Darren C. Demaree / Small Harbor Publishing / 73 pages
Darren C. Demaree’s 16th full-length collection of poems could also be his first for the apparent love of language and play in these poems. It could also be his thirty-first, for his use of syntax, clarity of diction, and voice.
A Demaree collection is usually a work in sequences because there is a thread that one can pull to unwind the whole. This sequence of poems are letters to his children. Some addressed to both, some just to his son or daughter. These poems are also an invitation to the reader to breathe, find the rhythm, feel the tide of the line; an invitation into the poet’s home; an invitation to witness and feel the loss of growing things.
A child walks in the dark, and it may be that the child is a poet, the poet is also a father, and the darkness is the years that pass to bury an instrument whose tune will soon be forgotten.
as long as you’re living i will hold every incarnation of your world as part of my own
As a parent, I also deal with the loss of growing things and find I deal with this gradual loss of them by trying to pass on pieces of myself. Lately, I find this happens when I’m not trying; the communication process occurs silently through our actions and energy. What Demaree does so well here is not just doling out advice to his children (because that would be a boring book of poems). Instead, he gives pieces of himself to them. He sheds light on who he is and what he believes and cares about in the process. My kids teach me, almost daily, that it’s not about telling your kids what you know. It’s about listening, passing on the joys in life, and sharing the ones they find on their own; it’s about encouraging them to ask questions on their own, giving them space to see what is true for them. As is also the case with a good poem:
A Mask or Two i told my children a mask or two is flesh enough to keep your bones out of the fire and i love all of the people you will try and fail to be
I love how we’re talking about a mask to hide your innermost self, your emotions, which is not something that you can pick up off the desk or hang on the wall (although sometimes it manifests as something physical), yet it is flesh enough to keep your bones out of the fire. These are very real (and material) things to keep safe from the very real fire of other people’s opinions and emotions. These lines are kissed with metaphor. Demaree doesn’t rely too heavily on metaphor in any of these poems. However, he does so remarkably when he chooses to use this technique.
If we were to break these lines at their natural breathing points (mine may not be the same as yours but for argument’s sake): i told my children / a mask or two is flesh enough / to keep your bones out of the fire / and i love all of the people you will try / and fail to be. Since these breaks are open to interpretation, the repetition of rereading to get it right is a lovely endeavor.
I enjoy the work the O is doing and the different uses of the vowel as in told, and two, bones, love.
The poem continues,
and i love all of the lies you will tell yourself, and i love you for lying to me about who you are and want to be as long as you are always searching for that person i will say all of the names you give yourself as long as you’re living i will hold every incarnation of your world as part of my own
Demaree’s lyric is natural. It doesn’t matter that there is no punctuation. You still feel at home. The form of these poems is inviting and familiar. Like going over to a friend’s house after work for some beers. We find ourselves repeating lines to get the diction right as we read. I found myself nodding my head at the truth of i love you for lying to me about who you are or want to be, but this is challenging work. I’ve been guilty of leaning on my children to try a sport I like or not try an instrument I don’t like.
Although what we sink into is the natural and familiar, there are challenges presented. We must dig a little deeper for the patterns that enhance the meaning and emotion in the poems. Demaree has challenged us to find our own spaces for pause. And in those silences, we see what is meaningful. We find pieces of the poet as well as ourselves. Since these poems are addressed to his children, we must say that this collection is a space for them to do the same.
so i gave her the hose and pointed her to the dry dirt in our backyard and asked her to make a mess to love the mess and carry it with her always
In this collection, Demaree makes his own rules: he begins each poem in the same way. Each poem has a similar purpose and takes on the same form.
With many poetry readers, it is common to pick up a collection and read from any given spot, even on the first reading. This collection was made for just that. After the initial reading, I found myself coming back daily and picking up from a random poem. After a few days, this became a nice sort of ritual from a daily book of prayers. As poetry readers, when we think of form (the sonnet or haiku), we don’t often think of a Q & A, an advice column, a last will and testament, or a prayer as forms. However, there are patterns in them which means that they too are forms. If you need to write an advice column but never have before, you might go and read a few. For me, these poems read as daily affirmations or prayers. And I don’t mean to say that this collection reads like a banal set of things a parent says to their children or that we should put these poems on a calendar with a picture of a sunset each month. They are much more than that. I mean to say they are a well of wisdom I come to daily, one where you might find something you needed and weren’t expecting.
Demaree has given himself his own set of rules which function as a field for the poet to play his game. We might pick out the advice column as the form worked with here, which may not be wrong. But I keep coming back to this prayer––and within that form, there is the fact that prayer is giving up to a higher power or something other than the self. The irony here is that each of these poems starts with i told my children/son/daughter, a position of authority. So to call them a prayer may be odd. However, the feeling and emotion etched deeply into each page is prayerlike. In these poems, there is hope the words will transform. There is a seeking for something to hold onto.
On this Plane i told my daughter on this plane of existence she is newer than sorrow and older than the gate to sorrow so her life must be inelegant enough to have not fit through that opening yet so i gave her the hose and pointed her to the dry dirt in our backyard and asked her to make a mess to love the mess and carry it with her always it’s much better to be unacceptable in most of the adult world
What is a gate to sorrow? A state of being? A place before existing in this state? And if you pass through that gate? I also notice here that we are in the safety of their backyard, a place for a child to find themselves through play.
Another image that stuck out to me here is the father giving his daughter the hose. A hose might be a modern spring, a tool for nurturing growth. Going to the dry dirt, an uninhabitable place, where making a mess with the water seems to be giving this place life, some potential, something created. I love this image because the father says, “go make a mess,” something we don’t think of when we think of parents. Also, Demaree says that although the mess is not pretty to everyone (probably including the parent), this mess is something you’ve created and is worth holding on to. Of course, the daughter is told to love the chaos. So, we have the act of “creating” being made a vital act in living, an act of nurturing yourself. By creating the mess, you are also creating sorrow. Perhaps passing through that gate of existence, by passing through it, you know it. And if you hold it and love it, then it can’t ruin you.
Alan Watts said, “silence is the origin of sound.” In Demaree’s collection, I’ve learned that silence is also the origin of meaning. Where we place the pause puts an inflection on the previous word––and the next word with meaning. The poems in this collection become a quilt: a woven space of comfort and warmth. This book moves us to a more thoughtful way of reading and parenting. It carries the poet through a more honest and significant state of being with his children. A type of pressure begins to unfold as we move through the collection, which is the tension between parents and their children. Although the kids remain nearly silent throughout, their voices are heard through the need of the poet to express these poems for his own sake and theirs. What is given to us is a collection that paints a self-portrait of Demaree, a father in these times, a poet who loves his children and loves the play of poetry. ◪
Daniel J. Flosi is an apparition living in a half-acre coffin in the township of Rock Island, IL within the V between the Mississippi and Rock Rivers. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prometheus Dreaming, eris & eros, Vita Brevis Press, Wild Roof Journal, The Closed Eye Open, and The Good Life Review. Drop a line at @MuckerMaffic