Declarations of love are probably as old as language. So it would be easy for new love poetry to enter a tired genre, to be little more than a road sign marking ennui and lapsing entropy. Yet in the hands of Darren C. Demaree in his new collection Emily As Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire, love poetry acts a phoenix. My faith in the genre is restored as long as we leave its scripting to such trusty hands as Demaree’s.
Death Without Elegy
The collection names its intentions early in the poem “An Answer More Convincing” as it opens: “Emily says we are bundled in twilight, / fire-tested, survivalists with a wish / for death without elegy.” That “death without elegy” becomes the end-goal of every pulsing poem. For what place does elegy have when death follows a life of fire and fountained love?
Thankfully, these poems generally avoid hyperbole, veering toward the grounded earthiness of human relationship. In “A Town, Earlier,” Demaree admits “I grow desperate / to make sure she never leaves”, with the poem’s title hinting at the type of boundaries and borders humans in relationships must contend with. Love, for Demaree, is a lived-in place, a location that it is possible to abandon or tend to.
One of the most laudable aspects of this collection is its realness, as many of the poems center on average instances of married life, such as the way a couple inhabits a home, date night, children, moments that would go ignored or forgotten by most writers in considering what creates a lasting bond between humans. Certainly, Demaree tackles the high moments, the ecstasy, the dramatic lift of the heart that portends a lean into love, but it is in the quiet, soft moments where these poems come alive, where they exhibit the care and attention Demaree pays to living, to living well, to attempting a better love than his human frame believes it can achieve.
It is that pervasive effervescence that he captures in “A Ghost Deer” whose concluding lines say:
“Blue, against a sky
with many motives,
I know Emily
will always return
in one form
or in another form.”
Then in “Trees Remain Trees”, he notes, “The voice / you love cannot become / another voice.” Steady commitment reverberates throughout Demaree’s work, an unwillingness to be distracted by the rush of a culture that presses an ethos of disposability onto objects, relationships, human beings. Of course, the point remains his lover as these are, in the end, love poems sent to another human. Yet it remains a mark of Demaree’s talent that here, within the ageless tradition of penning love poems, he has created a message so profound it would burst from any bottle: look up.
I cannot close more appropriately than to quote from this book’s final poem “Where We Sigh”, in case you needed one more reminder of how to love: “as the hawk joins / the simple sky / with great mission.”