In Praise of People Watching: A Review of Darren C. Demaree’s Not for Art nor Prayer

Not For Ar Nor Prayer Cover

Reviewed by Sophie Chouinard

Not for Art nor Prayer
Paperback: 92 pages
Publisher: 8th House Publishing (2015)

Available for $13.72 through Amazon or $15.88 through 8th House Publishing.




(…) Slice a circle
out of any wall, whether museum or not,
I said, you will find art, you will find rot,
you will find the color of all hidden things. (…)
                                 from “You Should Say”

It takes a keen sense of observation and a masterful grasp of a language to be able to make the reader truly feel, taste, and smell a moment. It is the ability to see loss while watching an elderly man at a restaurant, whose wife has momentarily gone (“Adoration #93”), and transforming this worldly sight into a moving story using only a few verses; and that is precisely where the strength of this book lies – the art of transforming the everyday into compactly told sacred stories, such as in “Emily as a Sugar Horizon”:

Bring the moon closer, darling,
I like to press my face to you,
your sky, and on my toes, stretched

to the limits of the veins in my neck,
I feel nothing but the cooling air
picking apart my hair, searching

for something sweet. (…)

Reading through each sections is akin to finding movie reels in the basement of an abandoned house. In the first two sections, “Adorations” & “All of Them Whole”, we watch strangers the owner of that old house met, as well as his friends and family—in “Adoration #100” Demaree describes a self-sacrificing woman (“She is rain,/not pool.”)—then as the movie continues on, we see glimpses of the owner’s life in the “Wednesday Morning” poems:

I want the crumbling
meat of stars

to roll my hands in,
show you hope exists.

to finally view the daily routines and struggles of a loving couple and the many altars upon which Demaree leaves offerings to the object of his worship in the “Emily as____” series. In “Emily as Sometimes This Comes Close to an Attempt at Alchemy” he writes:

Like there might be a room
beneath the roof that is Emily,
I have done things, they would be

horrible things if they were not
done in the name of Emily?
Yes. There is an incredible

science to relationships, sacrifice
& sacrifice. Is it still a room
if it is devoured by reactions? (…)

I cannot possibly omit to mention, what is probably my favourite poem of this whole collection: “We Did Our Best To Breathe Into It,” a text, to my sense, that is the embodiment of the precarity of life and of marriage; of how, in the end, perspective is everything. This poem allows the reader to truly appreciate the author’s mastery at his craft, from the words chosen, to the sequence of events, to the punctuation used:

(…) We did too much
for an animal we witnessed injured from our car,
did too much to bloody our clothes on Route 3,
while family waited for us to eat a holiday meal.
But we needed to save something then, needed
to put our mouths on something desperate,
fighting to survive with righteous intention. We,
yelling about sex, the having it, the not having it
enough, saw the spearing take the shoulder first,
then plunge deeper still, while Emily took the gravel
quickly and we burst from the car in shock. (…)

Each poem of Demaree’s fourth book can most definitely stand on its own without the others; the texts are beautifully lyrical and a narrative of their own, yet they collectively guide the reader through a story of everyday people in everyday situations by using common themes, imagery and language .

Demaree passes the sometime hollow ache and velvety warmth of life’s pedestrian moments, through a sharp yet tender lense; he has the capacity to transform the temporal into ethereal, and the result is a superbly crafted incantation praising the richness of the commonplace: the art of people watching.

darren-c-demareeDarren C. Demaree is from Mount Vernon, Ohio and is the recipient of five Pushcart Prize nominations. Darren is the founding editor of AltOhio and Ovenbird Poetry, as well as the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology. He currently resides and writes in Columbus, Ohio, with his wife and children. Not for Art or Prayer is his fourth collection of poetry. We previously reviewed his book Temporary Champions.



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