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Review of A Fire Without Light by Darren C. Demaree – Michael Rush

++++Although Forage closed as a journal, we were recently offered the opportunity to review a collection of poetry from a former contributor, Darren C. Demaree. This was an opportunity we didn’t want to turn down. The concept behind Darren C. Demaree’s prose-poem collection, A Fire Without Light, as a response to the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA, is an intriguing one to this Briton who feels slightly distanced from American politics. As convinced as I was, and still am, that Trump presents more than enough material to inspire reams of poetry and prose, I held reservations that such a collection could hold enough emotional range to keep me interested. This collection, however, kept me interested throughout. It’s far from being just about Trump, and I think that is the key.

++++The prose-poem form is an inspired medium for this collection. Although a potentially constrained form, it provides a springboard for an immediate sense of intimacy with which to explore a mixture of the more visceral and seemingly considered response; not just to what Trump’s election means at the macro-level, but the way in which it causes the author to analyse their life at the micro-level.

++++Although Demaree seems to deliberately avoid any attempt to cast his voice as that of the everyman—in fact, there are times when it feels desperately isolated and almost feral—the first of the numbered prose-poems, #3, ends with “I will sing as often as I can” as a reminder that one voice is better than none. Having seen the level of response to Trump throughout the world of poetry it seems that this promise to sing is not only indicative of Demaree’s voice but also of the response of poets and poetry across the globe.

++++In some ways, the poetic response to post-truth politics reminds me of the so-called ‘poet-soldiers’ of the First World War. This comparison holds weight in Demaree’s collection, not least because of the use of conflict as a central theme. While the refrain of #13 reminds us that “This is all conflict”, the most profound sense of conflict is perceived in the narrator’s voice; at times in direct response to Trump and at others to “a world which didn’t understand how tenuous things were becoming” (#36).

++++Unlike some of the earlier poetry of the First World War, A Fire Without Light offers no romanticised vision of home. Ohio comes to the fore throughout this collection, no more so than in the quotable and memorable #86: “I know most of Ohio wants him to make the world like most of Ohio, but I’m telling you that most of Ohio is dead.”

++++Having looked at a map of Ohio, mostly shaded in dark Republican red to illustrate the weight of votes for Trump in his election, it is no surprise that someone who feels as threatened by that result—and it is clear that the author is not merely politically opposed to it, they are appalled at a deeper moral level—should feel as caged by their home as Demaree shows in this collection.

++++For all that the prevailing sense in the earlier pieces is one of anger, and the form employed lends itself to short, sharp bursts of that anger, Demaree retains a poetic touch; no more so than in the intricately paced #45 which juxtaposes anger with the narrator’s overriding love for, and need to protect, his family.

++++Although that aspect of the author’s life offers one of the few bright threads within this collection, there are other significant motifs which bind the individual pieces together. Perhaps the most surprising for me was the way in which it lives up to its dedication to “every person that believes empathy is our most important strength” through attempts to enter Trump’s mind and understand the vulnerability of perhaps the most cocksure personality on the planet. Even #113’s acknowledgement that our eventual demise “won’t even be his fault” offers one of the most understanding insights into the childlike tendencies of Trump I’ve seen from anyone, let alone someone vehemently opposed to his presence and politics.

++++I sense this surprising empathy is a product of the narrator as a devoted family man. Even when he is conflicted, wrestling with anger, recognising his unwillingness to “be the good man my wife says I am” in #172, the sense of willing sacrifice in order to make a difference is always apparent.

++++The natural world is a staple of the latter part of its collection, with tumultuous nature seemingly symbolic of changing climate—both meteorological and political—punctuated by references to the bodies which will be lost along the way. So while my comparison to the poetry of the First World War may seem extreme, nothing is quite as evocative of The Somme as #343’s “We will bury our dead beneath the last beauty they remembered”.

