Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Monday, January 5, 2009

W.D. Snodgrass: An Appreciation

When BOA Editions published my premiere book of poetry, Along the Dark Shore, its release coincided with the appearance of another collection of poems by a BOA author, W.D. Snodgrass’s The Führer Bunker. Consequently, our editor, Al Poulin, arranged for a number of publicity events in New York City to celebrate the occasion, including packets of press releases, elaborate commercial displays at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, a publication party at the Gotham Book Mart, a dinner at one of the more luxurious restaurants in Manhattan, and a kickoff poetry reading at City College.

The arranged reading represented the first public presentation of poetry for which I was promoted on posters and in newspapers as a featured poet. I approached the experience with a touch of anxiety and a lot of amazement, especially since I had been informed another young poet, Barton Sutter, and I would be reading with W.D. Snodgrass. In those days I sometimes worked as a roadie and sound check guy for a New York rock group that occasionally opened concerts for star bands whose tours had hit town, and I felt a little bit like those musicians whom I knew enjoyed performing, hoping to show their ability, but also sensed some intimidation appearing before audiences who’d arrived to hear the main act.

To this day, I maintain a vivid memory of the City College reading—the description of the room, the height of the stage, and the generous acceptance by the audience—and I’ll forever hold a fond feeling for De Snodgrass, as I learned to address him. I don’t recall which poems I read that day, though I know all were from that first book, but I still can clearly hear the words spoken by Snodgrass when he stepped upon the stage immediately following my segment, and I remain ever thankful for him starting his presentation with a kind statement about being impressed by my poetry and how he realized the difficulties young poets confront when initially introducing their work to the world. After all, he’d been in that position a couple of decades earlier, and he understood the possible apprehension a poet felt when making oneself publicly vulnerable.

Of course, Snodgrass’s first collection of poems, Heart’s Needle (1959), drew more attention than most young poets’ initial volumes receive, and it achieved a permanent place in contemporary American literature as arguably the work that introduced “confessional” poetry, an influential style of writing responsible to some extent for shaping much of the poetry produced in the last fifty years. Although, Snodgrass, like Robert Lowell, disliked having his poetry characterized as “confessional,” especially since the term had been used by M. L Rosenthal as a disparaging swipe at Lowell’s poetry in a review written during that time.

Indeed, Snodgrass, who had been a student in a few of Robert Lowell’s classes during the early 1950s at the University of Iowa, has been credited with helping persuade Lowell toward the transition of style evident in his most significant collection, Life Studies, which also appeared in 1959. As Snodgrass reports in a fine interview with Ernest Hilbert that appeared in Contemporary Poetry Review:

I remember that in the long cycle of poems that I was first known for, “Heart’s Needle,” about my daughter and thinking I would lose her in that divorce. Lowell didn’t like those poems at all. He said, “Snodgrass, you’ve got a brain. You can’t write this kind of tear-jerking stuff!” Berryman, on the other hand, did like them, and as a matter of fact there is one line in there that he suggested. He said “why don’t you do this instead,” and I did. Two years later, I mentioned to Gertrude Buckman, the widow of Delmore Schwartz, that no one would print “Heart’s Needle.” She took them and showed them to Lowell, and then he fell in love with them . . . he went to work to get them published. He went to Knopf and they accepted the book. Otherwise, I might never have published those poems. He later said he was taking the poems as a model, and that scared the hell out of me. I thought, “here I am doing something you’re not supposed to do, and he’s going to follow. I’ll be responsible!” It scared me half to death. I worshiped Lowell.

The title poem of Snodgrass’s book, “Heart’s Needle” concerned personal issues of divorce and separation from a child. Although initially hesitant about the direction taken by Snodgrass, after reading the poem (first published in the famous New Poets of England and America anthology, edited by Donald Hall, Robert Pack, and Louis Simpson in 1957), Robert Lowell eventually responded with respect for the younger poet’s skill at blending autobiographical episodes and emotional elements with an intimate yet lyrical voice, exposing vulnerability while avoiding melodrama or sentimentality.

By the late 1950s, Lowell hoped to incorporate in his new poetry some of those admirable qualities evident in Snodgrass’s poem. Lowell had fashioned a voice in Life Studies that similarly examined personal experiences and family matters with an open and frank language readers would view as more authentic, accessible, or convincing than his previously ornate and more formal works—even the widely praised and honored Lord Weary’s Castle—had exhibited with their intricately twisted syntax and heavy reliance on classical or religious allusions.

