A meme is a unit of thought replicated by imitation. Occupy Wall Street is a meme, as are internet ideas and images that go viral. But what could be more potent memes than those passed down by parents to their children? Susan 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.” One read, and the meme “Should I stay or should I go?” will be altered in your head forever.
Susan Wheeler’s Meme is a thrilling tour de force of speakers and speaking. From the idiomatic mesmerations of “The Maud Poems” to the discordant hurdy-gurdy songs of “The Split,” this three-part collection, Wheeler’s sixth, is a formally restless work exploring the emotional inadequacies of elegy and lament, our poetic “memes” for grief and loss.