On Lady, You Shot Me by Darren C. Demaree
Spectrum's Editor-in-Chief Michelle Politiski reviews Vol. 61 contributor Demaree's latest work.
Darren C. Demaree, the deft and provocative poet whose pieces Spectrum published in its 61st issue, came out with his newest collection a few months ago. When Spectrum almost immediately elected to publish “A Night So Beautiful We Had to Burn Down the Senator’s House #22-24,” we knew we had found a very special voice in the slush pile.
In his new collection, Lady, You Shot Me, Demaree takes on the brave and intricate task of commemorating the life of creative genius Sam Cooke. However, being “about Sam Cooke” would be a label refusing to acknowledge the tender, chaotic and complex concepts Demaree tackles with this poetry. With a voice all his own, Demaree uses evocative whirlwinds of imagery to make known to us a host of things: the justice system is unjust, genius deserves praise, and genius often dies unjustly.
My favorite set of images in the collection comes with the graceful realization that Sam Cooke was a highly imperfect human. In “Sam Made This School Girl Pregnant and Never Came for This Letter,” the speaker recognizes Cooke’s gentle, nonchalant ignorance to the propriety of some kinds of fatherhood. “Sam knew that child didn’t really count,” the speaker says, “He knew that the girl still loved / watching him on television / & that she wouldn’t be trouble.” Demaree’s tasteful tiptoe around the probable reality of the pregnant girl’s perspective is done so fluidly that we barely feel concern - just as Cooke barely felt it. This poem at that point ceases to be entirely about Cooke, but rather a carefully crafted moment to make us unsure of whether we should believe it’s naivete or willful ignorance that led Cooke astray from the responsibility of his child.
Balancing fatherly mistakes with artful critiques of the racist environment Cooke was part of, Demaree walks the fine line between confidence and outrage with extreme ease. In “And the Kids Were Going to Riot,” Demaree marches alongside the kids having their show unapologetically, sticking his tongue out at police all while managing to treat the situation with the solemnity it demands. The police, raining down on a show where black kids traipsed free with expression, “felt like they / might be drowning / in a black sea / which held a rhythm / they could never / match.” There is so much that lies beneath Demaree’s lines that it feels like the most fruitful day fishing, pulling up meaning after meaning from the cool depths of his poems.
Darren Demaree’s artful, complex and sensitive poetry makes a return in Lady, You Shot Me. Spectrum is privileged to have had Demaree’s words on its pages, and his most recent collection is just another reminder of what poetry can do and why it needs to continue being created - it deconstructs, illuminates, and pays tribute to what we love.