When “Heart’s Needle” appeared, Snodgrass received a letter (dated February 24, 1959) from Anne Sexton, his friend and fellow former student of Lowell, in which she declared: “I read ‘Heart’s Needle’ and I changed. It made me see myself new. In seeing you, in feeling your marvelous restrained sense of immediate loss, I saw my own loss in a new color. And I changed. I said to Fred [Morgan], ‘A poem isn’t supposed to do that! It isn’t supposed to be that vital!’ . . . meaning, of course, how unusual, how much genius and the fine grip of talent, is in such a poem that reaches down and touches the inmost part of the reader. A writer, showing himself, in his true light, and doing it so well, has indeed done something so great that one might be afraid. Afraid of the writer’s truth and their own truth . . . That’s what I think you did. That’s the great thing you did.”

Richard Howard—in an essay on W.D. Snodgrass’s poetry contained in his book Alone with America—describes the poet’s influential volume: “Heart’s Needle, it should be said, is arranged in clumps of poems along the choked watercourse of the poet’s biography: return from war, stock-taking of self and surround which includes the body and the body’s history, then teaching, and marriage, fatherhood and divorce.”

Remarkably, when Snodgrass’s Heart’s Needle and Lowell’s Life Studies appeared in 1959, though initial reactions by critics were intense and divided, the two collections split the major book awards for poetry: Heart’s Needle received the Pulitzer Prize and Life Studies won the National Book Award, establishing a point of demarcation in the chronology of transitions in American poetry. As I have written previously in a commentary on Life Studies: “With the awarding of a National Book Award to Lowell for Life Studies and a Pulitzer Prize to Snodgrass for Heart’s Needle in 1960, the start of this fresh decade also may have marked a new beginning for many American poets. Scores of young authors soon sought to emulate Lowell’s style in their writing. Even a number of other poets whose paths had originated with traditional writing in formal patterns eventually followed Lowell’s example by drifting toward free verse with more loosely arranged language and more obviously autobiographical content.”

I include here an example of Snodgrass’s poetry from Heart’s Needle with the fifth section from the middle of the title sequence:



Winter again and it is snowing;
Although you are still three,
You are already growing
Strange to me.

You chatter about new playmates, sing
Strange songs; you do not know
Hey ding-a-ding-a-ding
Or where I go

Or when I sang for bedtime, Fox
Went out on a chilly night,
Before I went for walks
And did not write;

You never mind the squalls and storms
That are renewed long since;
Outside, the thick snow swarms
Into my prints

And swirls out by warehouses, sealed,
Dark cowbarns, huddled, still,
Beyond to the blank field,
The fox’s hill

Where he backtracks and sees the paw,
Gnawed off, he cannot feel;
Conceded to the jaw
Of toothed, blue steel.

W.D. Snodgrass was born on this date (January 5) in 1926. Since publication of his initial poetry book, Heart's Needle, he has published a number of other collections of poetry, including Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems, The Führer Bunker: The Complete Cycle, Each in His Season, Selected Poems: 1957-1987, The Führer Bunker: A Cycle of Poems in Progress, and After Experience. He also is the author of two books of literary criticism, To Sound Like Yourself: Essays on Poetry and In Radical Pursuit, as well as six volumes of translation, one of which won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Snodgrass has received a nomination for a National Book Critics Circle Award and has been the recipient of prizes, awards, or fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Poetry Society of America.

Marking this occasion of W.D. Snodgrass’s 83rd birthday and noting that it is now 50 years since the publication of his breakthrough first collection of poems, Heart’s Needle, I wish to express my appreciation for his lifetime of work, as well as for a particularly fond memory he supplied involving the introduction of my own first book of poetry.

Readers may find the complete “Heart’s Needle” sequence at the Academy of American Poets web site. Also, I urge everyone to visit the People’s Archive web site to view a wonderful excerpt of a video interview with W.D. Snodgrass, “Writing about what matters: ‘Heart’s Needle,’” in which Snodgrass discusses his composition of Heart’s Needle and the evolution of Robert Lowell’s differing reactions to the poetry in it. In addition, all are invited to examine my full article on Lowell’s Life Studies.


Anonymous said...

Very good post, sir. Thank you for mentioning my interview with Mr. Snodgrass.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful birthday present. De sends his heartfelt thanks. Only one correction: he's 83 today!
Kathy Snodgrass

Anonymous said...

