The New York Quartelrly
Roy Robbins in Rattle
Drastic Dislocations is a selection of poetry from Barry Wallenstein’s six previous collections–from Beast is a Wolf with Brown Fire (1977) to Tony’s World (2009)–and includes more than sixty new poems. The selection is a shrewd one, exhibiting the poet’s peculiarly skewed and entirely unpredictable vision of contemporary life.
From poem to poem, stanza to stanza, Wallenstein’s tone shifts smoothly from robust to restrained, jubilant to jaundiced. He is a master of the almost invisible transition, the seemingly effortless metamorphosis of meaning and mood. He writes as vividly about the simple splendor of a summer day as he does when evoking what Delmore Schwartz described as “the famous unfathomable abyss.”
Whereas many poets become weary with age, Wallenstein appears to feel both freed up and fired up, experimenting with form and unafraid to explore life’s pleasures and perils. His best poems are powered by an incantatory groove, amplified by conceits that are as poignant as they are witty and deft. Drastic Dislocations demonstrates the consistently high standard of his work these past thirty-five years.
He’s alive, but barely;
the fall from space
was a long way down
and the sound of the impact
It’s a miracle really
to see/hear him breathing, even sighing
out of his twisted parts
and drastic dislocations.
– he sighs, they say, for us all –
The mystery of his flight and landing
is taking attention off the war,
and has drawn the world to wonder:
Who goes there? What’s the look?
TV crews, foreign and domestic,
circle the amazement,
set up camp; food and drink are flown in,
enough to keep us full and salty for a year,
enough to take our minds off the boxes stacking, while this fellow, out of nowhere, extenuates his sighing.