Vasectomania by Matthew Guenette. University of Akron Press, 2017.
Review by Frederick Kreutz
Poet Matthew Guenette and publisher University of Akron Press have captured the essence of Vasectomania in the photo on the cover. Imagine the typical backyard of a family home, strewn with kid stuff—bikes, a wading pool, trucks, and water toys. In the middle of this yard lies the father, face down, arms and legs spread in total exhaustion. This image encapsulates the many themes, observations, and emotions of Vasectomania.
Together the books thirty-six poems look for connections with his past, reactions to his present, and observations about who he was and who he has become. Exhaustion is a key ingredient in the aura of the poems. Life is hard, parenting is draining, kids are crying or screaming and won’t go to sleep. Giving offspring a “better” youth is always in doubt, worthiness is shadowed in guilt and promises to make “a better life” are challenged. Matthew Guenette thrives on juxtaposition, contrasts slapped against one another, clashes of past to present, mundane to sublime. There is always more to notice and think about at a second and third reading.
In Vasectomania one meets a multitude of different poetic forms and techniques. The reader finds poems in stanzas, free verse, and paragraph prose poems. Many of his poems build on the repetition of a word or phrase, often at the beginning of lines and phrases. In “Flemmox,” “if you” begins thirty-five phrases from, “if you think hard work will get you there” through, “if you replace the dead fish without telling,” to, “if you insist; even if there is a pill for this / or an app, what pent up irresistible untold do you crave?” “For the” is used seventeen times in “Bastille Days”, and “when” starts nineteen stacked clauses in “Zero Thoughts of You”: “when the weirdo / with the mullet dunked chicken nuggets in chocolate / milk… // when the uncle who / whizzed on an electric fence called me an idiot // when they stuck a price gun in my hand to go and kill the / Mello Yellow sale, I had zero thoughts of you.”
Another stylistic invention is the fluid use of indents, often two, three, four hits of the tab key. Several of the poems spread all over the page; one most notably “Someone has to make a list” starts on the left margin moves through the center toward the right and back and forth several times, slithering like a snake back and forth across the page. The delight in this is that in a poem calling for a list, organization, and clear-headedness, the very physical performance of the poem shouts the opposite. “Someone / has to drag the push-mower / back into the shed // Someone has to find / the cards missing from the board / game… // Someone…has to find / where the remote is buried in the un / vacuumed couch, which means / someone / has to vacuum / the cushions, which means / someone / must first borrow / or buy / a vacuum. // Someone has to… // without crying, but why does it // have to be me?”