Well done! I am planning to post my own far less substantial Snodgrass blog today - I'll encourage folks to visit yours as well. Happy birthday, W.D.!

Anonymous said...

Can you see how red my face is? Of course De is 82, not 83. My only excuse: I was an English major.
Kathy Snodgrass

Edward Byrne said...

No, Kathy, you are correct. He is 83. I was still thinking 2008 in my math. I will make the correction. Thanks very much!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Edward, I did the math again and even though I was an English major I was right the first time. De's response: Who cares! But I feel a little better about my cognitive function level.
Thanks again. This was especially moving a tribute because De is here at home under Hospice care. Four months ago we learned he was terminally ill with lung cancer. He is not having any pain but he is extremely weak. Fortunately, he still has a good appetite and a taste for the single malt whiskey I gave him as a birthday gift!

Anonymous said...

I've just posted my blog - re-reading it, I hope there is nothing Mr. Snodgrass would consider disrespectful. It is a true story, intending to honor him - but I am under no illusions that it is as fitting a tribute as yours, Mr. Byrne. Here's the link: http://crisisblog.crisischronicles.com/2009/01/05/happy-birthday-wd-snodgrass.aspx.

Peace and poetry,

Anonymous said...

I LOVE THIS ARTICLE and I LOVE DE. He turned the corner in my own heart when poetry came alive for me. His work bristles with language rinsed off as if it has never been used before. THANK YOU FOR THIS! Grace Cavalieri

Edward Byrne said...


I didn't know about De's health condition. I hope this post gave him an indication of his positive influence on others, even when he probably wasn't aware he was having such an impact. Please pass along my best wishes and my hope that he has a wonderful birthday.

Edward Byrne said...

Thanks for the link, John.

Anonymous said...

I love Mr. Snodgrass's poetry, and this is a wonderful appreciation of his work. Lynn Levin

Tad Richards said...

I heard Snodgrass read once, several years ago -- five? ten? twenty? Well, certainly not five. The time frame is lost in memory, the reading will never be.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this tribute, Ed, and thank you, Kathy, for giving us an opportunity to express our love and appreciation for "Mr. Snodgrass" as he will always be to me since I had him for a teacher of "Oral Interpretation of Modern Poetry" at Syracuse University in the late 60's. He taught us how to give a controlled reading that allowed emotion into the poem. We turned in our assignments on reel-to-reel tapes and he made specific comments on all of them--it's only after years of teaching that I appreciate the time this must have taken.
Kathy, please tell him that his life and work have been, and will continue to be, important to many people.
I'm having a little trouble posting this comment, so, sorry if it appears in two slightly different forms.

Anonymous said...

Lovely! Thanks so much for this. It was the mid-80s, I think, when I was an undergraduate listening to De read his poetry, and this had such a galvanizing effect on me that I packed up and moved from California to Delaware five years later in order to (I wasn't so bold as to assume I would be allowed to study with him) be in his proximity. I so lucked out.

For me what stands out, what I admire and hope that I learned most, is not what I first thought, and not what most people bring up -- the daring uses of autobiographical material, the amazing and seductive music of the poetry -- but his, and his work's integrity.

Kathrine Varnes

Anonymous said...

De died Tuesday morning at home. His passing came quickly and painlessly. He was a beautiful in death as he was in life.

Thanks to all for your lovely posts.

Kathy Snodgrass

Anonymous said...

De was one of the great poets of our time, no doubt about that at all. His work was a major influence on mine, his early comments on my work when I was an undergraduate and he was a Pulitizer Prize winning poet changed my life. And De kept writing outstanding poems, year after year after year. I'm very sad to learn of his death, and thankful for De and for his poems, some of which we'll be reading deep into the future history of American poetry.

Dick Allen

nolapoet said...

Kathy, I'm very sorry. I first heard De read at Georgia State in the early 90s. He was still working on "the Nazi book" then, and I was ecstatic when he finally finished The Fuehrer Bunker. We had something unusual in common: we shared stories of being very near a building collapse.

He was a jolly trickster and a great inducement to quit my job and follow the Muse instead.

Most recently, I heard him read again at Emory last year. I have some photos from that day and will send via Ed.

My heart goes out to you.

Robin Kemp

Anonymous said...

Oh Kathy, I am so sorry. I knew there was a reason I kept thinking I should write you both. Your taking me to lunch here several years ago meant much to me. De was lucky to have found you at the time he did. I am sure he had many extra good years because of you.
With love,
Myreen (Moore Nicholson)

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