W.D. Snodgrass

W.D. Snodgrss (1926-2009). Courtesy Graywolf Press.

William De Witt Snodgrass (January 5, 1926 - January 13, 2009) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, who also wrote under the pseudonym S.S. Gardons.


Snodgrass was born in [[Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania (the family lived in Wilkinsburg, but drove to Beaver Falls for his birth since his grandfather was a doctor in the town). Eventually the family moved to Beaver Falls and Snodgrass graduated from the local high school in 1943. He then attended Geneva College until 1944 and had an offer from the Juilliard School for admission because of his musical abilities on the timpani, but he was drafted into the United States Navy before he could accept.

After demobilization in 1946, Snodgrass transferred to the University of Iowa and enrolled in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, originally intending to become a playwright but eventually joining the poetry workshop[1] which was attracting as teachers some of the finest poetic talents of the day, among them John Berryman, Randall Jarrell and Robert Lowell. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949, a Master of Arts degree in 1951, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1953.[2]

Snodgrass was known to friends throughout his life as "De", pronounced "dee",[3] but only published using his initials. He had a long and distinguished academic career, having taught at Cornell (1955-7), Rochester (1957-8), Wayne State (1959-68) , Syracuse (1968–1977), Old Dominion (1978-9), and the University of Delaware.[3] He retired from teaching in 1994[3] to devote himself full-time to his writing. This included autobiographical sketches, essays, and the critical verse 'deconstructions' of De/Construct. He died in his home in Madison County, New York, aged 83, following a four-month battle with lung cancer,[3] and was survived by his fourth wife, writer Kathleen Snodgrass.

Snodgrass was first married in 1946 to Lila Jean (Hank), by whom he had a daughter, Cynthia Jean. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1953 and it was the separation from his daughter as a result that became the subject of his first collection, Heart's Needle. The following year Snodgrass married his second wife, Janice Marie Ferguson (Wilson). Together they have a son, Russell Bruce, and a stepdaughter, Kathy Ann Wilson. Divorcing again in 1966, he married his third wife, Camille (Rykowski), in 1967, but this ended in 1978. His fourth marriage, to Kathleen Ann (Brown), was in 1985.[2]


Snodgrass's first published poems appeared in 1951. Throughout the 1950s he published in some of the most prestigious magazines: Botteghe Oscure, Partisan Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review and The Hudson Review. However, in 1957, five sections from a sequence entitled 'Heart's Needle' were included in Hall, Pack and Simpson's anthology, New Poets of England and America, and these were to mark a turning-point. When Lowell had been shown early versions of these poems, in 1953, he had disliked them, but now he was full of admiration.

It is often said that Heart's Needle inaugurated confessional poetry. Snodgrass disliked the term. Still, it should be pointed out that the genre he was reviving here seemed revolutionary to most of his contemporaries, reared as they had been on the anti-expressionistic principles of the New Critics. Snodgrass's confessional work was to have a profound effect on many of his contemporaries, amongst them, most importantly, Robert Lowell.

Being tagged with this label affected his work and its reception and forced him into small-press publication for many years. Two new themes (eventually) restored his reputation, although at the time they first began to appear there was a perception by some that Snodgrass had 'wrecked his career'.[4] One was The Fuhrer Bunker cycle of poems, monologues by Hitler and his circle in the closing days of the Third Reich, a 'poem in progress' that began to appear from 1977 onwards and was finally completed in 1995. An adaptation of these for the stage was performed in the 1980s.[5] The other theme was the series written in response to DeLoss McGraw's surrealistic paintings, which eventually grew into a partnership. In these poems, often uproariously rhymed, Snodgrass stood his former confessional style on its head at the same time as satirising contemporary attitudes.


By the time Heart's Needle was published in 1959, Snodgrass had already won The Hudson Review Fellowship in Poetry and an Ingram Merrill Foundation Poetry Prize. However, his first book brought him more: a citation from the Poetry Society of America, a grant from the National Institute of Arts, and, most important of all, the 1960 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.


