Thursday, January 5, 2012

W.D. Snodgrass, born January 5, 1926

Today is the birthday of poet W.D Snodgrass, who died on January 14, 2009 at his home in Erieville, New York, near Syracuse. He taught at Syracuse University 1968-1977 and I am glad to have been a student of his in 1973-1974. He gained early fame with his first book of poems Heart's Needle in 1959, which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1960.

"Who Steals My Good Name" was originally published in Poetry magazine, April 2003, and collected in Not For Specialists (2006).

"Who Steals My Good Name"
W.D. Snodgrass

(For the person who obtained my debit card number
and spent $11,000 in five days)

My pale stepdaughter, just off the school bus,
Scowled, "Well, that's the last time I say my name's
Snodgrass!" Just so, may that anonymous
Mexican male who prodigally claims

My clan lines, identity and the sixteen
Digits that unlock my bank account,
Think twice. That less than proper name's been
Taken by three ex-wives, each for an amount

Past all you've squandered, each more than pleased
To change it back. That surname you affect
May have more consequence than getting teased
By dumb kids or tracked down by bank detectives.

Don't underrate its history: one of ours played
Piano on his prison's weekly broadcast;
One got rich on a scammed quiz show; one made
A bungle costing the World Series. My own past

Could subject you to guilt by association:
If you write anything more than false checks,
Abandon all hope of large press publication
Or prizes — critics shun the name like sex

Without a condom. Whoever steals my purse
Helps chain me to my writing desk again
For fun and profit. So take thanks with my curse:
May your pen name help send you to your pen.

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