Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems

Overview

In a style by turns direct and intricate, Wagoner distills the essential emotions from people's encounters with each other, with nature, and with themselves. Posing questions and "backing off from answers at just the right moment," Wagoner guides the reader to the edge of the unknown and lights the path to the first turning.
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Overview

In a style by turns direct and intricate, Wagoner distills the essential emotions from people's encounters with each other, with nature, and with themselves. Posing questions and "backing off from answers at just the right moment," Wagoner guides the reader to the edge of the unknown and lights the path to the first turning.
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Editorial Reviews

Vernon Young
In all American literature there is not, I think, a sequence of poetry more remarkable, nor is there today any American poet I would name as more revealing than Wagoner.
Hudson Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 topics--his 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 alienation--his 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 Cahners Business Information.
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.--Rochelle Ratner, formerly poetry editor, "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252024887
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 5/25/1999
  • Series: Illinois Poetry Series
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.27 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Table of Contents

The Words 3
Staying Alive 4
Talking to the Forest 7
Talking to Barr Creek 8
Do Not Proceed Beyond This Point without a Guide 9
Lost 10
Sleeping in the Woods 11
Working against Time 13
One Ear to the Ground 14
Report from a Forest Logged by the Weyerhaeuser Company 15
Riverbed 16
Fire by the River 17
The Lesson 18
Standing Halfway Home 20
The Gathering of the Loons 21
An Offering for Dungeness Bay 22
A Guide to Dungeness Spit 24
The Osprey's Nest 26
Observations from the Outer Edge 27
The Other Side of the Mountain 29
Tumbleweed 31
Water Music for the Progress of Love in a Life Raft Down the Sammarnish Slough 32
Leaving Something Behind 34
Clancy 35
Talking Back 36
Nine Charms against the Hunter 37
In the Open Season 38
Moving into the Garden 39
By the Orchard 40
The Fruit of the Tree 41
Snake Hunt 42
The Death and Resurrection of the Birds 43
The Singing Lesson 44
Sequence: Traveling Light: Breaking Camp 45
Sequence: Traveling Light: Meeting a Bear 46
Sequence: Traveling Light: Walking in a Swamp 48
Sequence: Traveling Light: Tracking 49
Sequence: Traveling Light: Missing the Trail 50
Sequence: Traveling Light: From Here to There 51
Sequence: Traveling Light: Being Shot 53
Sequence: Traveling Light: Waiting in a Rain Forest 55
Sequence: Traveling Light: Traveling Light 56
After Consulting My Yellow Pages 58
The Labors of Thor 59
This Is a Wonderful Poem 62
The Shooting of John Dillinger Outside the Biograph Theater, July 22, 1934 63
The Burglar 66
The Holdup 68
The Visiting Hour 69
The Night of the Sad Women 71
At St. Vincent DePaul's 72
Bums at Breakfast 73
A Valedictory to Standard Oil of Indiana 74
A Touch of the Mother 75
Elegy for a Woman Who Remembered Everything 77
For a Man Who Died in His Sleep 78
Doors 79
Out for a Night 80
Closing Time 81
Free Passage 82
A Day in the City 83
The Apotheosis of the Garbagemen 85
To My Friend Whose Parachute Did Not Open 87
Speech from a Comedy 88
Come before His Countenance with a Joyful Leaping 90
Plainsong for Everyone Who Was Killed Yesterday 91
Muse 93
Words above a Narrow Entrance 94
The Poets Agree to Be Quiet by the Swamp 95
Advice to the Orchestra 96
That Old Gang of Mine 97
Every Good Boy Does Fine 99
Diary 100
The Calculation 101
Going to Pieces 103
Making Up for a Soul 105
Walking in the Snow 106
On Seeing an X Ray of My Head 107
The Inexhaustible Hat 108
Waiting on the Curb 109
House Hunting 110
Lullaby through the Side of the Mouth 111
The Breaking Point 112
The First Law of Motion 113
Song Off-Key 114
The Trail Horse 115
Song to Accompany the Bearer of Bad News 117
Searching in the Britannia Tavern 121
Old Man, Old Man 122
Fog 123
Salmon Boy 124
Who Shall Be the Sun? 126
How Coyote Became Rock's Brother 128
How Stump Stood in the Water 130
How Raven Stole Light 131
Song for the Bones of Salmon 133
Song for the Coming of Smallpox 134
Song of a Man Who Rushed at the Enemy 135
Death Song 136
Burial Song 137
After the Speech to the Librarians 141
Sharp-Shin 143
Return to the Swamp 145
The Author of American Ornithology Sketches a Bird, Now Extinct 146
Thoreau and the Snapping Turtle 147
