And it’s the birthday of poet and novelist David Wagoner (books by this author), born in Massillon, Ohio (1926). He grew up in Whiting, Indiana — a gritty town between Gary and Chicago — where the family moved after his father lost his job in a steel mill. In spite of his Midwestern upbringing, Wagoner has become a poet of the Pacific Northwest. His friend and mentor Theodore Roethke offered him a teaching position at the University of Washington in 1954. “When I drove down out of the Cascades and saw the region that was to become my home territory for the next thirty years, my extreme uneasiness turned into awe,” Wagoner remembers. “I had never seen or imagined such greenness, such a promise of healing growth. Everything I saw appeared to be living ancestral forms of the dead earth where I’d tried to grow up.” His earlier poems had reflected the polluted industrial area where he was raised. His second collection, A Place to Stand (1958), was his first foray into nature writing, which would become his trademark. “I came from a place where nature was ruined,” he said, “and here the natural world was still in a pristine state.” His aesthetic, emotional, and psychological relocation from the Midwest to the Northwest was complete by the time his fourth collection, The Nesting Ground, was published in 1963. Wagoner served as editor for Poetry Northwest for 30 years; for many years it was the only national magazine devoted entirely to poetry.
Wagoner also writes fiction, with 10 novels under his belt. He was down to his last 10 dollars when his first one, The Man in the Middle (1954), was published. He’s best known for The Escape Artist (1965).