by Samuel Oluwatobi Olatunji
Darren C. Demaree’s Many Full Hands Applauding Inelegantly is a play of monologues clad in poetry. The many full hands in the title is a synecdochical portrayal of the audience, who applauds after watching a play performance of poetry. But why are the applauding inelegantly? Is there something wrong? Well, I think the audience have become so bewitched by the linguistic lyricism that resonates in Demaree’s poetry that they are not conscious of how they clap. A trance-like clap. A clap in awe of a beautiful performance. This beautiful performance is none other but the poems in this collection. It is a play with “mastery/ of the human experience,” and the poet persona often sounds “like a knotted fist,” punching solid truths into the faces of the audience/readers.
This poetry collection is divided into three acts (or maybe I should say parts, right?). The first act (or part, if you want) is subtitled “A Violent Sound in Almost Every Place”. This is the sound of anticipation. The performance begins with an introduction in the first poem of the first act: “Here I am…”, and we are all here too “to escape as part/ of something.” The poet persona’s voice vibrates through like Antony, making a speech at Caesar’s funeral. He claims “I need no/ voice to be whole for your burial.” The readers feel “the exclamation/ of a reality” that leaves us “out of breath” as we read from one page to another. The play becomes an
Reading of the new world by the first
Prophet that asks us for nothing more
Than to believe in our own flesh more
Than we believe in any holy structure
This echoes existentialism, which seems to be a philosophy behind quite a number of the poems in this poetry collection. Out of this existential foundation comes the accentuated individualism also infused into some poems. The poet persona’s individualistic voice rings out when he declares:
If I had wanted
I would have brought
The book of failed poets
& choked on it
In the second act “We are Arrows”, we discover the words on the pages as a “black door with another reality waiting at the/ other side of it.” In this part of the collection, the poems are prosaic, written not exactly in verses but paragraphs. The seemingly existentialist poet persona confesses that “I want to be born again”, and according to him, it takes “a great deal of injury to garner/ such confession.” Due to this great deal of injury, there is no need to bother about the formality of verses or stanzas; thus, the poems flow in paragraphs. With focus on faith, the poet persona states:
I want to be sincere about my faith in my
own people, but to light the fireworks next to
the houses of god, has turned my love for you
Thus, this poetry collection is a theatrical performance of the poet persona. It is a well-manicured monologue that marvels the audience/readers. This second part ends with the poet persona stating:
That stage of emptiness we feel trailing us
at all times, that is a powerful collection of
The third act “All the Birds are Leaving” is the conclusion of the play of poetry in this collection. In the third poem of this third part, the poet persona affirms prophetically that
… There will be
three whistles. There will be one singer.
The many empty hands will applaud this.
The three whistles are the three acts (parts) of this poetry collection. The one singer is the poet persona. The many empty hands are no longer empty because at the end of the play performance (poetry collection), they have got a handful of reality. And they all applaud, thrilled “by such artistry”. There is the wits that wreathe the words, and the pathos that adds poignant pulchritude to this poetry collection. One expression that will certainly be distant from the reader’s tongue at the end of this poetry collection is “I am unimpressed.”