Letters To Wendy’s
For those of you that read the article that inspired this post about Wave Books two weeks ago, you might recall it opening with the story of how Joe Wenderoth became the first writer to get published by the original project that eventually evolved into Wave Books—Verse Press:
In Plymouth, New Hampshire, two ambitious poets with new MFA degrees from the University of Massachussetts were teaching writing classes at Plymouth State University. Brian Henry had brought Matthew Zapruder up from Northampton to ride the “desk jockey circuit” that entraps so many MFA graduates, teaching as temporary adjunct professors for low pay. Henry had recently taken over the editorship of Verse magazine, and Zapruder was also interested in publishing poetry. The “eureka moment” came in the form of the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of American Poetry Review landing in the mailbox.
Zapruder flipped through the pages and found some of Wenderoth’s “Letters to Wendy’s.” After failing to find any takers for them, Wenderoth had resorted to publishing chunks of the letters in literary journals and using the contributor’s biographical note to announce that the poems came from a manuscript in need of a publisher. “There was a note at the bottom that said he needed one,” Zapruder says, “and Brian and I just decided that we had to start a press and publish this stuff.”
Naturally, when I read that, I ordered the book immediately, and it arrived in the mail a few days ago. I’m only a third of the way through, but I already think this is one of the most important books of poetry so far written by my generation.
For a quick peek at the premise and execution of this masterful work of art, here’s a tiny piece excised from a Boston Review review:
Conceived as a year’s worth of daily responses on customer comment cards to the Wendy’s restaurant chain’s claim that “WE CARE!”, the collection is comprised of approximately three hundred epistolary prose poems of one hundred words or fewer in length, detailing the speaker’s love of chocolate shakes, plastic seats, bowel movements, fellatio, language, and meat. “Today I had a Biggie,” Wenderoth writes:
Usually I just have a small, and refill. Why pay more? But today I needed a Biggie inside me. Some days, I guess, are like that. Only a Biggie will do. You wake up and you know: today I will get a Biggie and I will put it inside me and I will feel better. One time I saw a guy with three Biggies at once. One wonders not about him but about what it is that holds us back.
Is he being serious? you might be asking yourself right now. I’m totally serious. Here is how another reviewer put it writing for the Portland Mercury:
What first comes across as a cute gimmick–a gathering of strange notes written on Wendy’s comment cards (Tell us about your visit–WE CARE!), displays a stunning depth that you wouldn’t expect. Spanning a time of 13 months, the unnamed scribe of these thoughts and confessions (and yes, sometimes even comments) chronicles the slow demise of mankind’s sanity. A sanity that is urged to consume Biggie portions of food and eat baked potatoes that even the Virgin Mary discovers are “dry as fuck.”
The scribe of these “comments” is a disturbingly compelling reflection of our modern derangement, and that derangement thickens and coagulates as one wades deeper into Letters To Wendy’s.
So now, when I hear the outrage over the nanny state’s latest target—16+ ounces of soda—I will think about these strange little poems, and indeed wonder what it is that holds us back from realizing how screwed up we’ve become.