  • Heart's Needle. New York: Knopf, 1959.
  • After Experience. New York: Harper, 1967.
  •  Remains: A sequence of poems (as "S.S. Gardons"). Perishable Press, 1970
    • revised edition (as W.D. Snodgrass). Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 1985.
  • The Fuehrer Bunker: A cycle of poems in progress. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 1977
    • revised as The Fuehrer Bunker: The complete cycle: Poems. Rochester, NY:  BOA Editions, 1995.
  • If Birds Build with Your Hair. Nadja Press, 1979.
  • The Boy Made Out of Meat. William B. Ewert, 1982.
  • D.D. Byrde Calling Jennie Wrenne. William B. Ewert, 1984.
  • Heinrich Himmler: Platoons and files. Pterodactyl Press, 1985.
  • A Colored Poem. Brighton Press, 1986.
  • The House the Poet Built. Brighton Press, 1986.
  • A Locked House. William B. Ewert, 1986.
  • Selected Poems, 1957-1987. Soho Press, 1987.
  •  W.D.'s Midnight Carnival (with DeLoss McGraw). Artra, 1988.
  • The Death of Cock RobinUniversity of Delaware Press, 1989.
  • To Shape a Song. Nadja Press, 1989.
  • Snow Songs. Nadja Press, 1992.
  • Each in His Season. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 1993.
  • Spring Suite. Nadja Press, 1994.
  • De/Compositions: 101 good poems gone wrong. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2001.
as "S.S. Gardons"
  • These Trees Stand. Carol Joyce, 1981.
  • Autumn Variations. Nadja Press, 1990.


  • In Radical Pursuit (critical essays). New York: Harper, 1975.
  • After-Images: Autobiographical Sketches. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 1999.


  • Christian Morgenstern, Gallows Songs (translated with Lore Segal). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1967.
  • Six Troubadour Songs. Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 1977.
  • Traditional Hungarian Songs. Seluzicki Fine Books, 1978.
  • Six Minnesinger Songs. Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 1983.
  • Selected Translations. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 1998.
  • Five Folk Ballads. Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, 1999.
as "S.S. Gardons"
  • Antonio Vivaldi, The Four Seasons. Tarq, 1984 (also published in Syracuse Scholar),
  • Mihal Eminescu, Star, and other poems. W.B. Ewert, 1990. 

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[6]

Play productionsEdit

  • Max Frisch, Biederman and the Firebugs (translator), produced at the Regent Theater, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, 1966.
  • The Fuehrer Bunker (play; adaptation of book of his poetry of the same title), produced at River Playhouse, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, 1978, then off-Broadway at American Place Theatre, 1981.
  • Dr. Joseph Goebbels, 22 April 1945, produced at West Gate Theatre, New York, 1981.

Except where noted, information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[6]

See alsoEdit


  • W.D. Snodgrass (Twayne's United States authors series; TUSAS 316) by Paul L. Gaston
  • The Poetry of W. D. Snodgrass: Everything Human (Under Discussion) by Stephen Haven (Editor)
  • No music, no poem: Interviews with W.R. Moses & W.D. Snodgrass by Roy Scheele
  • W.D. Snodgrass: A bibliography by William White
  • Tuned and Under Tension: The Recent Poetry of W.D. Snodgrass (edited by Philip Raisor)[7]
  • W.D. Snodgrass and The Führer bunker: an interview, Gaston
  • The First Confessionalist, an interview with Ernest Hilbert in Contemporary Poetry Review [1]
  • An examination of "Discourses on the apostolical succession, by W.D. Snodgrass, D.D by William Johnson
  • American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies, Supplement Vi, Don Delillo to W. D. Snodgrass, edited by Jay Parini
  • Everything Human: On the Poetry of W.D. Snodgrass by Richard Howard


  1. W.D.Snodgrass, After-images: autobiographical sketches, Rochester NY, 1999, p.89ff,
  2. 2.0 2.1 See the biographical sketch at
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.D. Snodgrass dies", Associated Press, January 14, 2009, retrieved same day
  4. See Philip Raisor's introduction to Tuned and Under Tension (Cranbury NJ, 1998, pp.17-25)
  5. David Metzger, "Medievalism and the Problem of Radical Evil in Snodgrass's The Fuehrer Bunker," in: Medievalism in the Modern World. Essays in Honour of Leslie J. Workman, ed. Richard Utz and Tom Shippey (Turnhout: Brepols, 1998), 393-407. Snodgrass made comments to Metzger on early drafts of his essay.
  6. 6.0 6.1 W.D. Snodgrass 1926-2009), Poetry Foundation, Web, Dec. 6, 2012
  7. limited preview to p.29

External linksEdit

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