By C. Derick Varn
Darren C. Damaree’s The Nineteen Steps Between Us is a braided rope of poetry about human connection. In the 19 long and interrelated poems, Damaree uses highly tene and reflection short lines to build the meanderings of identity, body, selfhood, and interrelationships into a fugue on the nature of relationships themselves.
The first poem is a good indicator of the directionally of Damage’s work, “Step One: Evaluation” begins with the question on ““must know how / or why rush forward.” This compels the reader to follow Damaree’s poetic speaker in reflections about how the speaker “must / have more control / of the philosophy / of the physical.” The short lines not only add tension and hesitation to the narrative voice of the poem, but also clearly reflect the motion implicit. Damaree’s speaker has the reader walk alongside the voice. The highly abstract verbiage can be grounded in these lines and the sentence of movement and orientation reflected in them. By the time we reach, step six’s discussion the boundaries between two people and limitations of perspective, we are already marching to Damaree’s beat and are willing to go with the speaker to the next step.
When Damaree’s speaker tells the reader, “…I want to frame/you in this world/ and only because that will allow/me to raise you higher/than I am right now,” we believe the voice. In all nineteen of the poems/sections, a clear sense of dialogue with the audience is established throughout. The concise couplets that braid his lines together mimic steps in the walk. Traveling with Damaree, the sections begin to explore generational space, and then loss. Ultimately, this lose lingers as we move through the world. We keep on with the speaker step by step.
While ponderous, this collection is gorgeous and sometimes surprisingly. It twists and turns, meanders and gallops, ponderous and urgent. Damaree’s work here is truly engaging and worth digging one’s teeth into.