Review: Perks in Purgatory


Jim Feast

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 123 in June, 2010.

Perks in Purgatory
By Valery Oisteanu
(New York: Fly By Night Press, 2010)

Review by Jim Feast

Valery Oisteanu has a five-track mind. That, at least, is my conclusion after reading his inspiring new poetry book, Perks in Purgatory, which is evenly divided into sections that focus on politics, sex, geographical reflections, artistic homages, and moping considerations of the present state of the globe.

But, to backtrack immediately, I am not saying that these divisions suggest any kind of break in consciousness for, throughout it all, Oisteanu writes with the same haywire authority, imposing on (willing) readers with an unruffled outpouring of striking, liquid images, couched in a lush, up-fluttering language that is all under a vivid tint, like that cast by the red neon adverting a girlie show, of his supercharged, visionary perspective.

Rather than talk more about this, let me reach into the book for some lines, such as “Drunk again, drunk with emptiness,” “Because the unknown is all that we have,” and “God is ready-made when he discovered himself.” Here are some longer excerpts, first one describing a necropolis, “And the walking, cynical corpses carrying other corpses // In the land of nothingness” and here one on a sex party, “Swimming pool orgy with the music of birds // Primitive statues get an erection // Totem poles are chasing dogs.”

These last two quoted passages actually mark the self-imposed limits of the author’s poetic universe, through which his intellect darts, without stopping for a breather along the way, between moments of high exaltation, brought on by sexual congress, adventure, and partying; and moments on Desolation Row, triggered by such things as observations of America’s creeping fascism, his waning powers as he ages, and the triumph of commerce in the arts.

I say “self-imposed,” because I am familiar with Oisteanu’s other writings, including autobiographical ones that detail his extraordinary life, as well as art criticism published in the Brooklyn Rail, that show his encyclopedic and delicate sensibility when it comes to analyzing Surrealist and Dada art. Although a few poems in this collection brush on these reaches of his intelligence, in general these concerns are set aside in favor of a deeper, more inspired writing that can only be expressed in a poetry of raging lightning.