Garrett Caples
Meritage Press ($16)

Joe Wenderoth
Wave Books ($14)

by Kevin Carollo

Both Garrett Caples and Joe Wenderoth have been busy this century, and 2008 finds them on top of their game. It’s been eight years since Caples’s groundbreaking first collection, the archly titled Garrett Caples Reader (1999), and almost as many since Wenderoth’s signature “work of fiction,” the prose-poem daybook “homages” collected in Letters to Wendy’s (2000), but their latest collections delight as much as they disarm.

In Complications, Caples’s dizzy play with recombinant alchemy will be familiar, as will the brash fluctuations between the scrabble-me-hard and wild essay poems. Perhaps the best of the four sections is “The Rogue Hague,” where one can find theoretical and hip-hop cadences rocking together. Check out “Bianca As I Found Her,” which is already “missing tiles from silent scrabble / steps from snap-it-together kits” and running to a snaky soundtrack by the time the poem declares:

this is not music to skate by, some scum skimmed from
creamsicle wheat
the cleateaten clef that stirs you, that traces signs on the
shifting surface
of a beach in an hourglass
that I flail to keep abreast of
that falls like a molten compass
sings in perpetual mulch and breath
my object is never to be at rest
not while the carpet is rolling smoke
and the earthquake snakes past loin
and the heart blows its mind on a spine violin

If you haven’t checked in with Wenderoth in a while, then the opening poem of No Real Light, “The Weight Of What Is Thrown,” might throw you—it is earnest, thoughtful, delicate, and utterly lacking anything regarding fisting. The poem’s end is particularly haunting: “Only the voice of No One / is really moving.” Also successful are the longer, more narrative pieces in No Real Light, including “Narrative Poem” and the collection’s closer, “Where I Stand With Regard To The Game,” which claims:

I played with pure joy, and with a brutality all my own.
I played the game without understanding
that there was a game.
This could not continue.

Many things cannot continue in this world, and Complications and No Real Light make one painfully aware of this brute fact. Wenderoth concludes “Sitcom” with the assertion that “The sun is an explosion. / We survive via proximity to an explosion / that is getting hotter.” In turn, Caples’s “Liquid Diary” ends with “god mopes in his sober robes / he still owes my company money // for snow we made last year,” suggesting the fake powder annually sprayed on the streets of Disney’s fake city Celebration, as depicted in the film The Corporation. Fake snow chills more than real snow, and when people enjoy such fake flake across the snow board, they beckon a real “that’s when I reach for my revolver” moment in contemporary American poetics. But instead of Breton’s infamous surrealist dictum of “guns in both hands, going into the street and firing into the crowd at random”[my translation, omitting the phrase “tant qu’on peut,” “as much as one can”], both books set fire to something else within us, something more. These poets’ hands are full with intricate fireworks, and their word crowds cannot stand by as innocent bystanders. The thrilling conclusion of No Real Light claims:

There would have to be something new,
something defying description.
There would have to be
a complete and hopeless destruction
of every grace, every distance.
And that is where I stand.

Both of these collections also call into question that prickly signifier “growth.” Let’s say, rather, that Caples and Wenderoth have come into their own, recognizable from the last millennium, but tooled and fueled to address the polymorphic anxieties of the 21st century. No wonder Complications and No Real Light both include poems that respond to our dying environment and “Support the Troops” bumper stickers, and no wonder that Caples’s “Orpheus” and Wenderoth’s “Eurydice’s Complaint” speak a mythic rap to each other. Scratch that. Wonder, dear reader, wonder. Now read on.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2008 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2008