RIP: W.D. Snodgrass

W.D. Snodgrass passed away today at the age of 83. His fans will miss him dearly; however, he is still very much alive in his work. Snodgrass is often said to be one the of founding members of the school of confessional poetry, but it should be noted that many sources state he was not a fan of the term confessional poetry.

Thinking of Snodgrass makes me think of Anne Sexton. In celebration of Snodgrass’s life, I share an excerpt from Diane Middlebrook’s Anne Sexton: A Biography:

[Sexton] also spent hours examining the poems in a book that all her friends in John Holmes’s class were reading: New Poets of England and America, with a preface by Robert Frost.

This anthology was widely discussed in the poetry world, largely because it assembled so much that was academic and conservative in mainstream American writing. Detractrs dismissed it as “gray flannel poetry.” But in its pages, sometime in mid-March, Sexton encountered a poem that had a definitive influence on her development: “Heart’s Needle,” by William DeWitt Snodgrass. Unlike many of the other poems in the anthology, “Heart’s Needle” had a personal theme. It was addressed to the poet’s three-year old daughter, separated from him by divorce — a topic that spoke loud and clear to Sexton, whose own toddler still lived with Billie.

In “Heart’s Needle,” Snodgrass balances images of the Korean War, which began during the winter of his daughter’s birth, against images of caretaking. During her visits he and the little girl plant a garden, go bird watching in the marshes, feed animals in the park. He learns to cook so he fan fix her supper. The context of the war functions to illuminate the plight of loveless men doomed to banishment and conflict. The divorced father feels as helpless and lonely as the soldiers freezing in a foreign country, longing for home: “I’ve gone / As men must.” The poem’s emotional center is Snodgrass’s claim that “I am your real mother”; what does a man need to change in himself in order to care for a child? A new marriage gives him a comforting structure for his life, but for instruction in the role of father he visits the Museum of Natural History, where the dioramas of wildlife offer him vignettes f relationship that he rakes to heart.

The poem ends in the spring, with a visit to the zoo. Nothing is resolved in the ongoing war between the child’s parents, but life reasserts itself in new generations. Some bonds are simply given, whether or not they are understand.

“Heart’s Needle” engaged issues central in Sexton’s therapy; as she later recalled, “I ran up to my mother-in-law’s house and brought my daughter home. That’s what a poem should do — more people to action. True, I didn’t keep my daughter at the time — I wasn’t ready. But I was beginning to be ready.”

The impact of “Heart’s Needle” on the poetry world was also dramatic and immediate. In retrospect, this poem can be singled out as the first in what became known as the “confessional” mode of contemporary poetry, mainly because it was emulated by Robert Lowell, the most influential poet in Boston, perhaps in America, at the time. Snodgrass had been a student of Lowell’s at the University of Iowa.

Click here to read “Heart’s Needle” by W.D. Snodgrass.


Much Needed Break

I won’t be posting for a week or two. I’m overwhelmed with life at the moment—-work to personal issues– more of the personal issues.

I need to think and process some “stuff” before I lose it.

I am queen of all my sins
forgotten. Am I still lost?
Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself
Anne Sexton ~ “You, Doctor Martin”

Anne & Max and there is Toni

A poet I briefly met when she lived in Atlanta messaged me on Myspace. I had only heard her read once, and I loved what I heard. After a few Myspace emails, our messaging went something like this…

me: You know Anne [Sexton] and Maxine [Kumin] used to swap poems and critique each other. We should totally be Anne and Maxine.

her: So, you want to be Anne or Max?

me: Anne. I’m crazy enough, seriously.

Now, it has started, and it is exciting. I think this poetic relationship will be very beneficial.

OK…. CK the next time I see you, I’m going to smack you… because of your blog entry, I am addicted this:

Quotes on Writing Poetry

Collin and Kate both tagged me for a Quote Meme— to find 10 quotes from poets that flow with my thoughts on poetry writing. I guess this is some sort of small landmark in my blogging since this is my first time doing one of these (no wise cracks CK or MM). I added an extra quote for the heck of it.

