A review by Martin Wallace
Stan Dragland’s Deep Too (BookThug 2013) is a miscellany of “Me-ga-Dik” emails (“now my pecker is extremely greater than national!”), limericks, personal anecdotes, and literary and pop cultural references. It’s also a complex three-part meditation on the nature of good and evil, on the limits and transcendence of human perception, and, not incidentally, on the cultural significance of the dick, the penis, the phallus.
At first this phallus seems insignificant, risible. Indeed, Part I (“For the Money”) can be read as one long dick joke (aficionados will easily bring to mind the example ending with the punch line, “deep too.”) It’s here that limericks and jokes —and humorous encounters at urinals—predominate. Dragland’s tone is droll, self-deprecating, its low-key folksiness disguising the depth of his insights.
Two anecdotes, however, seem a bit out of place. Both are examples of strangers flirting with Dragland’s partner, “Beth.”: there’s the “suave pedestrian” who tells her she is “the most beautiful woman I’ve seen yet today,” and the “tall, flirtatious” Barista who serves her an unsolicited “penis latte.” (Google it.) Many, if not most, women would see these incidents as less amusing than potentially threatening.
But maybe that’s the point. Does author-Dragland perchance know more than persona-Dragland? Are we meant to see the darkness, the violence that often lies underneath the joke?
Perhaps. Part II (“For the Show”) finds Dragland in search of “The Worst,” although he doesn’t want “to go there”; instead he’d “rather talk about anything else. Any other kind of palaver, any whatsoever.” Soldier on, however, Dragland does, finding The Worst in phallic and inescapably true images borrowed from poet and
volunteer worker Laura Apol: Rwanda
As if rape were not enough,
they did it with a spear.
As if a spear were not enough,
they entered her so hard
the point exited her skull.
While this “darkness” that “hauls [him] down” must be acknowledged and confronted, Dragland attempts to move beyond it into the light, asking if “Having always been so, love will always be rimed with hate?” By the final section, (“To Get Ready”) Dragland has gone from the humorously low, through the painfully dark and on to “the Leaper, a Misfit, a Mother, …Poor Old Harlequin teasing, ripping, banging – cajoling enmities into phhhp,” or the “Third Space!”, which is “Immense, Mama, & it swings.”. It’s a difficult journey, and to be honest, I’m not sure Dragland quite gets us there (the painful images inevitably drag us back from that transcendent space) but there’s laudable courage in the attempt and undeniable, if difficult, pleasure in the reading.
Non-fiction by Stan Dragland