The Columns

Poet and W&L English Professor Lesley Wheeler Writes Scholarly Study

— by on May 16th, 2008

Poet Lesley Wheeler, professor of English at Washington and Lee University, is the author of a new book, “Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920s to the Present.” Published by Cornell University Press this year, it offers a uniquely full history of 20th- and 21st-century poetry performance in the United States.

“Voicing American Poetry” examines the shifting significance of voice and sound for American poets and readers. According to Wheeler, “Poetry recitation used to be something that everyone did–it was fundamental to American education, and what mattered was the skill of the performance.

“In the middle of the 20th century that shifted. Now what matters is not the skill but the identity of the performer: we expect the poet herself to be present, reading her own work in an anti-theatrical way. This change fascinates me, not only as a scholar but as a poet and as a programmer who arranges poetry readings at Washington and Lee.”

In addition to “Voicing American Poetry,” Wheeler has written “Scholarship Girl,” a poetry chapbook (Finishing Line, 2007) and “The Poetics of Enclosure: American Women Poets from Dickinson to Dove” (University of Tennessee Press, 2002). She has also written over 25 poems and currently is working on two books of poetry.

Wheeler has been a member of Washington and Lee’s faculty since 1994. She received her B.A. from Rutgers University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University.