Poetry’s Possible Worlds

Coming in Spring 2022 from Tinderbox Editions!

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. 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.

Poetry’s Possible Worlds turns and counterturns between personal remembrance and scholarly observation as Lesley Wheelerpays 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