It Is If I Speak / Edition 1

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In the epigraph to Joe Wenderoth's new volume of poetry, a herdsman, exhorted by Oedipus to speak the truth, replies "It is if I speak that I will be destroyed."

Wenderoth's poetry is sparse, nihilistic — and sometimes witty. Publishers Weekly wrote that, "Like Stevens, Wenderoth has a passion for philosophical ideas; at the same time he follows Williams' dictum: no ideas but in things. The result is poetry that is intellectually charged but whose final fidelity is to the senses." His new book has the dignity of a sincere and ferocious despair. In the narratives of these poems, "owing is all that really happens," and lives are shaped by the refusal to "sink dumbly into tolerance of a spectacle."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In a courageous follow-up to Disfortune (1995), Wenderoth populates his poems with austere voices that assert a strange and prophetic authority over us even as they seem naive, almost nascent . . . Cumulatively, the voice and vision of these poems suggest an up-to-the-minute Kafka; Wenderoth presents a deadeningly organized world and scrutinizes it for untouched lyricism." —Boston Review

"Wenderoth's exquisite evocations of finely discriminated loss offer moody evasions of concrete statement, electing paradox and abstraction . . . Much praised for his 1995 debut, Disfortune, Wenderoth shows himself in this second volume to be a competent inheritor of an abstraction-wearied symbolist tradition many had given up for dead." —Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Reducing sentience to slumber, reason to ritual, sight to shadow, the human to the abject and the animal, Wenderoth's exquisite evocations of finely discriminated loss offer moody evasions of concrete statement, electing paradox and abstraction over the death his entombed and enslaved personae fear will follow if they dare speak plain. The 54 poems, most of them brief, are governed by a handful of motifs: the evanescence of meaning and memory, the Orphic dismemberment to which the poet is inevitably destined, the violence native to presence, the mystery underlying human community. "The pattern is only ever of animal success," Wenderoth writes in the opening stanza of "Museum," "the cry of a real gathering/ misheard and losing itself/ toward the idea of a sound/ which was not a blade." The cry usurping utterance, the insistence upon imperfect perception ("misheard"), the shaded abstraction ("the idea of a sound") and the hovering threat of the one concrete noun ("blade") are all habitual devices of the volume, as are the deepening ambiguities repetition brings to the poem's denouement. Two longer poems structured as numbered catalogues, "Restrictions" and "Things to Do Today," strain their short phrases toward surrealistic effects ("collide with the hidden zoo and act surprised by the amount of unnecessary sleep hidden therein") and desperate humor ("said person believes the word `person' signifies, above all, a mobile, vacant, and consistently endangered habitat"), neither of which consistently succeed in lifting the monotony induced by obsessively repeated cognitive tricks. Much praised for his 1995 debut, Disfortune, Wenderoth shows himself in this second volume to be an competent inheritor of a abstraction-wearied symbolist tradition many had given up for dead. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Wenderoth's work is sparse in form and content, with each poem addressing one central topic and attempting to explore it through a nihilistic lens. Unfortunately, the poems rarely reveal the speaker's passion, and the spareness denies reader response. Although the poems are philosophical in the manner of Wallace Stevens, the awkward juxtaposition of lines obscures rather than enlightens; the reader's desire for coherence is hardly satisfied. Indeed, some of the poems fail to make much sense: "I am gathered/ too late/ to/ have been/ just music." These stanzas, like many in the volume, are just chopped-up prose. Wenderoth does choose the ordinary for his raw material, but the lifelessness of the verses makes the ordinary seem all too banal. Too often, these are poems that suffer from "having nothing to say."--Tim Gavin, Episcopal Acad., Merion, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819563903
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2000
  • Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 88
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.21 (d)

Meet the Author

JOE WENDEROTH, whose new work is published regularly in Triquarterly, Colorado Review, Seneca Review, and other journals, has captured the front cover of American Poetry Review, and continues to gather a following. A graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program, he is currently in the English Department at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. Author of Disfortune (Wesleyan, 1995) and a chapbook The Endearment (1999), excerpts of his Letters to Wendy's are accessible on-line at

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Table of Contents

As Hour and Year Collapsed 1
First Impression 3
Promise 4
Meaning 5
The Only Fortunate Thing 6
Watching Home Movies 7
Native Quiet 8
"We Sleep More Than We Sleep" 9
The Thinking Instructor 10
Orpheus In Hell 11
Museum 12
Send New Beasts 13
Restrictions 15
Pretty Girl 20
Instructions On How To Get Here 21
Alternate Instructions On How To Get Here 22
All That Really Happens 23
After The Mass Wedding 24
Lethe 25
The Shouts Of Children At Dusk 26
Home 27
Not Touching: Thetic Perseverance 28
King Of Illiterates 29
Untitled 30
Wend 31
Obscenery 32
Stalker 33
Poem 34
Palace Walls 35
Inter Esse: Against Lap Dances 36
To My Wife On Our First Anniversary 37
The Method 38
Each Sentence Is Into The Fast 39
The Administration Of The Registration 40
Unspeakable Early 41
Letter From A Most Loved American General, 1996 42
To Julianna 43
Things To Do Today 44
My Life 49
Human Moan 51
The Lie 52
Being 53
Knowledge 55
Nirvana 56
Juggernaut 57
Dream 58
Billy's Famous Lounge 59
To Darryl, Who Is Expected To Die Today In A Beloit Hospital 60
"Existence Is Not An Adjective For Pain" 61
Mishima 62
Science 63
Writer 66
Go-Go Bar 67
Back River Neck Road 68
Notes 69
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