Author Q&A: Darren Demaree

Darren C. Demaree is living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.  He is the author of seven poetry collections.  He is the winner of the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press and the Nancy Dew Taylor Award from Emrys Journal.  He is the recipient of ten Pushcart Prize nominations.  Currently, he is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry.

TBL Author Q&A Series: Darren Demaree

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

How would you say your writing career began? Was there a certain event, person, or intuitive impulse that guided you to forge your own literary path?

I wrote my first poem in 7th Grade for Mrs. Hanson.  She liked it enough that she questioned my parents about whether or not I had actually written it.  It was a baseball poem.  After that I wrote poems for fun and for girls for a few years.  I didn’t really start to write with any regularity until I was 19.

You’ve published several books—what can you tell us about the publication process? How would you evaluate your own experience with getting your work printed? How has that shifted over time?

I’ve published eight books so far, and I’m under contract for three more.  Every experience is different, and every press has things they do well.  I’m coming off of having a book win a prize, and obviously that carries with it a little extra attention and effort by the press.  I’ve also had two books accepted for publication by presses that ended up closing for different reasons.  It was very frustrating both times, but I’ve been incredibly lucky with publishing so it’s not worth holding on to any anger over those.

Can you discuss the themes and topics that entice and inspire you most? In what ways has your writing evolved throughout your career?

I write a lot about Ohio.  That takes on many different forms.  I write a lot of Emily As poems as well, and those have changed their focus and angle as well.  I like to try different forms, and different topics.  I try to switch things up as much as I can.  My writing routine remains the same regardless of the project.  I write every day.  That doesn’t change.

What/who are some of your greatest literary influences?

I really only read poetry collections, so most of my influences are contemporary writers.  I write short, sparse poems when I’m not working with prose poetry, so people like Kay Ryan or Robert Creeley are obvious influences.  Charles Simic was the first poetry obsession of mine, so I’m sure some of that snuck into my system.  Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of Aase Berg, Kaveh Akbar, and Kathy Fagan.

What would you say is the most important element for crafting a poem, or for discovering a new mode of creativity?

I put a lot of work in before I ever write the first word of a poem.  By the time I actually start to write the poem there’s a plan in place.  Sometimes that plan allows me write a poem in five minutes.  Sometimes I get lost in the playfulness of the language, and it will take me a lot longer.

In terms of publication, is there something in particular that you look for when approaching different presses? The Nineteen Steps Between Us, The Pony Governor, and Temporary Champions have all been published by different publishing houses. I wonder what factors play into choosing and developing relationships with presses.

I’ve been lucky with 8th House and After the Pause to publish multiple books with each of them.  They both give me a lot of freedom, and really believe in what I’m producing.  That feeling, to be encouraged and supported, is a real gift.

What can you tell us about your experiences as a Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry?

Ovenbird is normally just myself and another person slowly putting together a very small annual release.  Best of the Net takes dozens of people to put it together because we get thousands of pages of submissions.  Both are very rewarding endeavors, but they function very differently.

Is there a particular achievement or experience that has opened up the most opportunity for your writing?

I think there can be some momentum with publications, but I’m still in this middle of so many things right now that I’m not sure which opportunities have opened up for me and which I have simply wedged my way in.

What guidance might you give to fledgling writers/artists?

Read.  Write.  Submit.  Do all three things all of the time.  The more you write the better you will write, and never worry about writing a bad poem or getting a rejection for what you know is a good poem.  I’d much rather write a bad poem than no poem at all.  I’d much rather get a rejection that no response at all.  This is a process that cannot be cheated, and the strength to continue comes from loving the small victories that come your way eventually.  My first year in grad school I had one poem accepted for publication, and last year I had 372 poems accepted.  It took me ten years of working on different manuscripts before As We Refer to Our Bodies came out, and this year I will have three different collections coming out.  It’s an incredibly lucky streak I’ve been on, but none of it would have happened if I hadn’t dedicated myself to writing all the time and trying out many different poetic ideas and modes.

After having successfully accomplished so much, what are your goals? What direction do you see your writing taking now, in terms of both craft and publication?

Most of my goals revolve around the planning, mapping, and execution of different poetry projects.  I tend to plan a year or so out, especially if the project will require research, so really my only goals involve finding enough time to write the poetry I want to.  If it gets published that’s great, but I’m much more concerned with holding on to the poetic tether I’ve worked so hard to get my hands on.

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