EDWIN M. DROGIN

Biography and Commentary

by BARRY J. DROGIN

Copyright (C) 1997 by Not Nice Music

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About the Man

Edwin M. Drogin was born on October 26, 1932, "on a Wednesday morning, at 9 o'clock to be exact", according to "My Life and Soft Times", a short, comic autobiographical portrait written in High School. According to this self-portrait and surviving photographs, Ed was a very short child. He was editor of his middle school newspaper, and at Brooklyn Tech became involved in literary publications. This involvement continued when he entered The Cooper Union to study electrical engineering. As a final hurrah, Ed helped in the creation of his graduating class's yearbook, The Cable, which spectacularly and quite memorably included a record with it. Ed contributed to the narration, and can be heard briefly in a skit about a student being sold college publications ("Who has time to read! I have so much homework!" he atypically laments).

At the time, Cooper had an engineering school and an art school, and maintained social relations with Parsons. At a joint school dance, Ed met Leah Weinberg, an interior design major, who he married after graduation. He worked at Sperry while earning his master's at Columbia, and spent the remainder of his career at AIL in Melville and Deer Park.

Ed's poetic literary career peaked during college. "Can You Measure?" was published in a large national collection of college poetry. "Outgnashing Nash", an epic poem about Cooper teachers and students, was read at a public assembly and recorded. And there was his participation on The Cable. But then the poetry stopped.

Several facts can be cited as causative:

  • As is evident from the recordings and the poetry, Ed had a strong Brooklyn accent which must have made readings of his serious work somewhat ridiculous. (He frequently misspelled "despair" as "dispair", and rhymes it with "here".)
  • Upon graduation, Ed lost all connection to any literary journals, and the creative ferment and criticism they engendered.
  • Ed's father died when Ed was 20, which is never alluded to in any of the extant works.
  • Ed married, started work while going to school full-time, and then supported a family that he moved to Long Island. If there was love poetry, he may have destroyed it when Leah died in 1966.
  • Years later, slowly, Ed returned to writing. He wrote and illustrated a children's book for his family. He co-authored a winning IEEE paper, and contributed a chapter to a book in his field. He was writing a regular column for "Defense Electronics", and was to start teaching, when his life was cut short by complications following heart surgery on May 31, 1987.

    About the Poetry

    The poetry in this collection was written during Ed's high school and college days. They were gathered by Ed himself in a set of four grey binders, and left in a filing cabinet in the basement of his house. The order of the poems in this collection is taken from the order they occur in the binders, although it should be noted that the four binders themselves have no sequence. I took the title from the title of a four poem set within the collection; given that these poems have not been seen in 40 years, I thought it apt. The introductory quote is from a poem called "Irony", which Ed himself quoted on the frontispiece of a copy of Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations" that he gave me in 1982. (Dated 1939, it was given to him by his father.)

    Describing himself as a writer of "bad poetry and worse light verse" (see this contemporaneous comic essay), Ed was nevertheless more accomplished than his father. First, he was more aware of contemporary poets, while his father was steeped in the ancients. For comic verse, Ed knew W.S. Gilbert (see "HMS Pinned to the Door"), Ogden Nash (see "Outgnashing Nash" and "Introducing...", which may have been a fantasy piece), and, probably, James Thurber and the Marx Brothers. In serious poetry, he was heavily influenced by W.H. Auden, going so far as to type out the anti-war "Under Which Lyre/A reactionary Tract for the Times", and some poems suggest a familiarity with James Joyce and with Gertrude Stein. For some poems, the visual placement on the page is crucial, while some of the dance poems play with alliteration and the sound of the words. Even automatic writing seems to have been tried.

    Although Ed didn't stick with poetry long enough to evolve his own style, one can catch inklings of a poetic talent in such phrases as "Love is a rare day/Necessary as a summer wind", "All shoot arrows of indifference at the clouds we own", and "climb to a limbless lifelong tree/that swells with a meaning yet to be/and sends brown branches thrusting high/to a timeless skimming, fluting by...".

    Thematically, the war and the draft weighed heavily on Ed's mind. As an asthmatic and an engineering student, he knew he would never see combat. But living in a nuclear age, he was haunted by Mutually Assured Destruction. Ironically, the bulk of his professional career was devoted to Electronic Warfare; specifically, the radar jamming system for the B-1 Bomber. Ed made it theoretically possible to fly over Moscow without being attacked.

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    Last Updated: August 4, 2007