As my new book, DREW: Poems from Blue Water, was in production, I was very flattered to receive very positive feedback from poets all over the country. However, the once the book came out, I have received an overwhelming number of comments from both literary people and regular people, many of whom knew Drew personally, and some of whom witnessed some of the events recounted in the book.
Here are their comments:
I finished your book before I left last Thursday for my students' field trip to Georgia. It was wonderful, and I wanted to tell you that right away. The later poems really kept the spirit of your relationship in focus. I could feel both the pain of your loss and the celebration of your brother's spirit. I loved what you learned from him about living freely without the shadow of expectations and rules. If disease hadn't gotten him, he would have been a likely candidate for accidental death, as you pointed out in your description of him as a risk taker.
There's a great line in the movie "Steel Magnolias" where the character played by Julia Roberts, who has brittle diabetes, tells her mother, played by Olympia Dukakis that she wanted to get pregnant and have a child in spite of the risk. She says, "I'd rather have fifteen minutes of somethin' than a whole lifetime of nothin.'"
There are some of us who lean into life knowing that they do so at the risk of losing their balance and falling. Others lean backwards or carry a cane, always trying to avoid danger. I"m in that second group, though I roundly admire those in the first and wish I had that kind of attitude of abandon. When my 20 year old son decided to sky dive, I started in on the safety speech, and he put up his hand to stop me. "I've had a great life, Mom," he said. "If it ended today, it would have been worth every minute and I wouldn't have one regret." How can you argue with that kind of thinking. Your brother was a poster child for it. Thanks for sharing the gift that his life was for you. Now it's part of me, too.
You did a wonderful job on the book. When I got it, I was just going to sit down and read a few pages and before I knew it I had read the whole thing. It made for wonderful dreams that night. It had been a long, long time since I had a dream about Drew. Thank you for that!
Hey, I got my Drew book the other day. Very excited about it. It is full of my favorites of all the Rob Gray I've read (which is probably more than any other poet). I enjoyed it bit by bit via email, and I'm looking forward to reading again in the book.
Do you know what C. S. Lewis always said about art? I'm gonna butcher it, but the general idea was that it is a distortion or a perversion to use real things as mere subject for art. He said that art should rather be the subservient tool to describe the real things. My point is that family, friends, pain, and music mean a lot more to me than poetry. You really got me with this one.
Proud to know you.
About 2-3rds through. Very, very good. Thank you for sharing yourself in this manner. I am very impressed.
I read Drew last night. What a moving, sad and yet hopeful book you've created. The mix of childhood and family stories with the realities of grave illness and death creates an experience which is emotional but not overwhelming for the reader. Thank you for sharing your life so generously.
By the way…..your book is awesome. I’ve read it cover to cover twice (not counting the times you sent me rough drafts). I’m honored to have been a small part of your recollections. Thanks for putting up with me as a friend all these years.
Hey Rob, Loved your book. Put info about it on my wall post. Denise Hatcher needs to know where she can get it. Please post something or send us an email so that we can share. I also told some of the SHS history teachers at lunch the other day (Libby Renn, Trish Clark, etc). So, if I have the info I can pass it to them also. Great profile picture!!! Thanks again for sharing this part of your life.
got your book today !!! I laughed until I cried and then cried until I laughed! you not only captured Drew and friends, but our unique experience of growing up Sylacauga! It was beautiful! I know I will read it again and again.... Wordsworth would be pleased I think!
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It was amazing when I read it - I can't wait to hear it with the author's intonations added!
I just got your book in the mail this afternoon and could not put it down. I just finished it! It's wonderful! I envy your gift of expression. I was truly touched by your book and feel honored to have read it. I'm wrapping it up as a gift for Derak ... tried my best not to crease (sp?) the pages ... don't tell!
I just got "Drew: Poems from Blue Water". It is wonderful. Very evocative.
Rob, I read Drew last night before I left for Georgia and it made me smile and cry, sometimes simultaneously. What a beautiful story/poem. You don't know me well but I am a music player and collector/historian and it has always been such a huge part of my life I can't understand those to whom it is not. All the musical references were so proper and right on and really filled out the story and put it in that special time that I certainly remember. I am the older brother in my family and so many of the scenes and visuals that I saw in my mind reminded me of those same days in my life. Your brother obviously made an impact on your life and my younger brother and I have many similar memories of times together. I am sure it was both painful and cathartic for you to write this story and you did it in a marvelous way and I want you to know that I feel like I know a little more about you now. Peace Brother.
I like DREW so far....Sarah read 1st 2 chapters to me in the car today and I cannot wait to get back to it----but I can tell, it is going to make me sad for you......I want you to sign my book!
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I finished it last night--I loved it...you are very talented. What a great gift--to be able to put down the words that show your feelings and thoughts. I am so very sorry you lost your brother...but as we can see, he lives on through you and I am sure through everyone’s life that he touched. I TRULY begin to live and find myself after my mother died (when I was only 15 years old). Thank you for the gift of your words and the glimpse into your childhood:)
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Rob--I need "DREW" for friend of mine--do you still have one I could buy from you? If so, I will get it Sunday--or before if I see you! It is SUCH a great book!!!
Got my book yesterday and I love it!! I know I will re-read it. The writing just flows.
