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Elizabeth Whittlesey

Sipping Diet Snapple discontentedly at a bistro, channeling Joseph Smith’s visions, taking in the enormity of climate change, glimpsing her spirited alter ego Miss Muggins at the drugstore or the movies: Elizabeth Whittlesey’s debut volume of poems is about the way we live now, amid the ironies, pleasures, and desolations of selves in the grip of natural and manufactured want. These are poems that speak, aloud and with improbable buoyancy, from out of the opposed demands of self-absorption and a wider social and ecological consciousness, and find a precarious but real equilibrium.

“It would be easy, accurate, and even comforting to describe I Wanted Everything as yet another book of poetry about desire. Easy because it’s right there in the title.…Comforting because to summarize this wild, capacious new thing as ‘a book of poetry about desire’ is to domesticate it, make it familiar.…But something other than familiar lyric longing is at work in I Wanted Everything, something far more treacherous.…Desire for Whittlesey presents itself not simply as the time-honored, almost quaint condition of human consciousness that, once upon a time, we learned to channel productively into exploration, architecture, and scientific advance, or else to direct with lyrical delicacy towards objects of hypothetical or naturally occurring beauty.…That’s not where we are anymore, if we really ever were. Where we are is ‘a land where two double cheeseburgers cost less/than a single,’ where ‘advertising inserts are spilling/continually out of magazines’…situated instead among the fluorescent aisles of all-night drugstores…or in ‘the dark cavern of Trump/Tower’s underbelly.’…Years from now, when they ask, and they will, what it was like back then, meaning the present, I will be kind. I will hand them I Wanted Everything, and I’ll say take this, all of you, and read.”

—From the foreword by Timothy Donnelly, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award

Read the foreword by Timothy Donnelly »

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Elizabeth Whittlesey was born with her sun in Leo in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she roamed with the other lions until the age of three. She grew up at the foot of Mt. Olympus of the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains of Salt Lake City, Utah, and received her B.A. from Rice University and her M.F.A. from Columbia University. She currently resides among the Washington Heights hills of Manhattan.

Timothy Donnelly is the author of The Cloud Corporation (winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award) and Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit. His poems have appeared in Harper’s, jubilat, The Nation, The Paris Review, PEN America, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, and other journals, and have been translated into German and Italian. He teaches at Columbia University and is poetry editor for Boston Review. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two daughters.