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Review of Dream Protocols by Lee Ballentine. Talisman House.


Lee Ballentine is probably best-known as the editor of POLY: New Speculative Writing. The 1989 anthology set a new standard for writing that explores the tricky border between science fiction and surrealism. His previous collection of poetry, Basements in the Music Box, explores the same visionary realm, as does this new collection of 36 poems, many of them first published in such magazines as Ice River and Velocities.

Ballentine's poems are long, intriguing structures with a rhythmic pulse and wailing sensibility reminiscent of wild jazz solos flickering across electronic circuit boards. That same mix of the earthy and the cyber-real, the hallucinatory and the futuristic. The jazz influence is obviously inherited from his father, a professional jazz drummer. The science fiction elements are harder to place. SF is so prevalent in today's society--so much of our world seems to be something out of a special effects department--that Ballentine could have picked them up from a walk through a department store, let alone from reading interplanetary adventures. His science fiction themes are definitely from the J. G. Ballard end of the SF spectrum, not shoot-em-ups in outer space but intense, obsessive hallucinations. And hallucinations are where science fiction meets surrealism.

Once such hallucination, from "The River": "It was May when I first touched your face / in the coils of river air--coils of star presence / trolling the river at midnight / and when my headphones slipped off / there was nothing separating you from me." Another hallucination, from "Dream Protocol": "Dipped in the mirror // he tracks reflection across his mistress' bed / (the light breaking & baroque angles / wind anaconda coils around her arm)."

Just two examples in a book taking the marriage of science fiction and surrealism to splendid heights.

--Thomas Wiloch