Robert Alan Wendeborn
The Blank Target
reviewed by Tara Westmor
Robert Alan Wendeborn exposes the nuance of memory in his poetic debut The Blank Target. Each poem is a reimagining of a relationship gone wrong. Here is the wreckage, here are the words that ache for a “come back,” for a “one last,” for a “I don’t need you.” Of course, I can’t help but think of Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: “To know that one does not write for the other, to know that these things I am going to write will never cause me to be loved by the one I love (the other), to know that writing compensates for nothing, sublimates nothing, that it is precisely there where you are not—this is the beginning of writing.” Wendeborn takes the past; he shakes it up and then asks for it to reassemble itself.
In many ways The disappeared you Is more luxurious Than the present you.
The “present you” is a ghost, is so many skeletons, is a grave riddled with holes. Wendeborn reminds us the past is a cemetery. We are all grave robbers; and while we tunnel into our interior, we find the luminous phantoms of our past deserting us all over again.
Poems in The Blank Target are numbered and then re-ordered. Wendeborn’s table of contents is structured “in chronological order in which the contents were created.” But in this glossary of memories, every reenactment is in disarray; each poem only a perception of a real event just faded into the spontaneous shambles of recollection. These poems are live wires that snap in and out of memory. At once in the present and the past, exterior and interior. The book resembles the scenes we continuously revisit. They ache for reason but also resolution; in which both cannot exist. We can never get the girl back. We can’t scratch into the chasm and scrape out the same woman that left. Wendeborn’s book traverses the interior journey of a lover aching for the (re)start of things. Both dangerously fallible and keenly aware of itself, the speaker moves us through the recollection of happiness, wounded of course by all this mangled present.
…Our logic pauses in the right place at the right time.
Logic skips in places and waterfalls into phantasmic leaps. Where there are no words to describe loss, Wendeborn does not shirk his awareness of his own disappearing. In some poems he begins to erasure himself: “Do you really think you’ll blank me.” These “blank” poems represent the manifestation of forgetting. Amnesia is abandonment. Forgetting as a way to dismantle what really happened. Wendeborn dismantles himself. “I want to be blanked. Blank me.”
The poems in The Blank Target remember themselves. This is a book that is wholly aware of its own inexpressibility. In the poem “Acknowledgments”, Wendeborn lists off the initials of people who have impacted him:
This is for CT, you took everything I gave you & I kept giving This is for KP, you only wanted to talk about the Murders…
By calling upon the moments he has shared with others, Wendeborn weaves together thirty-four shared accounts that cannot be revisited without the blurred shroud of time gone past. Some poems tear right out of the page, shaking our shoulders with emphasis: “Because this is a confessional poem & is not a trick,” changed in a later poem as “This is not a confessional poem motherfucker / it’s a collection of facts”. Here, Wendeborn plays with the dualistic nature of his own memory. It is all false. It is all true. And every memory quakes with assuredness: it really happened!
The collection is riddled with old acquaintances and accounts. Poems don’t just repeat themselves, they recount and repeat words. Each poem is a reenactment: a kiss, gravestones, toothbrushes, motorcycles, laces and straps. These words can’t stay on one page, they must disperse and reinvent themselves in others. Wendeborn remembers the everyday and ordinary in so many ways that we can’t be sure which events really happened and which events were only hopeful could-have-beens. He takes us into distorted versions of the past. And at the close of a relationship, these are the fragments we keep coming back to. Wendeborn exposes not true-to-life events but memories that repeat themselves into surrealism, into oblivion, into a dismal mash-up of what could have been, what isn’t, and what you were most afraid of. This isn’t nostalgia; it is a spectacle of abandonment that must constantly be reproduced to be affirmed. The Blank Target shows us that memories don’t just haunt. They don’t just linger or suffocate or oppress, but they desert us over and over again.
This is for you This is for you This is for us
And this is for RAW, you and I, we’ll never get them back. And this abandonment will repeat itself.