Recent Books

Poetry
"There is no knack for grief," writes Wheeler (Assorted Poems), but her far-reaching experimentation suggests that—through language—she's seeking one. Three wild sequences struggling with loss comprise this volume: In "The Maud Poems," a daughter attempts to make sense of a mother's language rife with idioms and clichés by collaging stanzas of the poet's own lyric voice ("In the sepulcher where the mother lay/ at last some sleep to gain,/ Hannah helped me carve the oak/ into granite with her cane") between nagging bursts ("Don't come in here all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed expecting us to give you more"). The second sequence, "The Devil—or—The Introjects" remixes this vernacular with narrative in dense—sometimes opaque—units. The last is also the most stirring sequence: "The Split" recounts disaster that "doubles at the slightest slight" through slippery lines that reveal masterful dexterity without compromising meaning. "Such is the state of our poetry caught in my throat on its way/ to my mouth, why not do everything// but of course we do nothing" she writes. Wheeler's ambitious new book comes closer to doing everything—much closer—and we are left awed at Wheeler's audacity. (Oct.) Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Susan Wheeler's narrative glamour finds occasions in unlikely places: hardware stores, Herodotus, Hollywood Squares, Flemish paintings, green stamps, and echoes of archaic and cyber speech. What at first seems cacophonous comes in the end to seem invested with a mournful dignity: that of 'the jangling discourse of our nation.' Ledger is a treasure map for those willing to understand the journey." - John Ashbery
A "project" book of poetry, interspersing Susan Wheeler's informal collages with poems
Susan Wheeler's second collection of poetry, with an afterword by U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass.
Selected Poems
Assorted Poems is a generous selection from the first four books by one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary poetry. In Bag o’ Diamonds (1993), Smokes (1998), Source Codes (2001), and Ledger (2005), Susan Wheeler has established herself as a poet of rare gifts. Her work is allusive and searching, sweeping over time and place, from the art of the northern Renaissance to corporate logos, observing and exploring everything with characteristic precision and intelligence. The poems are both rigorous and free, taking on our culture, its beauties and cruelties, its relationship to the past and its uncertain future. Assorted Poems is a vibrantly thoughtful and entertaining book, a mustread from a poet whom Harold Bloom has called “an exuberant, subtle, endlessly inventive original.”
Novel
Record Palace is an astonishment. Susan Wheeler's deft touch and flawless ear have produced an irresistable work, both fresh and sage. - Toni Morrison

Books


Meme
Susan Wheeler, whose last individual collection predicted the spiritual losses of the economic collapse, turns her attention to the most intimate of subjects: the absence or loss of love.

A meme, a word that debuted in reference to genetic replication, is a unit of thought replicated by imitation; examples of memes, Richard Dawkins wrote, “are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” Occupy Wall Street is a meme, as are internet ideas and images that go viral. What could be more potent memes than those passed down by parents to their children?


Wheeler reconstructs her mother’s voice—down to its cynicism and its mid twentieth-century midwestern vernacular—in “The Maud Poems,” a voice that takes a more aggressive, vituperative turn in “The Devil—or—The Introjects.” In the book’s third long sequence, a generational inheritance feeds cultural transmission in “The Split.” A set of variations on losses and break-ups—wildly, darkly funny throughout and, in places, devastatingly sad—“The Split” brings Wheeler’s lauded inventiveness, wit, and insight to the profound loss of love. One read, and the meme “Should I stay or should I go?” will be altered in your head forever.


Assorted Poems
Assorted Poems is a generous selection from the first four books by one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary poetry. In Bag o’ Diamonds (1993), Smokes (1998), Source Codes (2001), and Ledger (2005), Susan Wheeler has established herself as a poet of rare gifts. Her work is allusive and searching, sweeping over time and place, from the art of the northern Renaissance to corporate logos, observing and exploring everything with characteristic precision and intelligence. The poems are both rigorous and free, taking on our culture, its beauties and cruelties, its relationship to the past and its uncertain future. Assorted Poems is a vibrantly thoughtful and entertaining book, a mustread from a poet whom Harold Bloom has called “an exuberant, subtle, endlessly inventive original.”


Record Palace
"In hazed heat, mid-September, walking north from Chicago’s Loop, telling myself I was exploring the new life, I dogged as much for tonic, gin. A sign swung beside a basement door, in, out, mirage: RECORD PALACE: J ZZ. Inside I found Acie."

