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What's the job of a poet?


Ralph Ellison: looking honestly at oneself
WD Snodgrass Poet
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I… I was on a stage for a conference with… and… and one… one of the people was Jules Feiffer, one of the people was Ralph Ellison. And we got to talking about Madame Nhu. And… you know, I… I was kind of fascinated… I'd been fascinated with gamelan orchestras and things like this, so I… and I had read up a little bit about her and whatnot. And Ralph said suddenly: 'You know, I get to thinking about it. If I had been raised a strict Roman Catholic as she was, and I was in that position and… and had the things that she had had all her life, I'm not sure how differently I would have behaved'. And I suddenly had this surge of, you know, hu… humanity. You know, I think, Jesus, there's a real man talking. There's a… there's a real person and somebody who knows himself, and… and isn't trying to pat himself on the back all the time and tell us how moral and... and so forth he is, and the rest of the world is not. And I think that… that had a big influence on me there. And… and, and I thought: Ok, let's look at some of those sides of oneself.

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: Jules Feiffer, Ralph Ellison, Madame Nhu

Duration: 1 minute, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008