Critical Mass

W.D. Snodgrass on the Difference between Sentiment and the Sentimental

By Eric Banks

When W.D. Snodgrass’s Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems was named a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle awards in poetry, Art Winslow wrote on the poet and his latest work.

Look around for information on W.D. Snodgrass and you will find it impossible to escape biographical characterizations of him as a “confessional” poet; he is often spoken of as the originator of the practice of the personal, as if Whitman had no such proclivities as toilsome he wander’d Virginia’s woods. It is a contention that holds only to the extent that Snodgrass’ early work—notably from Heart’s Needle, which won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1960—stood in stark contrast to the influence and tradition extending from the likes of Pound and Eliot to expunge personal experience from the poem as if it were kryptonite. Snodgrass himself mentions X.J. Kennedy’s fear, expressed in reviewing Heart’s Needle, that “open-faced heart sandwiches” would become the order of the day in poetry (see the Kenyon Review). Read more…