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Emily As The Subject of This Review
By Alex Carrigan
The last time I reviewed a poetry collection by Darren C. Demaree, it was his collection of prose poems written following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. A Fire Without Light captured his feelings in the immediate aftermath of the election and in the months that followed, showing what events and moments were shaping his fears and concerns as a father, husband, and American. The collection was poetic, dark, but still hopeful, showcasing how Demaree, when given time to really analyze and translate his thoughts and feelings on a particular matter to paper, would reveal himself as a poet who could cover a wide range of emotional states but never lose his sense of identity at the core of it.
In his forthcoming poetry collection, Emily As Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire, Demaree compiles 12 years worth of poems written about his wife, Emily. Like A Fire Without Light, this collection has every poem begin with a title and then allows Demaree to explore a different dimension of Emily. Each poem begins with the phrase "Emily As" and then either turns Emily into an object ("A Mango Hitting the Ground," "Honeysuckle"), part of a moment ("I Slowed the Car Down," "She Dropped the Lantern At My Feet"), or as something more abstract ("A Choke of Silk," "Imperfect Light"). These poems, while also abstract, also contextualize moments and events in Demaree's life, such as when the couple start a family.
Where A Fire Without Light traced a man as he grappled with a major sociopolitical change in his country, Emily As comes to represent more of how Demaree sees his wife as time passes. The book states the poems were written between 2006 and 2018, but the pieces within are not dated. Because of this, the reader is left to figure out just when in their relationship these moments and thoughts could be occurring. Some of these may be early in their marriage, some could be exacerbated by key moments in their relationships, and some poems may be a sign of recurring behavior.
What really helps this collection out is that Demaree is willing to see Emily in all kinds of dimensions. Most muse-focused collections could try to deify or elevate the subject to the point where they cease to be realistic. Demaree could have chosen to make Emily someone flawless and beautiful and all-around amazing (not that he probably doesn't see her that way), but the range of poems gives a more concrete idea as to who Emily is, what her marriage with Demaree is like, and how even if Emily is in a variety of situations and moods, she's still someone worth capturing the essence of and someone who is as enigmatic and fascinating as the author wants us to see her.
It helps that, since most poems are written as if they were Demaree's reactions to specific events and moments in their marriage, that many of them feel like conversations or interactions the reader might have with someone close. The poem "I Explained to Her Who the Photographer Kevin Carter Was" follows an argument the two had about darkness and joy centered around a Pulitzer-winning photographer. The poem "We Bought a Parachute At a Garage Sale" reads as a humorous anecdote that shows a more lighthearted side of Emily. Even the piece Demaree published in Quail Bell back in 2017 (which is sadly not included in the final collection), shows how the companionship Demaree and Emily give one another helps to tether them to reality through the good and the bad times, but avoids becoming too saccharine. There are many more pieces like this, and it's likely the poems that will really resonate with the reader will be the ones where the shape of Emily comes off as so defined that they're able to replace her with someone dear to them. The details may change, but the emotions are so universal it's not hard to see anyone else becoming as magnificent as Emily comes across.
Emily As Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire is more than just the best anniversary gift a poet could give his wife. It's a testament of twelve years of love, pain, rumination, and endurance that speaks to so much about marriage and family that it wouldn't be surprising if Demaree released more volumes of Emily As poems over the next fifty years. It's brutally honest, but also crafted and compiled with such love that even the darker pieces still have that bit of light to them. This collection is the perfect follow-up to Demaree's A Fire Without Light, as it proves to be more hopeful and optimistic about the future, even if it's just finding more way to express his love for Emily and for the life they've built together. After all, when forests burn down, that's when the cycle of life begins again.
Emily As Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire will be released by Harpoon Books in June 2019.
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