cover image If I Don’t Breathe How Do I Sleep

If I Don’t Breathe How Do I Sleep

Joe Wenderoth. Wave (Consortium, dist.), $18 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-933517-87-2

Alternating between dark comedy, fractured surrealism, and caustic satire, Wenderoth’s fourth poetry collection (after No Real Light) succeeds in being both a self-conscious indictment and a perverse celebration of the capability of language itself. In “Hanging Up Some Xmas Lights in Late February” these tendencies are expressed succinctly: “sometimes a few words together/ are able to call out/ to the dead//who are never present/and never reply.” With sly, deadpan minimalism, many of the poems grapple with the absurdities of existing in a hollow but glitzy America as in “Access Hollywood,” where “The weight of each troubled star is discussed./ Stars that believe in aliens”; and later, “Weight is always a problem./It’s hard to keep in shape.” Wenderoth injects social critique without hectoring or preaching, as in “Early Capitalism,” which begins “they are perfecting the pillow/ with which/ you are being suffocated.” Elsewhere, moments of terrifying gravitas crop up unexpectedly, made more powerful through juxtaposition and contradiction. “Assembling Your Clown,” for instance, takes a humorous if macabre premise and cuts it with raw emotional content: “Feel the sadness of the clown’s bowed head,/ its willful eyeless despair.” The product of a truly innovative voice; these poems show Wenderoth working at the peak of his abilities. (Apr.)