Bio

Lesley Wheeler is a poet and professor born in New York, raised in New Jersey, and residing in Virginia since 1994.

Wheeler’s books include The Receptionist and Other Tales (Aqueduct, 2012); Heterotopia (Barrow Street, 2010), Heathen (C&R, 2009); Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920’s to the Present (Cornell, 2008); The Poetics of Enclosure: American Women Poets from Dickinson to Dove (Tennessee, 2002); and the chapbook Scholarship Girl (Finishing Line, 2007). With Moira Richards, Rosemary Starace, and other members of a dedicated collective, she coedited Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv (Red Hen, 2008). Her next poetry collection, Radioland, is forthcoming in 2015 (look for updates here soon).

Now the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University, Wheeler has held fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation (New Zealand), the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and the American Association of University Women. In 2011 she received an Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia. Her second collection, Heterotopia, was selected for the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize by David Wojahn and was a finalist for the Library of Virginia Award. The Receptionist was named to the Tiptree Award Honor List and nominated by Ms. Mentor at The Chronicle of Higher Education for an Ackie (academic novel recognition). Wheeler received her BA from Rutgers College, summa cum laude, and her PhD in English from Princeton University.

Wheeler’s current book project, Taking Poetry Personally, investigates place, community, and lyric world-building, while interweaving criticism, theory, and personal narrative. Her poems and essays appear in Gettysburg Review, Cimarron Review, Crazyhorse, Subtropics, Poetry, Slate, and many other journals.

Wheeler’s partner is fiction-writer, playwright, and superheroic blogger Chris Gavaler.  They discuss the interplay of history and autobiography in their works in a joint Prime Number interview.

Recent Posts

Postcard for Jean

Today I’m thinking of my much-loved Aunt Jean, who died at her home in England this morning. I came to know her best in 1988, when I stayed with Jean, my Uncle Pete, and my cousin Nigel in Cyprus for three weeks. I was studying abroad at the University of Southampton and, during a long term break, my friend Mary Beth and I decamped to the Mediterranean Island where my uncle was stationed on a British military base. They lived in a large, cool house with views of the sea. That trip remains one of the greatest adventures of my life. Jean and Pete drove us up mountains, through blooming orange trees, and through every interesting ruin around–I loved everything about the place.

Paphos

It’s funny to look back at these old pictures–Jean and Mary Beth in Paphos, Jean and Nigel clambering around on the rocks–and remember that the kind-hearted, warmly-smiling woman taking such good care of other people’s children must have been younger than I am now. Jean and Nigel

JeanEgypt

Towards the end of our trip, she encouraged us to take a brief cruise from Cyprus to Israel and Egypt. We barely had money for it and shared some pretty austere windowless bunks in the bottom of the ship; we were also the only Americans aboard, though there were Canadian UN peacekeeping troops, I remember. That’s 20-year-old me–I bet they don’t let you climb pyramids anymore.

I took my own kids to visit Jean, Pete, and Nigel in 2006, when I was conducting research for Heterotopia, a poetry collection concerned with my mother’s childhood in wartime Liverpool. There were bowls of stone and wooden eggs Jean had collected over the years. We also took a walk during which my young daughter was stung by nettles. Jean stopped and showed her what nettles looked like, and also pointed out dockweed growing nearby. When she plucked some dock leaves and rubbed them briskly over Madeleine’s legs, it seemed to soothe her–or at least she was distracted by the spectacle.

The poem below was written shortly after that visit and eventually appeared in Heterotopia. I’m not sure why I imagined myself hatching out of Jean’s eggs, but I know I always felt a few degrees happier around Jean, a little more trusting in the world’s potential goodness. I hope she’s in some kinder country than illness now, and wish I could send her a thank-you note.

Inland Song

In some kind houses the doors
never quite shut. Every table
hosts a bowl of eggs—wooden ones
or striped stone, cool to touch.

What could grow in such an egg?
A day becomes a story becomes a bird,
a lost seagull who shrinks each time
I describe him. Watch him fold

his filigree wings, crawl into
the shell. His song wasn’t much,
but he tries to swallow it,
as if he can retreat

to an ornamental state
of potential. This is not possible,
even in an inland village named
Barnacle. Just brush your fingers

over the eggs as you leave,
memorize the feel of the grain.
The paths are thick with nettles,
but if they sting, rub the blisters

with a fistful of dock. Pain
and consolation grow next
to each other, in some kind
countries. House and wing.

  1. Lucidity, difficulty 3 Replies
  2. The important stuff 2 Replies
  3. The Unbeliever Takes a Hike 7 Replies
  4. Pain, pleasure, and Spottswood Styles 5 Replies
  5. Family syllabus 8 Replies
  6. Good reads 2 Replies
  7. On the 2014 National Book Award for poetry 7 Replies
  8. Loaded with mysterious cargo and about to launch 2 Replies
  9. Poetry and injustice 2 Replies