(1926- ) Long resistant to his reputation as a founder of confessional poetry, W D. Snodgrass rejects the label for its religious, television, and tabloid connotations. From the first, his art has offered an intimacy and sharing of personal experiences and emotions that were off-limits to his predecessors, who were influenced by T. S. eliot and the New Critics (see fugitive/agrarian school).
Born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, Snodgrass escaped a constricting home life through service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In "Returned to Frisco, 1946" (1959), the returning serviceman senses lost freedoms in the irony offered by a flowered Alcatraz. Heart's Needle (1959), his acclaimed first book, won Snodgrass the 1960 Pulitzer Prize. In 1972-73 Snodgrass was accepted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the Academy of American Poets.
In many poems Snodgrass uses his personal history, 20th-century history, and timeless Orphic and Edenic myths to examine grief and loss. Candid and clinical, Remains (1970) examines his family's life and a sisters death at 25. In "The Mouse," much like poetic ancestor Robert Burns, he finds that a small creature children feared dead becomes an emblem of lost innocence after the sister's death. With cutting irony he observes, "Ridiculous children; we could bawl / Our eyes out about nothing." "After Experience Taught Me" declares training showed him that "you must call up every strength you own / And you can rip off the whole facial mask." Complacent students in "The Campus on the Hill" atop the world believe they "have nowhere to go but down." In "Hearts Needle," his child leaves, and he mourns how "Indeed our sweet / foods leave us cavities."
Snodgrass spent years on The Fuhrer Bunker (1977), a controversial sequence of dramatic monologues. In this multivoiced work, which Snodgrass calls "a sort of oratorio for speakers" (192), first performed theatrically in part in 1977, also adapted to the stage, various Nazi figures speak inner revelations so repulsive that some critics reject the appropriateness of such work for literary presentation. Snodgrass insists, however, that "nothing human is foreign to us" (155). This work is a crowning achievement as an examination of evil great and small.
Frequently Snodgrass has used a rhetorical strategy that moves from the general to the specific, from public
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