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  • In the Blink of a Third Eye by Valery Oisteanu
  • Allan Graubard (bio)
in the blink of a third eye
Valery Oisteanu
Spuyten Duyvil
116 Pages; Print; $30.00

Valery Oisteanu—poet, performer, artist and art critic—has led quite a life. Born in Russia in 1943, he finds himself as a young boy with his family in Bucharest, Romania, where he grows up. In 1963, inspired by surrealism and its forerunner, Dada, the twenty-year-old makes the sensibility his own in a country that types both movements as scandalous excrescences of bourgeois culture. Then in 1967, educated now as an organic chemical engineer, Oisteanu gains a national following with a buoyant weekly radio show that he MCs: "Everything for Everybody." Ill content with Communist Party dictates on culture, the show features a potpourri of jazz, rock, theater, and discussion about the underground cultural scene. Around that time, Oisteanu also [End Page 116] meets Gellu Naum, founder of the Romanian surrealist group, and the two form a lasting friendship. Add in convulsive poetry, sexual liberation, political contestation and a cutting sense of humor—as much as was possible in public in Romania—and the Oisteanu we know today comes into focus. He soon finds it impossible to live in a dictatorship and makes his escape. For a time, he resides in Israel, where he meets Ruth, his wife to be, then travels through Europe and lands in New York in 1972, where he has lived ever since.

A hotbed of the avant-garde—with poetry, art, music, theater, film and dance swirling the mix—Oisteanu embraces the moment. He settles in the East Village, a dangerous area then, and goes to it, collaborating with the likes of Ray Johnson, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and somewhat later Ira Cohen, among many others.

Now, at the age of seventy-eight, Oisteanu's newest book, In the Blink of A Third Eye, has lost none of that charge. Invigorating his initial sources with poems, collages, and prose poems, the older poet now deepens each with the full arc of his history focused on the phenomena and people he responds to. If a subtle sense of loss and lament pervades, the joy and humor he infects his writing and art with is counterpoint. If the anguish of dealing with collective crises seems unending, and it can when viewed over decades, as Oisteanu does, the irony and beauty he spices things up with balances the scales. And for this reader, at least, that is a prize value, and which, I hope, other readers will appreciate.

Set in six sections, the sixty-two poems, seven prose poems, and eighteen collages open up a reading route with different stops set along the way. Their place names are: "Beat Travel Blues," "Ghost Purgatory," "Underground of Distorted Memories," "Jazzoetry Labyrinth," "New Poems: Pandemic Variations," and "Prose Poems." I don't know about you, but if I were traveling through a country with road signs like these, I'd stop at each one and head on in. I'd also take to heart the request that Oisteanu makes in his opening statement to try reading the poems aloud, "all by yourself, and don't be afraid to laugh at the confused pronouns and absurdist humor. The blind swimmer," he continues, "will guide you through this tormented trip full of waterfalls of metaphors that splash sideways and climb upwards."

Opposite the statement is a visual key; an erotically charged collage with one foot in the present, one foot in the past: a close up of a woman's face in [End Page 117] half-profile, her luscious lips flanked on the right by a curious asynchronous dancing couple, a coarsely cut third eye on a Buddha statue's brow upper left, another eye peeping out from a prominent egg, a metal toy robot of sorts with prominent breasts below and just opposite a white spectral face with two yellow daffodils as neck decorations. Below right is a triangle of striped wrapping paper with the edges pulled back as if the entire collage were beneath it. To top...