David Wojahn Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although David Wojahn (WOH-jahn) is primarily a poet, he edited The Pushcart Prize XI: Best of the Small Presses (1986), along with Bill Henderson and Philip Levine, and with Jack Myers, a comprehensive anthology of contemporary poetry, A Profile of Twentieth Century American Poetry (1991). He edited two posthumous collections of poetry by his wife, Lynda Hull, The Only World (1995) and Collected Poems (2006). He wrote Strange Good Fortune: Essays on Contemporary Poetry (2000).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

David Wojahn merited success early in his career. Richard Hugo selected Wojahn’s first collection, Icehouse Lights, for publication in the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Wojahn received the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America for Icehouse Lights, the Society of Midland Authors’ Award (1987) for Glassworks, the Celia B. Wagner Award from the Poetry Society of America, the George Kent Memorial Prize from Poetry magazine, the O. B. Hardison, Jr., Poetry Prize from the Folger Shakespeare Library (2007), and the Carole Weinstein Prize in Poetry (2008), a $10,000 annual award that recognizes poets with strong ties to Central Virginia who have contributed significantly to the art of poetry. In 2007, Interrogation Palace was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and was the sole finalist in the competition to receive the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize given by the Academy of American Poets. His poems have appeared in Georgia Review, The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, and many other magazines and journals.

From 1987 to 1988, he was the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholar. He has earned several major fellowships, including awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and the Dominion Foundation named Wojahn as one of twelve recipients of the 2009 Outstanding Faculty Award. Wojahn also received Virginia Commonwealth University’s Distinguished Scholarship Award in 2009. Wojahn has regularly been invited to judge regional and national poetry competitions. Since 2003, he has served on the advisory board for the literary quarterly Hunger Mountain and as contributing editor for the Pushcart Prize series.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Elledge, Jim, ed. Sweet Nothings: An Anthology of Rock and Roll in American Poetry. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. This anthology presents a collection of poems that use rock and roll as source material. Elledge includes Wojahn’s comments about the poems collected here. Included are “Buddy Holly” (Icehouse Lights), “Song of the Burning” (Glassworks), and “W. C. W. Watching Presley’s Second Appearance on ’The Ed Sullivan Show’” (Mystery Train).

Jauss, David. “To Become Music or Break: Lynda Hull as an Undergraduate.” Crazyhorse 55 (Winter, 1998). A poignant essay discussing the poetry of Lynda Hull, Wojahn’s deceased wife. Written by one of her teachers, the essay discusses Wojahn’s influence on her poetry. Both men were her instructors at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Rogoff, Jay. “Better Poetry Through Chemistry.” Review of Interrogation Palace. Southern Review 43, no. 2 (Spring, 2007): 451-462. Refers to an essay by T. S. Eliot in his description of Wojahn’s ability to combine disparate narratives in his poetry. Traces the poet’s development through his collections, with reference to this technique.

Stein, Kevin. “Manipulating Cultural Assumptions: Transgressions and Obedience in David Wojahn’s Rock ’n’ Roll Sonnets.” In Private Poets, Worldly Acts. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997. Presents a cogent analysis of Wojahn’s use of rock and roll, especially how he deals with the cultural assumptions against which the poems work.

Wojahn, David. “How Do You Bottle the Lightning?” Interview by Anna Journey. Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts 22, no. 1 (Winter/Spring, 2010). An in-depth and very informative interview with Wojahn conducted at Wojahn’s home in July, 2008.

_______. “’If You Have to Be Sure Don’t Write’: Poetry and Self-Doubt.” In Words Overflown by Stars: Creative Writing Instruction and Insight from the Vermont College of Fine Arts M.F.A. Program, edited by David Jauss. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writers Digest Books, 2009. In an essay designed for writers, Wojahn discusses the composition of poetry and the necessary mind-set.

_______. “An Interview with David Wojahn.” Interview by Jonathan Veitch. Contemporary Literature 36, no. 3 (Fall, 1995): 393-411. Wojahn comments on the influences that have shaped his poems. He notes his love for poets such as James Wright and Richard Hugo and his interest in family history, especially the way the mind works to remember events and details.