Temporary Champions by Darren C. Demaree

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Salvatore Marici


Temporary Champions by Darren C. Demaree

Temporary Champions by Darren C. Demaree

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.

pencilSalvatore 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.

Swish, Swirl & Sniff

A.R. Cook
Candle-Ends: Reviews


cook

Swish, Swirl & Sniff by Salvatore Marici

Salvatore Marici’s Swish, Swirl & Sniff (Ice Cube Press, 2014) is a lyrical road map, a journey from the ancient exotic to the homegrown fresh, in which the reader follows a seamless trail of poetry that feels both earthen and astral.

While this is a collection of poems, each with its own unique flavor and tone, there is a structured flow to its arrangement in what becomes a subtle story arc of Marici’s world. It begins with “Altitude Sickness,” dropping us right into a South American landscape:

The Andes squeeze Cuzco’s air.
Coca leaves fatten my red blood cells
and wobble.

Marici invokes a physical sensation that is both dreamlike and unsettling at times—the feeling of traversing an alien jungle. But even with harsh imagery such as “purple fruit on tangled green pads / … / and their guardian spines” and “Walls echo crashes / to a deafen gurgle” in the “Devil’s Throat” of the Iguazu River, there is still a hint of Marici’s lightheartedness and wonder. While the river’s turbulent cascades are painted as a celestial battle of warrior angels, the scene ends with the gentleness of a rainbow. Marici finds the aesthetic, and sometimes the joviality, of nature in its rawness and rage.

“Devil’s Throat” is linked to the subsequent poem through its title, “Cooking to Sympathy for the Devil,” a smooth segue into Marici’s love for food and cooking. We leave behind the Amazonian exotic for the domestic comfort of the kitchen, yet Marici retains the adventurous whimsy. Each poem in this section is a recipe in itself, as Marici describes each ingredient, texture and taste of what he is making, “Like a love potion / that comes out of a witch’s cauldron.” We also see the passion and intensity of the cooking, and how it is so deeply connected to his family, both past and present. Perhaps that is why this section of the collection was the most poignant for me—it was truly an exploration of his family and history, and how the food he loves is the bridge between his memories and his present-day life.

I appreciate the humor of Marici’s poetry as well. I have attended several poetry readings of the Georgia Poetry Circuit at my local university the past year, and there seems to be a need for the poets to tell us something profound, or to jar the audience with a dark exploration of the human psyche. But they often forget that comedy is a part of the psyche as well, and some of Marici’s poems such as “Cubs Suck” (I was raised outside of Chicago, Illinois, and I, too, rooted for the Sox) are nice little reprieves from some of the more somber and sensual pieces.

That is actually a perfect word to describe the collection as a whole—sensual—in terms of sexuality, artistic passion, and the five physical senses. The sexual tones are tenderly handled, more to convey a natural beauty or admiration for creative art:

The insides
of Samantha’s thighs
hug polished curves

sets the tone of the poem “Perfection,” which compares a cellist making music to romance. This is a recurring theme for Marici, as his poems about gardening, reading poetry or watching films have an air of sexuality to them—passion is passion, and the different types can often overlap.

The reuse of certain images throughout the collection also forms the story arc, as if these images are “characters” that symbolize an emotional entity of Marici. The moon, the locust tree in his yard, the “two-story cedar deck” (a place where he likes to observe the surrounding nature while partaking in his consumable comforts) become prominent in the last section of the collection, hinting that these things carry significant importance to the poet. When it came to the final poem “Saving a Buck,” in which the locust tree gets dismembered by a landscaper (this moment was foreshadowed in an earlier poem, when Marici watches a neighbor cut down one of his dying trees) I genuinely felt bad for the tree. For a tree. Because we see how much this tree meant to the poet, the beauty it had and how easily it was axed away. It is a sorrowful moment to end on, but it is also carries hope in what new life can grow from it, the insects, fungi, and “unstable sprouts [that] sit on top.”

I confess that I don’t always derive the full meaning or author’s intentions from poetry, but Salvatore Marici’s Swish, Swirl & Sniff is accessible to even the most poetry-adverse of readers, creating incredible canvases of verbal wordplay, colors, and scents.

*

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.

pencilA.R. Cook resides in Gainesville, Georgia, and is the author of The Scholar and the Sphinx fantasy book series. She has short stories published in the anthology The Kress Project from the Georgia Museum of Art, and the fairy-tale collection Willow Weep No More. Several of A.R.’s short stories and short plays have been awarded first place and appear in various journals, such as Toasted Cheese and Writer’s Digest. A.R. was the former book review columnist for the Gainesville Times. Email: scholarandsphinx[at]gmail.com

In a Guatemalan’s Village

Poetry
Salvatore Marici


Soccer Ball
Photo Credit: Jarret Callahan

Whitewash on an adobe wall
silhouettes the spikes in his black hair
and olive skin.
His shirt has white and green bars
resembling a World Cup jersey
as he suspends his body
over the dirt street
readying his right foot
to kick
the blue-and-yellow ball
before it bounces
without him thinking
because his parents
do not have money,
doctor nor drug to
kill the gangrene in the left leg.
A metal crutch, his appendage,
propels him to practice—
acquiring skills he needs
to play soccer with the pros.

pencil

Salvatore Marici has had his poetry appear in several magazines, anthologies, and web journals including Off Channel, Slow Trains, Descant and Sweet Lemons 2: International Writings with a Sicilian Accent (Legas, 2010). He was the 2010 Midwest Writing Center’s poet-in-residence. He has a chapbook Mortals, Nature, and their Spirits (Ice Cube Press). A new collection is forthcoming via Ice Cube Press. Email: vinoyajo[at]frontiernet.net