"Drastic Dislocations" is the title poem of the section of new poems in this Selected Poems by Barry Wallenstein, and this title is consistent with many of his concerns registered in the poetry he began writing in his teens. His first publications were in the old Transatlantic Review in 1964, but it wasn't until 1977 that BOA Editions published his first book of poems, Beast is a Wolf with Brown Fire. This new volume includes the author's choices from each of his six previous books, poems reflecting the socio-political life of the time as well as the perennial, transcendent themes of eros and thanatos. For the past 40 years this poet, who was also a professor of modern poetry at the City University of New York for that many years, has worked closely with jazz artists in the performance and recording of his work.
Barry Wallenstein's poems, intense and yet restrained, immediate and yet casual, sing out of love and pathos while whispering of decay. His new and selected edition, Drastic Locations, offers many pleasures; among them the capacity for joy despite the full knowledge of life's limitations. As he writes in "All Messed Up": "I mean, my brother, / you can straighten up / walk out / and carry on."
Barry Wallenstein's voice is unique in American poetry: magic, seductive, cryptic, a little demonic, definitely sexy, as if some perfume from Les Fleurs du Mal clung to its overtones. Very cool, very hot, a down-low jazz—made, nonetheless, "of chinks and thin armor."
"[I]f you're on the inside, you're inside/and if you're on the outside/that's just another chance": Barry Wallenstein's poems animate times of radical contingency. In venues like The World's End Cafe or The Hotel Splendide, his characters celebrate huge cities on the point of collapse, love affairs that deepen as they become physical. Even the authorial voice seems to have materialized from a Lucky Thompson solo, torn between jubilee and despair, haunted by a little too much wisdom. Drastic Dislocations is a magisterial collection, the monumental record of a life transformed by the poetic imagination.