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Meme

Finalist for the 2012 National Book Award in Poetry



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Available: 
October 2012
2012
96 pages
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"In Meme, the traditional elegy dissolves into excited bursts of imitated idiomatic speech interwoven with writing from a different register—the coolly removed, self-insightful lyric. That the elaborately constructed edifice that is personality can be reconstructed with such fascinating economy and delightful indirection is amazing. These poems are pure poetic genius."—Mary Jo Bang, author, The Bride of E

"Meme is a haunted work. We are ushered in by the disembodied voice of a mother figure, scolding and teasing in the time-stamped slang of past decades. The anachronism is both funny and terribly sad. 'Don't come in here all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,' the voice says. And it turns out that's fair warning. This cracked Virgil leads us into a consciously Dantean underworld ('Had you entered the thicket in darkness / . . . Had you been mid-life, not in haze but in crisis?'). Wheeler has created a total (and to me terrifying) linguistic environment in which hell is the introjected voices of other people, the hungry ghosts of our recent past."—Rae Armantrout, author, Money Shot

Praise for previous books:

“Wheeler accomplishes something no one has done before, bringing all her interests and influences together to make poems that reflect an America no one else has seen . . . of how love in America might work: we never get enough, and . . . what we need is distraction, busywork, stuff to consume.”—Craig Morgan Teicher, Yale Review

“As the years and books mount, Wheeler’s verse feels increasingly grounded, without sacrificing rhetorical force."—Boston Review

Acclaimed poet 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 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.

Excerpt: 

Canasta

            Mind your own beeswax or you’ll be tarred and feathered right here and now. Ray, the dog’s got something in her mouth. While you’re up, would you check the ham?

 

                        You and the beast’s belly, its short sleek fur,

                        its odor of a world beyond the curb. The tail

                        rises, the fur fans out—

 

            No, just see what the temperature is up to. Oh, I’ll do it.

 

            That’s what I was afraid of. Dan, she skunked me.

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