Poetry’s Possible Worlds

May 17, 2022, $20, ISBN 978-1-943981-22-9: available from Bookshop.org, SPD, Amazon, or order from a bookstore near you!

“The tug-of-war Wheeler performs, as a poet and scholar, makes for gorgeous reading: methodical, musical, revealing.” —Jane Zwart in Plume

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

“Part memoir, part travelogue, Wheeler’s hybrid essays track the transformation of a shy, suburban, Bowie-loving teen into a committed feminist scholar, writer, and parent who strives to put committed ideals into action as she navigates family loss, workplace conflict, and the familiar struggles that midlife brings.” —Jane Satterfield in The Common

In her debut nonfiction book, 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. His death resolves nothing. The past and present keep shifting.

Reading contemporary poetry, however, 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.

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