The Origin of Paranoia as a Heated Mole Suit, poems by Rupert Wondolowski. Baltimore: Publishing Genius Press, 2008.
I met Rupert Wondolowski at a reading in Baltimore hosted by Artichoke Haircut, a local literary journal which hosts amazing readings. (Seriously. Kazoo solos. Sex with octopi. People taking their clothes off without even putting it in the context of a Matthew McConaughey vehicle). This night, Publishing Genius Press was featured. Wondolowski read with Joseph Young (author of Easter Rabbit, a flash collection I blurbed a couple years ago.) Wondolowski blew me away. His poems balanced absurdity with hard-hitting truth. Someone once asked me why I write some of my more absurd pieces, and the only answer I had was that they are more real than most of my straight realist pieces. There’s an oft overused saying that writers ‘lie their way to the truth’ and, in a similar vein, absurdist writers ‘stand their way to the poof.’ Wondolowski brings to mind a line by John S. Hall from “It’s Saturday”: “Sense cannot be made. It must be sensed. And I, for one, am incensed by all this complacency.”
There’s so much humor in these poems, it’s hard to pick out one piece to focus on. A good start is “Steve Fischer Continues,” a poem about the pulp writer of I Wake Up Screaming, and many other pulp books. Wondolowski lampoons the melodrama so often seen in this type of writing while simultaneously paying homage to a master of the genre: “I wake screaming./I scream scratching the dog’s belly in bed,/ scream seeing the third pillow has fallen to the dusty floor.” (lines 1-3).
And what is a heated mole suit? Obviously, it’s uncomfortable and awkwardly unattractive. And if one were wearing it, others would probably react strangely, leading to paranoia. I can’t help but think Wondolowski is talking about the body, the meat suit. In the title poem, Wondolowski waxes melancholic about his childhood (or at least of a child-like narrator): “It’s the loneliest Halloween ever, Charlie Brown. I’m packing my bags for the Patsy Cline Institute for the Emotionally Disabled as chunks of nations are being swallowed or washed away like mashed bananas in a baby’s cereal bowl.” (12-16). Towards the end of the poem, as the narrator sits in his mole suit, he has “an epiphany. All I want is some flatbed truck resonance, a slightly burned picnic table, a clean giddy life of grass stains.” He yearns to return to a more innocent time when he wasn’t concerned about global war, self-image, and the horrors of the world.
The reason that Wondolowski’s poems work isn’t just that they’re funny, or full of pop culture references, or so strange that they instantly invite consideration; plenty of poets are filling their poems with these things these days, juxtaposing Papa Smurf with drug dealers. To be honest, that’s not that difficult to do. The reason Wondolowski’s poems stand out is that there’s something inside the mole suit. And that IS difficult. Wondolowski’s narrator feels like he’s in a mole suit and mocks himself and also mocks that mockery. This is complex stuff and human but Wondolowski refuses to let it sink to the level of melodrama without getting in a few good laughs first. It’s rare for me to find a poet or writer whose work I truly admire, but I admire what Wondolowski’s doing here. His language and imagery are startling, fresh, and insightful. As a matter of fact, before I wrote this review, I ordered his other books. I can’t wait to read them.