Cindy, a lean, lonely white girl, has come to Chicago to study art history—to be anywhere but where she came from—tract housing in Thousand Oaks, California, mock-stucco buildings, “a tetherball hole in the ten-foot driveway…incessant sun and incessant sunniness of every blonde girl.”

The Record Palace, littered with cans of malt liquor and remnants of past meals, also has boxes upon boxes of records—all jazz. And it has Acie, “big on all sides, top included. A hairnet, the hair below the net long and limp with oil. Green stretch pants, flip-flops, a think black U-tank taut across Sumo folds. Maybe a hundred bins were blocked by the wall of him.” Cindy knows she doesn’t belong, and this is why she stays.

Cindy’s determination leads to a tentative friendship with Acie and she becomes a familiar, if not fully understood, presence in the store. But it is through her chance meeting with Acie’s “offspring” that she becomes embroiled in an unusual crime.

With prose that resembles the syncopated rhythms of jazz, Wheeler offers a stunning portrait of a women searching for an identity in a city on the cusp of social and political change.

"An exquisitely crafted recollection of music, at a pivotal time for both jazz and Chicago." - Steve Martin

"Dialogic, atmospheric, a situation plumbed rather than a plot unfolded - a Chicago noir this is and it casts its spell. - E.L. Doctorow


Ledger
The many meanings of "economy" are the ground for the mediation and lament of Ledger, Susan Wheeler's fourth book. In its Greek origins, economy referred to the stewardship of a household and, as it developed, the word also came to include aspects of government and of religious faith. Ledger places an individual's crisis of spirituality and personal stewardship, or management of her resources, against a backdrop of a culture that has focused its "economy" on financial gain and has misspent its own tangible and intangible resources.

"Susan Wheeler is an exuberant, subtle, endlessly inventive original, and Ledger marks a wonderful advance in her already vital contribution to American poetry. Best of all in Ledger's varied pleasures is 'The Debtor in the Convex Mirror,' an intricate splendor and triumphant fusion of technique and vision." - Harold Bloom

"Part narrative, part satire, part cri de coeur, Susan Wheeler's densely wrought new poems are alternately hilarious and chilling in their power to evoke the terrible contradictions of daily life in our media-driven landscape. Wheeler is that rare thing among poets, a genuine cultural critic; her poems use image and allusion with such exactitude that we see the things around us-from pop tarts to polyvinylled toilet seats-as if for the first time. Ledger is a dazzling collection." - Marjorie Perloff

"If Baudelaire was, for Walter Benjamin, the lyric poet of the era of high capitalism, Susan Wheeler is a lyric poet for an era of superstores, global corporations, and product tie-ins. A ledger is a measure of accounts, and Wheelerís Ledger assesses the place of value in a market-driven world where indebtedness has replaced belief and logos have replaced Logos. Her poems draw on a wealth of sources--from 17th century religious poetry and Flemish painting to contemporary consumerism--in an effort to define our tenancy to rich lords and concurrent losses to the human heart." - Michael Davidson

Source Codes
A book of numbered, untitled poems and collages, each linked to the next by an element in its image or first or last lines. A "key" in the table of contents provides the source-reference for every one, and three appendices - two of handwritten drafts and one of computer source code - round out the collection.

Wheeler's pantheon of effects takes in everything from jingles, tight syllabic stanzas, the odd mix of stentorian modes and cartoonlike plasticity from middle-period Ashbery, pseudo-didactic literariness, myths, fables, surrealist mantras and Swiftian turns. Formally dazzling and spiritually unforgiving, this is an important, limit-testing book.
- Publishers Weekly


Smokes
Smokes contains elegies, poems of urban and domestic angst, laments, invectives, cakewalks, struts. It's very much of the moment but it is also a deeply literary book . . . its confident, rueful, and playful grasp of its tradition is eye-opening and, sardonic as it is, boisterous fun.
- Robert Hass, from the afterword

The book's desire to astound, contort, pervert and yet sing at all turns makes it a singular delight.
- Publishers Weekly

If all poems have specific enemies, and if all good poems resist those enemies, it is clear that two of Wheeler's poems' enemies are regularity and predictability. . . It is perhaps less apparent that her poems' other enemies include arbitrariness and randomness. I am thinking in part of her frequent use of conventional infrastructures - couplets, rhymed quatrains, sonnets, a pantoum, a ballad - and in part of her steely grammatical and syntactical control.
- Stephen Yenser, The Yale Review