Lesley Wheeler


It fascinates me that readers, teachers, editors, and bookstore owners distinguish between fiction and non-fiction in prose, but that these categories seem irrelevant to poetry. In most bookstores, there may not be enough poetry books to divide among multiple sections, but still, are we assuming that poetry is all fact, or all invention? As in memoir, there's often an unsettling mixture of both: one can say 'this poem is closer to non-fiction than that one,' but no powerful work of art is either unfiltered experience or wholly liberated from the writer's own deepest commitments. Most readers seem to assume first-person truth-telling in contemporary poetry. I do think some writers transform autobiographical material into incredibly powerful work, but that's not the only great poetry around, and if it were, we'd all be impoverished. Even in poetry based on character and voice --  a small portion of what's out there -- there is endless room for play. History, dreams, literature, and fantasy provide compelling material, and sometimes the most revealing perspective is an invented one. 




Hamlet Undertakes a Course of Zoloft


I’m drunk again on Rhenish and discontent,
watching from the tower as a wolfish gloom
devours the streets. Winter nights cast only
me into long shade—the rest of the sanguine
kingdom is waltzing in pastels. I know
my pious parents voted for Bush again.
Their every show of happiness betrays
me. Misery tightens around my throat like smoke
and distant siren-cries, like a cloak of burnt air.

When I swallow my blues, the sea still hisses
bitterly, the sun still limps, I pace
the same boards, but at least I can heave my larded
limbs out of bed. I’ve stopped jousting with fools
at the office. Ophelia and I are on a break.

People in the dark, the ones in the plush
seats, lament the change of scene. They want
the forms, moods, shapes of grief, and they hate
the poison in my amber vial. Well,
to hell with doubt and melancholy. Here’s
what I trickle into their gaping ears:
another refusal to rhyme my last words.



435569-1584668-thumbnail.jpgLesley Wheeler's poems appear in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and AGNI; her latest book is Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920's to the Present (Cornell 2008). She teaches at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.