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  • From Our Own
  • F. D. Reeve (bio)
Drastic Dislocations: New and Selected Poems. Barry Wallenstein (ABR Associate Editor). New York Quarterly Books. 224 pages; paper, $18.95.

Drastic Dislocations is scrupulously organized with a happy, heavy slant to the present: there are selections from six previously published volumes and four sections of new poems under the heading "Drastic Dislocations" including the third poem in the "Lorelei" subsection titled "The Invitation," fourteen lines beginning:

I've a bed as large as a yard,you could hang loose and pick your corner

The poem ends with

This bed is a glory thinglarge love and brimmingCome into my yardsweet personwith your eyes wild,I mean darting, and wise.

Because "Lorelei" titles both the subsection and a poem in it, a reader immediately assumes that the poet's invitation is to Lorelei and, like a mythical sailor's, to his own wreck—a drastically consummate dislocation. But with the imperious bravado of a young man and the cool charm of a natural, disinterested observer, Wallenstein reverses the roles and upgrades the siren.

She is naturally passionate; he is naturally accommodating. His wisdom lies in self-preservation; hers, in self-abandonment; the fusion is the glory. The bed of the fusion is in a room in the house of the poem, imaginatively enactable on each reading. In the long view, all these new and selected poems construct a house full of lovemaking.

Wallenstein's first book, Beast Is a Wolf with Brown Fire (1977), bore a foreword by M. L. Rosenthal, an extraordinary poet and teacher whom Wallenstein here thanks for inspiration and guidance. A man of great civility and sensitivity, Rosenthal must have delighted in the young man's free-thinking and his rich sense of good humor, his skill at finding tantalizing metaphors for projecting self-dramatizations, as in "The Falling Apart of Time"—

My brain is beside meor on the glass tablelooking or itself looking likea dropped watch.

While in "Beast is a Wolf with Brown Fire,"

the beast is a wolf andshe goes to youshe's found you outmy love.

He diagrams human actions as a pattern on a chessboard in which the spontaneity of the knight constantly surprises and you're never sure who may next come up behind you, "my love"—the point being that the specific "one" comes out of the general "you" and has been there all along and isn't "me," who is always other, as in "Ghosts":

Yes, I'm one of them,a shade up from some past life,one of many, visiting.

"The centuries brood around the table. / No need to crush or rush"—from the viewpoint of ants, worms, and beetles, we're merely provender ("Love and Crush"). Even in the beginning, Wallenstein's work was distinguished by his distinctive voice and an economy of language characterized by the boomerang quality of dramatic irony. Wallenstein's words work coming and going.

By the poems of the nineties, the animations have become autochthonous, and the wit, deliriously self-enforcing, the poet himself a special pen "In the Hand of a Princess":

you chew my nub—ooohthe length of my life dependson the thoughtful pressure of your handand the teasing bite of your teeth.

—or entirely an "other," a make-believe double named "Tony," who starts off what nearly twenty years later becomes a book of poems by filing, in imitation seventeenth-century fashion, a self-referential, self-lover's "complaint"—"The world's been destroying me"—which is simultaneously both true and false. The immediate pleasure on meeting Tony is admiring his gymnastics and discriminating among his jokes. By the time we get to the sixteen poems preserved from Tony's World (2010), the poet has become an accomplished ventriloquist with his "dummy" doing a Gallagher & Shean vaudeville act from the first poem, "Tony Upbraids Himself":

Tony, do you know how to minus?We know—the whole world knows—Canada, India, Brooklynlook at your plate—what's there andlick your lips and smile—in a minuteyour face might be frozen,or cold. Tony...


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