++++What seems like an absence of hope could well be an abundance of reality. The recognition of the blurring between dividing lines is there, but more so the understanding that picking up the pieces in the aftermath with be a battle in itself. As stated in #435, “An ending would be too easy”.

++++I don’t know Darren, so I don’t know how much liberty he may have taken in writing any of these pieces. I do recognise sincerity—it’s here in spades—and, if this is a war, he seems like someone I’d want alongside me in the trenches. There is a raw honesty about this collection which acknowledges shortcomings, whether personal, local or national, and in the face of someone like Trump, who knows only soundbites irrespective of the truth, I’ll take honesty any day. Maybe it’s all we have left with which to arm ourselves.

++++The long list of individual pieces from this collection which have been published is a testament to the standalone value of each. The depth and range of the collection itself is a testament to the talent of the author.

++++Darren C. Demaree’s collection A Fire Without Light is available from Amazon here. You can find him at his website.

++++Michael Rush is the former co-editor of Forage Poetry Journal and current co-owner of Forage Poetry Forum.

EMILY AS WE PLANTED THE LILY ABOVE THE VALLEY by Darren C. Demaree

We tend to roll
all the way down
the hills of Ohio

& we have ruined
many landscapes
in Ohio that way.

When we try to grow
anything at all,
we plant the seeds

far from where
our bodies settle.
We are the reason

there are so many
manmade lakes
being filled right now.

 

 

Darren C. Demaree is the author of six poetry collections, most recently “Many Full Hands Applauding Inelegantly” (2016, 8th House Publishing). He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children. Website: http://www.darrencdemaree.com/ Twitter: @d_c_demaree

Penelope. On the Run by Diana Manole

You edit me out. From your memories. Your wet dreams. Your mail.
The income tax return of a cautiously legal bachelor. The pantry. Cans.
Multivitamins. Business cards of handymen, cleaning ladies, mortgage
brokers. The out-of- date card of your ex-wife. With two last names.

The kitchen area. Where we made love. In passing. Between the stove
and the sink. On our feet. After, you did the dishes. The fridge magnets.
A black Christ. From Sweden. A deer who knew it was his last photograph.
A turtle. Pink with green polka dots. From a tourist shop in Florida.

The unkempt backyard. A raccoon marking his territory. On your deck.
A new pile every night. A leafless elm tree like a high-rise condo. For birds.
A smoker. DuMaurier Distinct Silver. The candle-holder as ashtray. Crazed.
Sin-smelling air comes out from my lungs. You inhale it but fan me away.
“We’re not a couple!”

You move through time as if walking on water. Casually.
I move through time as if through thick layers of cotton. Willfully.
“I love you!” I say. You squint. One more time. Marvelling.

 

 

Diana Manole is a Romanian-Canadian writer, translator, and scholar. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her poetry in English (co-translated with Adam J. Sorkin or written originally therein) has appeared in magazines in the US, the UK, Canada, and South Africa. She is now working on “Hyphens & Periods.” her first collection of poems written in English. You can find her here, here and on Twitter.

that invisible by Colin Webb

Als noch die Stürme tobten,
War ich so elend nicht.

take what’s there, then . . . all that unthinkable peace,
even before Leda’s indifference—
++++++++++++the peregrine devours its prey,
+++++but the nest isn’t its kill

hear what’s here, now . . . all that inexplicable calm,
even during the gazelle’s last chase—
++++++++++++the right hand acts,
+++++but the left hand isn’t neutral

see what’s soon, then again . . . all that extraordinary release,
even after Aunt Adrienne’s terrifying ordeals—
+++++++++++the Hudson’s mouth is surrounded by five boroughs,
+++++but the river heals in ten directions

 

Colin Webb is a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and writes poetry as well as fiction. His novella, Coping with Coincidence, was shortlisted for the 2015 Arch Street Prize.

