Author: Lesley Wheeler

  • Coffee with poets in New Zealand

    The Katherine Mansfield Birthplace was very, very cold on Friday morning. It’s small, furnished in dark woods with all the Victorian trappings, and of course unheated. Quotes from Mansfield typed up on the visitor’s guide call it “a little dark piggy house,” or something similar. Chris and I toured it on a sort of birthday […]

  • Travel dictionaries

         That’s how it goes some days,      don’t you reckon.      You wander the streets of a city      that’s no longer your own.      You look at a map      and all the words are in German.      You ask a stranger      where the hills have gone      and he bursts out […]

  • Heroes in trouble

    My baseball-playing-son’s choice of “Casey at the Bat” for school recitation made sense. I noticed in his practice sessions that he read the line “Kill the umpire!” with intense personal feeling; he tossed off “That ain’t my style” a little less confidently, but he clearly aspires to such flair. We had fun looking up the […]

  • Testing for a house style

    Had to face up to it sooner or later: if I want to generalize about the work produced in a creative writing program, I have to get quantitative. So I identified, read, reread, and cross-referenced eleven books—all the first collections I know by poets who have received the Master in Arts in Creative Writing from the […]

  • Community’s opposite

    English departments are “hostile territory, dangerous turf.” That’s from an essay by George Garrett, but that notion permeates the 1970 collection Writers as Teachers: Teachers as Writers, edited by Jonathan Baumbach. Bill Manhire told me that he picked up this book in the early 70s in London, and he seems to have the only copy […]

  • Writers’ notebooks

    I returned to Wellington yesterday from Auckland where, during the wonderful “Poetry Off the Page” course she co-teaches with Helen Sword, Michele Leggott presented me with a Tapa Notebook. This practice is a part of an ongoing nzepc project: visiting writers are presented with an empty, unlined spiral notebook and asked to fill up the […]

  • Excess sugars

    “At some profound level,” writes Damien Wilkins in “American Microphone,” a very funny story about a dismal public reading, “I think of Americans as dangerously carbonated people.” This confirms my U.S.-Soft Drink Association Hypothesis as to why New Zealanders keep calling me “refreshing.” Wilkins was the person who told me to look for Emily Dobson’s […]

  • Myself the only kangaroo among the beauty

    Researching poetic networks is making me feel anomalous. Partly this is just the familiar unfamiliarity of living in a different country, where every friendship is new and you’re never quite sure whether you understand people or they understand you. Some of my disorientation is minor and funny, like realizing in the middle of reciting “Spring-Sick” […]

  • Family roadtrip, poem on the side

    I keep muttering “Somebody loves us all.” It’s the last line of “Filling Station,” one of my favorite Elizabeth Bishop poems, and also the title of Damien Wilkins’ latest novel, a terrific book Chris and I have been reading. I recently pored through Bishop’s Collected Poems, too, to prepare for a seminar on her work. […]

  • Milk and honey

    Writing programs are often accused of producing homogenized, pasteurized work—whirring poems around in the workshop blender until the fat and flavor are consistent throughout, heating and cooling them to get rid of the interesting little microbes. Some strong teachers do produce student imitators. This can happen if your “teacher” is John Keats or Mina Loy, […]