Rob, I got my book yesterday and could not put it down until I was finished. You brought back so many good memories and I thank you. I cried, laughed, and a smile never left my face. You did a wonderful job and I am so proud your you kept the memories of Drew alive. Thanks again for such good reading.
Received our copy of the book yesterday. We laughed and cried our way through most of it last night. Thanks so much for your wit and talent!
Hey!!!! I had the best birthday gift in my mailbox yesterday. The book is awesome!!!!!! I cried and laughed at the same time. So many memories. I found myself hugging the book. It really took me back. I could hear him yelling YAHOOOOOO. Thank you for that precious treasure.
Hey Rob ..... I got your book today read some laughed some cried some remembered a lot. Great work. The biggest thing about the lake house is water skiing behind the new boat, in I guess Febuary, in a wet suit. Drew and I would take turns changing into my wet suit, and that afternoon, we went up the creek in the aluminum boat and shot carp with the 22. Good times by all, beer marinated chicken ala Dr. dad for supper.
I got your book in the mail today!! I was going to just flip through it at the moment, but ended up sitting down and reading the whole thing. It was very good!!! I enjoyed it!! :)
Rob (or Kim) thanks for getting our book to us. Bruce read it through last night and LOVED it....he laughed so many times, but other times he was quiet. I haven't had the chance yet, but SOON.
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I really liked the parts of it that i heard at the Poetry Reading last night....can't wait to read the whole book.
Thank you for bringing DREW to life for us.
Greater love has no man than that he lays down his innermost self to his kith and kin.
I love your imagery: "painted a shade of green/ like pond scum in summer sun/ or wasabi dollops spread thin" shows, I think, the contrasts in you--the good 'ol boy/man of the world. Taken as a whole, the book reminds me of Fitzgerald: those brilliant carefree days shimmering over a dark foreboding. Well done!
By the way, wanted to share with you how meaningful your book is! I laughed, cried, and remembered. I know I was so much younger than you guys, but I related and remembered so much. Thank you for putting such intimate memories in print. Laurie will be very excited!
Drew came yesterday. Between four and now (5:18 a.m.) I've read it.
To fully appreciate this, I must tell you that few things I pick up anymore are read from cover to cover in one sitting. I was truly curious about a novel in verse, but it was the subject, the poems, that kept me reading.
There is so much to say--the one-word title is great and maximizes the tribute you're making. This second book I found much easier to read, and I think it's because you've used stanzas. I don't think you did in the LH one, or else I've forgotten. Of course, your emotional investment here was at 100%, and that's always a winner.
As I read I found myself thinking of this as something of a coming-of-age novel: some things were lost or left behind, some things sprang to life. From the start Drew/you are almost one--the folks in town can't tell you apart as different as you are. The idea of an alter ego, of our various selves, of bilsdungroman comes to mind. A spiritual struggle occurs as well as other struggles. In mom the tumor almost becomes a metaphor for other family struggles--dad leaving mom, et.al. But I may be reading too much into that, because you certainly kept that card close to your chest. And that was totally appropriate, too, I might add, in a tribute to your brother. Maybe next time?
Oh, one more thing--I love the notes and seeing the "cast." This will be a big seller for sure in Sylacauga. The literary references from writers were all pretty clear to me without the notes, but the one that really struck me was Auden's "cold dark day." The rime in it, the repetition, the crispness of Auden’s voice--I could hear all. I could hear Auden's crisp voice reading, and since Yeats is one of my favs (way above Wordsworth, although I like him as well), that one hit me hard.
Well, thanks for that early-morning pot of poetry with my coffee!
Rob, I finished the book a couple of days ago. Chapter 11 ("Heading Downhill") was the one that resonated with me the most, until I got to Chapter 15 ("Fading in the Autumn Sun"). Those two chapters are, without a doubt, the two that I will return to time and again. In fact, as soon as I finished reading the book, I went back and re-read them. Thanks for making us aware of the fact that this book was in the works.
I got your book in the mail. I opened it last night and sat down for a minute and read some...I skipped around in the book. I am looking forward to sitting down and reading from start to finish...it is really excellent. The sincerity in your words....just really good. I am sure some parts were difficult to write....sometimes memories can make us sad and happy at the same time.
Your poems made me laugh and cry. At this moment, my 15- year- old cousin is dying from a brain tumor.
I feel honored to have caught glimpses of your life and of your brother at that time, and I thank you for allowing me that!
I recently read your book "Drew - Poems from Blue Water" and enjoyed it very much. It was like reading a collection of short stories. Dr. Millner let me read her copy. I am wondering if you have any books to sell. I would like to buy 2 books.
I read DREW this weekend - I heard, I saw, and I felt as carried through your prose. You have a gift of words and I thank you for sharing. I'll be sharing DREW with others.
Oh Rob, it is simply wonderful. It makes me cry, yet gives me such good memories of the lake. When you left for college (or the end of your high school years), Jamie and I got Drew's wrath on us a lot. Yet, we had all his fun and games too. I especially love the last photo. He looked so nice in his tux...don't think I ever saw him that way but maybe one time. It is GREAT!!!
Btw, the poem where you talk about poetry being a failing of sorts.... have read and re-read. Love!