Review: Everyone Just Wants to Drum by Kevin Rabas

Cover of "Everyone Just Wants to Drum" by Kevin Rabas: black and white photo of many hands touching a drum.

Everyone Just Wants to Drum, by Kevin Rabas

Spartan Press

106 pages, $15.00 paper

Review by Tyler Robert Sheldon

Kevin Rabas, Kansas’s 2017-2019 Poet Laureate, has constructed a body of work that is rich in reflection and awareness of larger connections. In Everyone Just Wants to Drum, his latest poetry collection, Rabas explores the commonalities we share—the connections that manifest regardless of background, political leanings, or other such considerations. In “Always Cling,” the opening poem, a “little girl / holds, clamped / to her mother’s side, / arm around her neck.” Rabas notes that this endearing, natural act has been with us for longer than the span of memory: “we’ve been holding / together, like this, for hundreds, / thousands of years,” he writes. “May we always, / always cling.” The poet’s cognizance of how we all hang together too often escapes our larger, more divisive narratives, and it serves as a refreshing opening to these poems.

Much of this collection muses on childhood, another connection we all share but often put aside. Memories become a powerful impetus, as in “Magic Rabbits,” where the child-speaker learns a magic trick. More important than the magic, though, is how these rabbits’ world works behind the scenes. The speaker learns responsibility through feeding them, the rabbits “who got the bright stage lights / just once a month, and the rest / of the time lived in a wooden hutch / out back that my dad built.” Seeing how these creatures live teaches the speaker empathy, a trait that proves important in other, later poems.

The short, powerful poem “With a Stick” shows empathy as a hypothetical, and importantly it lends perspective on how the speaker sees himself:

                        If I were on your block
                          when I was young, I’d
                        have been a littler kid,
                          but one unafraid
                             of dogs, one
                        who’d come
                           with a stick, help
                        you get by, help you
                           down the block
                             and into the field.

It seems the speaker sees lost opportunities here—for bravery, for kinship—that might only manifest in later life. Also noteworthy is the form of this short poem, which uses the field of the page to mimic zigzags, to evoke evasion; form and content echo each other well, here, as the speaker runs from a threat and the poem dodges to and fro. Other poems utilize this varied spacing as well, but “With a Stick” does so with memorable directness.

Rabas also turns his attention to other childhoods, especially his son’s. Though the poet’s earlier collections (like the memorable chapbook Eliot’s Violin) sometimes focus on the son as a character, in Everyone Just Wants to Drum Eliot serves as another form of connection—across generations, across talents. “Easy for Me” shows “E” practicing that violin, and the narrator reflects on his own musical tendencies with awareness of what he no longer has:

                               how kids
                           know, feel
                        in those tremolo
                           notes, notes
                        adults have trouble
                           hitting, holding.

Here admiration is mixed with wistfulness, and Rabas’s narrator holds tightly to this relationship with his son, who also embodies a connection with both the future and the past.

In later poems Rabas reveals how music connects everything, though we may not always see the threads. In “How Composed Music Hopes,” the title even connects to the poem, and the result serves as a small epiphany. The speaker acknowledges “[How composed music hopes] / to capture something / that once happened by accident,” hinting that much of our lives may happen this way—perhaps our best laid arrangements simply fall into place at the right time, letting us have our illusions of order. For instance:

                        an improvisation
                        in the street
                        or in a 3 am club
                        or between two kids
                        shouting, clomping
                        after a ball.

Here we see the reality of the world, under our noses from the beginning of this book: everyone wants to play their own music, and does so in ways that are individual yet connect us all.

The speaker sometimes waits for connections that take a while to appear, as in “Missing Moon,” where the poem’s other character is left unknown to the reader, but shares a bond with the speaker: “Moon gone, sun up, I wait / for your signal, a flash / of my mirror to your mirror, / using sunlight.” Though here the connection is ultimately missed—“no mirror flashes between us”—this does nothing to deter the narrator or the person on the other end of this link: “we wait / for the glow of the moon.” We see this determination toward the end of this collection too, in “How to Coffee Shop,” another brief but potent poem. One can easily imagine the narrator, depicted here in third person, who:

                               didn’t go anywhere
                           until close,
                        drank slow
                           and tipped big,
                        lived like everyday
                           would be this way,
                        lived in endless endless sips.

In this quiet steadfastness, a connection between lives and days and moments begins to emerge. Everyone Just Wants to Drum shows the interrelatedness of the world’s small moments, which together create the larger reality we play our way through every day.

Readers can purchase Everyone Just Wants to Drum at one of Kevin Rabas’s many readings or from Spartan Press, as well as online and at regional and national booksellers.

Tyler Robert Sheldon’s five poetry collections include Driving Together (Meadowlark Books, 2018) and Consolation Prize (Finishing Line Press, 2018). He is Editor-in-Chief of MockingHeart Review, and his poetry, fiction, artwork, and criticism have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Pleiades, The Tulane Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and other venues. A Pushcart Prize nominee and recipient of the Charles E. Walton Essay Award, he earned his MFA at McNeese State University, and in the Fall of 2019 he will pursue his PhD in English at Louisiana State University. View his work at