Anarchy for a Rainy Day

Poems and collage by Valery Oisteanu

Published by Spuyten Duyvil Press, New York, 2015

Anarchy for a Rainy Day.Cover

By Allan Graubard

When I first heard the title to Valery Oisteanu’s new book, I began to sing. On a rainy day with a bit of anarchy in the wings almost anything can happen and, in these poems, often does. The readiness to embrace them is all. Valery Oisteanu is ready.

From his East Village perch in Manhattan, wandering close to home or traveling far and wide – Amsterdam, Bucharest, Paris, the Belgian Shore, Sardinia, Santorini, Venice, Rome, and more, each a place where he writes -- he reveals as only he can what makes living so poignant. Balanced by an incisive sense of mortality, his pleasures, despairs, rages, and humor enliven. Here, deft portraits, incandescent trysts, and solitary somersaults captivate. Here, in his solitude or with his friends, we learn not only “How to be a poem” but how such being in the full light of day can inspire beneficence and revolt. Love, of course, superb and erotic, predominates. And it is from and to love that Oisteanu writes some of his best poems.

In “Dancing with Nudes,” dedicated to the Belgian artist, Paul Delvaux, Oisteanu tells us: “A lonely skeleton strolls into rooms of seduction.” It is a place without “bad dreams, just abandonment in ecstasy” with “Lips touching, red nipples, breasts colliding”; a place of “dream paintings, breathing sexuality into the lifeless.” In another poem, “Khatmandu Prostitute,” Oisteanu chronicles a chance meeting with the same woman in a bus station after her work has finished. No longer dressed to entice, he recalls her as she was, whispering to him: “I love anal,” as she bites his lips in “my horizontal lingam temple”; a metaphorical lever that air lifts the poem but not before we discover that “Erotic carvings on the gates are laughing silently.” “The Jazz of Sex in Flight” paints a portrait of fleshy encounters where “Flashes of toxic psychedelic light/Radiate the bed with a blue glow all night” and “Bullet dreams of incomparable pleasure/…blaze behind the magician’s eyes.” A beautiful homage to his wife, Ruth, “A Miracle in Manhattan,” celebrates their “four-decade-long stream” where “All our desires flow like a dream/A dream within a dream within a dream.”  A second, equally beautiful poem to Ruth, “”The Wilderness of Her Lips,” tell us, almost as a leitmotif to the entire collection: “The astral goddess does her nightly dance.” 

These are heady way stations through the pages of this book, fonts of desire fulfilled that pull back the curtains to other scenes where different issues raise their tensions and laughter. What happens as age increases and “It,” meaning everything related to the body, “only gets worse” – a deep, sweetly serious bass line that configures the poem “Ripened Life Goes On”? Or how, in “A Zen-Dada Cyborg is Born,” Oisteanu emblazons an “absurdly sunny October day” with an unfortunate, nearly mythic fall and broken arm right “In front of St. Marks Church” – that theater devoted to avant-garde culture. In the poem, “Italian Faces and Places,” he studies the “impatient,” “grave,” “long,” “blasé,” “distorted,” “annoyed,” “confused,” “radiant Fellini-like” faces of those he meets or those that pass before him: “faces reminiscent of Dante’s Divine Comedy,” a charged reference within a moment of perception and appreciation. In a real or remembered St. Petersburg, Oisteanu encounters Lenin’s ghost, as he charts in brief the history of the city that carried the revolutionist’s name “for almost 70 years” before returning to its original with Putin, the new proto-czar, in charge, and “Pussy Riot,” our subversive female punk group, imprisoned with “forced labor” as a result. What has changed, in terms of politics and morality, between this new century and its brutal predecessor? Turning to Oisteanu’s immediate locale, the apartment where he lives, who can forget the wry humor of “The Golden Roaches,” unwanted inhabitants of his kitchen stove, their base transformed into “an existential tombstone”. Or his poem to the 9/11 terrorist attack, Manhattan itself become an exemplar of the surrealist game, cadavre exquis, but here envisioned as an “Exquisite Corpse Remembered and Dismembered,” with Billie Holiday’s rich rendition of “Autumn in New York” in concluding, somber counterpoint.

Filtered through the book, especially in the last section, which he dedicates to poets he knew well or fleetingly, but who touched him profoundly, he writes about Gellu Naum, founder of surrealism in their native Romania, and the illimitable Ira Cohen, Judith Malina, Tuli Kupfeberg, Ted Joans, Philip Lamantia, Eugenio Granell, Sarane Alexandrian, Peter Orlovsky, Barney Rossett, Taylor Mead, Harold Norse, and others and more. Oisteanu is one of them but happily with us in the here and now creating poems and his “violin collages”, as he calls them, ten of which appear in the book, in parallel with his many public readings, and his art and literary criticism.

Rooted in Dada and surrealism, which he revivifies, ever present, ever new, sensitive to the least alteration in the cosmic weather, Anarchy for a Rainy Day sings.

Go ahead: turn the dial on your inner ear to these poems and listen. Oisteanu is conducting an ensemble of visible invisibles from "manic panic street", "The sky roaring above Souda Bay" while "cats are flying freely over. secret gardens."

His gardens, but also mine. and yours.