Jane Huffman and Darren C. Demaree
An Interview with Darren C. Demaree about his book, The Pony Governor
Jane Huffman: Who are your major poetic influences? Who are your poetic great-great-grandfathers and mothers?
Darren C. Demaree: Everything started with Robert Creeley and Charles Simic for me. After that I spent a lot of time with Anne Sexton, Sandra Cisneros, and Kim Addonizio. During grad school it was Terrence Hayes, Wanda Coleman, Richard Siken, and Mark Yakich that really caught my attention.
JH: Gregory Orr wrote of the four poetic temperaments and claims that writers are typically prone to two: music, imagination, story, and structure. With which of these temperaments do you see yourself aligning?
DCD: Music and imagination are always my goals within the poem. I tend to write these long, numbered sequences (like The Pony Governor) that take a lot of planning to execute. So, I've addressed the story/structure of one of those sequences before I've ever started writing the poems. If I stick to the general outline, the success of the music and imagination in each poem should carry with it a greater success in terms of the larger goals of a project.
JH: The Pony Governor tackles the many intersections between the animal and human worlds – innocence, loss, hunger, pageantry, agency, and the lack thereof. Was there something in particular—an event or a fascination— that prompted this project?
DCD: Recently, in the Midwest, there has been an incredible dearth of quality governors. The impetus for writing the project was meeting Ohio's governor John Kasich in person, hearing him give a terribly demeaning and racist commencement address (it wasn't a speech, he didn't write one) at the career college I teach at, and needing to react to that experience poetically. So, that motivated me, and the earlier drafts of the book used Ohio and his name directly in it, but I kept feeling that my issues with Kasich were limiting the book. Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio; all of us are attempting to deal with cancerous leadership in our states. That edit, to broaden the book, was the last step for me, and after that I really found some real pride in the book.
JH: The poetic voice in the collection is often curt and straightforward. I was especially curious about the few poems in the collection that are only a few lines long. They seem to bravely and concisely punctuate the collection with wry observational wisdom. "Let joy be popularity / for the pony. History / makes glue of us all." How were these poems born?
DCD: It's a serious topic, but my own inclination is to refrain from painting everything black. I wanted some of the poems to be playful or even a little bit funny. Those poems always work best when they're stripped down.
JH: What is your revision process like? Which poem or poems in The Pony Governor did you revise most? Which poem or poems did you revise the least?
DCD: I'm always afraid that the poem might lose the initial adrenaline and music of a first draft, so I really tread lightly on any significant revisions of a poem. I end up cutting so many of the poems from a sequence to get them to work as well as they can as a manuscript that I'm not willing to fight to save a couple of good lines from a generally sub par poem. Most of the editing done in this book was in regards to the broadening of the book, i.e. the removal of Ohio/Kasich from the text.
JH: Most of the poems in this collection rely on the short line and a good deal of white space. Does this tend to be your visual aesthetic as a poet or was it a choice you made for this manuscript in particular? How do you find that it serves the themes of the collection?
DCD: It's more of my general aesthetic than anything. I prefer short poems with short lines. Sometimes the poem works towards longer lines, but unless I'm writing a prose poem, I prefer shorter lines.
JH: I was very struck by the numbering system you use to title your works through the entire collection. It seemed to me to suggest a building but steady momentum of energy, as well as a sense of numerical anonymity – no single poem or poems seemed to carry more or less weight than any other. Can you speak on where this concept came from and why you utilized it?
DCD: The building energy of the numbers is a nice byproduct of the way I tie these sequences together. One of the reasons I keep the numbers, and don't attempt to edit them into a seamless poem/project, is that I prefer for them to all be able to stand on their own as poems (without leaning too much on the poem before or after). I keep the original number for the poem, instead of changing them to be more sequential (no missing numbers), because practice-wise I embrace the idea that it is more than acceptable to write a poem that fails. You don't have to celebrate a poem that never walks, but to remove failure from your poetic practice is to invite hesitancy to your work. I write constantly, not prolifically, constantly, and some of those poems I write don't work well individually or with a collection. That doesn't mean it wasn't worth it to spend the time I did writing it.
JH: In a stroke I recognized from poets like Aracelis Girmay, your manuscript utilizes the ampersand instead of the word "and." Can you tell me about why you made this choice for this manuscript?
DCD: I like the little burst of energy you get from the ampersand. The word "and" is such a thud in a poem. The ampersand slingshots the next line a little bit, and I prefer it.
JH: What was the process of submitting this manuscript?
DCD: Michael Prihoda (After the Pause Press) reached out to those of us that had been in the After the Pause journal, and said he was going to set up a press that published poetry collections to raise money for particular charities. He said we would get the opportunity to help choose the charity, so I submitted The Pony Governor to him. It seemed fitting that a book that was written on the idea of making Ohio a better place, would indeed be contributing to the Ohio Arts Alliance for Education, which makes Ohio a better place. I'm thrilled that it worked out the way that it did.
JH: Was this your first venture into creating a work of writing the directly benefited a charitable cause?
DCD: It was, but ninety percent of the text was already in place before it found a home at After the Pause. I'm not sure I could have been as brazen as I was with some of the language if I started out thinking about writing a book for charity.
JH: Given that your mission is to help make Ohio a better place, who do you hope reads the book and what do you hope they get from it?
DCD: My hope for the book is that it kicks up enough dust that those of us in the Midwest that are currently being governed by people that do not like us very much, will rally around the voting process, become more engaged in it, and ultimately elect good men and women to help lead us moving forward. It's incredibly optimistic to think that a book of poetry can effect any change, but I know that it's one of the few delivery systems that has consistently worked on me.