Through the Forest

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As a lover of the natural, unfenced world, and as a despiser of people who destroy it, Wagoner is clearly in a league with Robinson Jeffers, William Everson, Gary Snyder, and William Stafford. There are, for example, especially in the first and third sections of this volume, a number of didactic poems (“To a Farmer Who Hung Five Hawks on His Barbed Wire” and “An Address to Weyerhaeuser, the Tree-Growing Company” are the shrillest and least successful of this group). Yet, didacticism is uncharacteristic of Wagoner’s poetry; so is the inhumanism begun by Jeffers and carried on in a more programmatic way by Snyder (indeed, THROUGH THE FOREST -- particularly the third and fifth sections--is replete with poems of love to or about people who have been positive forces in Wagoner’s life).

Characteristic of Wagoner’s poetry is the openhearted way he enters the natural world (in such poems as “Sharpshin,” “Marsh Hawk,” “Loons Mating,” and “Whisper Song”), and his visual acuity and verbal deftness in portraying, with no apparent artifice, the beautiful integrity germane to nature and its laws. Wagoner savors such entries into the world of wild things, a world composed of what he frequently calls “charmed circles.” As he illustrates in “Wading in the Marsh,” “Sitting by a Swamp,” and “Chorus,” Wagoner believes human entry into these circles is not only a delicate maneuver but also a necessary one--if, that is, a person desires to find with nonhuman creatures a “common ground” where, the poet says, “I wait/ To be what they want me to be:/ Less human.”