November by Erin Wilson

I feel the black horse that grazed late October
galloping, galloping out, galvanized
from a splinter off my spinal cord,

hooves tearing divots through the glommy puddles of my heart,
its black rider reckless, thrust forward
through the shutters of my exhalations.

He will ride, and he will ride
near soundlessly, like an idea, or an echo
through each un-day of November,

finally to break the grey veil with a hooved flourish,
pulling back, pulling back on the black reins,
to the spilling out of the white vat of winter.

  

 
 
Erin Wilson’s poems have recently appeared in Watershed Review, Peacock Journal, MockingHeart Review, and Rust + Moth. She lives in a small town in northern Ontario.

Supermoon 2034 by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

Do you remember last time the moon
was this close? How its pull felt that night
like a forgotten hum, how its light redrew
the sky like a river in flood?
The first rains had come and gone, awakening
tangs of sage and pine, leaving dust
and an easterly wind, chapped hands and an ache
of something over before it began.
The ground was cold; you stood on my feet
and I held you while we gazed up
at ancient seas and highlands once mistaken
for a man, out at future’s dark glimmer,
keenly aware of how easy it is to fall
balanced on the edge of a spinning world.

 

 

Born and raised in the US, Yoni Hammer-Kossoy lives in Israel with his family and when not writing, pays the bills as a software engineer. His poetry has most recently appeared in Picaroon Poetry, Right Hand Pointing, Lunch Ticket, and Cacti Fur. You can also catch up with Yoni on Twitter @whichofawind.

Bloom by James Owens

One day the darkness
loosens its weft,

as if in answer to our wait,
and this is morning,

the improbable lace of new leaves
where snowy light breaks from their edges

and scatters among branches.
This is a world inside us,

but not only inside us.
We are the glint and

glimmer of the clarifying forest,
when the busy, subtle hands of the wind

brighten dogwood blossoms into our breath.

James Owens’s most recent collection of poems is Mortalia (FutureCycle Press, 2015).. His poems, stories, and translations appear widely in literary journals, including publications in The Fourth River, Kestrel, Tule Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Southword. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and lives in Indiana and northern Ontario.

wake by Tara Isabel Zambrano

You are consumed by your television,
each cell a pixel, bright red,
blue or green before it burns,
turns into an annoying dark spot.
You are the main course on the leather
recliner plate with chips and beer
on the side, their crust peeling
your skin, leaving a fragment
of brain for Facebook and Twitter.
You wake up dead – buried under layers
of transplanted liver that speaks
to your cellular past about a new
drug that can burn fat like a nuclear
power plant and you see yourself –
lean and strong holding a baseball
bat, your sneakers a new discovery of
corporate America. You check your phone
while no one comes to collect
your remains. There are no messages
except a reminder to download a new season of Breaking Bad.

 

 

Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas and is an electrical engineer by profession. Her poems have been published in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Moon City Review, The Healing Muse, San Pedro River Review and others. Her blog is https://taraisabelzambrano.wordpress.com/ and you can find her on Twitter @theinnerzone

Review of Scraped Knees by Kristine Brown – Michael Rush

++++It would be easy to label Scraped Knees as a collection on growing up. It would be easy to see its poetry and prose about someone finding their voice, then connect it to your own upbringing and drift back into personal moments of discovering the world. Yet for me Scraped Knees is much more; it is a book of contrasts. A collection of poetry and prose which can speak from the perspective of the young, but do it with a more mature voice. Wonder is mixed with rationality and realism. Expectation mingles with disappointment. We experience some lighter moments, but there is a weight to carry with us both before and after that lightness.

++++Anemic Disappointment would be an example of that weight as the speaker’s uncoordinated efforts are further highlighted by her Mother’s reminder of her own athletic exploits. Yet it’s not the rebukes or even the nature of them which leave their mark on the reader, it’s the speaker’s lack of surprise at being on the sharp end which tells the story within the story.

