Fabulist Walter Wangerin has been writing sonnets on the sly. But with the publication in April of A Miniature Cathedral and Other Poems (Harper & Row), fans who fed on The Book of the Dun Cow’s mythic prose will get to taste Wangerin’s passion for form—rhyme schemes, meters, and acrostics.

The poems, the earliest of which date from August 1967, are evocative and sensual: “I march to trumpets and endorse the idiot / Confusion of snare drums when I perform; / Trombones are the tide behind, and women giddy at / The slashed red of my howling uniform.” And when, as in his short stories, Wangerin speaks as or about a child, he finds his most authentic voice. The adult poet and the occasional excursion into black dialect are less accessible, but the child is universal: “Had you, too, / For lies to bite Fels Naphtha soap—and chew?” And all this framed in classic forms.

“I like to do it,” says Wangerin about the challenge of poetic forms. “My son threads the opposition on the basketball court, like a squirrel slips past their knees, then lays the ball precisely where it ought to be, on an imaginary shelf at the ten-foot rim, where it sits one still, sarcastic second, then drops. And Matthew, after such a leap—he laughs. This is the same laughter that I laugh silently after the poem that dropped well. The sounds of words falling, with their senses, into an impossible harmony new in that poem, though instructed by old patterns—that simply delights me.”

Granted that a poet can find as much joy in a well-thrown word as a child can in a well-tossed ball; but there is little joy in this poetry. Readers who have followed the careers of Chaunticleer and ...

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