"The poetry of human kindness. I recommend this book of two poets who shared a friendship and a vision of compassion/love, two poets whose languages — more lyrical or more hushed-— lead to grace."
"A beautiful tribute from one poet to another. I think we should thank Mr. Dranow for giving us this fine collection of Mr. Marlin's poems and pairing it with the tribute to Mr. Marlin of his own poems as if laid on the altar of friendship."— Lawrence
In 1978, Ralph Dranow and Daniel Marlin met while working at the Oakland (CA) main post office. They hit it off immediately, finding a common passion for writing and concern for social justice. Their nascent friendship took root on the level of deep mutual caring as well as support for each other’s writing. And in time, they formed a writing group that lasted 38 years until Dan’s death in 2017, and continues today with new members.
This book is both a testament to the remarkable, incisive writing of Dan Marlin by his best friend, Ralph, and an opportunity for readers to taste the riches of this friendship through the poetry of both writers, Ralph being an equally remarkable poet (though with a different flavor). Sometimes their subjects converge, and other times they follow their own unique paths. But in all cases, readers are in for a moving feast for the mind, heart, and moral spirit.
A central thread linking the poems of these two close friends is a sense of compassion for all living beings, especially those easily overlooked, the vulnerable ones, often existing on the margins of society, animals as well as human beings. Humor frequently makes an appearance in these poems, reminding us that life also has its lighter side.
Dan Marlin was an accomplished artist who created many vibrant paintings and drawings—some of which appear in this book. This quality of vibrancy is evident in his poems, as well, with his rich imagery and precise details, leaving his readers and listeners with indelible impressions.
Ralph Dranow is a close observer of people, and his poems often express the subtle beauty of ordinary human beings. Most of all, the poems in this book pulsate with life, reflecting the joy, wonder, and pain of being alive on this earth.
To watch an interview with Ralph Dranow on his experience of writing poetry, click here.
Introduction to the Book, by Ralph Dranow
I first met Dan Marlin in the fall of 1978, when we were both working as casual(temporary) mailhandlers at the Oakland Main Post Office. We hit it off right away, as middle-class dropouts who shared left-wing sensibilities and a passion for writing. This was the beginning of a close friendship that lasted 39 years, until Dan’s death in 2017.
When I first knew him, his abundant poetic talent hadn’t fully matured. Some of his early writing was imitative, whimsical and surreal, like that of his literary hero, Kenneth Patchen. Dan’s early writing tended toward lush imagery; it had a wild, self-indulgent quality, like an overgrown garden, and was not always accessible. But within the next decade or so, his writing began to cohere, becoming more succinct and accessible. His 1982 chapbook, Jerusalem on the Boardwalk, and his 1993 post office manuscript, Seventy Snow Bound Pigs, revealed his development as a poet, with many humorous, insightful, and poignant poems.
And over the years, Dan just kept getting better and better, creating a prolific body of work with tremendous power. His poems combined free-flowing lyricism, precise description (which he displayed in his beautiful artwork as well), and moral passion. He also had the gift of a wry sense of humor that frequently was self-deprecating. His poems spanned a wide range: political, nature, portraits of people, fantasy, love poems, autobiographical, philosophical, poems written in Yiddish, etc.
It has been my good fortune to have had Dan as a close friend for so many years. Along with Mitch Zeftel, we started a writing group in 1979, which is still going on, with a bunch of new faces. I was writing prose then, but when I started writing poetry in 1990, Dan became my poetry mentor. His comments on my rough early poems were encouraging and insightful. He helped me make my poems more succinct, with fresher, less prosy language. His feedback was usually detailed and exacting, but also gently supportive. Dan was extremely helpful to the other members of the group as well. We helped him refine his poems too, I think, so it wasn’t just one-sided. I owe him a great debt for his generous poetic guidance.
Art by Daniel Marlin
So it is with much satisfaction, and also humility, that I am able to repay some of that debt now by including a substantial number of his poems – and some of his artwork - in this book, along with my own poems. Our writing styles are different – his more expansive, mine more spare – but I think they will complement each other.
About my own poetry: I’m a storyteller, and I like to write about ordinary people and the poetry and beauty of everyday life in spite of all the suffering in the world. Like a portrait photographer, I aim to capture something essential about a person in a brief moment. And to do this with compassion - and perhaps a bit of humor- because to have a human life is a glorious but also a vulnerable thing.