++++It’d be misleading to say the parental relationship is all-smothering though; The Smart Mouth brought me one of those all-too-rare laugh-out-loud moments I cherish in my reading, when the speaker mis-hears the word ‘prostitute’ and assumes her mother is talking about a lawyer (“No. But I thought you said prosecute! Pros. Uh. CUH-YUTE!”) – some might say our speaker was demonstrating wisdom beyond her tender years!

++++Although that could be written up as innocent misunderstanding, you begin to sense a rebellious voice at work. How Babies are Made gives us the cognitive dissonance of someone forced to ingest mythology and doctrine, then responds with the first real taste of ferocity experienced in the book. There’s no mistaking the passion and certainty of that voice, even when it reappears in different contexts, such as in (To Be Read in Rapid Orbit) – an appropriately instructive title, because if you can’t find your own rapid orbit then it’ll take you there:

“You were my encyclopedia,
the tome on first-time kisses
that could get you great big deals
like movies, and mags, and perfume ads
in which girls wear knee socks
and sweatshirts in the rain.”

++++Appropriately, there is a clear feel of a maturing voice throughout this collection. Even when it seems to be railing against those who would control and contain it, even when there is an identifiable petulance, it is coupled with reason and measure. The raw energy of Lethargy, Abridged mixes emotional response with poetic technique and confidence in a piece which is anything but lethargic.

++++The prose pieces within this collection are not to be underestimated, and while they occasionally serve as a break to the pace of the more energetic poems they still spin phrases which show poetry at their core. Trance contains one of my favourite examples of this; “Your hat is a wooly gray hyperbole”. What is even more distinctive about Trance is how it could be a microcosm of many of the contrasts and features of the collection as a whole. We have a narrator and a subject, to whom the words are addressed, yet we feel included as readers. Perhaps even more included than the narrator herself, who seems to be fighting differences and indifference alone.

++++Buoyed by the growing strength of the speaker’s voice, you might be lulled into the idea that Scraped Knees has evolved into a collection of a poet who accepts life circumstances like a warrior; I Love You, but It’s a Lie, version 289756.0 is the antithesis to that assumption, captured with a raw vulnerability which made me believe that when “the frame is breaking” it isn’t a reference to an inanimate object but a moment of re-evaluation in the greater scheme of life.

++++As we near the end of Scraped Knees the prevailing energy and vulnerability lingers, now mixed with an uncertainty we have yet to experience; no more so than in the questioning and challenging Hippocampal Sighs. It is now that the speaker’s consciousness of the world around her becomes even more explicit. Rusted Assurance demonstrates this in a dialogue-heavy prose piece where the contrasts are distinctive: between narrator and subject, even between the narrator’s cool professionalism and indignant anger.

++++It is perhaps more striking how the view of the world becomes even sharper and more attentive; one which sees the periphery as much as that which is centre-stage. In close succession, June, Advice Left in Cursive and It is All Okay are all testament to that.

++++Although Brown’s pretext to this book includes the disclaimer “Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.” I am sure of two important things: that you will find resemblance to lives you have known, and that you will agree it isn’t really coincidental to have found that resemblance, it is the hallmark of a talented writer who is able to create a collection which makes things you have never experienced seem universal.

++++Kristine Brown’s debut novel Scraped Knees is published by Ugly Sapling and can be purchased from Amazon here. You can read more from her at the Crumpled Paper Cranes blog.

England’s Difficulty is Ireland’s Opportunity* by Nick Conway

“If the British do have a fault, it is their inability to take the Irish or Ireland seriously”
Liam Ryan

Initial gulp and heave of conquest,
the caustic thrust once forced upon
your every enemy,
and every friend.

The Western island is silent now,
the light of knowledge presses down.
Slow awareness that this world
must surely end.

*An Irish nationalist slogan which gained traction at the outset of the First World War in 1914.

 

 

Nick Conway is a historian and writer from Bristol. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of the West of England and lives in Bristol and Bern. You can find him on Twitter @NicholasConway