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David Wagoner, Prolific Poet of the Northwest, Is Dead at 95


Mr. Wagoner was a conservationist and an enthusiastic hiker, finding awe in the landscapes of the Northwest but also sometimes lamenting humanity’s cavalier treatment of nature. “Lost,” a 1972 poem that recommended taking a quiet pause in a forest, drew on both sentiments and ended this way:

No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

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But nature was only one subject among many. Mr. Wagoner’s novels, many of them adventure yarns about young people, sometimes drew comparisons to Mark Twain for their colorful dialogue and humor, and his poems too could have a sly streak. One, included in the 2008 collection “A Map of the Night,” was called “Trying to Write a Poem While the Couple in the Apartment Overhead Make Love” and began with these lines:

She’s like a singer straying slowly off key
while trying too hard to remember the words to a song
without words, and her accompanist
is metronomically dead set
to sustain her pitch and tempo, and meanwhile,
under their feathers and springs, under their carpet,
under my own ceiling, I try to go on
making something or other out of nothing

Some of his most moving poems were personal stories — his first trip to the movies; being fascinated with a dead snake as a child. Among the best known of those, “Their Bodies,” was inspired by his parents’ decision to donate their bodies to science. It began with an epigraph: “To the students of anatomy at Indiana University.” A professor there, Mr. Wagoner once said, would read it to students at the start of the semester. The poem ended this way:

They had been kind to others all their lives
And believed in being useful. Remember somewhere
Their son is trying hard to believe you’ll learn
As much as possible from them, as he did,
And will do your best to learn politely and truly.
They gave away the gift of those useful bodies
Against his wish. (They had their own ways
Of doing everything, always.) If you’re not certain
Which ones are theirs, be gentle to everybody.

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


Circassia News

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