Clear, precise, and elegant, Demaree’s newest collection is a profound investigation of our relation to art amid turmoil. Using the unsolved bombing of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s copy of Rodin’s The Thinker from 1970 as the backdrop, he explores the relevance of the emotions and implications of that moment nearly half a century past to provide insight into our present and future.
In 1970, a pipebomb tore the legs and base off the 900 lb statue that had stood on the museum’s steps since shortly before Rodin’s death in 1917. The museum eventually chose to reinstate the statue, defects and all, with a photo of its original state beside it. This engaging juxtaposition becomes the heart of this collection, varying from letters to a deceased Rodin, the inner thoughts of the statue, and observations of an Ohio poet trying to make sense of why art would get attacked.
One of the early poems here closes with the lines, “we don’t / need to know what / would happen if / the bomb had been / as flawed as the reason.” For Demaree, art is often found in the rubble and the remains. With Bombing the Thinker, he proves once again how adept his flowing poetics are at capturing beauty from destruction.
In contemplation of the damaged statue, Demaree says, “art is always pulling / close to other art, creating a home / undefeatable by simple dynamite.” The bomber could not destroy Demaree’s impulse to create. In fact, it obviated his impulse. And, were Rodin alive, the reader is welcomed to assume Rodin might have made much from the initial desecration. That thread goes further in one of the best of this collection’s poems written from the perspective of the thinker himself, when, in “A Damaged Thinker #47”, the statue claims, “I’m not / really needed, / but I feel / integral / to the hot tide / of the past.”
A Poetry of Salvation
Of course, we could survive without art. But what survival would it be? Especially if we had no art to commemorate how base we sometimes become as a warning to our worst predilections. While Rodin originally made The Thinker in response to Dante’s Divine Comedy, his sculpture now rises above that dialogue, having incorporated a multiplicity of divergent narratives, all of which Demaree captures with sublime elegance and ferocity.
With this line of argument, there seems no better fitting end to his collection than when Demaree tips his hat to humanity’s ability to blossom from tragedy into a higher plane of being. His concluding poem “Any Night (Part of the World)” begins with the lines, “We create / multiple salvations / with every piece / of humanity / we re-create.” Inimitably, Demaree has created a window into how we might fashion a poetry of salvation, a handbook for how to take someone else’s ill-conceived bombs, and create a better future. His hand will always be one that points back at our souls.
This fantastic work does not just delineate a poet at the height of his powers, but more importantly shows a human deeply in touch with his humanity. It’s refreshing to read poetry by an author who I believe agrees the latter must always outweigh the former.