Dan created a large number of powerful poems in his later years-many of which have never been published before- and they deserve to be made available to his friends and fans, as well as to a larger readership. I hope these poems of his move and delight you as much as they’ve done for me.
DANIEL MARLIN (1945-2017) was a poet, artist, translator, and peace activist. He traveled extensively, spending much time in Japan, where his wife, Toshiko, was born. His book, Heart of Ardor, contains over 300 images of his vibrant paintings and drawings, along with his commentary about his artwork.
Daniel's other books include Jerusalem and the Boardwalk, Amagasaki Sketchbook, and Isiah at the Wall: Palestine Poems.
RALPH DRANOW is an editor, ghostwriter, and writing coach as well as a poet specializing in people's stories. He has published 8 poetry books, including A New Life, one short-story collection, and numerous poems and articles in magazines and newspapers.
He lives in Oakland, California.
His website is https://ralphdranow.net
At Work on the Garments of Refuge
Poems by Daniel Marlin and Ralph Dranow
Available in print and ebook
Print: $17.95 Ebook: $5.99
"Tenderness is a common theme tying these poems together. They offer a touching simplicity that makes their depth accessible, often elevating ordinary, everyday moments into something miraculous. To compress an experience and distill it to its essence is the beauty of poetry, and this book shines a light on our innate essence of compassion and connection. It invites us to recognize how to be fully alive in our human experience."
— Jane Majkiewicz
Two Kindred Poets:
"A wonderfully engaging collection of poetry pairing two terrific poets who share striking similarities: a telling eye for detail, a powerful commitment to social justice, and a wry sense of humor. The differences in poetic style between Marlin and Dranow are equally revealing. While Marlin's poetry often imaginatively probes the deep connections between the natural world and the human, Dranow's poems mostly tell stories, offering closely observed glimpses into everyday encounters and social interactions among persons from various walks of life. Highly recommended, with Marlin's art work as an additional bonus."
— Jonathan Auerbach
Poetry of Human Kindness:
"In At Work on the Garments of Refuge, Ralph Dranow invites us to pay tribute with him to the art and poetry of his dear friend, Daniel Marlin, who died in 2017.
Mr. Marlin's works are wide-ranging, including themes of injustice, war, humanity, family, illness, death, grief, nature. His poetry also invites readers to ponder distant locales, such as Japan, Jerusalem, Gaza, as well as domestic venues, like Brooklyn, Berkeley, and Oakland.
"In addition to Mr. Marlin's crafted poems are added prints of some of his drawings and paintings. His vivid words and images thereby enhance each other.
"This book offers us another view of life in the poems of Ralph Dranow, who adds some of his poetry to both compare and contrast with that of Daniel Marlin.
Mr. Dranow also touches on grief (in particular regarding losing his friend Daniel), injustice, humanity, family, and nature—especially cats.
"Ralph Dranow welcomes his readers to behold vignettes of daily life. However, it is a call for more than witnessing. He allows easy access to empathically connect with the people in his poems. Mr. Dranow offers a stillness in the moment for the readers to share his generous gaze at people, to accept people as deserving of benevolent regard.
"I recommend this book of two poets who shared a friendship and a vision of compassion/love, two poets whose languages—more lyrical or more hushed—lead to grace."
"What a lovely book of poems! This is an exquisite book of poetry crafted by two fine poets who were best friends. Daniel Marlin, now deceased, wrote soul-stirring poems, simple, elegant, thoughtful and inspired. They're filled with dharma and the drama of real life. No subject is taboo, but each subject is handled with the deftest of touches. This is a man who had a gift for language but never over did it, never went over-the-top, always stayed grounded and real. He let his experience guide him and not his ideas. I have savored his poems, and have found myself coming back to them, to reread some of the poems again and again. A breath of fresh air.
"The poems of Ralph Dranow (who created the book as a showcase for his late friend) are up to the task as well. Dranow's poems have a strong narrative that he is spot on with, nothing extra, just enough. Portraits of people, offbeat characters, handled lovingly and with respect. And humor ("Pitching to Hitler"). Marlin and Dranow matured together as writers and this is the culmination of their mutual admiration. And through the beautifully titled book, we all get to share in this admiration. No one will regret owning a copy of At Work On the Garments of Refuge."-
Art by Daniel Marlin
Art by Daniel Marlin
Two Wonderful Books of Poetry in One Volume
"At Work on the Garments of Refuge is actually two wonderful books of poetry in one volume. Although the authors Dan Marlin and Ralph Dranow were close friends for 39 years and share many of the same themes, each author has a distinct voice and style.
