The Columns

More Recognition for Lesley Wheeler's Poetry

— by on November 30th, 2009

Lesley Wheeler, professor and head of the English department at Washington and Lee, has been honored by Barrow Street Press, a small, poetry-only press in New York City with a high reputation among poets. Lesley’s manuscript Heterotopia was named the winner of the 2009 Barrow Street Poetry Book Prize.  Contemporary American poet David Wojahn, who currently directs the creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth, selected Lesley’s manuscript. The contest generally draws about 600 applicants each year, and, as the winning manuscript, Heterotopia will be published by Barrow Street.  Here’s one of Lesley’s poems:

Inland Song

In some kind houses the doors
never quite shut. Every table
hosts a bowl of eggs—wooden ones
or striped stone, cool to touch.

What could grow in an egg like that?
A day becomes a story becomes a bird,
a lost seagull who shrinks each time
I describe him. Watch him fold

his filigree wings, crawl into
the shell. His song wasn’t much,
but he tries to swallow it,
as if he can retreat

to an ornamental state
of potential. This is not possible,
even in an inland village named
Barnacle. Just brush your fingers

over the eggs as you leave,
memorize the feel of the grain.
The paths are thick with nettles,
but if they sting, rub the blisters

with a fistful of dock. Pain
and consolation grow next
to each other, in some kind
countries. House and wing.