TIME ON THE MOVE
Xanadu Press, 2020
Photos by Barbara Rosenthal
The relationship between publisher and author can be critical to success. With these two chapbooks, the relationship moved into new territory as Xanadu Press collaborated with both authors.
When Xanadu Press publisher Barbara Rosenthal heard Barry Wallenstein read she offered to publish his work on the spot. Then she realized that her own photographs would make a fine accompaniment. Likewise, when Rosenthal offered Wright a residency to produce a book, the two collaborated on the concept, design, and layout, and some of the imagery to be included.
Published on the year of his eightieth birthday, master poet Barry Wallenstein’s nine poems are jazzy, enlightened riffs on his well-lived, urbane life.
Interspersed throughout the chapbook, the one-page poems are illustrated by publisher Barbara Rosenthal’s realist based photographs Each poem is printed on its own page and paired with an almost enlarged but far more elegant sequential sheet. Her haunting imagery, shot in locales diverse as Russia, Puerto Rico, Europe, Canada, and the Midwest, provides a visual counterpoint to the immaculately crafted poems. A hazy vintage cover portrait of Anton Chekov (a doppelgänger of the dapper poet himself?) hints at the ghostly representation of Rosenthal’s work, migrating from the surreal to the conceptual. Wallenstein’s words are well reflected in Rosenthal’s oblique shots of windows, desolate rural vistas, train tracks, and shop displays, which create an idiosyncratic photo travelogue.
“Under every field of snow / lies a rising field of clover” is the koan-like beginning of “Time.” And it is the passage of time and treasuring of time that unites this collection. “Remember we never wasted a moment — not a jot lost in the rush” and then reminds us to “watch for speeding trains /along the glistening bars.” “Autumn Leaf” is a particularly incisive photo/poem duo that pairs angled black and white images of sky and barn, warning “and my stem, though attached, / is drying. I’ll be on you soon.” The last stanza, concludes with “Come spring / I could be lingering still / a last leaf upon the tree.” Despite my lack of concentration during the recent Corona pandemic, the brevity of Time on the Move had me returning again and again for a pleasurable poetic antidote to panic.
Wallenstein’s verbal interplay echoes the rhythmic patterns and inventive improvisation of music that is wholly American.
In the midst of the quarantine, the poem “Eventually” presented comforting possibilities, like “Friendship will or die,” and “the loose tooth tightens or falls out.” And then segues on to “the stars come closer, / and a new species … will rise up to build and knock down things.” Wisdom and pleasure permeate this jewel-like collection. Known for his long and revered history of collaborative jazz presentations, Wallenstein has absorbed the cadence, coolness, and mystery of freeform music. His verbal interplay echoes the rhythmic patterns and inventive improvisation of music that is wholly American, as inventive now as when it was first created. Musically improvisational patterns and a freewheeling spirit echo throughout the poems.
In these uncertain times, Wallenstein’s words offer a seasoned optimism. He takes time to herald “the scent of paraffin / as the sparks flicker / and still manage to glow” from “Thus Far” while saluting “the arms and hands he ran into / were embracing / and lasted deep into the evening.”
Paired with obliquely angled but unmanipulated shots of a carousel horse and palm fronds at night, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” reveals the poet’s enviable philosophy, exploring and embracing time’s inevitability. Eight decades of adventurous life and the subsequent gathered wisdom are echoed in the lines, “Then here it is again, time to go to bed again / and envision anothertomorrow / as if it were promised.”
the friendship will clarify or die,
the wound heal or fester,
the loose tooth tighten or fall out,
the falsehood reveal itself
and the fabricator be put in chains.
Eventually, the traffic will untie
and the bumpers locked together
will separate, and the cars will hum
along the freeway,
free in their release
all the way to Tuscaloosa.
Eventually, the seas will rise higher,
the stars come closer,
and a new species,
as full of accident as our own,
will rise up to build and knock down things
for a very long minute.
we’ll ship out dressed like quality
to have a magic time in the coming months,
and our world, impressed by the wake of our passage,
will whisper within itself,