poem index

March 07, 1995New School UniversityFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

In 1926, David Wagoner was born in Massillon, Ohio. He is the author of numerous poetry collections, including Good Morning and Good Night (University of Illinois Press, 2005); The House of Song (2002); Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems (1999); Walt Whitman Bathing (1996); Through the Forest: New and Selected Poems (1987); First Light (1983); Landfall (1981); and In Broken Country (1979).

His Collected Poems, 1956-1976 was nominated for the National Book Award in 1977. His collection Who Shall Be the Sun? (1978) is a collection of poems based on the folklore, legends, and myths of indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast and Plateau regions. Other collections of poetry include Sleeping in the Woods (1974); Riverbed (1972); New and Selected Poems (1969); Staying Alive (1966); The Nesting Ground (1963); A Place to Stand (1958); and Dry Sun, Dry Wind (1953).

Wagoner is also the author of ten novels, including The Escape Artist (1965), which was adapted into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He is also the editor of Straw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke, 1943-63 (1972).

About Wagoner's poetry, critic Harold Bloom said, "His study of American nostalgias is as eloquent as that of James Wright, and like Wright's poetry carries on some of the deepest currents in American verse."

He has received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Sherwood Anderson Award, the Fels Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Eunice Tjetjens Memorial and English-Speaking Union prizes from Poetry magazine, and fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, he was the editor of Poetry Northwest from 1966 until its last issue in 2002. He lives in Bothell, Washington.


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

The Junior High School Band Concert

David Wagoner, 1926
When our semi-conductor
Raised his baton, we sat there
Gaping at Marche Militaire,
Our mouth-opening number.
It seemed faintly familiar
(We'd rehearsed it all that winter),
But we attacked in such a blur,
No army anywhere
On its stomach or all fours
Could have squeezed through our crossfire.

I played cornet, seventh chair,
Out of seven, my embouchure
A glorified Bronx cheer
Through that three-keyed keyhole stopper
And neighborhood window-slammer
Where mildew fought for air
At every exhausted corner,
My fingering still unsure
After scaling it for a year
Except on the spit-valve lever.

Each straight-faced mother and father
Retested his moral fiber
Against our traps and slurs
And the inadvertent whickers
Paradiddled by our snares,
And when the brass bulled forth
A blare fit to horn over
Jericho two bars sooner
Than Joshua's harsh measures,
They still had the nerve to stare.

By the last lost chord, our director
Looked older and soberer.
No doubt, in his mind's ear
Some band somewhere
In some music of some Sphere
Was striking a note as pure
As the wishes of Franz Schubert,
But meanwhile here we were: 
A lesson in everything minor,
Decomposing our first composer.
David Wagoner

David Wagoner

Born in 1926, David Wagoner is the author of numerous collections of poetry and he served as a chancellor for the Academy of American Poets

by this poet

poem
Chicago ran a fever of a hundred and one that groggy Sunday.
A reporter fried an egg on a sidewalk; the air looked shaky.
And a hundred thousand people were in the lake like shirts in 
   a laundry.
Why was Johnny lonely?
Not because two dozen solid citizens, heat-struck, had keeled
   over backward.
Not because
poem
Come at it carefully, don't trust it, that isn't its right name,
It's wearing stolen rags, it's never been washed, its breath
Would look moss-green if it were really breathing,
It won't get out of the way, it stares at you
Out of eyes burnt gray as the sidewalk,
Its skin is overcast with colorless dirt,
It has