More than the Alley, by Doug Draime–Reviewed by Harry Calhoun
More than the Alley, by Doug Draime. Interior Noise Press, Austin, Texas, 2012. Available online at https://www.createspace.com/3936904. Paperback, 144 pages. $15.00.
Doug Draime’s bio in this book says that he has been a presence in the underground literary movement since the late 1960s. This book establishes both his continued vitality in underground poetry and his undeniable ability to turn out visceral, gritty and glaringly real verse.
The back-story of Doug’s book is almost as interesting as the book itself. In a Bukowski-esque hard-luck story, Draime submitted multiple book manuscripts over the years, had them accepted, and then had them fall through for various reasons. In his own words to this reviewer, “Since the early 80s I’ve had eleven full-length, selected poem collections that have gone belly up. That has to be a record, I would think. Actually, one publisher died, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know whether to put a feather in my hat or rock out to this almost overwhelming, anti-climatic sensation I’m feeling (of having More than the Alley come to fruition.)”
So for all of you poets out there who are whining or just digging in and hoping, take heart. I know how I felt when, after a long fallow period in my career, one of my first submissions of twelve poems were all summarily dismissed. We’re talking not twelve poems here, but almost twelve books, folks! So More than the Alley must feel like a deep sigh of relief for Doug Draime. Was it worth it? Only Doug can answer that personally, but from a reviewer’s standpoint: A resounding yes.
More than the Alley is a resounding victory of a book. It’s got all of Draime’s personalities rolled up into just under 150 pages of smoking hot poetry. Is Doug Draime a hardass with a soft side, a funny man or a cynic? The answer is yes, all of them. As far as the soft side, though, he’s certainly unlikely to go limp on you. From the first poem, “Lily and Bob,” reminiscent of Bukowski’s short story “You Kissed Lily” but with a mercifully happier ending, Draime pulls us in with masterful, terse writing and no-nonsense description. The references to Bukowski here, by the way, do not imply that Doug is derivative — he is his own man and has his own distinctive style.
As Draime says in the title poem:
It wasn’t the winning
or the losing,
that had nothing
to do with it
just as words often have nothing
to do with poetry.
Those words say it all. There are readers who like the flowers and readers who like the dirt. Draime’s poetry is not the flowery stuff; he pulls up the weeds and you can smell the pungent earth beneath. Yes, this is an old trouper who can hear the roses scream. And indeed, in “Letting the Roses Scream,” he truly does hear them:
This afternoon I am trying to focus on some jazz
Over the radio, some old Gerry Mulligan and admiring the
beautiful red roses my wife planted. Suddenly, all hell
breaks loose on the other side of the fence as he starts up
some kind of drill of jack hammer like a magpie
being strangled. The dog begins to bark
and I do believe I hear the flowers screaming
over the pitch of it all, screaming at me to do something …
And this goes on and believe it or not it gets better. In poems like “Sleeping Without You,” there is a bittersweet longing that makes you want to hug the book to your chest (and this reviewer is not the hugging type). “Resting Aging Bones” is a classic knight-errant’s tale of a weary poetic traveler looking for a place to rest, and poems like these bring balance to this full-tilt boogie collection. On facing pages, “Now That You Are Gone” nearly moved me to tears with the unvarnished yet never maudlin emotion felt for a lost love, while “Rural American Saga” played out a horrible drama that in my childhood I came all too close to seeing, that of one parent slaying another. Draime’s talent becomes most apparent here, as he touches the heart and the nerves of the reader with his edgy and precise words. Poems such as “The True Story of Noah” and so many others give testimony to his ample imagination. And his storytelling ability — and his total inability to pull a punch — are everywhere in this stellar collection.
More than the Alley will go on my bookshelf alongside Merwin, Bukowski, Thomas, Yeats and my other heroes, and it should be on yours as well. It is a 90-mile-an-hour, screeching-around-the-corner roller coaster ride of a poetry book that never disappoints and makes you scream, laugh and ultimately smile.
A winner and a total A+.
— Harry Calhoun
— August 19, 2012