Biographical details are scarce though. The blurb on the dustjacket however, perhaps unwittingly, paints a picture of a boy for whom life has already been an unusual and rather unstable experience. "At twenty, Lionel Wiggam is a student in the School of Speech at Northwestern University where he is paying his own way with the help of scholarships, poetry readings, odd jobs and the pittance that accrues from selling verse to magazines. He was born in 1915 in Columbus, Indiana, the son of prize fighter and a farmer's daughter. The father, at one time welterweight champion, owned his own sideshow in a carnival, and the family travelled about the Middle West on his pugilistic tours, letting the boy pick up his education where he could. He entered Northwestern University at the age of fifteen but left it again for the following three years, playing in a stock-company, working on a road construction gang, modelling professionally, hanging wall-paper and working as a janitor to pay for night school classes." (It strikes me this blurb might itself be written by Wiggam, certainly there is something of a narrative being constructed there and it perhaps begins to hint at how some of the elements in the poems might have been generated from this rather chaotic childhood.
There are good poems in this collection. As individual works some of them are very finely crafted and one can see why, as a youth, he would have been seen as something of a prodigy. One poem in particular I thought spoke eloquently of the difficulties that Wiggam is attempting to articulate about his short life thus far...
Being less of man than elf,
A boy must overcome himself.
Let him flee, or let him fight,
Let him struggle through the night.
His cheek will grow a golden beard,
Symbol of the thing he feared.
His voice will find a lower note
And stifle boyhood in his throat.
Oh, he must overcome the joy
The laughter of that other boy
And beat him down, and see surprise
Rise in his stricken, loving eyes.
Until, articulate and sad,
He turns away the other lad;
And seeks a dark forgotten place
To hide his weeping face.
I should say I am very grateful to Scott, my correspondent, for prompting me to find and read the book and also for his insightful comments, even if his opinion of the poetry is somewhat more strongly negative. Despite the high praise that litters the rest of the dustjacket, Wiggam only wrote one more volume of poetry, twenty years distant from this first. I suppose the next step in my journey to understand him is to get hold of a copy of that and see where twenty years have taken us.
If anyone should stumble across this post because they are searching the internet for the name of their late friend Lionel Wiggam, please do get in touch: any biographical details would be very much appreciated.
We never dreamed the happy chase
Would end in that disturbing place:
Green, quiet cave with pines that were
A roof above its singular guest -
He with a faun's alarming face,
He with a boy's thin, angular breast
Subsiding into fur.
We thought to find a worried fox
Observing us with blazing eyes
Behind an ambuscade of rocks;
Until we saw the hounds withdraw,
Disclosing that small pointed head
And hoofs all torn: until we saw
A bleeding pixy-face, instead.
And then, like us, the hounds that were
Suddenly grown quieter.