In her debut essay collection, award-winning poet and critic Lesley Wheeler tells the story of her father’s unraveling. While she studies poetry in New Zealand on a Fulbright fellowship, his dishonesty smashes her parents’ marriage and destroys their savings. Nothing is resolved, even after his death. The past and present keep shifting.
Reading contemporary poetry helps Wheeler negotiate the crisis. Cognitive scientists use the term “literary transportation” to describe getting lost in a book—and poems can transport a person, too, not despite but because they are brief and full of gaps. Wheeler’s frank, lively essays demonstrate how traveling through a poem’s pocket universe can change people for the better.
“POETRY’S POSSIBLE WORLDS turns and counterturns between personal remembrance and scholarly observation as Lesley Wheeler pays homage to verse from across the globe. An insightful account of the revision of self that happens over a lifetime, Wheeler charts the complex negotiations of both childhood and adulthood (conflicts of illness, employment, racial violence, and the anthropocene). Rather than laboring toward the illusory comforts of “closure,” however, Wheeler reminds us of poetry’s restorative power: its intricate gifts of entrancement and communication, its ability to reflect our all-too-human contradictions and limitations. Ultimately, Poetry’s Possible Worlds champions the joy and open-endedness of the lyric, as well as the lasting impact of close reading as proof that, in an ever-changing world, art is manifold.”
—Shara Lessley, author of Two-Headed Nightingale and The Explosive Expert’s Wife
Nonfiction. Literary Criticism. Essays.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry Editor of Shenandoah, is the author of five poetry collections, including THE STATE SHE'S IN; The Receptionist and Other Tales, finalist for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award; and HETEROTOPIA, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize. Unbecoming, her first novel, appeared in 2020, and her most recent scholarly book is Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920s to the Present. Her work has received support from the Fulbright Foundation, Bread Loaf, Sewanee Writers Workshop, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Wheeler's poems and essays appear in Kenyon Review Online, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Guernica, and other journals. Find her on Instagram and Twitter as @LesleyMWheeler.