Would David Foster Wallace have been successful as a poet?

Though readers are able to access David Foster Wallace’s writings through various genres, everything from essays to fiction to his graduate thesis work, few know he started out his writing career as a poet.  Two poems from Wallace’s elementary school days were found after his death and published widely on the internet.  In his biography of Wallace titled “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story” and in his essay in The New Yorker (here),  D.T Max analyzes these early works in light of Wallace’s later successes, and finds that “…though he wasn’t a poet, he was certainly a genius.”


The first poem, certainly written early in grade school, is my favorite.  I love that it begins and ends with “David.”   I love the misspellings and the rhymes.

The second poem is about Vikings, and features a young Wallace using the subjunctive:

Vikings oh! They were so strong
Though there warriors won’t live so long.
For a long time they rode the stormy seas.
Whether there was a great big storm or a little breeze.
There ships were made of real strong wood
As every good ship really should.
If you were to see a Viking today
It’s best you go some other way.
Because they’d kill you very well
And all your gold they’ll certainly sell
For all these reasons stay away
From a Viking every day.

While these poems shed no light on later writings, or David’s adult frame of mind, they do serve as fodder for our endless fascination with him as a writer. And they prove that no matter where you start with Wallace’s writing, it is almost always accessible.  No matter where you look, David Foster Wallace has written an essay or a short story or a novel that can be relished and enjoyed.

But it does force me to consider the question– Would DFW have made it as a poet?  Sadly, we will never know.




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