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The first edition of The Fuehrer Bunker


The music of poetry is its meaning
WD Snodgrass Poet
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Boy, I… I tend to stay away from… from big abstract problems like this! I guess since I was raised, you know, at... at the time when formal verse was it, I started with it; and also above all, that is a form that has a built-in music, and I have written about this at… at some length in other places. That… and I started out as a musician — did… did I talk about this? — I started out as a timpanist in… but I had also worked in piano and violin and got into some other things then like guitars and lutes and stuff, and…and music was always of tremendous importance to me.

And the one thing that I admired about the Beats, the Beat poets, who, you know, completely threw out all forms and so forth, was that they read the poems aloud, and I think I began to think of myself — I think — sort of in the way that I thought of the sort of… of the classical composers, that they were composing for their own performance; and I… and I thought yeah, the Beats are right in… in reading out loud all the time, that the poem isn't something that a… a bunch of little things on a piece of paper which you turn into ideas up here someplace, that you have to hear the music of that in order to get… to get any kind of real richness. I came, you know, I came to feel you… you can do that in free verse if you have a really extraordinary… sense of rhythm.

Whitman had; and in… in his very best poems there is a very… a very definite music and it is quite his own. It isn't like anybody else's. 'Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking, out of the mockingbird's throat, the musical shuttle... down from the showered halo, up from the mystic play of shadow…' you know, and that… that doesn't sound like… like anybody else's music, it's entirely his own, and you know, being as far outside the society as he was, sexually and socially, I can see how that… the… the normal kind of form wouldn't fit him. It didn't fit him in any… no normal form fitted him. Well, I wasn't that far outside… outside the… you know the social limits and forms and so forth, and… and I… so I thought I'm going to try working in both of these things and see what I can do. But you know, if… if you pick up most of the poetry magazines now, you look at it and you think there… there is no music. Now, music can be a fault.

The…They used to say the more music the less meaning. Well, if you are a bad poet, that's true. If you’re… if you're a good poet, you know, the music is the meaning in a… in a very basic way. I was talking to somebody the other night about… about Rilke, oh, and about Lowell telling me to translate… take some of Mrs Norton's Rilke translations and try to kick them into form. You know, you read her translations, and… they… they’re very literal translations of those poems, one… which you know are among certainly the very best of this century, or of last century. I forget which century I'm in! You read them and you think: Why did anybody ever think this was a poem? Then you get a friend who… who is a German native and have him read it. You don't understand German, but you have him read it to you and you know right away why everybody thinks that's a poem, and you'll know that nobody ever rhymed those two words before, ever. Nobody ever thought of that. You know that there is great originality in… in that and there is something that comes from very deep inside him someplace, and… and how did I get off into this subject?

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: Beat poets, Walt Whitman, Rainer Maria Rilke, Robert Lowell, MD Herter Norton

Duration: 5 minutes

Date story recorded: August 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008