David Wagoner Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Best known as a poet and novelist, David Wagoner (WAG-uh-nuhr) has also written plays—An Eye for an Eye for an Eye was produced in Seattle in 1973—as well as short fiction and essays. He edited and wrote the introduction to Straw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke, 1943-1963 (1972).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

It is possible that David Wagoner will be best remembered as one of the finest “nature” and “regional” poets of twentieth century America, and as one who has been instrumental in generating renewed interest in Native American lore. To categorize him so narrowly, however, does disservice to his versatility, and to the breadth of his talent and interests. Publishing steadily since the early 1950’s, Wagoner has created a body of work that impresses not only for the number of volumes produced, but also for their quality. His novels have been praised for their energy and humor and in many cases for the immediacy of their Old West atmosphere. He received a Ford Fellowship for drama (1964), but it is as a poet that he has been most often honored: with a Guggenheim Fellowship (1956), a National Institute of Arts and Letters Grant (1967), and a National Endowment for the Arts Grant (1969). Poetry has awarded him its Morton Dauwen Zabel Prize (1967), its Oscar Blumenthal Prize (1974), its Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize (1971), its Levinson Prize (1994), and its Union League Civic and Arts Poetry Prize (1997). Sleeping in the Woods, Collected Poems, 1956-1976, and In Broken Country were nominated for National Book Awards. He won Pushcart Prizes in 1979 and 1983. Wagoner served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1978 to 1999, succeeding Robert Lowell. He received an Academy Award in literature (1987) from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1991), the Ohioana Book Award (1997) for Walt Whitman Bathing, and two Washington State Book Awards in Poetry (2000, 2009).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Boyers, Robert. “The Poetry of David Wagoner.” Review of Staying Alive. Kenyon Review 32 (Spring, 1970): 176-181. An appreciative review noting that Staying Alive marks a turning point in Wagoner’s development. Boyers states that from this point forward, Wagoner could claim to be a major figure in contemporary American poetry.

Durczak, Joanna. “David Wagoner: Instructor Against Instructors.” Treading Softly, Speaking Low: Contemporary American Poetry in the Didactic Mode. Lublin, Poland: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu, 1994. Uniquely useful as an extended analysis of Wagoner’s “Handbook” poems.

Lieberman, Laurence. “David Wagoner: The Cold Speech of the Earth.” In Unassigned Frequencies: American Poetry in Review, 1964-1977. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977. Looks at how this poet maps out a topography through his choice of words and images. Compares the later poems with the earlier ones and cites the same imagination but with greater depth of vision. Offers strong, in-depth criticism of Collected Poems, 1956-1976 and places Wagoner in the company of Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Edgar Lee Masters, and William Stafford.

McFarland, Ronald E. The World of David Wagoner. Moscow: University of Idaho Press, 1997. Presents literary criticism and interpretation...

(The entire section is 495 words.)