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This article is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

Two Unpublished Letters (edited by Jeffrey Meyers) W.D. Snodgrass
The poet W.D. Snodgrass (1926–2009) was born in Pennsylvania, served in the wartime Navy, studied with Robert Lowell at the University of Iowa in 1947–51 and with Randall Jarrell at the University of Colorado summer school in 1951. He was a fellow guest with Robert Frost at the Washington, D.C. Poetry Festival during the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. Snodgrass won the Pulitzer Prize for his first book, Heart’s Needle (1959), a tender and intricate account of a father’s divorce and separation from his daughter. This book influenced the confessional poetry of Lowell’s Life Studies, Anne Sexton’s To Bedlam and Part Way Back and Sylvia Plath’s The Colossus. Snodgrass taught for many years at Cornell, Rochester, Wayne State, Syracuse and Delaware.

When I was writing Manic Power: Robert Lowell and His Circle (1987) and Robert Frost: A Biography (1996), I asked Snodgrass for biographical information. He generously provided this in two typed, single-spaced, brilliantly perceptive and amusing letters. The first letter, 2 December 1981, three-and-a-half pages, discusses Randall Jarrell’s complex connections with women, his serious interest in tennis, effective teaching, relations with students, useful tuition of and cruel attacks on Snodgrass as well as Jarrell’s first and second wives, and other sources of information. The second letter, 24 September 1994, two-and-a-half pages, analyses Robert Frost’s competitive streak, suicide themes, appearance at the Washington Poetry Festival, Jarrell’s and Richard Blackmur’s negative response to him, Frost’s destructive joy, his soliciting three ovations and Snodgrass’ reaction.


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