“The Maud Poems,” the sequence that opens Wheeler’s sixth book, is a wide-ranging appropriation of American idiom and one-liners. Much like memes themselves, which operate by means of refrain and repetition, each of these poems begins with a stock phrase that will ring familiar to most who grew up in America in the last fifty years. “Better get cracking,” she writes in “Turkey in the Straw.” “You’re the one who made it an uphill battle; your brother’s going great guns.” Spoken by a mother figure, these glimpses of American vernacular are interrupted by brief, sometimes baroque, lyric reprieves. “What drums behind her,” Wheeler writes in “Hot Sketch," is “the thump of the / backhoe striped by the sun in the picture window. / The particles drift.” The book’s final sequence, “The Split,” becomes a compendium of the trials and travails experienced by working women. Here we find a “Maud” who recalls hating her husband “like I hated lice” but speaks across this fury in search of companionship with her fellow wives and mothers: “I know you all in his absence tonight.”
This review was originally published in American Poets, Volume 44, Spring 2013.