Saturday, December 6, 2008

Eli Drabman: Daylight on the wires

Eli Drabman. Daylight on the wires. Buffalo (?): Vigilance Society 1917, (2007?) 20 pp.

I’m pretty sure I grew up in a conservative suburb, because I remember not having read anything like Daylight on the wires until I was nineteen and going to college. I also just now realize that I’ve not even lived half of my life on my own; meaning, I lived more than half my life in my parents’ house, and less than half of it somewhere else. I mention these facts because Eli once told me that his parents gave him a very serious upbringing, stressing politeness and manners all the while. He impressed on me how important that upbringing had been for him, and I’ve always respected the serious perspective he took on how much that strict environment had helped him when he had moved out on his own as an adult. I remember that, as much as my parents stressed manners and good behavior, and were models of sobriety and concentration, honesty and hard work, I still seemed to get into trouble of the worst sort: I would do something wrong, but rather than have the strength or wit to avoid detection, I usually just waited until someone came along to see what I had done, or said, or had not done that I was supposed to do. This is called “asking for it,” but in the worst way; because it lacked any literal request, and instead involved my making some terrible blunder as a means for having to fix it later. But only when someone told me to. I’m not going to go into the finer psychology of this. But needless to say, if I had read a book like Daylight on the wires as an adolescent, I wouldn’t have needed to make the mistakes I did. If I were fourteen again, I would have been very well off, and a lot wiser, if every week or so I would have gotten my hands on something just like, or very similar, to this book.

In fact, I think younger people, younger adults, in their teens, should read lots of books like Drabman’s. And this doesn’t mean that this book is only suitable for readers in their teens. It simply means that it can, at the right time, get you ready for things that will be coming along in your life that you’d be better off thinking more about. At least, for a teen like the teen I was, and maybe at that particular time I was a teen (in the 1980s). It would be cool if the hundred or so chapbook publishers I know of could pool their resources and create an outreach subscription service for readers in early adulthood. Sure, as a young man I needed lots of good solid information, but I also need the stuff of imagination way beyond, and more realistic by way of its surrealistic fabulation, anything I had at that age.

I’m not even sure what transpires, in any realistic narrative sense, in Drabman’s book. But there is a lot of hunger involved, a good deal of anger, or at least bewilderment, and a strenuous desire for an escape from boring, dead predicaments. Beyond these mere hulls of my interpretation, picked up from a less-than-rigorous reading of the book, there is an amazing degree of intricately woven imagery that unfolds in long curling waves from these pages.

The book is large, composed of 8.5" X 11"-sized sheets of paper, printed on one side only, and stapled near the edge of the papers. The poems themselves are shaped along the page to create long, linear margins for the text. What is gained visually, which is a lot, because the pages are stunningly beautiful, does make for a rather prosaic reading experience. Which is all to the point, and not a criticism. The poems here read like sections of a work of fiction, a poetic fiction that bubbles with unreal, hypnotic, and nightmare visions that widen out and collapse back to a kind of breathless familiarity once again. There is a wonderful tension between the underlying sense of daily life presented here, and the hallucinatory, crowded imagery streaming atop every poem:

…she blames me for

not putting needles in my eyes, for holding a mouse head

as if it were a diamond’s relentless consistency, or angels

posing as grandmothers scrawled their wings across a sky

making sundown shudder like a dawn in camera jaws, hold

furious screaming against the hollow in your chest to see if

you vibrate at that frequency, climb inside a tree, write one

name with a knife and put an arrow through it before the tourists

light you on fire…

This seems to me on one level a kind of domestic, if wildly tangled, scene: a way of describing the inner contours of two people in serious contention for each other’s heartstrings. At least I think it is. But obviously it’s a lot more than that. What is evident on every page, and in practically every line, is a vivid series of unexpected imagery, surprising in an irrational/rational connective web of accumulated modification, as if metaphors were still trying to fight their way out of the language into the direct perception of the thing thus qualified. If I could say more, and get you to track down a copy of this book, I would. But I’m not trying to sell you this book, I’m trying to say what effect its had on me. And it was a vivid one. Why I couldn’t help but think of myself at age fourteen, I don’t know. These are mature poems. They stunned me. Could you, dear reader find a copy of this book if you wanted one? You might be able to get one from Michael Cross. But I don’t even know where he lives, or what his email address is. I do know he edited a new magazine called On, and that this magazine has a critical essay by (or about) Eli Drabman in it. Do try to get a copy of that—because I think it is just now available. I don’t have a copy of it, though.



  1. I want a copy. Maybe Little Scratch Pad or House Press should reprint it? He's moving back East I hear.

  2. Its worth a reprint. Definitely. little scratch pad would if it could. And on that note, I'd like to ask all those reading to please consider donating to the little scratch pad "acquisitions and teen reader outreach" fund. What better time than now to help keep good books in print?