Translation by Marilyne Bertoncini:
Upside of Fairy Tales
I had the chance to meet the poet, Barry Wallenstein, while he was in residence at the monastery above the medieval village of Saorge, in the Roya Valley north of Nice. I’ve also listened to him speech-singing his Tony poems accompanied by jazz on the CD Tony’s Blues. Marilyne Bertoncini, poet and translator, came to work with him in the monastery gardens, and the result of their collaboration is this bilingual book.
"Tony's Blues" introduces a most contemporary voice speaking in an urban setting, one very much like New York City. I would talk willingly of this as a comic poem or drama or an American film with a blues rhythm for the soundtrack. This is a city where Tony smokes joints, downs glasses, engages in some illicit traffic, frequents jazz clubs, goes to a brothel, tries stand out by dyeing his hair red. We also see suburbs where kids are fighting, where people are stabbed.
"Tony—you’re a slick/sick mutha-hubba” is the first line of the collection; the tone is set. Who is Tony? A little boy whose father worked in a slaughterhouse; as a child he witnessed real blood: "They bled the cattle / but clubbed the calves--/ all to do with the taste of the meat/ and young as I was, I studied it.” Like his father, he carries a knife, a phallic heritage. "And what did I own really,/ other than the lift and the carry” onto his dad’s “difficult shoulders.”
A homeless individual in the sense that we are all symbolically SDF since our real home is one in which we will stay as long as: death. "—in a minute/ your face might be frozen,/ or cold, Tony, cold. " " … racing as we are to the same post,/ bitten by the same fly.”
In another poem, he’s an orphan addressing his mother, "under cover" for five years; in another he’s a crackpot who hammers his own head: "Why ever did he do it? / He says the curse came flying/ and he pulled it down.”
Tony seems to include all marginal potential of the human condition. To be a poet is obviously one possibility on society’s margin.
Tony is also in relationship with his creator (a god-parent with hands covered with blood): "Someone else in my voice--/ it's frightening/ worse than a bone caught/ &
a choke/ I feel my pulse slowing/ & now, again, speeding/ Who’s in the wings?”
Near the end of the collection, Tony accepts a dream of no longer needing to “add onto himself” material stuff: "After years of forestalling the dream, / the dream arrived:" and it was a dream in which, unlike fairy tales, nothing that Tony asks for is granted. Finally he’s happy to do without.
The book is illustrated by four photographs of the sky seen through the branches of trees, skyscrapers tops, or cables of a suspension bridge. I am reminded of of The Cranes Are Flying, the scene in which the soldier dies when seeing the sky twirling between treetops.
Marilyne Bertoncini, both a translator and a poet, help provide the mood, tone, and pace of this surprising and singular creation