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Seeking new subjects for my poetry


Problems with my stepdaughter
WD Snodgrass Poet
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I… I had stopped writing again, and I was in a lot of anguish about this marriage going to hell and the struggles that had come up between my second wife and myself, and on… on the whole he said very little. He was not directive and was very careful, except now and then, if… if you said something that he saw as clearly wrong. We had a lot… lot of troubles with my wife's — my second wife, that is — she had a… a daughter who was, when she came to us, was about four years old. While my wife was in school at Iowa, this child was raised by her grandparents, and she had come to be in control of the household. She had a special meal made for her every meal, to her order, then refused to eat it. She… she would pick food up and bring it up to her mouth and then put it down again and... Her… her grandfather worked as a telegrapher for the railroads. He was a very sweet man. He would get home at midnight, so then she would have another meal made for her at midnight which she would eat with him, and that… that one she’d ate. Well, she looked like… she looked like something out of a concentration camp. I mean her hair had no color, she was… she was just simply skin and bones. You know, she was… she was starving herself, and she was a terrible behavior problem.

I mean there were troubles between my own daughter and her, and we managed somehow to manage some of that by as soon as… as soon as anybody made any move against the other one, they both had to go sit in the corner, and then… then they discovered how well they could work together, and the two of them took off to take on the neighborhood and you could hear the yelps down the street as they... the… the troubles between them got better, but well, very foolishly my wife had… had put her own daughter into the school where my… my daughter was already a student, and they started a terrible fight about, you know, he belongs to me… no, it's my father, you can't have him, you know, and… and when she got there all the teachers were in tears and oh, Jesus. But this got better.

But the fee… the feeding problems did not get better and also she was just very rejective of me, all the time, 'Go away, don't touch me… I hate you' and… and this went on and on and on. And we went and talked to a school counselor about this who said, 'You'll just have to be patient, you'll have to go on', and so I went on being patient and so forth, and one day I went down and she was already in the car with her mother and I got in on the… on the side beside her and she said, 'Don't… don’t you touch me' and I just blew up. I said, 'This is… God damn it, this is my car and… and I am not going to put up with this kind of stuff, you stop that!' And I looked over and she was smiling. You know, I thought: Jesus Christ, I've blown it, I've wrecked it; there goes the marriage. No, that's what she wanted. I mean she wanted some… I guess, what she wanted was somebody strong enough to handle her, and… and to give her attention without all that.

So, after… but it still didn't take, I… I didn't learn it yet, it took a long time, and the analysis came into this at points. I would talk over my problems with her, and the doctor’d have some… had some very... you know, I was doing some things wrong — quite wrong — and he would like… finally we went to… somebody else, another school psychiatrist or something who said that, 'Yes, this child wants you to show strength', and we finally set up a thing where we simply said you will eat the meal that is put in front of you, every bite, you will not hesitate with a single bite holding it up by your mouth trying to get somebody to tell you to… and… and so you can't do it, and if you don't do that, you will be spanked. And we had… and she was spanked I think at every meal for a week, and then began to eat, and began to… the… the flesh took on a glow, the hair began to look good, she be… became quite a happy child.

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: Iowa

Duration: 5 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008