of contemporary free verse with the demands of the academy. His poetry was appealing in that the poet stood in front of the work—there was no need to hunt for the man in the lines….

[Snodgrass'] new book [After Experience],… comes as close as [any] in capturing the mood, and attitude, the characteristic disposition of the decade we have lived through.

Thomas Lask, "Where No Prospect Pleases," in The New York Times (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 30, 1968.

Heart's Needle … immediately placed Mr. Snodgrass in the front rank of American poets…. Heart's Needle is a book of great charm, humor and poignancy in which the poet-speaker emerges as an appealingly harassed and humane man who wears his heart on his...

(The entire section is 1,936 words.)