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Poets who influenced my early poetry


Learning the 'rules' of playwriting
WD Snodgrass Poet
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She asked us each to make up a scenario for a play, I was interested then… I had been reading Trevor-Roper about… you know, it was after the war, and his book about the death of the Nazis; I was really interested in this and I thought I'd like to dramatize some of this. I wrote… wrote out a thing about this. When she brought back everybody's scenarios that day, she picked up mine, held her nose and carried it through the room and handed it to me. She was known to the whole campus as the bitch and in those days you didn't use that word unless you were ready for a fist fight. I mean it was like… you know, the things that 15 year old society girls say these days, in those days would… would get you broken teeth. But, then… so then she said, 'Let’s… let’s all go together, all… all of us together, we will write a scenario'. And says, 'Now the situate… the basic situation will be this'; and she would ask questions from… from the other students and they were… they were all drama students and… but then finally she would, well that isn't quite, what about this, finally they decided they want a little orphan girl. Honest! She's living in an orphanage and she has dreams of becoming a concert pianist; however, the real hero isn't the little girl, it's her teacher, her older teacher who knows that the little girl doesn't have talent enough for this. So she wants her to learn a related skill: typing! But if the girl is going to learn typing she… she is going to be… have to kept in the orphanage for a year… year or two extra from the age when they're usually booted out. So she… her task is to try to get them to extend the little girl's time in the college… well she's a teenager by now, of course; the… and I… I don't remember how it ended up but it is just so silly, it is so bad, well anyway, when this was all made up and it… it was all written down she said, 'Now let's go around the class and see what you think of this' and she went around to each of the class and they would say, 'Oh yes, I think that's a really gripping story and I think it… it… I think it could probably… it might go to New York and it would… it would certainly after that, then it… then it would go to small theatres around the country and… and it might have several… several good years of that and… and probably become a… a kind of standard…' one person after another said this. They came to me and I said, ‘I think that's the worse trash I ever heard’. I… you know, I said… I had already mentioned Medea, Macbeth, all these horrendous people, she says, 'No the essence of it is it has to be somebody likable, why else would the audience watch. The central figure has to be lovable, likable', she says ‘these aren't likeable people’. I… I said but… you know, I said, 'What about Medea, what about Macbeth what…' she said, 'You have to learn the rules before you can break them'. Well anyway, so I… I got out of the theatre, I… I knew there was nothing there for me.

American poet WD Snodgrass, entered the world of poetry with a bang winning several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, for his first collection of poetry, Heart's Needle. A backlash followed his controversial fifth anthology “The Fuehrer Bunker”, but in recent years these poems have been reassessed and their importance recognised.

Listeners: William B. Patrick

William B. Patrick is a writer and poet who lives in Troy, New York. Among his work are the poetry volumes "We Didn't Come Here for This" and "These Upraised Hands", the novel "Roxa: Voices of the Culver Family" and the plays "Rescue" and "Rachel's Dinner". His most recent work is the non-fiction book "Saving Troy", based on the year he spent following the Troy Fire Department.

Mr. Patrick has been Writer-in-Residence at the New York State Writers Institute and has taught at Old Dominion University, Onondaga Community College, and Salem State College, and workshops in Screenwriting and Playwriting at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference in Roanoke, Virginia. He has received grants from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Tags: Medea, Macbeth, Nazis, New York, Hugh Trevor-Roper

Duration: 3 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008