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Writing about what matters: Heart's Needle


The influence of Hugues Cuénod
WD Snodgrass Poet
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There were two other things that affected how I wrote while I was there and they were both music. Won… there's a wonderful Swiss tenor who… who is just coming in… into… into the scene then and they played a record of his one day, his name's Hugues Cuenod, I can't pronounce it pro, his name — H-U-G-U-E-S — but it's pronounced like Ugh, some of the troubadours for instance spelt their name — U-C— well that's the way his name is pronounced. He's a Swiss tenor and it's very different from any of the singing I had ever heard, it's right through the nose and pang, pong, pang, note after note after note, exact. And it's rather dry; it doesn't have all that vibrato that… that I hated in… in operatic singing of the 1920s and ‘30s, all that overdriven quality. You know, it sounds like you're trying to start a truck on a cold morning. Jesus Christ what is this? No, it… he was a… and… and he was becoming an enormous big star then. For example, when Stravinsky first heard him sing, he wrote a part for him into The Rake's Progress. And he was travelling around the country with Nadia Boulanger and all the… all the composers of that period studied with Nadia Boulanger, all the, you know, big musicians of almost any sort. I mean you had to have studied with her or… or you just, you… you weren't there. He had a record of Spanish and Italian songs of the 16th and 17th century that came on the radio one day — the university's radio station played a lot of classical music — and they played this one day and my hair just leapt… leap up off my head; I thought: you know the poems I'm writing have got everything they need, except that kind of passion and that kind of clarity and you gotta go for that.

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: The Rake's Progress, Hugues Cuenod, Igor Stravinsky, Nadia Boulanger

Duration: 2 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008