Collected Poems, 1956-1976
David Wagoner’s collection is an update of selected poems of a decade ago, a kind of progress report. It does not contain poems from his first volume, published—as are most of his poems—by Indiana University Press; but it does have forty-two new poems. After a twenty-five-year academic career as Professor of English as the University of Washington and at DePauw and Penn State, and after a tour of duty in the Navy, David Wagoner brings a varied experience into this compendium of a life lived. His novels are adventure stories, folksy, and in his poetry he has as he says, “an affinity for the dramatic lyric, in tones ranging from the loud and satiric through the quiet and conversational.”
Wagoner is essentially a poet, although he has written eight novels. He no longer writes in the vein of his mentor and colleague, Theodore Roethke, perhaps having exorcised this spirit through an excellent editing of the notebooks. Nor does he emulate the Poetry Northwest writers, being farther above prose. He has established an idiom, a clear line of development that is varied in theme, eclectic in method. The idiom derives from a vision of man at ease in nature, at home, among friends.
A thread of continuity is provided by epigraphs—news items, notes, quotations, recollections, even directions. These furnish themes ranging from frivolous to profound. Wagoner’s metaphors are always original and exact; verses are based on a calculus problem, a profile form, a social note, and such quotations as “nobody can enlarge upon an odor,” or “Everyman, stand still.” Often the titles evoke the theme, as in a series of etiological myths retold as “How” poems or the “Song” sequences, which, if not the most successful pieces in the collection, are bold and experimental. Another series of poems extends the dedication to Patt; these are oblique love poems to a marriage that lasts, of an anniversary, a picnic, a gift wrapping, a gesture, or a series of observations of the beloved at ease with, say, a jealous parrot who quotes Yeats, or a refractory burro (“one arm around his neck, she whispers/ Into his unpromising,...
(The entire section is 882 words.)