Bears 149
Games 150
Photographing a Rattlesnake 151
Washing a Young Rhinoceros 152
Sitting by a Swamp 153
Loons Mating 154
Whisper Song 155
Kingfisher 156
Chorus 157
The Source 158
Getting There 160
Feeding 161
Boy Jesus 163
The Junior High School Band Concert 164
My Father's Garden 166
My Fire 167
The Best Slow Dancer 169
Looking for Nellie Washington 170
My Father's Football Game 172
My Father in the Basement 173
My Father's Ghost 174
Elegy for My Mother 175
In the Dream House 176
Their Bodies 177
Stump Speech 178
An Address to Weyerhaeuser, the Tree-Growing Company 180
The Shape 182
Three Ways of a River 183
The Excursion of the Speech and Hearing Class 184
Driftwood 185
On Motel Walls 186
Applying for a Loan with the Help of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles 187
Poem about Breath 188
Catching the Big One at Lone Lake 189
Eulogy for Richard Hugo (1923-82) 191
Elegy while Pruning Roses 193
The Death of the Moon 195
The Astronomer's Apprentice 196
Lament for the Nonswimmers 198
The Naval Trainees Learn How to Jump Overboard 199
Canticle for Xmas Eve 200
Your Fortune: A Cold Reading 201
The Calm 203
Reading the Sky 205
Landfall 207
For a Woman Who Doubted the Power of Love 208
Falling Asleep in a Garden 209
The Orchard of the Dreaming Pigs 210
Waking Up in a Garden 211
A Woman Feeding Gulls 212
A Woman Standing in the Surf 213
Lifesaving 214
That Moment 215
A Guide to the Field 216
Getting Away 218
Our Blindness 220
By Starlight 221
For a Third Anniversary 222
Downstream 223
First Light 224
The Pink Boy 227
The Laughing Boy 228
Dizzy 230
My Father Laughing in the Chicago Theater 231
My Passenger 233
My Mother and Father 235
Walking around the Block with a Three-Year-Old 236
A Woman Photographing Holsteins 237
At The Mouth of a Creek 238
Walt Whitman Bathing 239
The Rosebush 241
Love Still Has Something of the Sea 243
A Young Woman Trying on a Victorian Hat 244
The Padded Cell 245
Blindman 246
Bear 247
A Pair of Barn Owls, Hunting 249
For a Woman Who Phoned Poetry Northwest Thinking It Was Poultry Northwest 250
Living with Snakes 251
Clancy the Burro's First Day in Heaven 252
For the Young Vine Maples 254
For a Young Shield Fern 255
Sequence: Landscapes: Mapmaking 256
Sequence: Landscapes: On a Mountainside 258
Sequence: Landscapes: By a Waterfall 260
Sequence: Landscapes: On the Plains 261
Sequence: Landscapes: In a Pasture 263
Sequence: Landscapes: By a River 264
Sequence: Landscapes: On the Forest Floor 265
Sequence: Landscapes: In a Field of Wildflowers 266
The Silence of the Stars 271
In the House of the Dragon 273
Recital 275
Recitation 276
A Letter Home 277
A Summer Storm in Navarre, Ohio 278
The Young Goats 280
In a Garden 282
Alexandra and the Spiders 284
In the Shadow 285
Looking for Shiva in the Public Market 287
The Return of Orpheus 289
Night at the Zoo 291
Elegy for Some of My Poems 293
Plainsong against the Raising of the Dead 294
At the Summit 296
Planting a Red Maple 298
For a Row of Laurel Shrubs 300
Acknowledgments 302
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2000

    Traveling Light is Heavy

    I want to apologize to prospective readers of David Wagoner for Rachell Ratner's vapid review in the Library Journal, quoted on the book's home page here. Librarians by definition know a lot about the outside of books, so maybe her condescending remarks and ennui may do no real harm, for anybody who reads this collection of old and new poems can't help but be moved by the skill and thoughtfulness of the poems. The new ones are even better than the old ones. His elegies to fellow poets Roethke and Hugo are sincere and moving. What is more, they are first-rate, highly compressed poetry of a high order. As a fellow Northwesterner and emigrant from the Mid-West, I think his appreciation of the land is perhaps even better for not having been born here and his having to discover the splendor (and problems) of the region when of mature age. He is a good naturalist and the scientific aspects of his botanical poems are precise and accurate, while not giving up any of their poetical punch. By personifying Weyerhaeuser as the archetypal destroyer of forests and streams he is not so much as attacking a corporate giant that can well afford it as making a statement against the type of mentality that has harmed the environment irreversibly. Most of the poems, however, are closely observed musings on daily happenings. Boy, if I could write poetry, it would be much like this, and I thank him for it. By all means buy this book, and enjoy it. It will provide nourishment, nurturing, for many years and, as with the earlier Collected Poems, will reward you on your return visits.

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