Collage: A Book Review of neverwell by Darren C. Demaree, and Sampler of Poems

Michael Diehl, Family



A Book Review of neverwell by Darren C. Demaree, and Sampler of Poems


I have been reading through neverwell my third time now. This is Darren C. Demaree’s nineteenth full-length book of poems just released late June of this year and published by Harbor Editions, an imprint of Small Harbor Publishing. I am filled with wonder and admiration for it, partly because as a book in the vein of confessionalism, I’ve never come across anything quite like it: this book comprises something of a spiritual autobiography and as such it seems startlingly original and personal. I have been receiving ARC copies from this poet over the course of his very prolific career. This one however is such an important book dealing as it does with shame, regret, addiction and the ensuing consequences. Demaree is attempting to honestly chronicle the struggle this entails as a way to process and cope with the grief of choices, despite oneself, all this mixed with a desire to become a new and better version of oneself while still admitting to not being able to leave the old self behind entirely. The fact that Demaree titles his book, neverwell, and ending the book on a poem with the haunting admission, I will drink/ again some day./ Some parts of this/ world aren’t a season. Recovering alcoholics are alcoholics for life: sobriety is always under threat.

A central conceit of the book is the wish to write this book of poems without metaphor (pretension?) which raises it to a fresher level of confessional writing in my opinion. The book is still poetic, uses plenty of metaphor and images and concepts that are deeply reflective and figurative and personal but the book is characterized by painfully direct rather than indirect talk at least in its admission of the mindset of an addict facing the damage with clear eyes and without blame to others, minimizing or excuses who yet hates the damage he does to self and others, and the chaos inflicted, but still feels powerless nonetheless to undo or completely control it. The better self remains tenuously at the mercy of the substance/addicted and lesser, weaker self. When I think of all the poets who struggled in this way but never rose above the fray, or produced an honest confessional work like this, I am all the more amazed by this book. One factor I appreciate about this chronicle of shame is what’s absent. That this book of poems is a document without a shred of self pity–yet offers a vision of one trying to rise above amidst the real threat of despair–gives it application outside of addiction.

One does not need to have struggled with alcohol or substance abuse to be able to relate to this book. Most of us have battled with our own shames and regrets about one’s choices of various kinds and to various degrees so as to easily find these poems applicable to many life situations. Sometimes uncannily so. The specific subject matter seems less relevant when a poet of this caliber deals with candor and skill and specifics as Demaree does such that by metaphorical extension to a readers’ individual experiences, correlations come easily to hand. Some readers may see direct correspondence through their struggles with addiction to substances, and for them these poems might be a great source of comfort because they speak so directly. Others may not but will have no problem feeling the power of his experiences and bring to bear their own struggles as humans living in an imperfect world. This in no way diminishes the intensity of Demaree’s experiences or the personal nature of the poems just because readers may see correspondences less directly. These poems have been breathed into life by the depth of the emotional trauma, risk and threat, and corresponding damage to others between the lines–the evidence is in the emotional depth of lived experience, power, and deep reflection in the poetic record translated by the words and images, and yes, metaphor. We poets only have a limited number of things we’ve experienced deeply enough to actually breathe life into through words. Demaree has done that here.

I’m so grateful for the bravery and honesty present in these poems–it helps to universalize them and invite us to share in the travail, the dilemma, the pain and futility of it all, but also the possibility of hope and victory over despair and hope for reconciliation with disaffected and damaged family members and a hope for order and stability (sobriety!) amidst the wreckage of aftermath. My aim here in this mini review and sampler is to celebrate and help to promote neverwell. I can’t say I’ve encountered another book acting on me in quite this way before, nor one as meaningful to me amongst the hundreds of books of poetry I’ve read for a very long while.

Demaree’s book dedication reads this way: This book is for my wife, Emily, my sister, Sarah, and my oldest daughter, Isabelle–the first three reasons why I’m sober.

So be it.


There are only
so many words
I have left
before I drink
again. I do not
propose to waste
any of them
on a prayer.
I refuse to waste
my clean love
on selfish
& impossible

–Page 20


You cannot tell
your children
the home you’ve made
for them to grow up
in can never be
your home as well
because you have
an unassailable talent
for fidgeting in
your own skin for fight-
ing the reality
of a default path
that prefers for you
to burn down reality
as it was given to you.
You cannot tell
your children that
you are never whole
enough to give them
two open hands
because one fist has
to be clamped down
on the throat
of their father at all
times. They won’t
read this poem
& if they do, it won’t
make any sense
to them. The love
is quite real.

–Page 31


There are four stores
I do not enter anymore.
If I did the owners
would put a twelve-
pack of Pabst
& a sixer of Burning
River on the counter
next to a bottle
of champagne
& then they would
expect to see me
again the next day.
There are four stores
I do not enter anymore.

–Page 33


I rise without
feeling. I rise
without choice.
It’s better that
way. All of my
choices were made
by the ounce.

–Page 38


I know most history
is lattice-work. God-
damn if mine isn’t
just a rope that dangles.

–Page 42


I have been found
too often by that
that wishes to make
me lost forever. I
cannot hide. I can
make sure you know
where to look for me.
I am right here
in anticipation
of my own weakness.
Please send everyone.

–Page 48


The flood torments
the field beneath
the bloom. I love
that metaphor. I get
to look up to see
such fantastic beauty.
I am with the flood.
I have always been
with the flood.
The folks in town
know this about me.
They, lovingly, lay
sandbags at my feet.

–Page 50


Lips think
only of lips.
I am a drunk.
I think only
of what
I am drinking.
Right now,
it’s water,
but I don’t trust
this fucking
cup. It could
hold anything.

–Page 53


If I told you
the landscape
of Ohio
was beautiful
while my mouth
was full of petals
would you offer
me a drink?
I could eat
Ohio for a drink
right now.
I am afraid
of swallowing
all of Ohio
for such.
If I am ever
too quiet
for too long
send Kentucky.

–Page 61


Please support Darren and the small press that published him by purchasing copies of his book, either from your local independent bookstore or directly from his publisher at Harbor Editions:


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