Title: DREW: Poems from Blue Water Author: Robert Gray ISBN 13: 978-0-942544-68-8 ISBN 10: 0-942544-68-4 Trim Size: 6 x 9 Page Count: 122 Retail Price: $18.95 Publication Date: October 2009
DREW: Poems from Blue Water At first glance, DREW is an elegy for an older brother who died too young, but more than that, it is a coming of age tale, a story of summers at a lake house in Alabama, a “novel in verse” that carries the reader through sibling rivalry and the murky, dark waters of sibling death. Through Robert Gray’s honest telling, the reader sees what it feels like to see a brother who was often larger than life become a shadow of his former self. Elegant descriptions, honed to crystal clarity, bring a place and time—and the persons who inhabited both—to vibrant life. DREW is not only a heartbreaking story of death, but also the redemptive story of a brother who wistfully hopes that if his brother’s spirit isn’t somewhere out there on the water, that “heaven is as good / as the lake would have been.” Photo credit: Bill McDavid
What Other Poets Have Said About DREW According to Robert Gray, Drew was the book he never intended to write. His brother, who died of a brain tumor at the age of twenty-four, was not someone he wanted to write about, and Robert spent twenty years dodging the inevitable until he found the right poems to tell this story. This novel-in-poems is an elegy, but the back porch kind, told at the cricketing sunset after a few beers by a man who took years to comprehend the complicated knots that siblings make and what kind of loss it takes to undo them. Immediately accessible and always tenderhearted, these down-to-earth poems come from a well-worn place that is raw and true. —Nickole Brown, author of Sister A haunting re-collection of the unimaginable. The poet/philosopher remembers an older brother, dead at 24, in this book-length poem. Told in the characteristic flat tone of grief and its truths, Gray's personal epic moves us to acceptance, towards a life well-told. —Lorna Dee Cervantes, author of Emplumada; From the Cables of Genocide: Poems On Love and Hunger; and DRIVE: The First Quartet Plunge into this book fully with all your senses alert, the way a teenage boy dives into a lake, and explore the sometimes murky worlds of adolescence, memory, and loss. Robert Gray gives us, in Drew: Poems from Blue Water, a kind of memoir in verse that evokes coming of age in lateseventies and early-eighties Alabama: small towns and lake cabins, football and rock and roll, and, in Gray’s case, losing a brother way too soon. For those who have been there, the smoothly flowing lines of Gray’s poems are like talk after a funeral, the pain of losing a loved one softened and eased by the stories told, the laughter shared. Gray’s distinctive voice, humor, striking imagery, and skillfully woven narrative make this a book you may read in one sitting but will want to come back to and savor. —Jennifer Horne, author of Bottle Tree and editor of Working the Dirt: An Anthology of Southern Poets An extraordinary sustained meditation on mortality, this book-length poem is determined to reveal how grief affects not only the present and not only the future, but also the past. Boldly straddling the tradition of the prose memoir and the elegy, Gray’s poem opens up the territory that lies between them, and, so doing, creates not only a powerful monument to his lost brother, but an artifact that belongs firmly in the long lineage of mourning. —T. R. Hummer, author of The Infinity Sessions and Walt Whitman in Hell To read Robert Gray’s Drew: Poems from Blue Water is to be young on Lake Martin on any summer day. To know health, certitude, and the mythic beliefs of youth—that our older brother is the powerful one, the invulnerable—and then to know the other side—the absolute end of innocence. As I listen to rock-n’-roll lyrics of a young Robert Gray's own composing, snatches of “bawdy” songs of Uncle Jim, escapades of the twenty-something Drew—in ways reminiscent of the endearing prankster Peter Pan, though tan and six feet tall—this reader, despite the troughs of grief, glides across the ski wakes of the poet’s encounters with his own broadening identity, as he honors another's—with blue-water vignettes in this innovative “novel in verse.” —Bonnie Roberts, author of Dances in Straw with a Two-Headed Calf and To Hide in the Light
What Other Poets Have Said About Grayâ€™s I Wish That I Were Langston Hughes Robert Gray expertly weaves his own words with those of some of the great poets to honor and illuminate their lives. Each poem sparks the imagination and challenges the reader to move beyond the surface into the red hot center of life. Irene Latham, author of What Came Before Robert Gray's keen and wry poetic homages to the diverse group of poets who have inspired him give pleasure on many levels: they work as gentle parodies, incisive close readings, and above all as tributes to the writers he loves. All poets must struggle with their forebears even as they learn from them, but Gray's among the few who understand that this paradox isn't a problem. It's the exact and only path to the genuine. Joel Brouwer, author of Exactly What Happened and Centuries If there has been a time in the last hundred years when the great ones who shadow us were in greater need, I do not know of it. These poems have the good sense to populate our comfortable and blood-thirsty lives with the singular longing of those who gave reason to not betray hope, in their own day and in our own. Louie Skipper, author of The Fourth Watch of the Night and The Work Ethic of the Common Fly So many poets, caught-up in the practice of writing in form, often fall short of the wonderful music and musings Robert Gray so skillfully renders in each poem in his debut book, which offers so much homage to poets who have labored hard and long in the dense vineyards of verse, poets who are unforgettable too for having taught us, by example, what good poetry is by their well-wrought songs. Gray is a talented poet, master of rich, terse poems, so well-written, they almost seem easy. Willie James King, author of The House in the Heart
iâ€™ve only been to the lake three or four times since drew died but i have often wondered if he is still there skiing through the narrows like he always did a single step off the wooden platform at the back of the ski nautique barefoot with one leg crossed over the other as though he were sitting in his own church pew in his own cathedral holding the rope handle in the crook of his elbow cigarette in one hand and a miller high life in the other if youâ€™re not out there on the water now brother i hope heaven is as good as the lake would have been
