David Wagoner, prolific Northwestern poet, dead at 95

Mr. Wagoner was an environmentalist and hiker, admiring the landscapes of the Northwest, but also bemoaning humankind’s cavalier treatmen...


Mr. Wagoner was an environmentalist and hiker, admiring the landscapes of the Northwest, but also bemoaning humankind’s cavalier treatment of nature. “Lost,” a 1972 poem that recommended taking a quiet break in a forest, drew on both sentiments and ended as follows:

No two trees are the same for Raven.
No two branches are the same for Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stay still. The forest knows
There where you are. You have to let him find you.

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But nature was only one subject among many. Mr. Wagoner’s novels, many of which were adventure stories about young people, sometimes drew comparisons to Mark Twain for their colorful dialogue and humor, and his poems too could have a sly side. One of them, included in the 2008 “A Card of the Night” collection, was titled “Trying to write a poem while the couple in the apartment have sex”. It started with these lines:

She’s like a singer who slowly goes astray
trying too hard to remember the words of a song
without words, and his companion
is metronomically dead
to maintain its pitch and tempo, and during this time,
under their feathers and springs, under their carpet,
under my own ceiling, I try to carry on
do something or other from nothing

Some of his most moving poems were personal stories – his first trip to the movies; being fascinated by a dead snake when he was a child. Among the most famous of them, “Their body,” was inspired by her parents’ decision to donate their bodies to science. It began with an epigraph: “To the anatomy students at Indiana University.” A professor there, Mr. Wagoner once said, would read the poem to the students at the start of the semester. It ended up like this:

They had been nice to others all their lives
And believed to be useful. Remember somewhere
Their son tries hard to believe that you will learn
As many of them as possible, like he do,
And will do your best to learn politely and sincerely.
They donated these useful bodies
Against his will. (They had their own ways
Do everything, always.) If you’re not sure
Which are theirs, be gentle with everyone.

David Russell Wagoner – his whimsical poem “Anagrams” noted that the name is an anagram for No Avid Walrus Gelders – was born June 5, 1926 in Massillon, Ohio. When he was 7, the family moved to Whiting, Indiana, an industrial area near Chicago, and his father worked for decades in the steel mills there.

He started writing poems in elementary school.

“I don’t know why,” he said years later. “Certainly not because I read a lot of poetry or know someone who wrote it.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: David Wagoner, prolific Northwestern poet, dead at 95
David Wagoner, prolific Northwestern poet, dead at 95
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