WHEN TWO ARTS INTERACT: Poet W.D. Snodgrass, artist DeLoss McGraw
IT was a collaboration that began with a fan letter: a note from an unknown artist to a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. DeLoss McGraw, a budding watercolorist and art teacher, wrote to W.D. Snodgrass, a ranking member of the Confessional School of Poetry, asking permission to use the poet's name in a series of paintings inspired by Mr. Snodgrass's award-winning collection, ``Heart's Needle.'' From those two initial watercolors in 1981 - ``W.D. Snodgrass, You Sentimental Fool'' and ``Silly Man, Come Out of the Storm'' - grew an exceptionally fertile, and largely unprecedented, artistic collaboration. The resulting series of paintings and poems, entitled ``Who Killed Cock Robin?,'' proved to be some of the more significant work each artist has produced.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
For Mr. McGraw, the paintings were among his first to become commercially successful. For Snodgrass, the poems are among the most lyrical he has written, and represent a fresh burst of creativity 25 years after his initial success.
Although the two artists live at opposite ends of the country - Snodgrass in Delaware and McGraw in southern California - and have met infrequently, they continue to collaborate. The Cock Robin poems are included in Snodgrass's most recent anthology, ``Selected Poems, 1957-1987.'' And next spring, the University of Delaware will issue the first volume of poems and paintings, ``Who Killed Cock Robin?''
Oklahoma-born McGraw still speaks with a native drawl reinforced by a California casualness. He wears a rakish bow tie, sneakers, and no socks, and talks in animated bursts. Snodgrass, who continues to teach at the University of Delaware, is a classic 'eminence grise. Tall and silver-haired, he sports a flowing, Karl Marx-ish beard and a sotto voce demeanor. Both men showed great humor and deference - and a slight tendency to disagree - during the following interview. The discussion took place with Hilary DeVries in Philadelphia, after a reading by Snodgrass of his poems, in ``The Death of Cock Robin?,'' at the Giannetta Gallery.
This is the first time you two had ``performed'' together, isn't it?
McGraw: I had not heard you read your works until last night.
Snodgrass: Oh, that can't be true!
McGraw: I had only heard a tape. It was very interesting to hear you comment on the paintings. Sometimes you could not be farther from the truth, other times you were right on target.
De [Snodgrass], your poems have undergone a major stylistic and thematic change since collaborating with Del. What was it that first attracted you to his paintings, other than the fact that they were about your poems?
Snodgrass: I hadn't written light things, in a way virtuoso things, since the beginning of my career. I had finished a big cycle of poems on the Nazis called ``The Fuehrer Bunker'' and I thought I would leave it and go on. ... But it also has to do with Del's paintings and their quality of playfulness. Del, I think, wants to keep a quality of improvisation in his work all the time, a sort of tossed-offness. Usually, I might be working on a poem for 10, 12, 20 years, and most of it is very carefully planned and plotted ahead of time.
Del, what first attracted you to De's poetry?
McGraw: I had read De's work in college and responded to it. Later, when I was going through a divorce and I was looking around for someone I could identify with, I picked up ``Heart's Needle'' again, which is about him losing his child during a divorce, and that was it. I had read enough of his work so that I saw the two sides: I saw a darkness and a lighter side.
I had never seen De's work as dark as everyone said. I gave a talk about De and a man came up to me and said, ``How do you two get along? He's so dark.'' And I said I'd never seen him as dark. He's got a great sense of irony; he will laugh at himself. He talks about darkness, but the only way he can look at it for a lifetime is with humor.