New Poetry with Audio!
Upon its 3rd Anniversary
Letter’s to Wendy’s by Joe Wenderoth. Verse Press, 2000. 300 pp. $14.
In his Diary of an Unknown, Jean Cocteau discussed German documentary films of the plant kingdom that were banned in France, judged to be pornographic because “the screen was invaded by images of sucking, male members, vulvas, sperm, and orgasms”:
Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s creates such a vortex, where Cocteau’s motto “to disturb” reigns, and where the seedy underbelly in question is the human and animal kingdom of a fast-food chain. The author of two previous accomplished yet largely ignored books of poetry, Disfortune and It Is If I Speak, Wenderoth tackles the invisibility of the poet and the invisibility of the individual confronting the corporation. “TELL US ABOUT YOUR VISIT” and “WE CARE” beckon the customer comment cards, but what if the customer were not to compromise in order to say the expected? What if the customer were to be truthful?
In a world largely controlled by marketing professionals, where packaging a product has assumed the chief importance, a search for the truth of that product and what’s behind it is a subversive act. What one finds is bound to go beyond the pale of what’s relevant to quality control. Wenderoth’s speaker continually debates how much of what happens at Wendy’s is being hidden:
The tone of this early letter, the book’s seventh, gives way to greater and greater despair and loneliness. In a consumer culture where much of human intercourse happens through financial transactions, Wenderoth’s speaker wants to know and be known where so little can be revealed. Where does one begin to look? For Wenderoth, as with the plant documentarians, there must be somewhere hidden sex and violence. The intensity of Wenderoth’s approach is reminiscent of Emily Dickinson, and it’s interesting to consider in this context her poem, “I like a look of agony, / Because I know it’s true; / Men do not sham convulsion, / Nor simulate a throe. // The eyes glaze once, and that is death. / Impossible to feign / The beads upon the forehead / By homely anguish strung.” Wenderoth appears to revise her poem with the following entry:
Does Wenderoth’s speaker believe that pornography is less of a staged act and more of a revealed truth? It may be as confusing an issue as the nature films were shocking to early viewers. Such things are bound to get confusing for an alienated person, to whom the words “WE CARE” are not sincere. The individual, being disposable, should at least be useful if he wants to participate:
Wenderoth’s speaker’s knowledge that he will be thrown away allows him a fearlessness that would make him truly dangerous if anyone were paying attention. Since he does not speak the language of the focus group, his letters will go unanswered, if they are to be read at all, since “to disturb” becomes synonymous with “to be irrelevant.” His unrelenting adherence to the primal makes him imperceptible, or at most a curiosity, in a world where the cover-up is standard. In the words of Cocteau,
Christopher McDermott writes from Athens, Ga.