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Assorted Poems

Susan Wheeler

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

160 Pages



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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, Smokes, Source Codes, and Ledger, 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 must-read from a poet whom Harold Bloom has called “an exuberant, subtle, endlessly inventive original.”


Praise for Assorted Poems

“Wheeler’s poetry doesn’t shy from difficulty, complexity or confusion . . . Wheeler holds a door open for the jumble of history: Dutch painting and British theology room with old riddles and New York Times articles . . . Economics and emotion face each other across a charged field; stuff gathers in the middle, glittery as a sack of diamonds.”—Joshua Clover, The New York Times Book Review

“Susan Wheeler is interested in the choppy, crazy images and motives in consumer culture; she loves to navigate through the hype to find the actual emotions that drive it all.”—Robert Pinsky, The Washington Post Book World

"The work in Assorted Poems recalls the style and method of John Ashbery’s late poems . . . It’s hard not to quote Wheeler liberally. Her poems aren’t meant to be paraphrased so much as enjoyed on their own terms—as performances—or delved into with scholarly spade and pick. As with Ashbery, music becomes an explanatory figure (she is also the author of a novel, Record Palace [2005], about jazz), and for this reason her delightful allegory in couplets . . . I love Wheeler’s wit and rhymes."—Ange Minko, Bookforum

“Susan Wheeler’s narrative glamour finds occasions in unlikely places . . . What at first seems cacophonous comes in the end to seem invested with a mournful dignity.”—John Ashbery

“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 polyvinyl toilet seats—as if for the ?rst time.”—Marjorie Perloff, author of The Vienna Paradox

“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. Her poems draw on a wealth of sources—from seventeenth-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

“[Wheeler’s] energy and devotion to detail make her a virtuoso of variety, of vision—but she also possesses an unparalleled ear for passion and its profound loss.”—Carol Muske-Dukes, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"This award-winning poet astonishes with this compilation from her first four books of verse. Wheeler explores eclectic subjects (Bruce Willis, Time Warner), using beautiful yet antiquated phrasing . . . It's hard to resist the impulse to unravel these poetic puzzles (and well worth the effort)."—Carmela Ciuraru, More magazine

"Wheeler’s Assorted Poems feels less like a 'selected works' and more like the reorganization and rearticulation of aesthetic aims that have evolved over the course of her career. The poems have a varied texture, but never flag in their application of language and their sensitivity to and wariness of poetry’s ability to produce meaning. Wheeler’s poems are gradual accumulations of detail, historical fact, pop culture references, and personal observation that layer upon each other, creating meaningful ambiguity."—Ben Mirov, The Brooklyn Rail

"Enticingly strange, and only occasionally incomprehensible, the vertiginous cityscapes, dissonant songs and fractured chronicles in Wheeler's verse, generously sampled in this selection from her four books, have attracted attention since her 1993 debut Bag o' Diamonds, whose jumpy verse offered, among other properties, 'several years of careful steps across/ lower Manhattan. A looming sail in a nightmare.' Subsequent volumes added songlike refrains and disturbing bits of Southern dialect, to a speaking self pressed and twisted to its limits: 'The crux is alive at the fork of me.' Cartoons and caricatures, pleas and imprecations, fall together in Wheeler's disturbing vortices. Just when her circumlocutions threaten to collapse into a shtick, she expands her range, and changes focus, in the exciting longer poems of Ledger (2005): more explicit in their attentions to history and to political economy, these poems use collage to follow the fates of their characters—the best of them juxtapose the poet's memories of her teenage shoplifting with scenes from the long-ago birth of the Dutch bourgeoisie. Two new poems cap the volume, Wheeler's first appearance from a New York trade press. [The] selection's assorted registers, leaps and postmodern disconnections . . . should delight others ready for her smart effects."—Publishers Weekly

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Susan Wheeler is the author of four books of poetry and a novel. She lives in the New York area and teaches at Princeton.
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  • Susan Wheeler

  • Susan Wheeler is a professor of creative writing at Princeton and an award-winning author of four books of poetry and a novel. She lives in the New York area.