Today is the 83rd birthday of American poet W.D. Snodgrass! The year 2009 also marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Snodgrass’ renowned first collection, Heart’s Needle, winner of the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. I first discovered his work in prison, around 1995 when I was working as a reference clerk in the library at Marion Correctional Institution.
I won’t try to write an in-depth blog about the man. Edward Byrne of the Valparaiso Poetry Review has already done an excellent job of that today, so I’ll refer you to his: http://edwardbyrne.blogspot.com/2009/01/wd-snodgrass-appreciation.html. I would, however, like to share this brief Snodgrass-related true story with you.
Bear in mind that when I discovered W.D.’s poetry, the book it was in dated from the 1960s, and I had no knowledge whatsoever of what he’d been up to in recent decades or even whether he was alive or dead. A year or so later, in one of the many ‘zines I subscribed to (I believe it was a Wiccan one), I read a rather poetic letter to the editor by an elderly gentleman named William Snodgrass who was incarcerated at another Ohio prison (Grafton Correctional Institution). Always looking for interesting folks to correspond with, I wrote the inmate a letter – in it asking if it was possible that he was the famous poet. He replied that indeed he was the author of Heart’s Needle, although he wasn’t as much interested in being known as a poet anymore as he was in pagan spirituality. He said his friends often refered to him as Lord Odin – and encouraged me to do so, too.
(I’ve got the letters we exchanged somewhere in one of my boxes – when I can find them, I’ll post them here.)
At first I was very excited to believe I was corresponding with THE W.D. Snodgrass – and I felt very sad that such a fine poet had come to such an inglorious end. Gradually, as we exchanged more letters – and as a couple of my acquaintances in Marion transferred to Grafton, met the man, and wrote to me about him – I came to realize that the William Snodgrass in an Ohio prison was NOT the Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.D. Snodgrass. He hadn’t lied about his name – but he had deceived me nonetheless.
When I came home in 2004, I was able to research both Snodgrasses and confirm that they were completely different men. The inmate has been home for at least a few years now and, from what I hear, is leading a quiet, law-abiding existence (he’s in his upper 70s). As for the real poet W.D. Snodgrass – in addition to his many fine books, he has had a distinguished career in academia – teaching at institutions including Cornell, Syracuse, Wayne State, Rochester, The University of Delaware and Old Dominion.
Happy 83rd birthday, Mr. Snodgrass! I’m happy to know you’re not that criminal and ex-convict after all – and I’ve enjoyed reading much more of your excellent work since 1995. But I have to admit it would have been a heck of a story if the pseudo W.D. Snodgrass hadn’t been pulling my heart’s needle. Can I still call you Lord Odin?
P.S. Don’t forget to check out Edward Byrne’s blog.
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I would love to include some of W.D. Snodgrass’ poetry in the Crisis Chronicles Online Library, if he will grant me permission. Meanwhile, I would like to recommend these works, available through Amazon.com: