Darren Demaree, a recipient of three Pushcart Prize nominations, arranged the poems in Temporary Champions (Main Street Rag, 2014) like a DNA molecule. The book centers on a historic boxing match. One side is the action in the ring and the other side is the crowd linked with other poems about the boxers’ lives, their families and a referee. This book is tension; the links tug, push the two spiraled strands.
At the fourth poem, “Two Right Hands His Head Could Not Bear,” I knew the boxer Kim was hurt:
the third blow
the kick back
of the skull
to the canvas
that took the pain
away from Kim,
took the light
from his lungs
but I sensed that I was missing needed knowledge so I went to Wikipedia. The boxing match that reduced the maximum rounds from 15 to 12 was Demaree’s muse for this book. The match was in 1982 between Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Duk Koo Kim. Mancini is from Ohio, his father was a top-ranked contender boxer and Kim lived in poverty in South Korea. Mancini won nineteen seconds into the fourteenth round. Mancini suffered a torn left ear, a puffed left eye, and his left hand swelled to twice its size. Kim died from head injuries four days later. Mancini went to South Korea for the funeral and fell into a depression. Kim’s mother and the referee committed suicide. After I learned about this match, I returned to the poems with a greater understanding of the whole.
The lyrical nature of the poems, because they are not a straight storyline or narrative, I see as a metaphor of the continuous beating the fighters give and take in a match. The poems between the “round poems” and “crowd poems” I call the one-minute breaks. These poems show Kim’s poverty in South Korea, Mancini’s life in Ohio, the fighters’ families’ hopes, and what lures the crowd to watch fights. There is even a touch of boxing mythology in the poem “Past The Teeth”:
If the fighter was a sparrow
& the lord of fighters was creating
sparrows in his own image
One other note, Demaree wrote “the crowd” poems in a block prose format. I assume he used that visual format to show the crowd’s impenetrable feelings.
Demaree blends statements into images. Poetry should show and not tell. However, his telling usually was the right proportion with showing and merged them into these:
- The real fight is to remove / the boxing gloves from the bodies / without anyone knowing they were / used to cover the frightened paws / of a champion (“You Can’t Have More”)
- demanding that his face be / made out of paper mache. (“The Crowd #1”)
- it takes / hours for a good body / to tire, to become wispy, / crushable. Say his head / was a berry. (“Say It’s a Red Berry”)
- you can watch their aged / shoulders mimic the fighters (“The Crowd #18”)
Demaree intertwines boxers as humans, their wants and the match laced with the sport’s brutality. In the poem “How Vital Sport?” he writes, “men / led around like horses, / beaten like horses.” He starts the spiral ladder at the beginning with the title of the book Temporary Champions and the first poem titled “Round 1”:
whose name will vanish
the same as moisture, in the air,
not in flight, not in direction.
Most poems work on their own, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The 72 poems on 73 pages is a poetic boxing epic. On HBO and ESPN we see many like Kim from developing countries in rings. Now, like in 1982, the crowd cheers when a boxer punches his opponent’s face into a berry. We hope that today the referee, ringside doctor, or the loser’s manager will stop the fight. This crafted poetry collection shows us why they should.
Darren C. Demaree is the author of As We Refer to Our Bodies (8th House, 2013), Temporary Champions (Main Street Rag, 2014), The Pony Governor (2015, After the Pause Press) and Not For Art Nor Prayer (8th House, 2015). He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology. He lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.
Salvatore Marici is an author of two poetry books. The first was a chapbook titled Mortals, Nature, and their Spirits (Ice Cube Press, 2012). His writing has appeared in several anthologies, magazines and journals including Toasted Cheese. He was the 2010 Midwest Writing Center’s poet-in-residence. He has won and placed in several poetry contests. Marici served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala and he is a civil servant retiree, who worked for the Army, mainly with the job title Agronomist. At both jobs, he managed natural resources. You can follow his poetry events at salmarici.myicourse.com and on Facebook.