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Broadsides to Books: in defense of the goat that continues to wander towards the certain doom of the cliff 

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in defense of the goat that continues to wander towards the certain doom of the cliff 
by Darren C. Demaree
April Gloaming Publishing, 2024
ISBN: 978-1953932228
$12.08, purchase at bookshop.org
Review by Erin Coughlin Hollowell

 

The goat that’s the main inspiration for Darren C. Demaree’s new collection, in defense of the goat that continues to wander towards the certain doom of the cliff, arrives from Mary Ruefle’s chapbook On Imagination. No, wait, the goat arrives from Emily Dickinson. No, wait, the goat arrives from Emily Dickinson’s nephew. Regardless, the goat, which may or may not be a symbol of the imagination, which may or may not be in the biography of Dickinson with its more than 500 pages from which Ruefle can only recall the goat, which may or may not be casting back traditionally to the Bible in which they are inferior to sheep because they are not such good followers, escapes.

Demaree’s book consists almost exclusively of untitled, 12-line, single-stanza poems. He employs no capitalization and no punctuation, leaving the reader to create meaning through syntactical units. This technique slows the reader down and allows them to examine the multiplicity of meanings possible in the poems. The very act of reading the poems employs the imagination that is the engine rumbling away far beneath the work. 

There is the scene of the goat, the grass, a cliff, and the ocean. The speaker returns to it again and again. Through a slow and purposeful churn toward a thesis, the collection coalesces around the specter of climate catastrophe. Then what is the goat? Is it truly a stand-in for humanity’s ability to imagine a different future? Or are we, the readers, the goat, with our ravenous pursuit of more and more “things” in what is certainly an impacted and harmed world?

Through a multiplicity of lenses, the poems examine the relationships between humans and nature, imagination and progress. The speaker of the poems begins by delineating the way humans separate themselves from the natural environment. In the very first poem, he asserts, “The landscape cannot be / reduced to a checklist.”

The speaker gives voice to the violence mankind has visited upon the natural world.

[…] tell me once more why
the remaining wilderness is being asked
to grow a fungus that can save us
that can mean human existence can be
carried beneath a tree while we harvest
all the trees […]

One poem in the collection does not conform to the single stanza format; instead we find four tercets in which the speaker firmly indicates that they find no fault with the natural elements of the scene, no fault with the grass or the goat or the cliff or the tide, and then harkening finally back to the spark of the collection with the following:

i wish there were a better metaphor
& i wish the goat knew really knew
how much i absolutely adore its bell

Thus we are returned to Emily Dickinson’s nephew’s goat and Mary Ruefle’s essay, a couple of Demaree’s inspirations.

This reflection of the relationship with the natural world, imagination, mythmaking, and freedom is woven throughout Demaree’s collection. 

[…] the future is not
always the future if we’re talking
about the meaning of the future
each small pocket each tiny heart
of the semiwild are myth-worthy
& then in the telling they are myth
that is how reality becomes big
enough for a response to the heat
of this world it’s the expression

Demaree resists summing up tidily. The speaker exhorts mankind to pay closer attention to the natural world and closer attention to each individual’s role in creating its continuance. But the last poem in the collection leaves the fate of the goat and the world open to interpretation, just as the unpunctuated form leaves an ultimate interpretation of each poem open. 

[…] the chewing
of the grass is a small cost for imagination
a personal cost for the continued imagination

and

the ransacking is almost done what can we pile
what can we lose which stories can we carry
& fear learn from embrace wait with until until

The Broadsided Poem:

“i put my fingers in,” words by and art by David Bernardy, published in October 24, 2023.

Three Questions from Broadsided Press; Three Answers from Darren C. Demaree

Bsided: In in defense of the goat that continues to wander towards the certain doom of the cliff and the broadside “i put my fingers in,” there is a sense of a world just barely in control and sometimes completely out of control. Can you talk more about how you see your use of form working towards and away from control?

Darren C. Demaree: I think the challenge of producing poetry that carries that cusp of chaos is that the energy is difficult to manage, especially in a book-length project, because you can bury a reader in the mania if you’re not establishing the right themes and arcs to it, if you don’t know how to tap the breaks. A singular poem can lose that tether completely and still be standing and spinning like a top because poems can do that if they’re flying solo in the experience. I do love a project the works away from the initial conceit instead of circling it, but in defense of the goat is different because it purposively does the opposite. I tell you that defiance is the whole point, that creation and passion and freedom are the only things worth being destroyed for, and then I methodically take you over the edge with me and (if I did it right) we enjoy the last flight together.

Bsided: There is a tenderness in both of these works. In your collection, that tenderness is given to the natural world, and in “i put my fingers in” it is given to the speaker’s daughter. How do you see the collection and the poem speaking to one another in the realm of tenderness?

DD: Grace and tenderness, love really, what is worth love, is the focus of both. I love being away from things in a field, and the only thing I love more than that is to be in that field with my children.

Bsided: I was struck by the paucity of the personal pronoun in the collection. Can you tell us why you employed the generic personal pronoun of “we”? 

DD: Sticking to the pronoun “we” removes the invitation. We are “we” and we are joined. I’ve lost my affinity for “I” and “you” in projects that deal with conceits or philosophies. It’s presumptuous and ornery to use “we,” but sometimes that’s the right entry point to the project. Will it still be “we” at the end? Can I carry it to an exit point as well? It’s a little bit of a challenge, some game play as it were, to test the strength of the work like that, but poetry at its best is stark and playful at the same time.

Erin Hollowell is a poet living at the end of the road in Alaska. She is the author of Pause, Traveler (2013), Every Atom (2018), and Corvus and Crater (2023)from Salmon Poetry. She is the executive director of Storyknife Writers Retreat and director of the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference.

About Broadsides to Books: To honor and celebrate the writers we’ve published, we began Broadsides to Books in the spring of 2018. Here, we feature brief mini-reviews of books by Broadsided authors followed by a few questions about how broadside and book connect.
Support Broadsided! Support local bookstores! We’ve created a Bookshop.org shelf of books we’ve reviewed (when possible). By purchasing books through this link, you are helping foster literature in your community.

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