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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 (University of Illinois Press, 2002); Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems (University of Illinois Press, 1999); Walt Whitman Bathing (University of Illinois Press, 1996); Through the Forest: New and Selected Poems (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987); First Light (Little, Brown and Co., 1983); Landfall (Little, Brown and Co., 1981); and In Broken Country (Little, Brown and Co., 1979).

His Collected Poems, 1956-1976 (Indiana University Press, 1976) was nominated for the National Book Award in 1977. His collection Who Shall Be the Sun? (Indiana University Press, 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 (Indiana University Press, 1974); Riverbed (Indiana University Press, 1972); New and Selected Poems (Indiana University Press, 1969); Staying Alive (Indiana University Press, 1966); The Nesting Ground (Indiana University Press, 1963); A Place to Stand (Indiana University Press, 1958); and Dry Sun, Dry Wind (Indiana University Press, 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 nostalgia 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.

This is a Wonderful 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 no distinguishing marks, no I.D. cards,
It wants something of yours but hasn't decided
Whether to ask for it or just take it,
There are no policemen, no friendly neighbors,
No peacekeeping busybodies to yell for, only this
Thing standing between you and the place you were headed,
You have about thirty seconds to get past it, around it,
Or simply to back away and try to forget it,
It won't take no for an answer: try hitting it first
And you'll learn what's trembling in its torn pocket.
Now, what do you want to do about it?

From Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems by David Wagoner. Copyright © 1999 by David Wagoner. Used with permission of the poet and the University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved.

From Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems by David Wagoner. Copyright © 1999 by David Wagoner. Used with permission of the poet and the University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved.

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

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,
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