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About this poet

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on August 22, 1953, David Wojahn was educated at the University of Minnesota and the University of Arizona.

His collections of poetry include Icehouse Lights, chosen by Richard Hugo as a winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize in 1982; Glassworks (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1987); Mystery Train (1990); Late Empire (1994); The Falling Hour (1997) and Spirit Cabinet (2002). Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982-2004 (2006), was a named finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and was the winner of the O.B. Hardison Award from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Wojahn's most recent collection World Tree (2011) was the recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

Of Wojahn's winning book, Linda Gregerson said, "David Wojahn's World Tree is a book of consummate vision and artistry. Exquisitely cadenced, politically astute, large of heart, and keen of mind, these are poems of extraordinary moral penetration. They are also a joy to read: David Wojahn is working at the height of his powers."

Wojahn is also the author of a collection of essays on contemporary poetry, Strange Good Fortune (University of Arkansas Press, 2001), editor (with Jack Myers) of A Profile of 20th Century American Poetry (Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), and editor of two posthumous collections of Lynda Hull's poetry, The Only World (HarperCollins, 1995) and Collected Poems (Graywolf, 2006).

His awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Virginia, Illinois, and Indiana Councils for the Arts, and an Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Scholarship.

He is presently professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, and is also a member of the program faculty of the MFA in Writing Program of Vermont College of the Fine Arts.

Another Epistle to Frank O'Hara

David Wojahn, 1953
On the Forty-Ninth Birthday of "The Day Lady Died"
It is 3:00 in the torpid New South, three days past Bastille Day & yes
        this is the form you fashioned,
isn't it? Exact & fast & haunted as the opening chords of "Sweet Jane"
        (Mott the Hoople version),
which pulses from the minivan as I drive from shrink to soccer camp, shirtpocket
        staining my new Rx with sweat,

the bank thermometer flashing 103, the day's new record. We still
        use Fahrenheit, Frank
(if I may call you Frank). I might add that we are in deep shit,
        icecaps turning slush,
a gallon of regular more pricey than an opera ticket, not to mention
        a pair of wars, one of which

just killed a reservist—the husband of my son's kindergarten teacher.
        IED, it's called: your body parts
sail for blocks. How do you explain this to a six-year-old, Frank?
        Gauloises & Strega & your endless
namechecks seem beside the point; even the willowy & ravished
        junkie whisper of late

Lady Day cannot console. They have confiscated our cabaret licenses
        & men in camouflage turn men
in orange jumpsuits into whimpering fetal balls. Head slap, stress position,
        waterboard. Explain this
to a six-year-old. Today in the shrink-office Time, an obit for
        your long-lived buddy

Robert Rauschenberg—the trick is not to impose order but to make
        the most of chaos.
Uh huh. The Odyssey's—yes that's the name, Odyssey Espresso—unwieldy
        as a subway car & I'm running
yellow lights to make it on time to the Y, where Jake will stand
        by the potted doorway marigolds,

backpack, NASA baseball cap, his new black soccer cleats
        in hand. Then together
it's hardware store & CVS: ant killer, a/c filters, orange tabs
        to twist the dials of serotonin,
a goofy card for Noelle's fiftieth. Also her grocery list: milk, dinner,
        eggs, cheap pinot noir & a cheaper

(please, David) chardonnay this time. My skills at self-portratiure,
        we can both agree,
are limited. At two a.m. most nights I wake in terror. I pray
        to your good spirit, Frank,
that I be worthy of this life, longer than yours already by a decade
        & a half. & I am back

in a Minnesota dorm room, eighteen, snow occluding Fourth Street,
        colder than today by
one hundred degrees, & spellbound I page your big new phonebook-sized
        Collected, the "suppressed"
Larry Rivers cover, where naked you stand, posing Rodin-ishly.
        (Where is it now? Tattered

& worth a dozen tanks of premium.) & it's grace to be born
        & to live as variously as possible.
Grace o soccer cleat, Xanax, Odyssey, grace o standin-on-the-corner
o seasons, o castles, o elegant & gracious & bedazzling Noelle,
        who waiteth for me to uncork

Rex Goliath. Grace o box set Billie Holiday: The Final Sessions,
        orchid ashimmer in her lacquered hair.
& Congressional hearings—Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo: let's start
        the war crimes tril now. Grace o milk,
dinner, eggs, o Chamber of the Felines at Lascaux, o my damaged
        life mask of Keats on the wall,

who now, poor bloke, looks trepanned. Grace o Microsoft Word
        (fucked up as it is), Grace
o songs of Junior Parker, Robyn Hitchcock, Grant McLennan. & wise
        George Oppen—
did you know him, Frank?—writing thusly in his Daybook:
        you men may wish

to write poetry. At 55, my desires are more specific.

From World Tree by David Wojahn. Copyright © 2012 by David Wojahn. Published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

David Wojahn

David Wojahn

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on August 22, 1953, David Wojahn was educated at the University of Minnesota and the University of Arizona.

by this poet

. . . 

& how, o spirits, shall I invoke you, who cannot count himself
    among the chosen?
My writings & keenings are interior & treated by appropriate
    prescription drugs,

to whom my conversion is incomplete, for some days I devote myself
    solely to my dead
& in my error I do seek them

Coming always from below, blade wail & its pungency


laddering up toward my childhood room, my nostrils


sick-sweet with it. Below he worked his grave machines,


tintinnabulous their whirr & snarl.


His face in

From euphoria at the blossom's destruction


in time-lapse, save us. We quicken & hiss like serpents,


our tongues flick us forward. We are studies of peritonitis


at the U.S. Forensic Death Farm in Tennessee. From the stunned