Digital Book Tour: New Book by Lesley Wheeler

Fam, times are weird—so many of us have to figure out new ways of doing old things. Book launches, an established feature of our wonderful community of writers, have been particularly hard hit, and we’d love to make room for authors to share their work with the world. Our limited Digital Book Tour series will serve that end! Today, we’re sharing an excerpt and interview from Lesley Wheeler’s The State She’s In.


An Excerpt from Lesley Wheeler’s The State She’s In

“Recumbent Lee” by Edward Valentine


Afflicted with frosty dreams, the marble man

reclines but keeps a hold of his saber. Notice

the clenched muscle above blanched brows.

Is appalled, maybe, by my fair daughter’s

skimpy tank or the fuck she mutters, just

at the threshold of the docent’s vigilance. Senses

a chill, now the chamber’s stripped of flags.

A dreadful dust-web runs from nose-tip down

to mustache-bristle, but he still wears boots.

Pretending to rest. That blanket’s the whitest of lies.



On What the Reader Will Walk Away With

Lesley Wheeler: Many of the poems in The State She’s In were born in anger about violent histories as well as oppression in the present, with a focus on the state of Virginia. If some of those histories are unfamiliar to some readers, or if the perspectives I conjure seem strange in a useful way, great—it’s a bonus when a poem teaches you something—but I’m hoping to nurture a sense of connectedness in desire for change.


On What the Writer Walked Away With

Lesley Wheeler: This book came from a desire to know more about where I live, after extended denial that I’m “from” here now (I was raised in New York and New Jersey). I conducted a lot of research that eventually made me feel like a more knowledgeable citizen. I also learned that I was way more obtuse about race and whiteness than I imagined, even after decades of studying U.S. poetry and trying to write about it an inclusive way. No doubt I’m still ignorant and blind in ways I haven’t figured out yet, though I’m working on it.


On The Book’s Biography

Lesley Wheeler: The State She’s In was a long time coming, but lines started clicking during the lead-up to the last presidential election. Overt displays of racism ramped up in my region; the local neo-Nazi presence was more visible to me. #MeToo discussions also cracked open these poems. There are a lot of different forms and procedures in play, too; I kept trying to get my head around the material in new ways.


On The Book’s Family of Support

Lesley Wheeler: Local and national activists inspired me, all the people who took risks and heat for #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, support of migrants and refugees, and other revolutions-in-progress. The list poems arrived after reading the catechisms in Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons. I came to haibun thanks to Jeannine Hall Gailey and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and to French repeating forms thanks to Anna Lena Phillips Bell. Deborah Miranda, Janet McAdams, and Karenne Wood influence how I think about Native history in the region, although any mistakes are mine. I was writing literary criticism during these years about Anne Spencer and Edna St. Vincent Millay, so they filter in. And none of this would have been possible without the generosity of librarians, historians, and editors.


Lesley Wheeler’s new books are The State She’s Inher fifth poetry collection, and Unbecoming, her first novel. The State She’s In homes in on the poisoned gorgeousness of her home state, Virginia; as Diane Seuss writes, “Wheeler’s formal virtuosity wheels and sparks as she explores the impact of whiteness and sexism on the literal state—its history, its land, its educational institutions.” Wheeler’s poems and essays appear in such journals as The Common, Crab Orchard Review, Poetry, Ecotone, and Massachusetts Review. She is Poetry Editor of Shenandoah and lives in Lexington, Virginia.

Learn more about the work here.


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