Images are probably the most important part of the poem. First of all you want to tell a story, but images are what are going to shore it up and get to the heart of the matter.
~ Anne Sexton

You run into people who want to write poetry who don’t want to read anything in the tradition. That’s like wanting to be a builder but not finding out what different kinds of wood you use.
~ Gary Snyder

Any work of art makes one very simple demand on anyone who genuinely wants to get in touch with it. And that is to stop. You’ve got to stop what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, and what you’re expecting and just be there for the poem for however long it take.
~ W.S. Merwin

The title of your poem can accomplish something your poem did not.
~ Beth Gylys

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
~ Robert Frost

Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.
~ Paul Engle

The joy that isn’t shared dies young.
~ Anne Sexton

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.
~ Maya Angelou

If technique is of no interest to a writer, I doubt that the writer is an artist.
~Marianne Moore

A poetry articulating the dreads and horrors of our time is necessary in order to make readers understand what is happening, really understand it, not just know about it but feel it: and should be accompanied by a willingness on the part of those who write it to take additional action towards stopping the great miseries which they record.
~ Denise Levertov

I tag MM, Robin, & Charlie.

Blogosphere, Movies, and Poetry

Friend and poet, Collin Kelley, has been nominated for 2007 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, and today is the last day for voting. Take a moment to check out his blog, and I’m sure you’ll want to cast your vote for him. (CK, hope you win!)

Within the past few weeks I’ve seen Notes on a Scandal, Thank You for Smoking, The Last King of Scotland, and finished season two of Carnivàle. NOTES kept me on the edge of the couch; Judi was amazing in her role. THANK YOU kept me laughing– “The great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese!” THE LAST KING depressed me because a dear friend of mine has loved ones who’ve experienced atrocities in Uganda. Carnivàle didn’t leave me too happy. I didn’t realize HBO pulled the plug on the show after season 2; now, I must live my life without Carnivàle closure.

In honor of National Poetry Month I posted a few poems in my Myspace blog:

The Links Are Important

Visit Collin Kelley’s blog to see a great video starring the one and only fabulous Anne Sexton.

Check out ToasterMag because the March issue, which I’m featured in, is up for viewing. My friend and fellow poet Lisa Allender is also featured. To see our work click Departments, then click Freehand.

I can’t stop laughing at Margaret Cho’s video titled “My Puss.” The video is in no way appropriate for any young ones. The video is so wrong, but I love it.

"With Mercy For The Greedy"

Today, Sibille (who happens to be in my top five circle of friends) did a post regarding a quote on BBC radio. This is what the priest had to say, “If God had meant for all people to be Christians he would have made them all Christians, if he had meant us all to be Muslims he would have made us all Muslims. But he didn’t. He had the power to, but didn’t. You have to wonder why.” Love it.

Sibille, also inquired where my journal title originated. In case anyone else has wondered the same, it comes from this:

by Anne Sexton

For my friend, Ruth, who urges me to make an appointment for the Sacrament of Confession

Concerning your letter in which you ask
me to call a priest and in which you ask
me to wear The Cross that you enclose;
your own cross,
your dog-bitten cross,
no larger than a thumb,
small and wooden, no thorns, this rose—

I pray to its shadow,
that gray place
where it lies on your letter … deep, deep.
I detest my sins and I try to believe
in The Cross. I touch its tender hips, its dark jawed face,
its solid neck, its brown sleep.

True. There is
a beautiful Jesus.
He is frozen to his bones like a chunk of beef.
How desperately he wanted to pull his arms in!
How desperately I touch his vertical and horizontal axes!
But I can’t. Need is not quite belief.

All morning long
I have worn
your cross, hung with package string around my throat.
It tapped me lightly as a child’s heart might,
tapping secondhand, softly waiting to be born.
Ruth, I cherish the letter you wrote.

My friend, my friend, I was born
doing reference work in sin, and born
confessing it. This is what poems are:
with mercy
for the greedy,
they are the tongue’s wrangle,
the world’s pottage, the rat’s star.