"Marlin’s collection contains many stunning poems, especially two which bookend his 56 poems: 'After' and 'River Love.' The first lines of “After” strike a serious tone: 'After I lay me down to die,/do me no honor, name nothing and/no one after me.' But Marlin’s wry humor soon begins to emerge: 'Name no housing project or/gated community,/no courthouse or interrogation/technique, yoga pose, pole bean or butterfly—' He then concludes in a beautiful and more serious vein: 'And if there was honor in my day/worth remembering, it was the river grass/that honored me, with its wind dance.'
"Marlin’s last poem 'River Love' takes us back to that initial theme: 'When I came undone by fear/that the world would break in the wind,/love answered me with river grass.' The beauty of the natural world honors and redeems him.
"Marlin is an accomplished poet of many themes and styles. He’s an anti-war poet without ranting ('Uranium’s Song'), a poet of witness as cops detain a street person ('Under Suspicion, Berkeley'), a poet who can capture the voices and humor of his Black co-workers at the Oakland Post Office ('You Look Like Jesus') and the 'bone-sweet falsetto' in a restroom stall ('Gospel Silence'). His signature poem, 'Back Where You Came From,' is an answer to all those prejudiced folks who hiss that phrase to immigrants or people who simply don’t look like them, and that poem alone should make you want to buy this book!
"The skilled editor of At Work on the Garments of Refuge, Ralph Dranow, is also an excellent poet himself. His initial poem, 'A Sly Sense of Mirth,' in his 56 poem collection is a homage to Marlin, who died in 2017. 'Poet, artist, dear friend,/I miss your passionate intelligence.'… (You) 'Bore your long illness gracefully,/Gaunt, ravaged body finally set free.'
"Like Marlin, Dranow explores a number of poetic styles, but he shines in writing dramatic monologues. He seems to be a magnet for people telling him their life stories, which he succinctly retells in poetry, capturing their voices in first person. Whether it’s a 'chubby Asian woman' haircutter ('An Unheralded Artist'), a principled elderly Black man ('A Voter Registration Conversation—2016'), a paramedic ('Paramedic') or a construction worker watching a Warriors game in a pizza parlor (A Humble Guy'), Dranow captures the urban voices and stories of Oakland with precision and compassion.
"Dranow also excels at telling stories of his New York childhood in East Bronx and Flushing with an unflinching look at racism ('Why?') and anti-Semitism ('The New Neighborhood') from a very young person’s perspective. Another important family monologue in Dranow’s collection is 'My Mother Speaks of Her Early Years,' Rachel’s story of her immigrant parents from Czarist Russia who settled in East Harlem and led a hard life. Scrappy Rachel emerges as a NY union organizer and rebel: 'I used to dance with black guys./They’d hold you so tight you could hardly breathe/To test your racial IQ.'
"Finally, one shouldn’t miss Dranow’s dream poems. 'Pitching to Hitler' is my favorite: 'I’m pitching to Hitler,/A runt with scrawny arms and legs.' You’ll find out how this poem ends if you buy Dranow’s and Marlin’s wonderful new volume of poems, At Work on the Garments of Refuge."
— Judith Wells
At Work on the Garments of Refuge is part of the Rose Press "The Beauty of the Inner Life" series.
The books in this series show how the beauty, wonder, and poignancy of life is right here, right now –
if only we are present to see it.
The books put out by Rose Press are meant to last and last and last.
Unlike many books that are published to make a temporary splash and then fade out into dim memory or total forgetfulness, Rose Press books are meant to live in your heart and in your life.
So not only do they remain on your bookshelf (or your hard drive, portable reading device, etc): they also remain inside you, part of the impressions that make up your inner being. And sometimes ~ much like a sudden affectionate thought about an old friend with whom you’ve been out of contact ~ the desire will come to pick up and read these books again and make their acquaintance (and your own) again from the place where you are now.
Some of these books are already perennials: issued and reissued to encounter new readers and re-visit old ones. Others are brand new and just putting down roots, to return to readers’ attentions in their own passing seasons.
Books that go deep take time to write, so quality may win out over quantity, here. We hope you will content yourself with the current varieties in this “garden,” and look forward to new blooms to come.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________Deep reads for deepening readers.
Rose Press books. A publishing house for your inner garden.