Q&A with Robert Gray What made you want to write this book? I didn’t so much want to write it as decide it had to be written. I’d written a few poems over the years about my brother Drew, who died of a brain tumor when I was in college, and each time I’d write one, someone would suggest that I write a book of poems about him. I never really considered doing it, however. In fact, I resisted even thinking about it. But then I heard about Nickole Brown’s novel in verse, Sister, and a couple of friends started urging me to try a verse novel of my own. At first I played along just to get them off my back—I didn’t expect to get very far with it. Then I stumbled upon an idea that focused the narrative. After that I couldn’t stop writing. Why did you decide to center the book around the cabin at Lake Martin? A book about Drew not set at the lake could not be a book about Drew. The lake was the center of his world. Also, the poem that opens the last chapter is what started all of the novel talk in the first place, so the lake was central to the entire project. There is a good deal of moving back and forth in time in the book. Why did you choose to do that rather than to create a chronological narrative? When I started working on the novel, my plan was to organize it chronologically. I was going to start out with poems about childhood, then have some poems about our adolescent adventures, and end with Drew’s illness. It seemed like a logical plan, but the more I wrote, the more I realized that it not only lacked narrative coherence, but it also wasn’t very interesting. It had a feel of standard biography I wasn’t comfortable with, and I began to get a sense that the distribution of emotion wasn’t quite right either. When I wrote the poem about being told of the tumor after being picked up at the airport, I knew it had to be the first poem in the story, which restructured the central narrative to run from that moment until his death. I still wanted the book to be as much about his life and character as about his death, so to do this the narrative had to shift back and forth in time.
Your descriptions make Drew seem somehow larger than life. How much poetic license did you employ in your descriptions of your brother? I’m sure the years have inflated my memories, but I made no intentional effort to exaggerate his character or actions. When I first started the project, I contacted as many of his close friends as I could to ask for stories and suggestions that might spark my memory, and many incidents recounted in the book came from those friends, sometimes as entire stories but more often as added details I was either unaware of or had forgotten. Drew certainly had his larger than life moments, but he also had his share of warts. The book has been called a “novel in verse,” but it seems to be a true story. Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two? I’ve not read a “novel in verse” that feels like a novel in any traditional sense, and much of this is because the ones I’ve read give the impression that they are, for the most part, true stories. What makes it a “novel” in my mind is the organizing narrative of his illness. There has also been some conversation among people close to this project about whether it might better be characterized as a “memoir in verse” rather than a novel. I’ve thought of the book as a “novel in verse” from its inception, and while calling it a memoir may in some ways be more appropriate, I take enough poetic license with the construction of the narrative that it takes on a fictional air that might be considered a kind of novelness. I once heard Rick Bragg speak of the importance of “getting it right” when writing memoir, and I didn’t have any such aspirations for historical accuracy. I tried to tell the story of my brother’s life and illness, but there is as much emphasis on thoughts and impressions of what happened as there is on what actually did happen. While this doesn’t necessarily make the book fiction, it does problematize any claim to fact. I also think the label of “novel,” reinforces the sense that it is intended to be read straight through. This is book is clearly about your brother Drew, but it also seems to be about you. Would you talk about that? The book began with the intention of it being entirely about Drew, and in the end, it is primarily about him. About a third of the way through the writing of the book, however, I wrote a few poems about how the experience affected me psychologically and spiritually, which led to a couple more about the effect Drew’s illness had on my development as a poet. This all happened around the time I decided to move from a chronology to more of a flashback approach and gave the book a narrative focus it had been lacking. This also enabled the inclusion of the poems that are essentially poetic meditations. Why are all the poems in the book untitled? I stopped giving my poems titles about ten years ago when I wrote a poem and couldn’t think of a good title for it. It was never an issue for me because I wrote for years without trying to publish. That was something I was going to get around to later. Now that I am publishing, I’ve started using titles again, but for this book, not using titles for individual poems allows the book to work as a single, long poem.
About the Author A native of Alabama, Robert Gray is the author of I Wish That I Were Langston Hughes, published in 2008 by Negative Capability Press. He has taught at the University of Alabama, Michigan State University, and Troy State University, and is currently at the University of South Alabama, where he directs the Program for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and teaches in the English Department. He lives in Mobile, AL with his wife, Kim, and two children, Liam and Emma. Photo credit: Scott Tanos
The capability “of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” —John Keats, 1817 About Negative Capability Press Negative Capability Press was founded in Mobile, AL and has been publishing award winning books since 1981. NCP is committed to publishing the best poetry by Alabama poets. Recent Publications: The Girl in the Glass by Alexis Saunders I Wish That I Were Langston Hughes by Robert Gray Bearing The Print by Sue Scalf (winner of the Alabama State Poetry Society's 2008 Book of the Year Award) Whatever Remembers Us: An Anthology of Alabama Poetry edited by Sue Walker and John Chambers (named 2008 Southern Independent Booksellers Award Finalist for Poetry) What Came Before by Irene Latham (named Bronze Medalist for 2008 Independent Publisher Book Award in Poetry and 2007 Book of the Year by Alabama State Poetry Society) Reuben's Mobile by Sue B. Walker, illustrated by Kate Seawell Upcoming Publications: Equivocal Blessings by Mary Carol Moran To Speak This Tongue by Louie Skipper Negative Capability Press is a Member of Span: Small Publishers Association of North America.
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