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Traveling Light: COLLECTED AND NEW POEMS (Illinois Poetry Series) Paperback – May 25, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
William Carlos Williams's dictum "No ideas but in things" has always been inspirational for Wagoner, but always run through his particular wrench: "You've learned what you can about this watery sky,/ Its rearrangement of your slight reflections,/ Its turmoil" declares the speaker of "By a River." While Wagoner can usually be found writing about a familiar range of topicsAhis native Midwest, the environmentalist concerns of his adopted Northwest (loggers and hunters are main targets), romantic love, and nature's evocation of intimacy, wonder and alienationAhis imaginative scope is never confined by his preoccupations. In a manner similar to another steady American, Robert Penn Warren, he's mastered the poetic sequence ("Landscapes"; "Traveling Light"), and in a series on his late father, a steel-mill worker, he colloquially recalls his own sympathetic gestures: "I shook the dying and dead/ Ashes down through the grate/ And, with firetongs, hauled out clinkers/ Like the vertebrae of monsters." Early poems are crammed with advice on surviving life in the woods: campsites will seem "deeply, starkly appealing/ Like a lost home"; a bear "may feel free/ To act out all his own displeasures with a vengeance." Such lessons yield to a sense of physical fragility in the septuagenarian poet: the title poem to the award-winning Walt Whitman Bathing imagines the aging American bard dancing "A few light steps, his right leg leading the way/ Unsteadily but considerately for the left/ As if with an awkward partner." Whether recognizing that the dead "have no need of us" or that a maple's "roots seem/ Barely supple and springy enough, if bent/ From their set ways, to keep from breaking," Wagoner's newest efforts continue to find what it takes for Williams' "things" to become metaphorical. (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Containing samples from Wagoner's long career (most recently Walt Whitman Bathing, LJ 8/96), this volume becomes more frustrating as it goes along. In his early work, Wagoner insists on pontificating to an abstract "you." His kinship with nature is at first enchanting: protective and critical of such enemies as those chopping down redwoods in Washington. Continual prayers for nature become prayers for both himself and humankind. But love poems, because of their generality and the landscape as backdrop, veer dangerously close to sentimentality. Poems from Wagoner's earlier Who Shall Be the Sun? (LJ 11/15/78) are imitations of Indian myths, and his trespassing on territory not his own is doubly annoying. Still, Wagoner can come up with some extremely good poems, particularly when writing about his family and childhood: "Bums at Breakfast" and "The Laughing Boy" should not be missed. Since many of the best are in the "New Poems" section, it might make sense to wait for his next volume.ARochelle Ratner, formerly poetry editor, "Soho Weekly News," New York
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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David Wagoner manages to be accessible and profound at the same time, not an easy thing to do as well as he does it. I don't know about you, but I often find one or two poems I really like in any book of poetry. The rest are often okay, but don't make me dumbstruck like the best poems do. But one poem after another, Wagoner has me. His writing isn't just honest (though it is that), it isn't just from the heart (though it is surely that). It seems to come from a deep well of wisdom within him, and David Wagoner is the kind of guy you'd love to chat with over a pint or two for hours in some quiet pub. Or at least I would.