SNODGRASS: Poetry and Personality

Paris Review Quote The Art of Poetry No. 68, W. D. Snodgrass

Full Quote in Context:


How do you account for the opposition to autobiographical work like this?


Everybody was listening to T. S. Eliot then. He said that poetry wasn’t personality, but the escape from personality. They ignored the next sentence, which said that you have to have a personality in the first place to want to escape from. Nobody wanted to hear that. I was greatly influenced by my psychotherapy at the time, and by Randall Jarrell’s criticism of my work. First of all, Jarrell didn’t like those of my poems which had been praised by other critics—Allen Tate, Cleanth Brooks, John Ransom, Robert Lowell. He liked a couple of my translations—one from Rilke and one from Ovid—which I’d thought of as academic exercises. He thought the rest of my pieces were academic exercises. I was amazed to find that he cared about the story—what was happening in the poem. Above all, he helped get me out from under Lowell’s influence. He said, Snodgrass, do you know you’re writing the very best second-rate Lowell in the country? Nothing against Lowell, it’s just that I’d stayed under his influence long enough. In general, Jarrell helped me get away from a sort of high-flown and over-intellectualized language that, by now, seems to me pretty pretentious. He said, What are you trying to do, turn yourself into a fireworks factory? Actually, his criticism was very cruel and full of mockery. But he was right.